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Saturday, April 26, 2014

It Can't Be Almost May Already, Can It?

Welcome to Our Corner of the World

I thought it might be helpful to give a little background of the area where we are serving.  The North Carolina Raleigh Mission extends a tiny bit into Virginia to the north and to Shalotte, NC, in the south, most of the larger towns in the mission being near the coast. The mission includes two military bases -- Fort Bragg (Army and Air Force) and Camp Lejeune (Marine and a few Navy support personnel).   Our district, within this mission, covers Onslow County and includes Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine Corps base in the east.  The ward we are assigned to covers a large area with at least 3 towns.  Driving from one end of the ward boundaries to the other takes at least 30 minutes each direction.  Needless to say we put a lot of miles on our car each week just visiting ward members in outlying areas.  Then on Sundays we pick up Marines from one end of Camp Lejeune to the other (45 minutes to Courthouse Bay, 15 to Johnson, 20 to Mainside, and, if there is someone training at Stone Bay, that's over an hour in the opposite direction from Courthouse Bay). We conduct Sacrament meetings at Camp Johnson on Sundays and on Mondays, Family Home Evening.

As near as Bob and I can figure out, the towns and military base here have been carved out of  dense pine forests.  You will see cleared tracts with houses surrounded by tall stands of pines.  As you drive on the highways you have forested land on either side wherever you drive. Thick groves of trees are everywhere. Bob read that before the Europeans settled in North Carolina, a squirrel could leap from tree to tree all the way from the Carolina coast to the Mississippi River without ever needing to touch the ground.

Carolina Wren
Brown Trasher
We even have our own miniature woodland in back of our apartment.  I love looking out the kitchen window in the morning (see photo above) and watching the varied birds at our feeders.  We have a pair of cardinals who come each day as well as chickadees, house finches, mourning doves, Carolina wrens, and bluebirds.  One day we saw a brown bird about the size of a large robin on the ground throwing leaves and sticks up into the air and noisily moving around in sort of a circle.  We discovered it was a Brown Thrasher (aptly named) and it was hunting for food.

 Our investment in a bird book of Carolina birds has paid off.  It has helped us identify unusual visitors to our backyard such as this Downy Woodpecker.

Squirrel draining our bird feeder

 Of course, the bird feeders have attracted squirrels.  We have rather of a
love/hate relationship with them. They are fun to watch, but they are consuming large quantities of the bird seed.  We bought two bird feeders that claimed to be squirrel proof. It took the squirrels almost a week, but they mastered the one feeder by hanging by their hind feet upside down and using their front paws to pull out the seeds.  The feeder with the umbrella type covering has so far remained inaccessible to them, but they spend time each day studying it from various nearby branches.  I'm afraid it is just a matter of time before they figure out a way.

It reminds me of when  my Dad had a running battle with starlings in his mulberry tree in Green Forest, Arkansas. He devised all sorts of methods to deter them from roosting in the tree and making a purple mess in the backyard, only to have them return time and again.

Onslow county has 909 square miles of area, 142 of this is water.  You cross a lot of bridges as you drive to the various towns, allowing you to travel over the intercoastal waterways. Bridges also connect the mainland to the barrier islands such as Top Sail and Emerald Isle  (beautiful beaches).

European settlers arrived here in 1713.  The town of Jacksonville was named after President Andrew Jackson.

There are 43.000 Marines and sailors currently stationed at Camp Lejeune and nearby facilities.   There are lots of young families and, of course, lots of young single Marines,  making the median age in Onslow County about 23.   There are also a number of retired military in and around Jacksonville.  They enjoy the mild climate, the easy access to the ocean and the closeness to military services such as medical and commissary.

North Carolina has a rich Scottish/Irish heritage. The two brawny lads on either side of the bagpipe player are former Marines (and ward members) living in the Hubert area outside Jacksonville. Gotta love the beards and kilts!

 Jacksonville itself is a military town and has a widely diverse population.  There are people from many different countries and every state in the Union living here.  The smaller towns and rural areas are more typically Southern in make-up.  I love hearing the Southern expressions and the  distinctive cadence and pronunciation of words.  We have been very blessed -- literally -- as people here often say "Have a blessed day" instead of "Have a good day."  Then, you may be familiar with that Southern expression, "Bless his heart!" meaning he's a pain, but you just have to love him anyway.  Southerners and Marines are VERY polite and answer nearly every question with "Yes ma'am" or "Yes, sir."  It is sometimes distracting to carry on a conversation with so many "ma'ams" and"sirs" going on.

 One of the hardest parts of our mission is watching some of our choicest Marines graduate and leave us.  We become so attached to them and worry if they will be welcomed at their new duty stations by other senior missionaries and/or ward members.  We struggle to find and establish contact with so many of the young Marines here that we cherish those few who are able to remain strong and faithful and are such great examples.

Our ward had 18 baptisms last year, many with military connections.  It looks like we are on track to equal or surpass that number this year. Here are two of the recent baptisms:

The young man in the red shirt was baptized over April Conference weekend.  His wife is a member from Japan and he wanted their family to be a forever family based on the gospel.  They are such a cute couple.  His parents came for the baptism and were very supportive.

The young man on the left is a Navy corpsman who studied for several months before deciding this was something he wanted.  His parents  came from Florida for his baptism.  I love his smile and his positive attitude.          

We hate saying good-bye to missionaries when they are transferred from our area.  These three missionaries had been with us since we arrived in October and we really miss them.  We were able to drive Sister Bush and Sister Deiter to Raleigh for the transfer.  We barely were able to fit in all their luggage even using the carrier on top. It took real muscle power to lift the suitcases that went on top. Someone told me that one of the suitcases weighed 80 lbs. and I believe it! Sister Bush, who has a black belt in karate, loaded the suitcases here, but we had to call the elders to meet us on the way back to help unload the new sisters' suitcases from on top. We also carried 3 bikes in the bike rack (both ways). We borrowed (temporarily) the bike rack from the sisters' car.  Of course, it was raining during the whole loading process and for most of the trip  to Raleigh. Rain and/or sleet seems to be required weather for any transfers.

You can see there are lots of bikes to transport for the missionaries.  There are usually 18-25 new missionaries at each transfer, fresh from the MTC Our senior couple in charge of transportation rushes to put the new bikes together so they will be ready to go to their new assignments.  Plus missionaries already in the field who are being transferred to a new area must bring their bikes from one area to the other.  It gets a little wild trying to sort out luggage and bikes for everyone at the end of the transfer meeting.

One of the things I enjoy about transfer meetings is listening to the hundred or so young voices raised in song.  They sing with such enthusiasm and beauty, filling the chapel with wonderful harmonies.  It makes me have goose bumps each time we are there.

I realize that I have much more I want to share, but I think I will end this blog here and start a new blog so as not to overwhelm everyone.  It is hard to realize that our mission is a third of the way complete.  It doesn't seem possible we have been here over 6 months.  In many ways it seems as if we've just arrived, but also like we have been here longer and feel "at home."  As it says in our heading, we're serving, learning and growing in the North Carolina Raleigh Mission, and we're loving it.

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