Sunday, September 29, 2013

Let the Work Begin

We feel like our real work has begun.  Through our turnover from the previous couple that served here, our discussions with lots of local missionaries and ward members, our training in Utah, and of course our personal prayer and discussion, we have determined there are five major activities that will consume our time. Last week we really got started on all of this, but this week will be our first full Marine week.

1. First is Officer Candidate School (OCS). These are the candidates for becoming marine officers. They are college graduates or enlisted marines who will be going to college if they pass OCS.  The 10 week school is  basically designed to "weed out" any candidates that cannot deal with extreme pressure and stress, such as they would be exposed to in battle, or who cannot demonstrate good leadership skills under pressure. As you can imagine it is extremely difficult and stressful. They get very little sleep. They are allowed an hour and a half on Sunday and one hour on Wed for "Spiritual training," and so we are responsible for giving a Sunday morning Sacrament meeting on base as well as a Wed night Family Home Evening.   We just had our first experience with the OCS group this morning.  It was so humbling!  When we arrived early (6;30 AM) the marines were outside marching around loudly, like they were having marching contests. I do not know how long they had been up drilling.  The McGraths, the couple from our ward that have been called to carry out these services for the OCS marines, explained to us how the services are conducted, and we moved chairs, got out books and materials, and set up for the sacrament.  We were ready and awaiting the arrival of the students by 7am.  In walked the first “candidate” (that is what they are called here) at attention, saying yes sir, yes mam.  We had to tell him to relax, have a seat, and don’t worry about anything for the next 90 minutes.  Pretty soon a few more came in, and we went through the same thing.  Eventually we had 9 at our little meeting – 5 guys and 4 girls.  They seem so young!  But they were happy to be there and they thanked us over and over again for providing the services.  During introductions we learned that 4 of them are returned missionaries, and 3 are not members of our church.  However, the ones that are not members had Mormon friends or distant family members , so they wanted to meet with the Mormons.  All of them were happy and excited when we told them we would deliver messages via email or phone to their loved ones.  After a song and prayer we had the sacrament.  Then Scott McGrath gave a nice message on "Dare to Stand Alone."  It was about standing up for what you believe even when it is hard, and you will be rewarded.  All of the candidates seemed to enjoy it and were smiling and nodding.  Then after a song and prayer Angelina McGrath broke out about 3 dozen warm cinnamon rolls.  The candidates were much more relaxed by then, and chatted with us as they consumed all of the cinnamon rolls and even licked the pan clean.  They are a great bunch of kids.  We are so awed by what they are doing and their dedication to serving their country in the Marines.  They told us about their backgrounds and their families, and wanted to know all about us, why we were there, where we were from, etc.  All too soon they had to go back to being candidates, and as they stepped back outside we could immediately hear they sergeants yelling at them to get back to work. It felt like we gave them and hour and a half of the real world and let them know that it is still out there waiting for them when they graduate from this school. They are all really strong young people, but some will not make it.  One of the candidates made a comment I thought was very insightful. The other non LDS candidates were discussing how at the other services that they still had to hold attention and listen to lectures like they were not human. The candidate said, I think that is because we know we are all LDS first, LDS who have decided to become marines. The others are marines who are trying to fit their religion into the world of marines. We love these OCS candidates and can't wait to get to know them better.

2.The Basic School ( TBS). After the officer candidates either pass OCS, or graduates from the Naval Academy, they must graduate from this 6 month course before they can be commissioned a Marine officer. It is also very, very difficult and stressful, however, the married students can have their families here, and they have liberty sometimes. We will hold weekly family home evenings for the single bachelors of this group, and visit the families who do live here- they do not have much family time during this 6 months.  However, a majority of this group lives off base or ( this school is on the)other end of this huge base) and attends regular wards in another stake , so we do not have quite as much interaction with them. A problem with this group is that part of the training is an unpredictable schedule.  At any time they can be told they are having maneuvers in the field with almost no notice, and they don't have time to contact us to tell us they cannot come to family home evening.
3.Third is our responsibility to look after the military folks in our ward.  We have about 20 families in various stages of commitment and activity in our ward that are Marines, Navy or Army.  We have several sisters with children whose husbands are deployed overseas or away at temporary assignments.  One mom has 4 kids under 6 and her husband is away for 4 months.  Another has a new baby that was born very premature (1 pound) and has multiple health problems; her husband is away for 2 months.  We made them our first priority, and visited with meals, treats, and toys for the kids.  Once again it was very humbling to see the sacrifices of these moms so that their husbands can serve in the military.  When Dan was in the Navy we knew many people such as these and we are glad we can help out in these situations.
4.A collateral responsibility is to support the young missionaries in our area.  Up to now this has mainly consisted of hauling them places in our car.  For example, we had our first District meeting, which is an organizational group of about 30 missionaries.  We meet once a week for training, reporting, and passing information along.  We had to haul 2 sets of bicycle missionaries from different locations to the church, then go get 2 more and take them to the church.  Each of these sets of missionaries lived about 20 minutes away from the chapel.  We put about 45 miles on the car that morning.  The District meeting was great.  It was so impressive to see these young missionaries conduct and lead their own meeting, providing excellent lessons and instruction.  We were so impressed by them.  They are all very nice young men and women and have given up so much to serve. We have enjoyed getting to know them all. They are very nice to include us in everything, even if we don't fully participate ( like their stake sport day...) It is like we are back in the Young Single Adult Ward again!

