Sunday, October 27, 2013

Marine Corps Museum

We got to take some young missionaries to the Marine Corps Museum this week for their Preparation-day (P-day or day off).  We only had an hour available ourselves, so just got a quick peek at the museum.  In that short time we were able to tell it is a fantastic spot and hope to go back for a more thorough visit.  Here is Lezlie with Elders Wray and Brown, Sisters Dally and Rushton, and Elders Berg and Brooks in front of the museum. Wray is from Blackfoot, Idaho, both he and Brown are great musicians. Brown is from CA and both girls are from Utah. Berg is from Wisconsin and Brooks is from Jamaica. We are taking Wray and Brooks to a Jamaican restaurant near here Tue. 
One day this week we had a sad experience followed by a wonderful high.  First we went to the chaplains briefing for a new TBS class.  All of the lay leaders for various faiths walked into a classroom filled with about 250 young marine officers.  The briefings were quite different than what we were led to believe.  We thought they were going to be just quick introductions of ourselves and a short description of what we offer.  However, from the Catholic Priest to the Fellowship of Christian Officers, and from the Navigators Bible Study to the Jewish Rabbi, they all gave mini-sermons.  They were preaching about the need for God to prevent suicides, and that you needed God or Christ in your life to deal with death in battle, and that all good Marines were Go With God Marines.  We were quite surprised and were not at all prepared for this type of talk.  So we stood up, introduced ourselves, and basically said we knew they could be better leaders if they were close to God.  Then we asked any LDS marines to meet us at the side after the meeting.  We were sad, sad, sad….. not one marine showed up.  Either there were no Mormons out there or nobody wanted to admit it.  So we were feeling a little down and out when we left, and we had to kill a couple of hours before our next appointment on base.  After some mundane tasks like washing the car and doing a little shopping, we headed for the home of the Hayes family for a Family Home Evening.  We had a wonderful experience there.  This Marine Captain and his wife have a girl 12, a boy 8, and a boy 5.  They were so well behaved and loving as a family.  They also have a 5 month old Rhodesian Ridgeback, not an easy dog to train.  But they had been working hard with it, and their training was evident.  So we had great fun talking to the kids, getting to know the adults, playing with the dog, and having a delicious meal.  Then we gave our obedience FHE and it could not have gone better.  There was such a warm and welcoming feeling there that we felt loved and appreciated.  It was an exceptional evening with a great family, and we felt blessed to have spent two hours in their home.  It totally brought us out of our funk from the sad chaplains briefing at the TBS school.

Another new experience this week was attending early morning seminary, the religion class for high school kids.  We volunteered to be occasional substitute teachers for seminary – the teacher is a marine wife with 2 children under 2, and we wanted to help her out - usually her husband watches the kids before work, but occasionally he has some sort of duty so she has to take the kids to seminary which starts at 5:45 we visited just to see how seminary runs.  We arrived at the bishop’s home at 5:30am; seminary is held in his basement every morning- he has dedicated one of the rooms of the house to it- they have a white board, tables, chairs, etc.  The class starts at 5:45am, and about 5:43am 13 sleepy but upright high school kids came stumbling down into the basement.  They immediately spotted the juice and donuts we had stashed in the back and got very excited.  We just observed the whole process and met most of the kids.  They were a great group and mostly cooperated, participated and interacted with each other and us. But how impressive for this group to be up and in seminary class by 5:45am and be studying the gospel.  We were inspired by them.  And they loved the donuts.  Later during our district meeting we detected one companionship that seemed a little down and out.  Several things were said by them that seemed to indicate they were having a bad week. One of them particularly is usually very upbeat and inspirational to everyone else, and he just seemed really bummed out.   It just so happened that they were the last two that we had to take home, so we spontaneously invited them out to lunch.  They accepted and we had an excellent discussion with them.  It turns out that one of them is brand new, and the other is his trainer.  The trainer was feeling that he was not competent as a trainer and was frustrated about not finding anyone to teach with his new companion.  So we talked about that and about things in general.  The conversation, or at least the excellent Mexican food, seemed to make them feel better.  We felt good about the outcome, and were happy that we followed an impression to help out these two young men.  That night a young lady, Krystal Watts, took us out for dinner.  Krystal was a young woman in our ward and Lezlie was her teacher at church and at WSU.  Krystal is an intern at the FBI Academy, which is on the Quantico Base.  Her grandma, who is a long time friend in our ward, gave us her phone number.  When we called she was glad to hear from us, and said she wanted to take us out to dinner.  We told her we were planning on taking her out, but she said no, this was on her. So we went to an excellent Italian restaurant, had a great meal, and enjoyed catching up on her life.  She is in the training program to be an FBI fingerprint analyst.  Once she qualifies she will work on all kinds of cases all over the US, and potentially in other countries, collecting and the analyzing fingerprints for federal cases.  It all sounded very glamorous and almost like a movie plot, but it is a real job and an important one.  We were stuffed and happy at the end of the evening.  What a great day.
For our OCS family home evening we had 13 attendees as you can see from the picture.  What an outstanding group of young people!  Lezlie gave an exceptional lesson about finding God’s love and principles in nature.  She had a superb slide show of all kinds of nature photos, some with Marines, set to some excellent classical music.  The lesson taught that when you are out in the field far away from a church building, possibly the only LDS church member around, and with no time to sit and read your scriptures, you can always look to God’s beautiful and amazing creations to remember his love.  It was well received!  Then they quickly dove into the autumn leaf  cookies, candy, peanuts, apple juice, and milk, like a bunch of bears eating honey after hibernation.  As you can see by their smiling faces they had a good time.  And we had a good time as well.  Oh, I almost forgot.  Lezlie really wanted us to sing the hymn “All Creatures of our God and King.”  We typically use the LDS Music program on our laptop for the accompaniment to our songs.  But this specific song is copyrighted so is not on LDS Music.  So we borrowed a guitar and she played it while we all sang.  It was beautiful, Lezlie did a great job, and everybody enjoyed it very much.  We love being missionaries here and enjoy serving these young marines and their families so much.
 We had a touching first visit with a marine wife that is home alone for ten weeks while her husband goes to Marine lawyer school in Rhode Island.  She had a newborn girl, a 3 year old boy, and a 5 year old autistic boy who also has ADHD. He has been in Kindergarten for 2 months and has been sent home 3 times and suspended for 3 days for biting a teacher who tried to restrain him.   She has her hands full!  We stayed for an hour.  I walked the floor with the fussy baby while she and Lezlie picked up the family room, which had been covered end to end with toys.  The 5 year old was at kindergarten.  We hope that we can help this young sister who has a long ten weeks ahead.  We felt like one hour of conversation with adults and someone else holding her fussy baby really helped.  On that day we next delivered ghosts and invitations to the ward Halloween party to eight families on base.  We thought we might only get to 3 or 4, so we were pleased at the results.  When we do these late afternoon visits and then have an evening commitment on the base we just eat dinner down there, as it is too far to run home, eat dinner, and run back.  So after some discussion about where to go for dinner we finally decided upon Bob Evans.  We almost did not go there because we have eaten there 3 times already.  But it is quiet and quick, with good food every time.  So we went.  Our waiter came up and said, “Hi, I’m John, your waiter from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”  It turns out that John is a local 19 year old church member who has been working since high school graduation to save money for his mission.  He spotted our nametags so asked the boss to be our waiter.  He had just received his call to serve a mission in Kobe Japan beginning in December.  So we had a great meal and chat with him.  He was great fun to talk to and he loved hearing about the MTC and about Anne’s mission in Japan. We felt his enthusiasm as well as his nervousness about his mission. He went the extra mile and made a smiley face on our salad with cucumbers tomatoes and croutons. We left him a large tip and told him to add it to his mission account.  It was a very enjoyable experience and the food was delicious as always.  Finally we went to our TBS family home evening.  We were not sure anyone would show up.  But a few minutes before 7pm in walks our Ian Dickinson in his full dress uniform.  I do not know if you have ever seen a full dress marine uniform, but it is pretty spectacular.  Ian has been one of our FHE attendees and he will be graduating next week.  It was the night of their big pre-graduation party and he just stopped in to say hello, and let us know that he greatly appreciated having the military relations missionaries available, an thanked us for our service. It was really humbling.  What an outstanding young man.  He is going to be a great marine officer.  Shortly after our other regular attendee, Tanner Washburn showed up.  We had an excellent discussion about the Word of Wisdom and about the special challenges military men sometimes have.  He is another outstanding young man, and we feel honored to know him.  He will be around for several more months in his training, so we hope to see him a lot.  After a late drive home we are about ready to collapse into bed.

