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.