 5. Our next role is to provide service in the community. We stopped at the vet and I tried to convince them that STAR puppy classes would be a good service, but they said they didn't have any problems with dogs on the base because if they were a problem they were kicked off.....This brought back vivid memories of the SUBBase Dog Training Club we started with Swailes at the Submarine Base in Groton, Ct many years ago.  So we dropped the dog class idea.  Then we had a chance to stop at the Marine Center for Family Services.  We found the office of the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society there.  This group helps young military families with financial needs by giving budget training, providing emergency loans, helping wives cope while husbands are gone, etc. They need volunteers badly so we are going to try to work there one afternoon a week.  They will give us training so that we can conduct financial and budget training with individual families.  In addition to the help with budgeting we will just help around the office.  This was another humbling experience, to meet with these folks that volunteer their time to help young marine families.  We also got to participate in an excellent ward service project on Saturday.  We spent two hours weeding the playground (mom) and power sanding picnic tables (dad) at a local Boys and Girls Club.  It was wonderful to see dozens and dozens of ward members, including kids, giving up their Saturday  to volunteer. And it was fun to play with power tools for a couple of hours!


All of these activities involve a lot of planning, reviewing, organizing, scheduling, phone calling, texting, emailing, and "regrouping."  We have studied and studied our ward roster to try to learn names and family circumstances.  We have made spreadsheets and marked up calendars. And we have prayed and studied our scriptures and other materials to plan lessons and prepare spiritual thoughts.  But we are enjoying this part of the work as well.

In spite of being very busy, we did find time to visit a historic site one day last week.  We drove to Manassas, about 25 miles away.  It is the site of the first and second Battles of Bull Run, both important and pivotal battles in the Civil War.  There was a nice visitors center and an excellent movie portraying the battles.  It was interesting to hear about American history, but sad to hear about so many deaths at Manassas.  The fields, trees, and rolling hills were beautiful.  We spotted three deer across a field that were enjoying the grass, seemingly unconcerned about our presence.  We had a nice walk around the site.  Then we found the Bull Run Regional Library, which had an excellent genealogy section.  Mom got some one-on-one help about how to research Virginia ancestors, but still has not found that elusive second source to prove James Conaway’s lineage.  She is still working on it.  It was a lovely day away from Woodbridge, and we enjoyed being away from the traffic and noise for half a day.

We also got to have a nice spaghetti dinner with the Cullimores (the other senior couple) at our apt. It was funny to try to make everything work- we only had 4 dishes, so they all had to be clean,  and then realized we didn't have salad tongs or an ice cream scoop etc. But we improvised quite well and it was a fun evening.

We will have a very busy week this week, ending with Dan's Naval Academy Reunion ( we are only going for one day) in Annapolis. Should be fun.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Don't Take Anyone for Granted

We had an excellent visit last night with a family from our ward, a young couple with a 2 year old and a baby.  He is an active duty Marine and she was formerly a Marine.  They actually met when they were attending The Basic School together (school for all new marine officers), and they liked each other right away.  The trainees were not allowed to date, so she circumvented that by taking him to church - not considered a real date.  He joined the church and was baptized.  They fell in love and after TBS got engaged. You have to be a member of the church for a year before you go to the temple, so they were going to wait a year to get married so they could marry in the temple.  However, they found out that they both might be deploying to Iraq.  So they went ahead and got married in a civil marriage in a regular chapel, and 2 weeks later he shipped out for 7 months in Iraq.  They worked hard to stay connected and communicate often, but it was very hard.  Then he came home, but a week later she had to deploy to Iraq for 7 months.  Again they worked at staying in touch, but it was very hard.  In their first 15 months of marriage they were together for 3 weeks.  They said that although it was very hard when they were going through that period of separation that in the long run it strengthened them.  They had to fight and work hard to stay in touch and connected.  It made them closer.  And they never, ever take each other for granted, treasuring the time they have together now.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

We have arrived in Virginia

Posted by Dan and Lezlie - After driving 3080 miles since August 28th, we have finally arrived in Virginia and are getting settled into our beautiful little apartment.  But the past 9 days have been very eventful, so we will report on that.  Eight days ago we met with the six other military relations couples in Salt Lake at the Church Headquarters Building to have a last few hours of training with the Military Relations Department.  We had an excellent presentation from the head of the department and a few last minute bits of helpful information, as well as some very helpful training DVDs, and resource books. We also were given instruction on our relationship with base chaplains and different military terminology etc.  For example, we have "Family Home Evening" in the "Prayer and Praise" slot of the schedule on Wed night, and on base we are called "Distinctive Faith Group Leaders."  They also discussed the significance of this calling and read us some very touching letters from people whose lives had been changed by it, so that we are finally able to really understand why we are here. Then they took us all to lunch in the basement cafeteria, where we again were delighted to hear the head of the church music department playing Broadway musical numbers.  Then we were on our way.  We probably did a very un-missionary thing.  We had parked in the basement parking lot under the conference center.  It was pretty deserted down there so we changed into our travel clothes in the car.  Jeans, t-shirts and nametags!  We drove to Cheyenne, Wyoming.  We noticed multiple highway warning signs that said “All Roads to Colorado are Closed”  and later heard it was due to heavy flooding Colorado.  But family members there, Chris, Stacey, Paul, and Carol, were all okay.  About then we hit some heavy rains and thunderstorms.  We stopped at the Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, late, and in the midst of a torrential rainstorm. It was a long but interesting day. 