We took a day off today and went into downtown Washington DC for the first time.  Most of the day was spent inside the Library of Congress, which was pretty cool.  We lucked out and found a 4 hour parking meter real near the library, which is actually 3 buildings.   It took a while to find the registration desk, get a library research card, find the tunnel under the street to the building with the genealogy library, and find the actual library.  But we finally did sit down and get to look up some family history data.  Mom was sad and frustrated by one unfortunate result.  The transcribed bible that placed James Conaway in Virginia was in some family history books of the Sparks family.  The reference mom originally found on said that the bible transcript was on page 888 of the Sparks family history.  It took the librarians about 4 hours to find the book, and when mom opened it pages 886 – 890 were missing,  Ugh!  The librarians said that it must have been misprinted.  Mom did find that there is supposed to be a copy in a library if Frederick, MD which is about an hour away from us.  So next we will try to go there.   After several hours of interesting research and lunch in a little cafeteria in the library, we toured the buildings a bit.  We walked through the giant reading room that is the icon of the library of congress.  It is the huge room with circular research desks all around the main floor.  I have seen it in movies before.  We also saw an original Gutenberg Bible and some beautiful statues in the building.  We finally departed for the National Harbor, which is a built up waterfront area in Oxon Hill, MD, a suburb of Wash DC.  After an excellent Thai dinner we saw a fantastic horse show there called Cavalia Odysseo.  It turns out that one of the founders of Cirque do Sole is a horse lover. After much success with the original Cirque, he broke off and formed his own company and developed this show.  It is performed in a huge circus type tent, but much fancier and with better seating than an old fashioned circus. It was huge.  The semicircular stage area was all dirt, flat in front with a large hill in the back.  Behind the hill was a gigantic screen where Imax type video was shown to enhance the performances.   It is hard to describe the show – a mix of acrobatics, dancing, tumbling, and superlative horse work.  It began with about 20 horses just wandering all by themselves around the arena with a wooded backdrop.  Gradually the riders wandered in one by one and petted some of the horses.  Then all of a sudden they had the horses running in a giant circle around the edge.  Then the riders would run up and mount a running horse totally bareback.  Very impressive.  Other memorable parts of the show – a female trainer with 8 horses.  With just her voice, hands, and a small crop she would have the 8 horses circle one way, reverse their circle, do spins, and run up to her and stop.  Very cool.  There were also several routines where the riders would be standing on the backs of two horses.  Kind of as an interlude (it really did not fit with the horses, but was cool anyway) there were some amazing gymnastics and tumbling by 8 guys from New Guinea.  Besides tumbling they did 8 man human pyramids, dancing, singing, and playing drums, all very good.  After an outstanding show we made our way back to Woodbridge.   Although we got home late and very tired, we felt like we had experienced a real day off and were refreshed and ready to get back to work.

On this day we did a ton of morning cooking, planning and errands before we headed out for the ward Halloween party.  At the last minute Lezlie got inspired that we should invite Tanner Washburn, a single marine at TBS, to a family party we had been invited to.  So at the last minute we invited Tanner, and to our surprise he said yes!  The Ward Halloween party was great with many activities taking place before dinner – hay rides in the parking lot, face painting, a cake walk, bean bag toss, etc.  We got our pictures taken with the Halloween backdrop, which was pretty impressive as you can see.  Oh, I forgot to mention mom did come up with a costume.  She put ears and antennae on an old nylon stocking (reminiscent of our Zirobian Road show costumes many years ago...)  We also made fake nametags that said Martian Relations on them. So we were dressed as missionaries from outer space.  It was fun, and the costumes were a big hit.   We were pleased to see one less active family there to whom we had hand delivered an invitation to the party. 
 After all of the games there was a dinner.  Even though we brought soup we did not stay and eat.  Instead we drove to the base to meet our marine Tanner Washburn.  He followed us to the Halloween party at the home of some other TBS marines that we know.  Our whole purpose was to hook Tanner up with some of the other LDS marines that are at the same school. Tanner is kind of waiting for his specialty class to start in January so he has been a bit lonesome.  When we got there only the couple hosting the party was there, and they were worried no one else would show.  But then two other LDS marines showed up, and Tanner had a great time chatting with them.  One of the other guys is a bachelor too, and he and Tanner hit it off.  That was our whole reason for inviting him to the party, to help him find some LDS friends at the school, so we were very happy.  We had to stop the grocery for refreshments for early morning Sacrament  Meeting because the couple that was to do it this week are ill.  We got home way too late for senior missionaries – the party was about 40 minutes away.  But we were happy with the successes of the day, especially getting Tanner hooked up with some other LDS marines.
Sunday - We had a much smaller crowd at our OCS early morning sacrament meeting today.  Illness and liberty drew some away and we only had four.  However, we had a great meeting with a lot of candid and personal discussion.  Mom and I supplied some excellent treats if I may say so myself.  We did little smoky link sausages wrapped in crescent rolls, two large fruit plates, juice, and milk.  We were up at 5am to get all of this prepared. The gang loved it.  A group of Protestants, friends of our group, has taken to stopping in our room on their way out to scavenge any leftovers.  They ate almost every last drop of the fruit.  We really love this OCS gang and are so proud of them for making it half way through their difficult training.  Following OCS sacrament meeting we scurried home for Phase 2 of the day.  We began preparing a meal for a young couple that just had their first baby and had had some minor problems.  After getting pork roast and vegetables into the crock pot and frozen bread out to rise we headed for Phase 3, ward council meeting.  All went well there and our report on visits to military families was well received.  Next we attended our church meetings, which we called Phase 4.  It was the Primary Program, and it was excellent and most enjoyable. After that was the first Quantico "Linger Longer" for several years, so we had refreshments for that too.  Finally, Phase 5a, dashing home and boxing up the dinner for the young, new parents.  And 5b, driving to the base to deliver it.  We had a short visit and peek at their new baby boy, dropped off the dinner, and came home for our own dinner.  Such days are exhilarating when we get to participate in so much service for others.  However, they are tiring too, so we are pretty exhausted tonight.  But we are very contented too, and very much at peace with our work.  We love being here and serving these good people.  Thanks to so many of you for supporting us.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Where did the week go? Reflection by Lezlie

