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.