We awoke the next morning to a heavy fog.  As we headed out the door of the hotel on the Air Force Base we were surprised to see about a dozen Antelope on the lawn no more than ten feet away.  We stood silently on the porch to watch them eat.  It was beautiful to see them, and they did not seem concerned about us at all.  They took off before we thought to get a picture.  We traveled to Liberty, Missouri and visited the Liberty Jail.  For those of you that don’t know, Liberty Jail, near Independence, Missouri, is a famous Mormon historic site where Joseph Smith was imprisoned for 4 winter months with 5 of his friends.  There were never any formal charges brought against the men, and they eventually were allowed to escape. The Church owns the site and has erected a visitors center and reconstructed the original jail inside.  We met some senior missionaries and got an excellent tour from a young Sister Missionary, and it was a very moving story for us. It is hard to imagine living in that tiny, dark, cold, and dirty cellar for 4 months, but it did not stop Joseph Smith from receiving and recording some very inspirational messages.   Although conditions were miserable (the inside was 14x14x 6 with 2 six inch barred windows), Joseph received some very moving revelations ( D&C 121-123) in that jail. In summary,  after beginning with "Oh God, where art thou? and where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?(D&C 121:1) he received the following answer from God:

"And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou my son that all these things shall give thee experience and be for thy good." (D&C 122:7).  His final counsel to his companions in the jail was  "Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power, and then may we stand still with the utmost assurance to see the salvation of God and for his arm to be revealed." (D&C123:17)
The next day we had a great experience attending church in Independence, Mo.  Although it was full, there was only one other couple sitting in the same pew with us. After the service was over they said they had noticed our nametags (which say Military Relations on them) and that they had just returned from a similar mission in Charleston, SC.  So it was really fun and helpful to talk to them a few minutes about what they had done. They said one of their most rewarding experiences had been visiting rebellious young LDS men who were in the brig, and by the time they were visited were really considering turning their lives around and were happy to see someone from Church.   After that, we  visited the Independence Visitors Center, which was right next door.  There were some very interesting exhibits about the history of the church in Missouri. Mormons are usually perceived as being from Utah, but most of the early and most dramatic history of the church occurred in the Midwest.  A nice young sister missionary from Milwaukee gave us a tour.  The exhibit ended with a wonderful video presentation about families that showed a young family in various stages of life. It was very touching.  Independence is also the headquarters of the Community of Christ church, which was the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ. It originally comprised of many of the Mormons who had come out to Missouri, but after Joseph Smith was murdered did not follow Brigham Young to Utah. Independence was a very interesting place.

