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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Shepherds, Lost Sheep and Super Heroes

When we first arrived in North Carolina we were instructed to have business cards made with our contact information to pass along to those with whom we worked.  We chose this picture to go on the card to remind us how important each individual is to the Lord.

The picture also reminds me of one of my favorite stories about a man visiting Morocco as part of an official government delegation (true story.)  He was in a caravan of black limousines traveling through the beautiful Moroccan countryside at considerable speed, when suddenly, the limousine in which he was riding stopped.  The man could see there had been an accident up ahead.

An old shepherd, in long, flowing robes, was standing near the lead limousine in conversation with the driver.  A small flock of fifteen or twenty sheep stood nearby.  The king's vehicle had struck and injured one of the lambs belonging to the old shepherd.  The driver was explaining to him the law of the land.  Because it was a vehicle belonging to the king that had injured the lamb, the shepherd was entitled to one hundred times its value at maturity. However, under the same law, the lamb must be slain and the meat divided among the people.  The interpreter explained that the old shepherd would not accept the money, that they never did.

When asked why, the interpreter replied. "Because of the love he has for each of his sheep."
The old shepherd reached down, lifted the injured lamb in his arms, and placed it in a large pouch on the front of his robe.  He kept stroking its head, repeating the same word over and over again.  The interpreter explained that the shepherd was calling the lamb by name, that each of the sheep had a name.

Just as the interpreter had predicted, the money was refused, and the old shepherd with his small flock of sheep, with the injured one tucked safely in the pouch of his robe, disappeared into the desert.

As I studied a little more about sheep I learned several interesting things.  First, lambs have a propensity for getting lost.  They can be helpless against predators.  And they are gregarious, social creatures that do better in numbers.  The parallels with those we are  called to serve in Jacksonville are not lost on us.

Fortunately, we are blessed to have many shepherds and super heroes here that are constantly reaching out to help and lift others.  Let me introduce you to a few of them.

Missionaries Are Awesome

It is amazing to me that there are over 88,000 LDS missionaries currently serving around the world.  Most are young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who have put school, work, sports, and romantic relationships on hold while they serve the Lord. They, or their families or friends, pay their way and they live frugally without TV, video games or many of the conveniences that most people today take for granted  In addition to their youthful exuberance and energy, they show a genuine caring for the people they teach and serve along with a maturity and understanding beyond their years.  We have worked with some outstanding young men and women during our stay in Jacksonville and have learned much from them.  I hope you can see in this picture of our two current sister missionaries with a recent convert between them that they have an inner light, a glow, about them.  People often comment that it is that glow or sparkle that makes them want to know what makes these young people different.  They have perpetual, beaming smiles and seem to find joy and humor even when riding bikes in a downpour or when an appointment falls through.  As one family expressed it, "We love for the missionaries to come to our house.  It makes our home a happier place when they are there." 

Brother Scriptures/Captain Moroni

One of the first members we met after arriving in Jacksonville was Josh Alexander.  As he describes himself he is a retired Marine, student, construction worker, husband, father of 2 and a rescued lost sheep who wants to help others like himself.  He posts a blog on Facebook called "Brother Scriptures" where he shares personal experiences, inspirational quotes and scriptures.  His latest project is to post each of the 180+ short videos from Mormon Messages and explain how they relate to his life.  He is a lover of all things Scottish and plans to compete in the Highland Games next year. He thinks all men should wear beards and own a kilt. 

Brooke, The Smile That Never Stops

Brooke is one of our not so secret weapons.  She is like a people magnet.  People are drawn to her positive attitude and radiant smile.  She is a great example to other young women in the military that you can be good at your job and still maintain your standards.  Last year she was twice selected "Sailor of the Quarter."

She is always inviting others to come to activities and makes certain everyone feels accepted and included.  She loves doing service projects such as building homes with Habitat for Humanity, helping in the soup kitchen, and while serving in Spain, helping nearby schools and orphanages.  And she is marvelous baker and is known for her tasty cookies. 

The Energizer Bunny Member Missionary

This beautiful woman is like the energizer bunny missionary extraordinaire in our ward.  Whenever we encounter a less active or part member Marine family we can pretty much count on this woman already being their friend.  She is funny and caring and compassionate and makes friends wherever she goes.  She accepts others just as they are, while encouraging and supporting them to grow in the gospel.  Or by just letting them know she is there for them if they need help.

I met her mother when she came for the blessing of the newest baby and she told me that her daughter sometimes felt sad that she hadn’t served a mission like some of her siblings, but, that in actuality, this daughter and her husband had brought more people into the gospel than the others put together.  The power of one dedicated and loving person has made a difference in many lives.

Special Helpers That Go Above and Beyond

That Glenda Good Witch in the picture is our Relief Society President with her family at the Fall Festival.  The baby "lion" was borrowed from another family for the occasion. This incredible woman accepted the calling to be the RS president even though her Marine husband is deployed overseas and she has two special needs children at home.   Like RS Presidents around the globe she carries a very heavy load, second only to the bishop, and does her level  best to see that the needs of individuals and families in the ward are met.  In addition, she works with the missionaries providing meals, transportation and acting as a companion when needed.   At the very time she could easily ask for help for her own family, she is reaching out to help others.  

The guy with the white shirt and big smile is our Gospel Essentials Sunday School teacher.  Each week he manages to prepare a lesson for a class composed of investigators, new and/or returning members as well as long time members well versed in the scriptures and he still makes it relevant to each one. As a Marine Sergeant he also is a great example to the younger Marines.  Like so many of the ward members he goes out of his way to welcome  each new Marine or Marine family, remembers their names and makes certain they feel "at home." He is a very active and effective ward missionary,

John is  former Air Force, now working as a civilian contractor with the Marine Corps.  He has military ID which allows him to come on base and he has been a wonderful support to us at Camp Johnson.  He comes to our Sunday meetings there and relates well with the young people.  Having served  in Afghanistan he has street cred and can give them sound advice about how to stay strong spiritually in the military and pitfalls to watch out for.  He also helps us with our ARP meetings.  Having an additional "body" at our small meetings is nice.  He attends Institute and is very knowledgeable about the scriptures and adds a lot to the classes.

There are so many others I could write about, but, hopefully, this gives you a taste of the awesome people we work with.  As each person uses his or her unique talents we see miracles happening--which is the subject of my third post in this series, coming soon.

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