Nov 3 – This week we did not have any extraordinary events that we have not already described, so we decided to simply discuss, think about and write about why this mission is so amazing. Lezlie has captured it really well in the reflection.
Dan asked me the other night why it is so rewarding to work with the people we are working with, and we have both been reflecting about this a lot. Basically we are working with several groups of tremendously inspiring people right now.Our assignment is LDS Marines on the Quantico Marine Base. Specifically this calling is to serve officer candidates and young Marine officers in The Basic School (TBS). However, we also are liaisons for any LDS person who is assigned to Quantico. This includes single adults and enlisted and officer families. Because those who do not live in barracks on base attend LDS Wards off base, and because they then are the “responsibility” of those Wards, we also interact with the bishoprics and Ward Councils in 5 different wards - 4 in the Stafford Area and the Quantico Ward which is in Dale City, near Woodbridge where we live – to keep track of and help these folks as well. Since the Stafford Wards are in a different Stake, we also interact with two Stake leaderships. In addition, we are serving in the Virginia Richmond Mission, which is coordinated by the Mission President in Richmond, Virginia, about 1 ½ hours away. His job is to take care of 256 young missionaries, whose job it is to invite the world to come unto Christ. Because we are in the mission and do not have the rigorous rules the young missionaries have, we are often asked if we can help with them. Although our military jobs take precedence, a lot of our time is spent hauling young missionaries and helping care for them.
So the bottom line is we see a lot of really optimistic, idealistic, dedicated, good people acting on their beliefs in a very positive way. Not just complaining about what is wrong with the world, but trying to fix it, and still believing they can. It is very contagious.The marine officer candidates and young officers in TBS are some of the finest young men and women you will find anywhere. Although the ones we work with are mostly LDS, many of them are not, and they come to our services with their friends. All are intelligent, deep thinking men and women dedicated to freedom and peace. They understand the gravity of their job, and are dedicated to be good and moral leaders of the military. They are prepared to die for their beliefs. They have pushed themselves beyond limits that most people cannot even imagine, both physically and mentally. They are both confident and humble. They serve and depend on each other – the Marine Corps is well known for its camaraderie, but it is impressive to see it in action. At our sacrament meeting Dan taught about the dichotomy of being LDS and a Marine. Although LDS have always served in wars, we are a peace loving, family oriented religion, and certainly killing is not in any way looked upon lightly. As a result, there are not a large percentage of LDS marines. But the ones who do choose the military as a career are some of our best. These young women and men are excelling- we have not lost one. In OCS more than half the women have dropped out or been dismissed, and the men usually lose 25%. But each week so far, all of our LDS candidates have returned stronger and more confident than the week before. Were I in the military, I would feel honored to serve with any of them. There is none of the cynicism of the world, but they are very worldly- they have all graduated from college, two spent two years in Brazil and one spent two years in Hungary, one was in the enlisted ranks for 3 years before deciding to become an officer, and one has an impressive high tech job waiting him when he finishes (he will be a Marine Reserve officer). They come to us at 7:30 or earlier in the morning (depending on the week) when they could be sleeping, sometimes after running 3 miles for time or hiking 10 miles with heavy packs. They come in and sing, and pray sincere and amazing prayers. Every one of them thanks each of us individually for our lessons and refreshments (yes, they thank us for the lessons, too). Two of them have small children and wives they have had to make arrangements for during this time. Each one of them (and their families) has made huge sacrifices in order to complete this program. But there is no whining, no complaining, and no blaming. They are totally responsible for who they are. It is refreshing and inspiring. They also are responsible for their own successes, and this is where their confidence comes from.
The other military men and women we work with remind us of the sacrifice that all of our military make on our behalf. Having gone through it, and been away from it for a while, I can see it from a much broader and objective perspective. The hassles and sacrifices they make for us are their lives- they take it for granted. But having been out for so long and looking in on it, I can feel it even more vividly and know what they have given up; people who have worked hard for 20 years and still have never had a home of their own; working a schedule and a life around a 24/7 job that can change at any moment; facing months and months of family separation. As I have said many times throughout this blog, it is very humbling, and makes me appreciate my life out of the Navy even more.And then there is our interaction with the 18-22 year old missionaries. Since they lowered the minimum age to 18 (males) and 19 (females) rather than 19 and 21, the missionaries are much younger, and most have never been away from home before. This is not an easy way to leave home. For anyone who does not know what these kids sacrifice to go on missions it is incomprehensible to most 18 and 19 year olds- even to 60 year olds. The girls go for 18 months; the guys go for 24 months. During that time they must follow rigid rules, keep up a hectic and busy schedule, and spend the great bulk of their time sharing their beliefs with anyone who wants to listen. They have no social life and almost no free time. They do not watch tv, read novels, or surf the internet.