Next we headed to St Louis, where we got to visit my (Dan) cousins Don and Bonnie, and Uncle George.  George is my dad’s youngest brother, and is the only one of five brothers still alive.  Although he is 91 years old he is in great health.  He was happy and cheerful, and told us many great stories about when he and my dad were growing up.  Bonnie had copied some maps of nice scenic drives that she had enjoyed when she lived in Virginia. We had a delicious BBQ dinner, and although we were there only a few hours, we had a very nice visit.
After driving to Indianapolis the next day we went to the home of our nephew and niece, Lee and Laura Douthitt, who graciously provided us a place to stay.  Shortly after arriving we went to the home of Allan and Erin Diefendorf.  Allan was my (Dan) closest friend in high school  We had a wonderful dinner and talked about everything from children and jobs to high school memories and weddings.  It was wonderful to see them and the time went too quickly.  That night we visited with Lee and Laura and had a wonderful rest.
On Tuesday Sept 17 we visited Lezlie's old home on El Rico Rd, her high school (North Central) and met an old family friend, Gerri Heyne.  We went to the home of Marvin Eggleston and visited him and his wife Debbie.  Marvin was a high school friend of Lezlie who became a good friend of mine at the Naval Academy.  He is also the person that introduced Lezlie and I to each other.  He was our Best Man as well.  They took us to  Butler University where we met their son Matthew, and we all had lunch together.  Following our great visit with the Egglestons we had another good evening with Lee and Laura, playing with their labs, Hershey and Cheddar, sharing stories and eating pizza.
We next had a long, long day driving from Indianapolis to Woodbridge, Va.  We stopped in the middle of Pennsylvania to have lunch with the missionary couple we are replacing in Virginia. That was really fun- phoning each other back and forth on the Pennsylvania turnpike to determine what exit we would be passing at the same time! We got some last minute updates and it was really nice to meet our predecessors.   Once we hit the Wash DC area, the traffic was horrible.  We took the bypass loop around DC, and we made about 10 miles in one hour (literally).  The freeway looked like a parking lot.  Finally at about 8 pm we arrived in Woodbridge.  Another senior missionary couple serving in the area met us, gave us our keys, and spent an hour helping us unload. and giving us information and advice.  They also provided a hot loaf of homemade bread, which was wonderful since we had not stopped for dinner. The young elders also stopped by to see if we needed help moving in. The apartment was spotless  someone else has had military check out inspections...). We did a little unpacking and collapsed into bed.
The apartment is new and modern, with some nice views of a wooded area out all of our windows.  There is a reasonable size living room, dining room and kitchen area - a miniature great room.  We have a sofa and comfy chair, a raised style table with 4 stools, and medium size flat screen tv (although we opted to not get cable tv, so we can just watch DVDs).  There are two bedrooms and two bathrooms.  The spare bedroom is an office and storage area, with a large computer desk and shelves.  The spare bathroom has a stacked washer and dryer, small but totally adequate for us.  The master bedroom has a comfortable queen bed, a roomy closet, and a good bathroom with tub and shower.  It is a lovely apartment and we are quite pleased. We have a parking garage, and our apartment is just a few steps away from the parking garage door.  In the morning we did a walk around the apartment complex just to figure out where things are located.  We stopped by the exercise gym on the way back and found 4 sets of young missionaries, 6 guys and 2 girls, that all live in this apartment complex.  We made our first trip out into the city and found our Ward building and did some shopping.  After more unpacking we were just sitting down to dinner at 5:30pm.  We got a call from the Bishop of our ward.  He asked if we could be there for a 6:30 meeting he had previously scheduled.  We gulped down our dinner and dashed over to the ward building.  We got to meet with the Bishop and Scott and Angelina McGrath.  They are the couple that will work with us at the Marine Officer Candidate School (OCS).  Every time there is an OCS class (6 – 10 weeks long) we give them a sacrament meeting every Sunday and a Family Home Evening every Wed with the McGraths. The next new class will start Sept 29th.  So we got a lot of information about that process as well as about the ward.  The Bishop and the McGraths were great folks, friendly and upbeat.  They will be good to work with.
On Friday Sept 20 we finally ventured onto the Quantico Marine Corps Base.  We met with the LDS chaplain there and he gave us an outstanding tour for about 2 hours.  It is a huge base and we were amazed at how spread out things are there.  We saw the two Marine training locations where we will meet with Marines weekly, the commissary and the PX, the family service center where we may volunteer, and the housing areas where we will visit LDS families.  It will take us as long to arrive at our destination once we get onto the base as it will to get to the base.  It was a lot to absorb in a short time, but we felt great about the tour.  The LDS chaplain is arranging for us to meet all the chaplains that we will deal with during our time here.  We certainly had a lot of old military experiences flood back into our minds.
On Saturday we made our first trip to Richmond, about 90 miles south of us.  That is where the Mission office and Mission President’s home are located.  Our mission president, President Wilson, emailed us on Thursday asking if we could transport a sister missionary to the mission home on Saturday.  Of course we said yes.  This sister had to return home for medical reasons.  So early in the morning we picked her up and drove the 90 miles south to Richmond.  It was a pretty drive, especially as we got close to Richmond.  MUCH LESS TRAFFIC than going toward DC. We found the president’s home and got to meet President and Sister Wilson.  We only got to visit for a short time because they had other appointments.  They seemed like very nice folks though, and we are really looking forward to working with them.  They are from Anoka, Minnesota, and we got to tell them about our experience living in Big Lake, MN. By about 11:30am we managed to find the Virginia Family History library in downtown Richmond.  It was an interesting experience.  We got to handle old manuscripts and documents, and mom found a lot of information on her Virginia ancestors.  It seemed like a long drive home since it rained and there was a lot of traffic.  But we made it fine, and got some evening time to do more organizing. 
We are thrilled to be here to actually begin our work.  We love our cozy little apartment and have greatly enjoyed our few brief interactions with the young missionaries and other folks we will work with.  It seems like we have been preparing for this point for over a year.  So we say, let the work begin!  We are grateful to our Father in Heaven for getting us to this point safely, and feel prepared to carry out our responsibilities with enthusiasm. 

Virginia looks very much like Indiana without the  corn fields and with more water. The weather has been lovely since we have been here- always in the high 70s.  The only negative has been the traffic, especially between here and north toward DC. There are major highways, interchanges, and strip malls everywhere-very confusing still. We are very close to Potomac Mills Mall, and the church building where we will have most off our meetings off the base is very close. Quantico base is only about 10 miles, but it takes about 30 minutes to get there with the traffic. Today we will begin our Sunday responsibilities with a Ward Coucil- a new OCS class arrives at Quantico this afternoon, and we will begin having Sunday meetings for them next Sunday at 7:00 AM. We are making good progress but have a lot to do to get up to speed before then. We are a good team.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Week Two at the MTC


Some folks told us that they could not see the pictures we tried to include last time, so here they are again hopefully.  These are pictures of waiting with the MTC choir to walk to the BYU campus and eating ice cream at the BYU Creamery.  We received Church Education System training early this week because we may have to teach the LDS Marines some standard church based curriculum geared for College institute.  Most of the training was about how to teach with the spirit and how to develop meaningful  lesson plans to teach the scriptures.  The instructors were good and there was a lot of lively and informative discussion.  After training we went out into town to do a little shopping.  It was not anything exciting, I bought much needed black socks and Lezlie bought a new skirt.  But it was interesting being out in public with our missionary badges on.  Every clerk or person we came in contact said something about it – where are you going on your mission, when will you leave, where are you from, etc.  They all made nice comments and wished us well.  Of course this is Provo, Utah, so we expected everyone to be supportive and friendly.  But it was fun to get out into town for a short trip.  We attended another devotional with Elder Martino about the effectiveness of using members to help with missionary work. The choir sang ( we did not participate as Dan could not sing because of his cold). But it was wonderful to hear it – fantastic choir- really moving to hear so many people. It is truly awesome and unbelievable to see all the amazing young people here- and all of the seniors too- there were about 70 medical missionaries in the class that came Monday- it was pretty amazing. It will be fun to be with just the military specialists.