Where did the week go? The Autumn weather is still holding, and I cannot believe that it is the week before Halloween already.  We are barely into our mission, and yet it seems we have been here forever. It is difficult to “explain” what we are doing here as far as a job description, but we understand it now- why we are here and what we are supposed to be doing, and we are doing it. It is simultaneously humbling and exhilarating.  We try to bring the love of Christ to areas which there are extra needs.
Military families are under great stress. Our job is to lessen that load. Fortunately the military has very good temporal resources (if the families are aware of them and willing to use them), however much of the stress is very spiritual. In a Church which holds family relationships as the highest priority, there is additional stress and conflict when men are deployed and away from home.  Although the Church has good resources also, in young families here for training for short periods of time- it is often difficult to become fully integrated into the Ward families, which can also offer great support. We are the "between any cracks in the system" support system.   Since the Church sponsored military relations missions, the retention rate of LDS military has increased 40%...This is done by very simple means. 
Quantico is a huge military base. They have generic protestant religious services on base for an hour a week, sponsored  by a base chaplain, who offers ministerial services to all of the men in his area There are several schools or areas on Quantico- Officer Candidate School, The Basic School, FBI Academy, HMX (president’s helicopters), Expeditionary Warfare School,  Communications school, and several other specific groups I am unaware of.  The chaplains can provide weddings, funerals, and religious counseling.  In addition to the “protestant” service, the military provides Catholic Mass for the troops.  In the past they have had some Catholic chaplains who do Mass in addition to  the protestant services.  Currently Quantico does not have a Catholic chaplain, and so they have contracted a priest who comes out and does Masses for the entire base, and does confessions and any other Catholic services necessary. There is a volunteer Rabi that comes in some weeks, for the Jewish men in training, and they also have lay leaders for Buddists and Moslems; however we have never seen any of these and we understand that they are not able to come every week. They also have some type of ethics class that anyone who does not have a Faith or doesn’t fit in anywhere else can go, though I don’t know who teaches that.
Our group is primarily LDS, although on Sunday we generally have 3-7 non-LDS visitors. These fall into a few categories.  Episcopalians and groups that are used to regular sacrament observance or more formal services than the protestant group has here (it is more new age guitar service), people who have an LDS friend and are curious, or those who have heard we serve good refreshments.  We are happy to see anyone that comes, and  have had many good discussions with these young marine candidates- they are at crossroads in their lives and just need a mature neutral sounding board.  It is so much fun to see them grow week to week as they figure out who they are and what they really want in life. Some of them come in excited from watching war movies, and quickly realize there is a difference between the movies and the real thing. There are also those who get it, and fully commit, even though they understand the sacrifice they are making for something they really do want to become - a marine office. They discuss a lot of this process with us, and we hope we can provide reasonably wise reflections from our own past experiences. Mostly we just listen.  Today was the first day that people could opt out of the program, and also the week many  were kicked out. We lost one, a non-LDS woman who had been coming regularly.  She decided that she would rather be a police officer than a marine so she quit. She called the local Quantico couple that works with us and asked if they could come and get her and let her stay at their home  until her family came and got her. We were happy she felt comfortable to do that.
We talked to another young man about his desire to go back to church after several years of inactivity. His wife is Catholic and he has been non-practicing LDS and they decided they would solve the problem by just not going to Church at all.  Now they have a son, and he determined he wants the same upbringing for his son that he had and he thought the church would be a great support for his wife while he gone.  However, he thought she would have to be a member to attend Relief Society, etc. We were able to suggest ways they could still find the things he wanted without her having to compromise her beliefs.  He is so thirsty for the spiritual things he once had, and it is exciting to see him feel them once again. He gets this look of surprise and delight- it is really touching.  Then we had a very nice talk with an outgoing and competent young man who had never been to an LDS service before and was the son of an Episopalian Priest in Philadelphia. He was very flattering and asked if he could continue coming because it felt more like the upbringing he had had- we had a lovely non-threatening comparative religion discussion, and we both went away edified. He came back and swept the carpeted floor with a broom ( and did a great job- said his grandma had taught him how to sweep a carpet with a broom). Our Bishop came down from Quantico to counsel again with the man who is getting married in Dec.  We visited with and our dear young man whose wife had 3 sick kids and had been exposed to rubella when pregnant; he said he had called home yesterday and all was well now. I have been corresponding between the two since they can’t call during the week.   Dan brought a new bag of cough drops for our woman with a bad cold- last week he and Sis McGrath brought hot water and herb tea and honey because they were all getting colds.  More than one cried.  This OCS group is our main responsibility. But we get so much back from them every time we meet with them. There are 4 returned missionaries (Hungary, Seattle, and 2 Brazil) who are really amazing to have in the group. They are really a strength to the others.
There is a generic protestant Bible study group that  has a “Prayer and Praise” hour once a week. That is the time that we have our Family Home Evening with the LDS Groups. The OCS group has 1 hour and they are bringing lots of friends to that. Since most of them have leave on Sunday morning now, many opt to sleep in. The Wed night is required for everyone. And we serve refreshments…
Tomorrow the next TBS class starts. These are officer candidates that have passed OCS to become an officer and must pass TBS to become a real, working Marine officer.   It is a 6 month program, so most bring their wives or families and live off base. They have many weekends off. So they attend regular church services at one of about 7 Wards in the area.  There are a few bachelors that live in the barracks on base, and we provide a Wednesday family home evening for them, so they can all get together. Some of the men go to a Singles ward in Fredericksburg, but they are scattered depending on where they live.  So it is nice for them to get to visit and discuss with other LDS bachelors of the same age.  The Wards pretty much take care of the families, though today we met and coordinated with 2 of the Stafford bishops. Accokeek Ward has 3 of our TBS families, and they are all very involved in their wards and doing well. One is going to Connecticut to have her baby while her husband is in a different school, but then is coming back here and was a little concerned about being back here by herself. She has us now as an additional contact and we will visit her, although I am sure their ward will take care of her.  Then in the Aquia Ward we sat behind one of the families who is from Texas, and played Grandma and Grandpa.  This couple has a 2 ½ year old, a 3 ½ year old, and an 8 month old. I put glittery butterfly stickers on the back of the seat and let the 8 month old find them. I also made a little black cat out of pipe cleaners.  This may seem like a silly irreverent activity- however the parents got to hear much more of the talks than they normally do.  Then we found out that one of the students that we thought was a bachelor, actually has his family down there. He is a primary teacher, but they have a new baby, a 2 year old and a 4 year old Down’s syndrome child, so it is difficult for them to both come, and he will be leaving to attend 10 weeks of training in Rhode Island. This is where we come in. The bishop knows that they need help, but he doesn’t understand the training or how long it will be so we have to find out and make sure the Bishop understands what is going on in terms that he can understand so he can help. The marine wives are taught to just buck up because it looks bad if a marine has a whiny wife.  So if someone asks, How’s it going, the wife will say, Oh, great. Jim is graduating from TBS and has made it into EOW so will be here another 6 months and won’t have to move. Bishop thinks all is well. Translation is,  “ I have not seen my husband for the last 6 months except on some Sundays because he has been camping at TBS. Even though I have a new baby, and two other high maintenance children I have been dealing with on my own, he will be in Camp Le June North Carolina for the next 6 months and I will be stuck here by myself. “ By transmitting this information, the bishop can then make sure the Relief Society is able to make sure she has help with the kids etc. Anyway we will try to meet with them this week.  We still have to visit two other wards that have some of our TBS marines.
In addition, we are giving family home evening lessons, to model them for young families, and making sure that families in transition are prepared- i.e., we check on people with new babies etc. to make sure they don’t need anything. As I said, most of the young officer families are doing OK, but there are some that have particular challenges- such as the lawyer who had a 1 pound baby who has many issues now. He weights about 12  lbs and is 10 months old. This is a challenge for anyone, but for military men who must be gone as much as they are, it creates even more pressure on everyone in the family.  So, we get up in the morning, look over the people on our lists who are stationed at Quantico, whether military or missionary, say a prayer for each of them, and then say yes to whatever needs to be done that day to support them. We plan, but things never go exactly as we expect. But we have amazing and rewarding experiences, get to know a lot of fascinating people, and hope that we are touching lives in very small but very "needed at the moment" ways.  Anything we can do to make the lives of these dedicated families easier makes our mission very meaningful.

