Monday, September 15, 2014

Gifts of the Heart

As is typical for a Monday, which is the young missionaries’ preparation day (p-day),  I ( Dan) drove several elders to the grocery store for their shopping trip.  It is always fun to be with them and they are so appreciative of any little thing we do to help them.  We made a few key treat deliveries on base – one to a less active mom that runs hot and cold, and today she was very friendly; one to a fairly recent convert that has been undergoing some major health issues – he loves peanut butter cookies; and finally a large basket of fruit and cookies for our young marine that just got back from his surgery.  All of these short visits went well and we felt successful.   The transition that takes place in our relationship with these folks is amazing.  At first we are visiting them because we are missionaries and it is part of our job.  But we very quickly come to know and love them as dear friends.  Like our young marine that just underwent surgery.  We have been seeing him for a year now, and he seems like a grandson rather than an assignment.  We just love him to pieces.  Our next task was to drive a young woman from our ward to Richmond.   She is going to be serving a full time mission beginning in October.  The Stake President decided it would be a good idea for her to serve a mini-mission to prepare for her full time mission.  She is bit of a slow learner so he thought it would be a good test run for her.  Today was the scheduled day for all of the new missionaries to arrive from the Missionary Training Center.  The first thing they do when they arrive from the airport is to meet at a church building, fill out some paperwork, and have dinner.  So we took the young lady from our ward to Richmond to meet up with and join the new missionaries.  But it was more than just a transportation chore.  We also stayed to help serve the new  young sisters and elders their dinner.   The two senior sister missionaries that work in the office prepared the dinner and we served it, carrying out the full plates of food, clearing empty plates, and serving the desert.  It was great fun getting to interact with these brand new missionaries.  They are nervous but also eager to get started in their work.  After a long drive home (185 miles round trip) we are tired but happy.  That is usually our state of mind at the end of our great missionary days here in Virginia.  

Navy Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS)  had a long training session today.  We were in a classroom from 9am to 3pm.  It was pretty good training and we really like all the other volunteers.  It was fun to spend time with them.  We were able to make some successful visits after our training.  We met a family that just arrived on base, an Army officer and his wife and two children.  The Marines hold a large class each year that is specifically designed for mid-range officers.  There are slots open for inter service officers.  So this young Army officer got selected to attend, which means he must be a pretty good officer.  It was enjoyable to get to know his family a little bit.  They are from Florida real near where grandmother and papa Douthitt live.  Finally we held our weekly family home evening at The Basic School.  We had only two in attendance, a young male marine and a female TBS staff member.  She is an athletic trainer whose job is to get the marines back into training as soon as possible if they get injured.  Even with just two we had a great discussion and lesson.  When there are smaller groups like this we get a chance to know them better. 

We served a long shift at NMCRS.  Some of the other volunteers could not work today because of the long training session we all attended yesterday.  So Lezlie and I were the only volunteers there.  We took care of a lot of marines.  I handed out my largest check ever, $4500.  A marine and his wife had missed several mortgage payments and the bank was starting foreclosure proceedings on their house.  They missed the payments because his wife has Multiple Sclerosis and could not work for 3 months.  They had been using her income to pay their house payments.  It was a complex case, but we worked through it and got him his money.  We were able to make a couple of family visits on base, both to less active families.  It is a bit sad doing these visits.  We can see so clearly how living the Gospel could help these young families with the challenges they are facing in their lives.  But they have to see that for themselves.   We hope that the thin connection with church that we are trying to maintain helps them at some time in the future.  This evening we had a most enjoyable dinner with a marine.  He is a senior enlisted guy, a Master Sergeant.  He is retiring next month.  His wife and two children have already moved to San Antonio, Texas so that the kids could start school there.  So he is a bachelor this month.  We took him out for a nice dinner, and it was great to get to know him a little better.  His formal retirement ceremony will be early in October, and his family will return for that.  We were thrilled to receive an invitation to his retirement ceremony and an open house to say goodbye to the family.