So we are doing laundry in the basement of the MTC. We are surrounded by 18-20 year old men with name badges in all languages, speaking together in dozens of languages, talking about family, friends,  issues with studying dreams and aspirations for their lives, how to do laundry, which types of  soap work best, best lunch choices and travel plans. It is much different than a normal college campus- happier and more serious at the same time. Peaceful. Sincere. Secure.

We had the first day of our Church Military Relations training, and it has greatly surpassed our expectations.  They are giving us the nuts and bolts of what we will be doing.  Both couples that are giving the training have been on Military Relations missions, so they can answer all of our detailed questions.  It seems a bit ironic that we started our training on the 12th anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks.  In addition to learning a lot of practical information about exactly what we will be doing on the military base, they shared several stories of amazing experiences of senior couples.  There was one particularly touching letter written by a mom that basically said the senior missionaries saved her young Marine son from deep depression and despondency.  I think it will help us do a better job if we think of these young marines as somebody’s son or daughter.  It is kind of funny how much different the atmosphere is in this classroom.  Although the training we have had thus far has been great, things were a little loose.  In this class when the instructor says we have a ten minute break, everyone is back in ten minutes.  You gotta' love these retired military folks!  The curriculum and handouts are laid out in a precise and organized manner, and we followed the planned schedule exactly.  It is a good reentry into all things military… There are 7 couples going at this time- A legislator from Wyoming that owns a cattle ranch and had to find care for his St. Bernard puppy and 150 head of cattle is going to Marines at Camp Pendleton, an 80 year old couple that has been married for 3 months is going to 29 Palms Marine Base in the Mohave Desert, a Korean War Air Force veteran is going to the Little Rock Air Force Base in Little Rock Arkansas, a retired FBI agent and his wife who was a head start teacher are going to an army base in Mississippi, and a Norwegian intelligence officer and his wife are going to Pearl Harbor, and a retired AirForce Colonel is going to Tokyo, Japan to Air Force Base there. I also know that Dave Hedengren from Richland is coming next week and will be going to Alaska. Everyone packed tonight and loaded their cars and we will all meet tomorrow in Salt Lake where the head leaders will give us some briefing and we will get training on the communications systems between bases, and get our military badges etc. We have lunch there and then head east. Hope to get  to Wyoming tomorrow night, then and beyond. Sure wish Chris and Stacey were a little closer, so we could have seen them on the way out, too. 

Our training today was excellent.  It was a Resiliency Training class that we will teach on the base. Bending  without breaking. The first is about strengthening the individual, then the couple, then the children and finally planning for before during and after deployment to help strengthen the family. After that we had addiction recovery program training. We will also probably be involved significantly in that.  It includes any type any type of addiction from drugs and drinking  to pornography, smoking and gambling.

We finished our 2nd day of Military Relations training and also our last full day at the MTC.  We will drive to Salt Lake early tomorrow morning and have our last half day of training at the church office building.  Then we will start driving east.  We heard many touching stories of servicemen and their families.  We talked a lot about deployments and family separations, and we could vividly remember the agony of being separated during our submarine duty years.  It was about the hardest thing Lezlie and I ever had to do.  But we made it through.  So we hope in some small way we can  help some of these young Marine families facing separations.  We were instructed on how to teach a course called Resiliency, a course designed to strengthen families as they face separation due to military deployments.  It was excellent training.  At the end of the day we had a short testimony meeting, which was quite touching.  Every single person talked about how much they had learned and how much they had been touched by the spirit here in just two short weeks.  Although we have only known these folks for a short time, we feel as if we have become closest friends.  It is sad to say goodbye. So we are trained, excited, and ready to go to work.  We just have to drive 2000 miles across the country to get started. 

The training today brought a lot of emotions from being in the Navy back. It is understandable that they require this calling to be to those who have been military. It is something that people cannot understand unless they have been through it. Seeing all the videos today of men leaving and saying goodbye to their families, and seeing them come home, brought  back so many emotions. Anne may barely remember some of Dan coming and going from his sub,  but I think Chris was too young to remember. And Carrie and Aaron only experienced reserves which was not usually too big of a deal to anyone but Dan. We really developed a deep love for these men today as we watched their struggles and stories, and really understand what we have been called here for. I hope we can make a difference in some of their lives. The wife that did the training today had made quilts for the young children of deployed military with the dad or mom's picture all over them. It was really inspiring. 

We visited Dan's high school friend, Sue Bramwell  Heath and her family in Springville tonight. We had never met her 23 year old son, Steven, who had been born with several severe handicaps. He was just the coolest guy and in spite of having challenges speaking, could sign and carry on quite a lively conversation with great humor and amazing spirituality. This was also inspiring, humbling and very enjoyable before we left.