Bachelor Marines

This week we got to take out two young , bachelor enlisted marines, Jordan from St George, Utah and Jimmy from a tiny town in east Texas. One works for HMX, which is the presidential helicopter group, and the other is a hospital corpsman taking care of the Officer Candidate students.  They both were from active LDS families, but had joined the marines to get away from home and be out on their own.  However, both of them seemed a bit lonely like they were missing home and family.  It was nice to act as pseudo-parents for them and let them just talk about their life in the marines.  We gave them our card with all our contact information and said "Call us if you need help."  We will try to touch base with these young enlisted marines every couple of months.
On Tuesday Lezlie taught a great lesson at our TBS Family Home Evening.  It was the same lesson we used at OCS last week, how seemingly small and simple things can add up to something great.  We met a new TBS marine, and he was a great guy.  We really enjoyed getting to know him, but he is graduating in just two weeks.  We will experience saying goodbye a lot here since the longest schools are only 6 months. We also had another enjoyable District Meeting day, when all 40 of the missionaries in our zone get together for training.  It is so impressive to see these young people lead themselves.  The experienced 20 year old missionaries teaching the new 18 year old missionaries how to talk to people and how to teach lessons.  It is inspiring to watch them in action.  After hauling missionaries and attending the meeting we had a couple hours of down time to do some lesson planning.  That led right into one of our favorite activities of the week, our OCS family home evening.  Our co-leader Scott McGrath gave a nice lesson on leadership and the attendees all shared great comments and stories about leadership.  These young men and women are special people.  They are so dedicated to becoming good marine officers and leaders of other marines.  We are humbled and inspired every time we see them.  They were pretty excited to dig into the refreshments of chocolate chip cookies and ice cream. 
We also did our first day of volunteering at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society this week.  We received some basic training and orientation but did not really work with any marines that came in.  We will volunteer every Wednesday afternoon for four hours.  We will start out by answering phones, helping marines fill out forms, handing out information, etc.  But as we get more training we will help by doing budget planning and analysis and processing emergency loans.  They said that a lot of times the marines just want someone to talk to about their financial issues.  It should be very interesting and we are glad to be helping these young marine families.