Having grown up in a Midwest culture where you don’t ever share anything you believe because you might be infringing on someone else’s beliefs (if –they- wanted- to- know- they- would- ask), missionary work has always been an enigma to me. Of course I realized that God had prophets and Christ had missionaries from the beginning, and I know that most all churches have missionaries. However, my experience before becoming a Mormon was that missionaries were people who went to talk to the heathens so they could become Christians and be saved. They always did this in some exotic and primitive place far enough away that they didn’t bother anyone in the congregation. And when they came back they would ask for support and give an interesting travel log of the foreign places they visited and lost souls they were saving. I remember feeling good about contributing some coins toward the cause after a missionary supper one time, but that was the extent of my participation in missionary work.The LDS missionaries have put their schooling, their dating, and their own personal lives on hold for this time. Although missions are certainly encouraged, and this creates some pressure from families and home wards, no one is forced to go- there is no way someone could last without a personal conviction of why they are there (and some don’t). As a matter of fact not all young men and women are eligible to go - they must first pass a vigorous interview that is very challenging for most 18 & 19 year olds, they must be following the LDS Word of Wisdom (no drugs, alcohol, tea, coffee, smoking etc), there may be no pornography and no sexual relations of any kind, they must be paying full tithing, pass a health exam, and meet a variety of other expectations. During the mission, in addition to these rules, they may not call home except twice a year (they can email once a week and write letters and receive the same), they cannot have personal access to a computer (they have to go to a library to email), cannot listen to popular music, watch any TV, participate in any dangerous sports (including swimming, boating or contact games such as football), and may not leave their small mission area without special permission. They are to spend all of their time searching for people to teach, and finding those who want the Gospel in their lives. They are organized into Districts which are organized into Zones and then Missions. They report to, are organized by, and taught by their peers, young missionaries that serve as Zone Leaders and District Leaders. These leaders are at most a year older than those they lead, and often are younger. The young missionaries have one day off a week, a preparation or P-day, on which they may tour local sites of interest (museums, zoos, historical sites, etc. ) or play sports that are within the rules. But they also have to do all their grocery shopping, laundry, emailing, and other personal business on this day. On a bike that can be a real challenge. I was reminded of the Indian tribe that used to stake their young men out facing the sun as a rite of passage……
Until our daughter Anne participated in this (she served a mission in Japan about 18 years ago), I really did not understand it at all. Couldn’t people just call the LDS church if they wanted to know more? I sort of got it when Anne served her mission, and had to learn to speak Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese. But I am really getting it now!Allowing 18-19 year olds to fully represent not only your church, but your beliefs, requires a lot of faith by the LDS leadership. The program requires a great deal of structure. These young missionaries have little experience living on their own, speaking to strangers, or being adults. The great majority of these kids are really nice people who are trying their best to act on what they truly believe. Just as the Marines, they want to change the world. They know what has made them happy in their lives, and they want to share that.
But here is what I did not see when I saw white shirted pairs of young men with helmets and badges peddling around everywhere. They get experience that will serve them the rest of their lives in everything they do. They learn their religion backward and forward. They have to. It is constantly challenged and criticized. They have time away from school, television, the internet, movies and other distractions to search the scriptures and pray and depend on God. As a result, they see miracles. They interact with all types of people. Good people of every culture and religion. Also really nasty people of all types. They see successful families, and families struggling to survive. They see people with God, with non-spiritual gods, and with no God, and they learn from their observations and experience. They see lives changed by what they have to offer, and they realize, even if they think they knew it before, that it works. They learn to feel and rely on the Spirit of God- heeding promptings and calling on it for strength, endurance and courage to do things, just as the Marines, things they never thought they could do. And also as the Marines, they find that they can. They develop the faith to act and the humility to pray. They develop a real knowledge and love for God and for Jesus Christ. I know this because I see their lessons and hear their prayers. They have an amazing knowledge and understanding not only of the scriptures, but what they mean and how they apply to them personally. They learn to appreciate and love their families and friends even more. In addition they develop a love for the people they work with and become non-judgmental and look at people on the inside instead of the outside. They develop an appreciation for discouraging hard work that is infrequently, but well, rewarded. They understand the importance of cooperation and teamwork and the value of personal virtue. They learn leadership skills, working with different companions every 6 weeks, and how to live with another person whether you like them or not. They learn how to get along in spite of their differences (what great marriage prep).This is unbelievably difficult and challenging work for these young people. But they are positive, enthusiastic, optimistic, obedient and dedicated. They never complain, and they are always very appreciative of our help and grateful to Heavenly Father for any of their successes. It is inspiring. They do not get paid for this. As a matter of fact, they pay for their food and living expenses. Many save money for years to be able to go on a mission. Again, it is extremely humbling.
The Church leadership is also inspiring. Although we have been involved in all aspects of church leadership for years it is interesting to watch it function from a missionary’s point of view. We have received in every Ward not only cooperation but the extra mile. Our bishop has driven down to the base at 6:30 AM for 4 weeks to counsel with one marine so he can get married in the temple in Dec. He joined the MacGraths (the couple we work with at OCS) to take two of the candidates to the temple in Washington DC., and then took them out to dinner, arriving home after midnight and then attending our early morning service the next day. This in addition to the 300 people he serves in his regular Ward. The Bishops in the other wards have given the TBS families callings and visit them regularly. They have had the Relief Society send child help or food to sisters whose husband is deployed or with other special challenges. For example, among our marine families one child has birth defects and one child has severe Autism, a toddler and a new baby, whose fathers are gone on deployment. The ward families and leadership are always very willing to jump in, even though these families may be here for only six months. None of these folks get paid.So the bottom line is that we are associating with good people who are working hard at doing what they feel will make the world around them a better place, and in the meantime, they are becoming amazing people. They work so hard often with little or no recognition. But they really are making the world a better place. We feel inspired and humble3d to work among them. We are learning a lot just from observing all of them, Marines and their families, young missionaries, and church leadership alike. Every day we feel extremely humbled and inspired by these people we work with. And it makes us want to work harder and do more for others in any way that we can.