Dan and I both wrote parts of this so it is a bit disjointed.

We have had several storms the last couple of days and reception has been messed up as far as facetime and email. Hopefully will improve when we are on the road, but who knows about Wyoming!  Goodbye MTC. This was an experience we are glad we did not miss.



Sunday, September 8, 2013

Week one at the Missionary Training Center

By Dan - We arrived at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah last Monday.  It is hard to describe the check in experience.  An overwhelming input of information, a joyful feeling of being a small part of something truly amazing, incredulity at the unbelievable organization and efficiency here, and great humility sitting together with 125 other senior missionaries bound for spots all over the world (ones that I can remember include Sweden, France, Japan, Hungary, Zimbabwe, Korea, Ghana, New Zealand, Mongolia, The Philippines, Netherlands,  all over South American, Germany, The Congo, South Africa, Bellevue Washington (the Allens, Carrie)  Corpus Christi Texas, and all over the USA).  There were about 7 couples doing military relations missions.  Regarding the organization, it was a lot like my induction day at the Naval Academy.  There were folks everywhere with clipboards and handouts, explaining where you had to go next, what you had to do, and what you had to pick up.  Everyone was very cheerful, helpful and knowledgeable.  At first someone told us exactly where to park temporarily and where to go pick up our packet of information. ( Many of these helpers are Sr volunteers from the community)  Next someone else showed us where to park to unload our luggage and where to park our car permanently.  Then 2 young missionaries helped us get our bags up to our room and gave us a quick tour of our building (we are in 2M, which is on the MTC campus).  We then paid in advance for our meals, picked up our training materials at the bookstore, had our shot records reviewed and recorded, got our travel per diem check, signed our ecclesiastical id cards showing we are official clergy for the church, received more handouts, and had a welcome meeting.  Everywhere we went there were people to answer questions and point out where we were supposed to go. The cafeteria is huge and serves excellent food – chicken wraps for lunch and roast pig for dinner.  Mom and I found the ice cream freezer at our second meal.  Uh Oh;)  It is amazing to be around 3600 young men and women that are in training to be missionaries all over the world.  They are all so energetic, happy and engaged. It is so cool to hear them speaking so many languages- many recognize and many we have never heard.  They are polite and friendly when approached, but mostly they just ignore us and mix with each other.  But it is a blessing to rub shoulders with them and feel their joyful spirits.  There is an excellent workout room in the basement of our building, and I got to try out the exercise bikes already.  The televisions in the workout room feature talks from church leaders, Mormon ads, and a couple of historical church movies.  We had an amazing first day here, and are truly happy to be a part of this work.  The folks here will be spreading the message of God’s love and plan all over the world, and doing service and good works everywhere they go.  It is a joy, but also very humbling, to be a part of it.  //Later in the week….  We have developed a routine.  We get up at 6am and walk around the edge of the campus for exercise.  Usually we see multiple young missionaries running in the dark.  After breakfast our training starts at 8am.  We get a lunch break from noon to 1:30pm.  Then we have more training until 4:30.  Our instructors are young men from BYU who have already served missions, one in Japan and one in South Africa.  Although our job is to work with LDS Servicemen, because we wear missionary badges we have to be prepared to answer questions and work with anyone that approaches us any time we are out- in the grocery, at the gas station, eating dinner out. etc.  We had some excellent lessons on how to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, how to help invite the spirit while you teach, and how to be good examples of faith.  We do a lot of role playing and teaching of mock lessons to local volunteers, which has been fun.  On Tuesday evening we hurried to dinner and dashed off to the Marriott Center, where we had choir practice with 1600 other young missionaries.  This picture is us waiting around with the other choir volunteers.  It was so much fun- the highlight of the day. The asst director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was the director. Then we sang at the Devotional where church general authority David Evans and his wife spoke. It was a great experience to sing with 1600 young people, and our song sounded good.
Meeting people here has been such amazing. The couples are all very interesting and committed. They have all sacrificed a good deal to come and are thrilled to be here. Many had to sell their homes and cars so they could afford to go.  It is so nice to see so many couples still enjoying each other and working together for a common good. There is no picking or bickering, but a lot of patience and good humor.   I would say the average age is about 75, and many are well into their 80s. It is cool to see all the older couples walking around campus holding hands. We are some of the “youngsters” of the Senior missionaries. There are jokes about their hearing aids, artificial limbs, naps and meds, but they are all amazingly spry and sharp for their ages. Dan and I are enjoying doing new things together. It is also VERY spiritual. Everyone here is very strong- for all of us, our practical experience has solidified our beliefs- we have all seen it work and we want to share it. It is very unique and impossible to describe unless you have experienced it. We are making a lot of very nice and interesting friends.