We had another minor emergency missionary transport.  Late at night our young friend Elder Brown called and said he badly needed to go to the dentist in the morning at 8:30am.  He had been having severe toothaches.  So  we changed all of our original plans and I drive him and his companion all the way to Burke, VA, a small town about 45 minutes away.  It turns out that there is an LDS dentist there that does free dental work for missionaries.  We had a pretty drive through the country to Burke, seeing some beautiful old Virginia mansions as well as bright fall colors.  Although it was pretty boring for Elder Le and I to just sit and wait for an hour, we had some pretty good discussions.  The dentist found that poor Elder Brown had a cracked tooth and was able to fix it.  After getting the young missionaries home we headed into Washington DC to attend the temple.  It is kind of a hectic drive around Wash DC to get there.  We are south of DC and the temple is on the far northern side.  But we eventually made it safe and sound.  It is a beautiful temple and the grounds are just spectacular with fall flowers and shrubs.  We had a nice temple experience, and afterwards face timed with Lezlie's folks while we walked around the gorgeous temple gardens.  Our drive home was tough because we got into early rush hour traffic. 
We made it home from the temple by dinner time, but we were soon out the door with 4 plates of brownies.  Our assignment was to find out about 3 families that were on our ward roster, but they had not been seen for a long time.  After a lot of driving and locating hard to find addresses we determined that all of them had moved away.  In one poorly lit neighborhood we had a scary experience with a large man and a large barking dog, neither of whom were pleased to find two old Mormon missionaries on the porch.  But the man did confirm that our guy no longer lived in that apartment, and we were quickly out of there. On the way home we realized we had 3 plates of brownies that we did not want to take home, as we would have eaten too many of them.  So we called one of the sets of missionaries that live in our complex.  It turned out that all 8 of the missionaries that live in our apartment complex were at the apartment business center using the computers to file their weekly reports.  We told them to wait there until we got home.  As we pulled in all 8 of them were standing outside the office chatting in the parking lot, and we were able to distribute all of the brownies among them.  They were so happy that it was the end of a busy day for them, and that hey had brownies to eat for a bedtime snack.  We had a nice chat with all of them, which ended our day on a high note.  Another fun activity with the young missionaries was making dinner for two sisters.  We made an excellent taco salad and had a great meal with them.  Mom did pineapple ice and chocolate cookies for desert.  We feel especially close to Sister Allen as she is one of the first missionaries we met here, and we have done several things with us. She gave us a lot of help and information when we first arrived. It was also fun to get to know her new companion, Sister Moon, who is from Cedar City, Utah.    Mom also showed them her new presentation about finding God in nature.  She will use it for her Wed FHE lesson with the OCS group.  The sisters loved it.
We had a busy but wonderful Sunday.  We arrived on base at 7am and hauled several loads of our teaching equipment (laptop, in-focus projector, speakers) and food (2 large pans of bread pudding, two gallons of mile, two bottles of juice) into our meeting room.  Soon our outstanding young marine officer candidates came in.  In just these few short weeks we have to come to know and love these young people, and feel honored to be working with them.  We had a good lesson on faith, and we were able to talk a lot about how faith can help one be a successful leader and Marine officer.  The candidates have become more open about sharing and contributing, and we had a lot of good interaction and shared feelings and stories.  It was a rewarding and uplifting meeting.  Then they dug into mom’s bread pudding, which was excellent by the way.  We thought the two large pans would easily feed the group, and had visions of taking a couple of servings home for our dinner.  But they ate every bit of it.  After saying goodbye to our young marines we drove south 15 miles to the small town of Stafford to attend two sacrament meetings there.  A majority of the The Basic School (TBS) students live south of the base and there are 4 wards down there that each have a few TBS families in them.  So we met two bishops and attended back-to-back sacrament meetings.  We were able to meet all the TBS families that we are aware of there.  It was great to see all of them.  We sat right behind a young couple with 3 young children.  Towards the end of the meeting the kids started getting bored and restless.  Mom had our “Go Bag.”  She pulled out a colored pipe stem cleaner and started forming a dog.  In seconds the two older girls, about 2 and 4, were watching with fascination.  Then mom pulled out two fancy coloring pictures with markers that kept the girls busy for the rest of the meeting.  The parents were grateful, and we were grateful as well.  It feels good to help.  After departing home at 6:30am we finally made it home at about 3pm.  It was full, but it was a lovely day.   

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Missionary Transfer Day

Our week started with several visits to the hospital.  Elder Cullimore of the other senior missionary couple here had a couple of tough days of tests and feeling very ill before they found out he had Salmonella poisoning.  Once diagnosed they were able to treat it quickly and effectively and he is doing well.  We had great fun Monday night feeding six young male missionaries in our little apartment.  Lezlie made a huge pot of chili and a batch of hot fudge.  We had a great time getting to know these excellent young men better and they seemed to enjoy dinner, especially the hot fudge.  We provided a short FHE lesson for them on obedience and had a lot of fun with them. 

Oct 8 – Tuesday is normally District Meeting day where all the missionaries in our zone meet at the chapel for training and information exchange.  However, usually the week of transfers there is no district meeting.  Thursday of this week is transfer day so we thought there was no district meeting.  About 10pm as I had just crawled into bed the text messages started coming in..."Elder Couch, can you please give us a ride to District Meeting tomorrow."  It turns out a lot of the young missionaries thought there was no meeting either, but about 9pm they found out differently.  So beginning at 8:15am we started picking up young elders and delivering them to the church.  We transported 4 pairs and each pair lived at different apartments.  We had a nice district meeting with some photos as well since many of these missionaries will be transferred this week.  Then we started transporting the 8 elders home.  The last pair asked if we could please, please let them change clothes and then drop them off at the food bank 10 miles away so they could do their service work.  And oh by the way, can we please pick up two more elders that are also supposed to help at the food bank.  So we did all that and finally arrived home at 2:30pm after traveling about 80 miles.  Don’t get me wrong, we love doing this.  It is just amazing how much driving we do to help get these young missionaries around.  We love saying yes, and we love having them in the car because they are so much fun to talk to.  But it is a lot of driving, usually in heavy traffic.  Finally we headed for Quantico and visited 2 families off base (2 plates of brownies), 1 family on base (a baby gift for a newborn boy), gave a FHE lesson for a single young marine at TBS, and finally dropped off another plate of brownies to another off base family.  We  made it home about 10pm and tiredly dragged ourselves into bed.  We love being busy, but we do get tired.  Good tired.  This is our District, just a few of the great young missionaries we get to work with.
Our first Family Home Evening for the officer candidates went really well. We had ten attendees, and mom did an excellent lesson based on a Mormon Message video “Flecks of Gold.”  (Thanks for showing us the Mormon Channel Rex!).  In it a gold prospector is about to give up because he has not found any large nuggets.  An old timer teaches him that you can get hundreds of flecks of gold from most of the rocks, and over time those flecks add up to a lot of wealth.  So mom taught about the principle that small things can add up to great things (see D&C 64:33).  She had a game where the words of the verse were hidden under chairs and on windows around the room, and the teams had to find the words and put them together into the verse.  Then at the end we had a bridge building competition (kind of like OM).  They had to build a small bridge over a blue construction paper river using toothpicks and marshmallows.  We wondered if they might find the games too childish, but they really had a ball.  Then we fed them brownies, milk and fruit.  Lots of brownies.  I think one guy ate nine!  It is hard to describe how inspiring it is to be with these kids.  They are being put through the ringer every day, pushed to their mental and physical limits.  To see them smile and laugh, to get tears in their eyes over the lessons or when they talk about family, to see them support each other – it is just amazing.  We feel privileged to work with them.  They are going to be amazing young leaders in the military or in whatever careers they go into.  They are so appreciative of every little thing we do. 
We experienced our first transfer day this week.  Every 6 weeks many of the missionaries get transferred to new areas and get new companions.  This is a common practice to give the missionaries more experiences with different companions and different areas, and to make sure they are continually learning and growing.  Transfer day is a big deal, because almost all of the missionaries are affected in one way or another.  All of the missionaries being transferred go to Richmond and have a big training meeting before heading out to their new assignments.  So first thing in the morning we took some Elders to the church building in Stafford, about 25 miles south of here.  When we arrived there were about twenty missionaries milling around, a huge mound of luggage on the floor, and about ten bikes lined up by the church door.  Then a large van (probably 15 passenger) arrived hauling a trailer.  Amazingly all of the luggage and the bikes fit into the van (a small miracle).  There were hugs, handshakes and tears as the missionaries said goodbye to dear companions.  We had an amusing last minute incident with a fish hook.  One Elder had a small fishing pole.  He had lived at one apartment that had a fishing lake adjacent to it, and on P-day he would fish.  He had laid his coat on top of the fishing pole in a van, and the triple hook on a lure got stuck in the back of his suit coat.  Luckily I was prepared.  I have a small tool kit in the car that had a miniature set of pliers, which were big enough for me to bend the hook barbs back and forth and break them off.  The fish hook crisis was solved and the van took off.  About six hours later we were back at the Stafford building, and the same van and trailer arrived with a new batch of missionaries.  Green missionaries met their trainers and new companions introduced themselves to each other.  It was amazing to see all of this work so well.  We hauled some missionaries home but found that they needed furniture assembled.  They were in a new place with no beds.  I changed into jeans, grabbed my tool box, and headed out to help put furniture together.  We got all the beds together in record time, and that was the end of our first transfer day.  I think I am getting a reputation among the young missionaries as the guy with tools!  I like it.

