Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Week 3

Well today is the 20th of February and a day we have been pointing to for several months. Before heading out, however, I had to have a slight medical procedure done at the Richfield Hospital. When we shut the doors on our house at 10:00 am that morning we definitely were committed. I had a colonoscopy and learned a week later that everything was fine so we were pleased. We climbed into the van and headed east on I-70. We stopped in Salina at Arby's and got some food (I was famished) and continued east. We arrived in Rifle at 7:30 pm and decided to stop for the night, not knowing the condition of the Vail Pass. 

When we departed Rifle the next morning (21 Feb) it was 6 degrees. The roads were clear, and we made our way through Vail and the Vail Pass safely. We arrived in Denver at 12:30 pm and had lunch with Alex and Alex Jr. near Alex's workplace and then drove to Parker and visited with Sarah, who was leaving that afternoon for the Phoenix Marathon (which she ran in a splendid time of 3:24--congrats Sarah!) Finally we ended up at Johanna's home and spent the rest of the day and evening at her home. At 5:00 pm family began arriving for a get-together with us. We enjoyed pizza and visiting. Everyone stayed until about 9:00 pm and then we said our goodbyes and they wished us well. We appreciated Johanna’s hospitality in providing a venue for the gathering. I had thoughts of leaving that evening but we stayed the night getting a good rest. 

We were off for real at 6:00 am on the Wednesday the 22nd of Feb. We took the belt loop via E470 to I-70 and then east out of Colorado. We hoped to get in a lot of miles and make up some time. It took about 2 hours to exit Colorado and into Kansas. Thank goodness the speed limit was 75 mph. The last time we made that trip it was 65 mph and was sooo slow. The roads were clear, and we had a good drive through Kansas and got through Kansas City KS/MO without incident but lost an hour and stopped in Boonville, MO for the night.

We were on our way by 7:30 am on Thursday the 23rd of Feb headed towards St. Louis. Believe me that city was nothing like it was in 1983 when Johanna, Travis and I passed through on the way to Utah from Maine. We finally saw the Gateway Arch and I thought it would be easy when all of a sudden, we missed a transition that was very poorly marked and that began series of misadventures until we finally got on the Eastern side of the Mississippi and into Illinois. The freeway system was much like taking a handful of cooked spaghetti and dumping it on the floor and trying to find your way through the mess. I don’t think I could ever repeat where we went but it took about a half an hour and if not for help from Google Maps we might still be in St. Louis wandering around. 

From St. Louis we drove through the bottom of Illinois and the extreme western end of Kentucky into Tennessee. We passed by Nashville on a belt route, so it was fairly easy and finally stopped in Murfreesboro for the night. We planned to visit Nic and Terri Mead the next morning and the stop was about 20 minutes from their home. We went out and found something to eat and were amazed at the traffic everywhere. You could hardly change lanes because every street was like a “parking lot.” We finally made it back to our hotel and considered it a “driving feat.” While eating we got a call from President Lee (Florida Jacksonville Mission) and we visited about our arrival time in Jacksonville tomorrow night. They wanted us to come to their home first. 

Saturday the 24th of Feb began early (2:30 am) when a fire alarm went off in the hotel and it was piercing. It was controlled by the front desk and eventually they shut it off. We got dressed and went downstairs and outside for about 10 minutes and it was determined to be a false alarm so we returned to our room and tried to go back to sleep. The next thing I knew was Pam got up at 5:00 am and showered and washed her hair and by 7:30 am we were ready to leave. We followed the GPS to Bell Buckle, Tennessee and found Nic and Terri’s home and it was so nice to see them. They have a wonderful home in a beautiful neighborhood and we spent 30 minutes visiting with them. We returned to I-24 and continued southeast through Tennessee. The only major city left in Tennessee was Chattanooga and it wasn’t bad at all. After Chattanooga we took I-75 and stayed on that until we crossed into Florida. In Georgia we quickly came upon Atlanta and boy we were driving through that city for the better part of an hour. After passing the bulk of the city we stopped and had a late lunch and continued south the rest of the day crossing the entire state of Georgia. Tennessee and Georgia were beautiful states and if it was a couple of months later everything would be greened out, but we enjoyed what we saw. I was particularly interested in the limestone rock everywhere and the undulating countryside. The East has had a lot of rain and almost every field had standing water and flooding was a big issue. Shortly after the sun went down, we crossed into Florida and took I-10 towards Jacksonville. It took another 90 minutes to come upon the outskirts and we followed GPS to the home of President & Sister Lee in a beautiful gated community. Not much looked familiar to me but we arrived about 8:30 pm and it was nice to meet them. We visited with them for about 15 minutes and then they invited us to stay with them Saturday night and it seemed to logical thing to do. We got to sleep in the "general authority bedroom" so felt pretty special. We had traveled almost 2,400 miles since Tuesday afternoon when we left Richfield. The van ran beautifully, and we didn’t lock our keys in the van so that was good also. .