We met two very interesting couples one evening.  The husband of the first couple served a mission in Germany as a young man so speaks German.  He then majored in European History and taught for many years.  He and his wife have an assignment to live in Germany and to research the history of the church in Europe.  They will be traveling around Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, etc. and interviewing older members of the church, finding historical church documents and pictures, and eventually creating a book.  Cool!  Another military relations couple we met are going to Japan.  They will serve an Air Force base, an Army base, and a Navy base that are all near Tokyo.  They have never visited Japan, so we told them about our favorable experiences there.  People have asked us what Sr. Missionaries do- we cannot believe all the amazing and unique assignments we have heard- several are going to teach seminary or institute classes to LDS youth or young adults at colleges or organize youth or young adult activities in area where church membership is sparse. There are medical and dental missions, where LDS missionaries instruct doctors or dentists in that area in special procedures, some are setting up family history centers, or doing oral family histories, teaching technology, languages, helping with leadership in areas with few members, engineering water treatment, building buildings, painting, landscaping,  and all sorts of random unique things. But they are all important and needed in the specific area they are in. Even though we know that this work is going on, it is not bragged about a lot, and it really is overwhelming to be in the midst of all of these fine diligent dedicated people who are trying to make the world a better place. Much of the teaching we are getting is very applicable to being better leaders and examples in everyday life.

On one day for example, our theme was listening well, to understand what people’s problems really were, and then address the root problem rather than just “the tip of the iceberg”.  Our exercise was to meet mock investigators that are having some sort of problems in their lives and to try to help them learn to use the gospel to deal with the problem. Our couple was very nice, but it ended up coincidentally (or maybe not) that he had actually been a marine medic in Vietnam.   Even though it was 40 years ago he still had bad feeling about the awful things he saw there.  It was pretty humbling and we got good feedback and some insight on the types of military issues that we will be dealing with. We got mail - a care box from the Hong family from the Idaho State Fair, our military relations badges, and the receipt for my hepatitis shots, so it was pretty exciting (getting mail is a big deal here).  Tonight we shared the kettle corn with our friends from Menan, Idaho, who usually went to the Eastern Idaho State Fair, and had a lovely visit with them out on the 3rd floor patio, and met some other very interesting people while we were visiting. It is really amazing how quickly people can bond when they are in the same situation. When we have the same Gospel backgrounds, experiences and goals, there is an instant closeness.  We have been receiving emails from the church leadership in Virginia, so our service there is starting to seem real. We feel very humble and blessed to be having this experience. It has made Dan and I feel very close to go through this training together.
Saturday was our first real day off.  We did not sleep in though, we got up early and went to the Provo Temple.  It was nice to be there with new friends. Then we went to the Family History Center for the day.  Although we had planned to walk we had heavy bags, so we drove down to the BYU campus via the Creamery where we had some fantastic ice cream cones.   Luckily we found a nice visitor parking lot near the Wilkinson Center, and had a short walk to the family history library.  When we arrived in the morning the campus seemed very deserted.  After some good family research we went outside to eat lunch (the MTC cafeteria provides good sack lunches).  It was still hot, but we found some good shade for our little picnic.  This was a BYU football game day, and we noticed a definite increase in campus activity.  Lots of folks walking around in their Cougar gear.  After more family history work we were tired by 4:30.  We headed up to stop by the bookstore before heading home and found that there was a major thunderstorm in progress.  It was so bad that they delayed the BYU football game for two hours.  I guess the prompting to drive the car was more than just heavy bags.  We made it back to our room without getting too wet.
Sunday has been pretty amazing thus far.  We had sacrament meeting early with about 50 young missionaries.  As we walked down the hall we could see many other sacrament meetings taking place.  The whole MTC is divided into multiple branches, and branch leaders are called from the nearby community.  The young missionaries did everything except for 2 talks by branch leaders.  It was a very nice meeting.  Then after a quick breakfast we went to a large gym and watched Music and the Spoken Word, which was excellent.  It was not quite as cool as seeing it live last Sunday, but it was still really good. Next Lezlie went to Relief Society and I went to Priesthood.  There were about 20 young missionaries and about 20 of us seniors.  Once again the young missionaries handled almost everything, and they did a great job.  It was inspiring to see them and hear about where they came from and where they are going.  I had an interesting experience at lunch.  A young missionary tapped my shoulder and very seriously said, “Excuse me sir but I was told that there was an Elder Couch here that was a Naval Academy graduate.  Is that you?”  We chatted for several minutes.  He has finished his first year at the academy and is now taking a two year break to serve a mission in Tokyo.  He was an impressive young man, and it was fun to talk to him.  I am sure he thought I was ancient as I told him how things were in the old days at the academy.  Tomorrow we start our specialty training.  First we will learn about church education, since we might be teaching institute type classes to the young Marines.  And then Wed we start out two and a half days of the military relations training.  If it is even as half as good as last week, it will be awesome.  It is incredible to be here among these amazing young people as well as all of these competent seniors.  We feel humbled to be a small part of this group that are going all over the world to spread the message of God‘s love, to teach of Christ, and to do good works among the people.  Finally this evening we went to two devotionals, one for missionaries leaving this week and one for all the missionaries.  At the first one, they called out various countries and states, and the missionaries going to that area would stand.  It was so impressive to see these devoted young people and all the places they are going!  Each devotional had excellent speakers and wonderful music.  We are ending the day tired but feeling very well fed spiritually.  It was a wonderful day.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fun In Salt Lake City