We had a second full day of training for NMCRS.  Today was more of a personnel training curriculum – how to deal with different personalities, how to improve the office, how to deal with conflict, etc.   At our meeting today we heard some pretty impressive statistics.  Last year NMCRS did the following; provided assistance to 65,358 Navy or Marine personnel, both active and retired; provided $48.6 million in loans and grants; employed 170 paid staff members and 3,791 volunteers.  We are proud to be a part of this group that is helping so many young marines, sailors and families. 
I (Dan) got the chance to teach a lesson with a young elder today (Friday).   His senior partner had to interview some folks for baptism and they also had this lesson scheduled.  So they asked me to fill in.  The young elder was quite nervous.  He has only been out for 8 weeks and this was the first time he had ever been the leader for a lesson.  We taught a man from Ghana who is about sixty.  He was very kind and open, and was quite interested in learning the gospel.  The young elder did a great job and invited the man to be baptized in 3 weeks.  He asked him not to answer immediately but to think and pray about it for a couple of days.  He took the invitation very seriously.  I contributed a few stories to the lesson that seemed to add to the topic.  It was an enjoyable experience. 

Our Stake has an annual event called “Gifts of the Heart.”  Essentially this is a giant garage sale but everything is free.  For many months prior all the local members are reminded to save things that they would take to Goodwill or get rid of.  On Friday night folks drop off their donations.  Lots of donations!  We had to drop off a van load of stuff for members and we worked a shift as well.  The donation drop off was amazingly well organized.  There were signs, traffic directors, and barriers all over the parking lot that directed you into two lanes by the back doors.  There were about 100 youth volunteers there, and as soon as you stopped they swarmed over the car like locusts.  The car was empty in about 2 minutes.  Volunteers worked late into the night to sort items into various categories and distribute them around the church building.  Lezlie and I spent two and a half hours sorting clothing.  The gym had about thirty tables, each with a helium balloon hanging above.  The balloons were labeled with the type of clothing – Men Large, Women Medium, Boys, Infants, etc.  We sorted about a twenty large bags of clothing.  It was amazing to see all of the donations and all of the volunteers (see pictures).  It was a tiring but rewarding night. 

When we got home tonight we found a very nice note on our door.  It was from the Elders that we helped today with the lesson and a ride.  It was touching and humbling to receive their note of thanks.  For your information, Mark 8:34 says, “ And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

Saturday  was another opportunity to serve at the “Gifts of the Heart” event.  We had only planned to work the shift last night.  However, a young marine  wanted to work a shift today and asked for transportation, so we said yes.  Unfortunately, Lezlie has come down with a rotten cold and did not want to be sneezing and coughing on folks.  So I took our marine by myself.    One of the advantages of senior missions is that you can split up if it makes sense.  So we today we did.  The marine was appreciative and happy to go help out.  We did not have to work as long as we thought because there were so many helpers that they got things done faster than expected.  But we did help somewhat, hauling out boxes of trash, putting bags of left over items into trucks to be taken to Goodwill, breaking down boxes, and moving chairs back to classrooms.  There were many young elders there and some of them needed rides home.  I left my marine friend with a group of 8 missionaries and they all had lunch together at a nearby spot while I took some other missionaries home.  Our marine is a new convert and we think he needs all the interaction with church members he can get.  So it was great for him to spend some time with the missionaries (see picture).  After taking some more missionaries home I took our marine friend back to the base.   

We had a pretty routine Sunday, except that Lezlie missed church.  She has been battling a nasty cold and had too much sneezing and runny nose symptoms to go to church.  I attended alone, and boy did that feel strange.  Everyone noticed and asked about Lezlie and wished a speedy recovery.  After she slept about 12 hours she has felt much better this evening.  I am sure in a couple of days she will be fine.  So we spent a quiet day reading and preparing lessons for the week.  We are going to have a new adventure teaching the temple prep class to a young man that was baptized about a year ago.  He has become a friend or ours here.  He is the man that we have mentioned before that has significant medical problems. And even though he is not a marine, we try to help him out whenever we can. The ward is not planning on teaching temple prep until November and our friend is anxious to take it.  So we get to go into his home and teach the lessons.   We received a wonderful note from Carrie today.  She said,” We miss you so much. But sometimes I am so overwhelmed with gratitude because of the blessings that seem to be directly related to your missionary service it makes me want you to stay on a mission forever.  Not really. Please come home. Just know that we are greatly blessed. The Lord is mindful of us and takes care of us.”  We were so thrilled to receive this note.  As senior missionaries we have been promised that our family will benefit and be blessed as we serve. This note as well as other things we have heard from the family confirms that this promise is being fulfilled. 

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