We made a push at the end of the week to finish visiting all of the Marine families in our flock.  So we set out one day with five plates of brownies and a baby gift.  We found all but one family home and had some wonderful visits.  I met an outstanding young Marine from the Naval Academy class of 2010.  It was fun to chat with him.  All of these great Marine families have been so warm and welcoming, even those that are less active church members.  We feel privileged to work with them.
We had our 3rd Sunday with the officer candidates.  This was a milestone day, because it is the first Sunday morning when they have liberty and can choose not to attend church.  We still had 9 show up at 7:30am, and the other two had told us they would be in town with family members.  We had a great service and were able to provide cough drops and herb tea for several that had developed colds.  After an excellent lesson on prayer by Brother McGrath, our Bishop, who had driven all the way to Quantico at 7am, made some excellent remarks.  He talked to them about being leaders, and encouraged them to marry their Marine leadership with their belief in God.  It was very appropriate and uplifting for the OCS candidates.  Sunday evening we attended a wonderful musical fireside put on by the area missionaries.  There were vocal and piano solos, a cello number, a guitar piece, and finally all 30 of the missionaries sang “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.”  Prior to each piece the performer would talk about the song, why they chose it, and what it meant to them personally.  It was really uplifting and there was some exceptional talent.  The most outstanding number was a young Elder singing “Savior Redeemer of Mankind” with two violinists and a pianist accompanying him.  The amazing part was that the violin players were about 10 and 12 years old, members of the local ward.  As we get to know these young missionaries better and better we get to love and appreciate them even more.  Not only are they dedicated to their work, they are just nice, friendly, polite, respectful young people, something that we do not always see out in public.  It is amazing to work with them.   

A Song in My Heart

By Lezlie -
I woke up this morning with a song in my heart. It was 6:00 AM- I had been up until midnight, and I was recovering from a rotten cold. I am away from family and friends, with very few material possessions. The peace and joy I felt made no logical sense.

As a scientist I always want to analyze data that is not logical to find the “secret” or the unknown cause  that is lurking beneath the unexpected data.  As a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints of 35 years, I am still amazed how differently the Lord works, and how easy it is when we do what we are asked. It does not always make sense, but it always works…

What brings this joy, this feeling of accomplishment on a mission, when we are not doing anything that we don’t do in our normal lives in our home in Washington with our own friends in our own surroundings???  I am not sure, but I want to understand it so that I can have it for the rest of our lives.  Here are some of my hypotheses…

1. In a real, tangible sense, totally trusting your life to the Lord. Going on a mission where you say that you will go anywhere you are asked and will do anything you are asked is sort of like jumping off of a building and asking the angels to catch you. When you land, it is like being in OZ and saying OK, now why am I here? It really causes you to reflect about what  is important to the Lord and how you can use your skills and talents to do what God thinks is important, rather than trying to sift through everything in your daily life. There is no waiting until we have time for things or until whatever we think needs to get done gets done. It never does. Those things are what we are here for, and get #1 priority. Interestingly, the tiny little things that we are continually doing here, that seem insignificant in themselves, are a big deal to the people on the receiving end at that moment. It is very rewarding to not have the distractions that we do in real life to do things we see that need to be done and be able to do them right then in a way that works.

2. You are no longer yourself. I always thought the missionary badge would be inhibiting, but it is surprisingly liberating. People recognize you as a representative of the Lord, rather than as Dan or Lezlie.  Because of that they assume you want to be nice, and most people are inordinately polite and helpful. We know who we are, so it is just amusing if people seem afraid of the tags.  On base, because of the competent and dedicated work our predecessors did, we are welcomed with open arms.  Anyone who has worked with Sr missionaries in the past has been not only respectful but almost in awe. The biggest confusion they have is that they cannot believe we are not getting paid.  They recently had to hire a Catholic Priest on base to serve mass to the Catholic candidates, because they did not have a Catholic Chaplain here, and some of the other distinctive faith leaders that are volunteers will not come to the early morning meetings, so all the chaplains are very amazed that the Mormons are having services with up to 5 volunteer leaders who come at 5:00 in the morning if necessary- our bishop came down ( 40 minutes to our early services today) because one of the officer candidates needed a marriage interview so he can get married in the temple when he graduates in Dec.  We feel we are filling big shoes. But we know we are competent to do whatever is asked. It is a good feeling- to know that your life experience has taught you something you can use for the good of something much bigger! Seeing the dedication that the other missionaries here have is inspiring- People have the stereotype of the young elders knocking on doors, but we see them working in food banks, tutoring, building retaining walls in parks, weeding and painting Boys Clubs, and singing in the hospital. We feel every time that we put our badges on that it is an honor to wear them.