Dan's post.  We are now in Salt Lake city doing some tourist activities before reporting tomorrow to the church Missionary Training Center in Provo for two weeks.  We have had great fun!  After 5 days of hot and backbreaking cleaning at home it was nice to get into the car and drive.  Arriving in Salt Lake about 6pm Thursday we headed directly for the family history library, which is right next to our hotel.  It is one of the largest genealogy libraries in the world.  We had fun Thursday evening, Friday, and Saturday working on our genealogy.  We both found major new items that were exciting.  I was taught how to get onto and use a Norwegian family history website.  I found some cool Norwegian records about my great grandpa Norman.  Lezlie found more information about her Virginia clan that we will be researching while in Virginia.  We also have taken several nice walks around Temple Square, which has spectacular flowers right now.  On Friday we got to have a short visit with the Military Relations Department in the church headquarters building.  We had a nice chat with the head of the department and his wife who works there too.  It gave us a better feel for what we will be doing.  They took us up to the 26th floor for a spectacular view of the city and then to lunch. We got to hear the head of the church music department play delightful piano music throughout lunch.  Friday night we went to a small outdoor concert of a family Japanese rock band.  The crowds, the beautiful park, and the music outside were all great fun.  In addition to spending a lot of time in the library, we also attended a temple session in the beautiful Salt Lake temple, very nice.  Today we were able to go to Music and the Spoken word, a Sunday morning broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (see pic below).  It was in the church's conference center, which is a spectacular auditorium that seats 21,000.  The music was beautiful and the spirit uplifting.  During the announcements before the choir sang we heard about a garden tour of Temple Square that would take place right afterwards.  So we went on the tour, and heard about the amazing gardens all around the temple.  They have flowers, shrubs and trees that have been brought in from all over the world.  The gardens were simply gorgeous.  We then made our way to the nearest chapel, about 4 blocks, and went to church.  The services were excellent, and folks made us feel welcome.  As Sunday School started, the teacher seemed quite familiar.  Then I recalled that he had been the featured speaker in a special military video the church made.  It is called "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled," and addresses the potential conflict some servicemen have of trying to "love thy neighbor" but being a part of the military that might send them off to war.  This man, Lance Wickman, had been an Army officer for two tours in Viet Nam.  He later became a lawyer and a general authority of the church.  He is now the General Counsel/Head Lawyer for the church. The video was excellent.  I got to meet him, and he said that serving a military relations mission is one of the most rewarding service opportunities in the church.  It was a very nice experience.  Finally we have returned to the hotel to rest, pack, and get ready for the real work to begin as we report for training tomorrow.  We have felt an amazing joyful spirit here as we toured the spectacular grounds, listened to the tabernacle choir, and sat in the beautiful Salt Lake temple.  It makes us feel very humbled to be a small part of the magnificent work the church does. 


Preparation for our Mission

Post by Lezlie.  Because we did not have computer service over the last 2 weeks, this post is a review our preparations before we left for Utah Thursday. Our last dog activity was the Columbia Basin Dog Training Club annual picnic.  Dan and I had great fun competing in games with Freckles and Joy with no responsibilities of our own. I was also able to meet with and train some of the advanced utility dogs in Tracy's new dog training facility, which was a treat.We distributed all of my plants, Dan and Aaron put my car up on jacks and we did last minute yard work. We left on a Thursday, took both dogs and went to Carrie and Matt's home, where we left the dogs. We had lovely dinners with Petersens and Taylors.  We drove to Bremerton for Dan's 40th H.S. class reunion. We had not attended any since his 5th reunion, always traveling or having a baby or grandbaby.  We had a lovely  luncheon at Sue Bramwell's family home (Sue was a good high school friend of Dan's) on Kitsap Lake with some of his close friends, and then went to the movie "The Butler".  We visited Eric Andersons lovely home on Oyster Bay (another high school friend). We visited the cemetery and put flowers on Dan's parent's graves. We spent some time on the waterfront in downtown Bremerton and then went to the reunion car rally and dance. Dan really enjoyed becoming reacquainted with old friends.  We stayed until 10, then drove around the sound, arriving about midnight.  We were up early the next morning with Freckles in tow, and flew to Houston. It was wonderful to see Anne and Rex's family and all the home improvements they have made since we were last there. We were able to see the movie "Planes" with the whole family, and had a summer school pay off (cash rewards for summer school achievements).  Anne and  I got Freckles all settled. She was doing very well using the appropriate potty spot, and all of the kids were very good with her, especially Brenna. It was very hard to say good bye to the Anne & Rex, the grandkids and Freckles. Then on to Florida, where we had a nice visit and very good food with my parents- Mother had made all of my favorite foods. Another hard good-bye, though when we are in Virginia we will finally be in the same time zone as Florida. After a short visit we were back in Seattle- dear Matt picked us up at midnight. The next day we picked blackberries, had a summer school program and another summer school pay out. We saw the great ultarasound pictures of our new granddaughter who will arrive in January.  Then it was time to say goodbye and get back to Richland. We said goodbye to many friends at church, then spent 3 days packing and cleaning. We worked very hard! We had dinner and a nice relaxing evening with Janine Swailes and had dinner with Aaron Wednesday before another goodbye. We were then set apart and formally appointed full time missionaries by our Stake President, President Powell.  President Burrup happened to be there, a friend of many years, and so he was able to be present. It was a lovely blessing that was very meaningful to both of us personally. We are  now  officially Elder and Sister Couch! What adventure lies ahead......