3. We have only what we need to make us comfortable. The apartment we have is very simple but adequate for our daily life- a comfortable bed, 2 working bathrooms, a view of a woods  and a bonus for us is the dog walking area is right out of our window- tender mercies) a friendly toad and squirrel  that visit frequently, and a large, efficient oven. We have a desk for our computer and enough closet space for our clothes. It takes us 10 minutes to get ready in the morning, and 10 minutes once a week to clean the apartment. We have nothing personally we think we have to do. We do not have to get back or change plans to water the plants, or feed the dogs or watch a TV show.  Instead of being a hardship, it is quite liberating.

4. Dan and I are focused on the same goals every hour of every day. We are a great team, but it is easy to get in routines and our own interests at home. Not that that is bad, but it is invigorating to have to revitalize and use each other’s skills as we work to achieve the same end.  We make a plan each day, divide up the work, and then do what we each do best and help each other. The end result is appreciated by both of us. For example, I research LDS military families that are new or struggling in the area, and determine where they are geographically and group them. Dan takes care of being sure the car is ready, and checks past visits for any special needs. I bake something to take or we take a coloring book or flowers, depending on where we are going. Afterward he records what happened while I plan the next visit. When I do a lesson, he does the audio-visual, and vice versa. It has been fun to be in new situations where we have to depend on each other in new and yet old ways.  Along these lines, we are together all the time- never more than a room away.  Instead of feeling like we have to make an effort to give one another attention, it is automatic, and we both receive enough attention from our spouse..!

5. We are forced to be resilient and flexible and creative. This gets more difficult as you get older, and it is good to exercise this quality. We plan every evening for the next day, and adjust it in the morning, and there has not been a day gone by that something hasn’t thrown our entire plan out the window.  A young elder breaks his foot, they cancel one of our meetings with OCS, no one shows up at TBS because they are in the field, the other Sr missionary couple here got salmonella, one of the OCS candidates wife finds out she may have been exposed to a dangerous disease while pregnant, a young sister missionary must be sent home and we must transport to Richmond, and on and on.  But interestingly, we have dealt with these things and STILL accomplished all that we had planned. Not in the same order or at the same time, but by the same deadline we had set for ourselves. As a matter of fact we are currently ahead of schedule. This doesn’t work out on paper, but we are experiencing it happening. Sort of the parable of putting the pebbles in before the sand…  So see the flexibility & resiliency of the young missionaries is unbelievable. Today was transfer day- they had 1 day to pack up everything they have and be ready to start work with a new companion in a new area. They are very close to their companions so it is very difficult to leave friends they have just begun to feel comfortable with.  But it works. They obey and receive skills and blessings that cannot be described and will be with them their entire life.  We do not feel interrupted or bothered like at home when something comes up- it is as though this must be what we are supposed to deal with now. This is our job. And it is amazing to be in the places you can help and make a difference when you are willing to do it. These are qualities we are learning and hope to carry over more off our mission.

I am sure I will have many more reflections on why this works over the next several months, but right now we are enjoying having a very positive and amazing experience doing very simple things.
(Dan - I would like to echo Lezlie's reflections and agree with all she has said.  We are having an amazing experience in only our first month, and it is hard to capture exactly why it is so amazing.  I think that being able to truly make service to others and thereby service to God your number 1 priority all the time provides wonderful feelings of peace, contentment, and fulfillment.  We love what we are doing.  We love being missionaries.)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Unusual Missionary Assignment

We started our week by providing family home evening lessons for two Marine families with several small children each.  Lezlie turned our dog obedience lesson into a PowerPoint presentation.  It was the same lesson we normally teach with Joy and Freckles, but we used slides with pictures of dogs, many of them ours, to demonstrate the ideas.  We first visited a family with two little boys and a young girl.  They enjoyed the lesson and the brownies.  They were a great family, the dad a Master Sergeant in the Marines, serving for over ten years thus far.  He was a pretty cool guy.  Just before we left, the wife said to us, “I heard that you are going over to Morrises to do a family home evening.  You might want to rethink giving them the obedience lesson with the dogs because they just got rid of their dog last week because it was out of control.”  Uh oh!  We drove to the parking lot of the PX.  Lezlie whipped out the laptop and redid the Obedience PowerPoint presentation, removing all of the dog slides.  We quickly made up an obedience game for the kids using some treats we had for rewards.  (We have a “to go” box in the back of the van.  It has a bunch of our pamphlets, some videos, and a bunch of kids toys and treats.  This is our box for things we might need when we visit folks).   We quickly drove to the second family and made it just in time.  In spite of the sudden last minute changes, all went well and the family had a good time. 

On Tuesday we had to address a computer crisis.  Lezlie's computer crashed and upon multiple attempts to restart we kept getting the blue screen full of error messages.  After two visits to Best Buy the Geek Squad told us the computer needed more memory, which we had to order online.  The Geek Squad will install it once it arrives.  Later in the day we met the head chaplain of the base, and he was very cordial.  He has to approve our status as on-base lay volunteers, so we explained to him all that we do.  It was quite interesting, because he asked us how we were supported.  What he really meant was who pays for us.  We said no one, we pay for ourselves.  He seemed quite surprised. That same question came up about 3 times, and he seemed amazed that we were true volunteers.  Meanwhile we had received a call from one of the young elders.  He had injured his foot and needed to go to the doctor.  So we drove all the way back to Woodbridge, about 20 miles in heavy traffic, and got him to the doctor.  They wrapped his foot and sent him to the hospital for xrays.  We have found that transporting young missionaries is a major part of the job.  Although it takes some time and extra gas, we love being with these young missionaries and hearing the stories about their work.  After taking care of the injured missionary, we had to dash back to the base for our TBS students family home evening.  We got there with brownies and lemonade, set up our laptop, and were all ready.  Alas, no one showed up again. We heard they were probably in the field. We have decided we need to call the 5 single TBS students and personally invite them to the FHE then see what happens next. .
This week we also had an excellent meeting with Chaplain Early, the chaplain over The Basic School students.  He and his assistant greeted us at the door and gave us cold bottles of water – it was a very hot day.  They were the friendliest, most cordial, and most interested of all the chaplains we have met thus far.  They pointed to the chapel and said, “This space is yours to use anytime you want as long as it is not scheduled for something else.”  They were very knowledgeable about what we do, and had nice things to say about our predecessors.  They promised to keep us in the loop with all the information about TBS and invited us to attend the graduations.  It was a great meeting and we felt a true welcome from them.  After a few errands around the base we were able to deliver brownies to a family we had not yet met, a plant to a family that just moved into a new house on base, and dinner to a young couple that are expecting their first child.  The last family were great fun to talk with.  We had a lot in common; she was raised in Washington and is a Husky football fan, they like dogs, and had a huge English Bulldog- and she is a school teacher.  So we had a great chat with them.  We ended with a nice spiritual thought and a prayer.
Our Thursday turned out to be a quiet day at home.  Lezlie tried to doctor her cold.  We did a little shopping, caught up on a few chores at the apartment, and prepared the lesson for the OCS guys on Sunday.  Then we had three sister missionaries that live in our apartment complex come over for dinner; Sisters Allen, Rushton, and Dally.  The reason there are 3 is that Sister Allen’s companion had to return home for medical reasons.  She will get a new companion next week.  We served them salad, pizza, and hot fudge sundaes.  It was great fun, and we really enjoyed getting to know the sisters better.  Sister Allen danced in high school, Sister Rushton was in student government, and Sister Dally was on the stage crew for drama club.  Amazing girls, and so confident and diligent.  We showed them our obedience family home evening lesson and they were impressed with Lezlie's amazing PowerPoint skills. 

After a bright and early start we arrived in Annapolis by 9:30am Saturday morning, found a parking spot on the Academy grounds, and went directly to the Midshipman Store for souvenirs.  We ran into good friends and company mates Mike and Karen Simon.  So good to see them!  After spending too much money in the store we headed toward the meeting spot where a large Class of 73 photo was being taken.  There we found John and Sharlynn McHenry and John and Robyn Benjamin, two more guys in my company.  How wonderful to see them and get caught up after so many years.  After the photo we met Marvin and Debbie Eggleston and went to a memorial service with them.  It honored the 68 class of 73 members that have died, some while we were still at the academy and many after.  So many died in air crashes.  It was a nice memorial service – they did a good job keeping it positive and uplifting.  Next we drove to the condo of Dennis and Paula Vito, another company mate that resides part time in Annapolis.  More of my company were there and we got to visit, catch up, and tell more stories – Steve and Gail Sudkamp, Kent Porter and his wife, Ruth and Dave Leather, and Bruce Metrick.  A couple of hours of sharing memories later we headed for our hotel, changed into our fancy clothes, and went to the Annapolis Yacht Club for our company dinner.  There were more company mates there – Eric and Debbie Swanson, Pat and Jane Fogarty, Tom and Sue Wilson, and Joe Doswell, as well as Rick and Pam Lash.  It was simply fantastic visiting with these guys.  We went through 4 tough years together at the academy, and we all helped each other every step of the way.  So I feel real love and kinship with all of them.  They will always be friends.  We wore our missionary nametags to the dinner, of course, and that led to many interesting discussions about what we are doing.  It all seemed to go by too quickly, and soon we had to say our goodbyes and head back to our hotel.  The photo to the left is us in front of Tecumsah in his war paint, ready to do battle against Air Force in football.  (Navy won!).  The other is me in front of the submarine monument.

On Saturday we picked up several young missionaries to transport them to the Stake Center for General Conference.  After a wonderful conference session all of the missionaries, including us, were treated to a fantastic lunch.  There is a lady in one of the wards who is originally from Guatemala.  Every conference she feed all the missionaries meals of South American food in between conference sessions on Saturday and Sunday.  This is not trivial as there are about 50 missionaries there. So we had a fabulous lunch with the young missionaries.  She had tons of food – enchiladas, chicken and rice, turkey, fancy bread, potatoes, some pies, ice cream, and lots more.  Then we gathered in a circle and sang to her and her helper friends just to say thanks.  We have Spanish speaking missionaries here, and they thanked her in Spanish.  It was a wonderful experience.  After an excellent afternoon session of conference we took a batch of elders home and finally settled down to work in our home.  This is a picture of some of our zone and the ladies that served us lunch.
Sunday morning we got up and left for the base at o-dark-30 because our OCS sacrament service started at 6:40am.  Once again it was humbling and inspirational to mingle with these dedicated young men and women undergoing marine officer training.  They were more relaxed as they entered the room this time, and greeted us with hugs, smiles and warm handshakes.  We were pleased that 2 additional guests showed up, making our total eleven.  I gave a lesson on overcoming and learning from adversity, relating it to their experience in OCS school and tying it in to our visit to Liberty Jail.  It was a moving experience to hear them share about overcoming adversity in their lives.  One young man told of being sent to Afghanistan for 9 months right after he got married.  Another told how hard OCS training was for him, but he was persevering.  Mom baked 4 dozen of the raisin bran muffins (grandmother’s recipe).  The 11 students there ate all but about 5 of the muffins, accompanied by large quantities of apple butter, butter, juice and milk.  All too soon we had to tell them goodbye, but we will see them again on Wednesday for a FHE.  My phone had rung right during the middle of the service, so as soon as we got home I called back.  It was one of the young elders telling me that Elder Cullimore, of the other senior missionary couple in this area, was in the emergency room.  We threw our Sunday clothes back on and dashed over to the hospital.  He had not been feeling well and he kind of collapsed early in the morning.  So his wife took him to the ER.  They were investigating a possible heart problem or maybe blood poisoning.  We visited with them for awhile and offered as much comfort as we could.  The young elders had already gone over and administered a blessing.   He was quite sick. 

When we were in Annapolis we received a call from our Mission President.  He apologized profusely saying he had an “above and beyond”  request.  The Stake south of here had a family history booth at the Virginia State Fair.  Early on President Wilson had agreed that young missionaries could help man the booth occasionally.  The contract for setting up this booth  included that it had to be there and be open every day of the fair, which included Sunday.  Somehow the Stake folks decided that they would use some young missionaries to man the booth on Sunday.  When President Wilson heard about this he said no, the missionaries need to be watching General Conference on Sunday.  Knowing that we have internet and can watch conference later, he asked if we could possibly man the booth Sunday afternoon.  We said sure, we would be glad to help out.  It was an hour drive down to the fair site, and we met up with our coworker who was from the Richmond area.  It was actually pretty small for a state fair, but it was pretty typical – lots of people and animals, a good size carnival, and tons of food booths, mostly with fried everything.  Although things started out slowly, the number of visitors picked up and we were busy almost the whole time.  We helped lots of folks create a basic pedigree chart and found many previously unknown ancestors.  Although we were tired at the end of our 6 hour shift, it was really fun to do something totally different.  This may have been the most unusual missionary assignment we will get for our entire mission.  We did not arrive home until 10pm, and immediately collapsed into bed.  A tiring but wonderful missionary week.