The next morning was Sunday so we dressed for church and met with the Lee's for breakfast and then a short meeting with them about our responsibilities, got keys to our apartment, and away we went. We drove to the Jacksonville Beach Ward building and I was amazed at the developments and growth since I was last there in the early 1990's. We located the chapel and the first people we met going in were the full-time missionaries Elder Pacella and Elder Lamb. We also met Elder Renee who has been doing some work at Mayport but not for many months since being called at the Mission Nurse. That has kept him very busy taking care of sick missionaries. We attended the entire block and enjoyed sacrament meeting, Sunday school and Priesthood/Relief Society meetings. Seemed to be a very active and mature ward and we were very welcomed. After church a man approached me and asked if we would come to their home for lunch. We were a little concerned because his wife was not there and had been sick, but he was adamant she would be okay with the invitation. We drove to the home and it was in a nice section of Atlantic Beach and reminded us of Hawaii a little with old homes being renovated and going upwards to gain more space. They welcomed us to their home—Jon and Charlene Bryson and their 7-year-old daughter Amelia. We spent about 2 hours with them, had a wonderful visit and shared information about our families and ate a delightful meal. 

We left about 3:00 pm and drove to our new home. It was located in a gated community of 4 and 6 plex apartments and appeared was about 9 miles from Mayport Naval Station. We found the apartment and unlocked the door and did a quick walk through—2-bedroom, 2 baths with a kitchen, dining room and living room. Brother and Sister Mann, the housing senior couples came shortly thereafter and brought a couple of things, and we spent a half an hour with them talking about the apartment, the area, etc. They were really nice and lived over on the West side of Jacksonville (Live at home missionaries). 

When they left we unloaded the van and then spent the next few hours putting things away. It was amazing how much we had brought with us. It would take a few days to get settled but by 7:00 pm we were pretty much settled and sat on the couch and relaxed and ate some leftover donuts, chips, and a bag of candy Sister Lee had given us in a welcome package. Finally, at 10:00 we called it a night—our first night in our new home for the next 18 months.

 Beautiful Kansas on I-70
St. Louis before the Madness!
Nic & Terri's hometown


 Beautiful rock in Georgia
 Finally Jacksonville!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Week 2: MTC

The second week at the MTC began on the 12th of February. Pam and I attended the morning introduction to three Seminary & Institute leaders from Church Headquarters. the leader, Brother Devon Saunders actually lived in Grandpa Cottle's ward in Ogden and his dad was the Stake President--small world. They passed out a new handbook for Seminary & Institute and it was written like Preach My Gospel. We spent the day going over the purpose and objective of the S&I program and referred to the handbook often throughout the course. At 3:30 pm we attended a short presentation on the Stake YSA Program and several of the senior couples had calls to this program where they were assigned to a specific stake to activate YSA's. 

The rest of the week, Tuesday through Friday was spent with the 8 other Military Relations missionaries being instructed by Elder & Sister Sparrow from Church Headquarters. They handed out a handbook and we went through it page by page for 3 days. The manual basically outlined all the possibilities for working with base leadership, including Chaplains, military families and individuals. On one of the mornings each couple taught a 7-minute lesson from another lesson manual, titled:  "Becoming a Self-Reliant and Resilient Family," which was geared to deploying families. One of the afternoons we spent downloading and going through software we would use on our mission, especially a monthly report. Thursday afternoon we were finished with instruction and during the last hour, Elder & Sister Sparrow invited the missionaries to bear their testimonies. There were some very tender moments as couples explained what drew them to the mission and faith-promoting incidents that confirmed they were in the right place. 

Tuesday evening we attended the weekly devotional and heard from Elder & Sister Legrand R. Curtis Jr. They both gave wonderful talks and Elder Curtis spoke on the Book of Mormon and told conversion stories and concluded by showing an excerpt from the new church movie on the Book of Nephi and it looked terrific. 

Friday morning we were up early and arrived at Church Headquarters in Salt Lake at 8:30 am. We were on the 24th floor in the Priesthood Department where Military Relations was managed. We spent the morning with two men, a former Chaplain, Rick Roggia, and he spent 90 minutes going over important items to consider for our callings, especially relationships. The final individual was Elder Frank Clausen a retired Air Force Officer who headed up the Military Relations office and discussed the history of the effort and discussed each of our bases and the potential for good we could do. He showed several videos that were downloaded to our laptop computers earlier in the week and gave us some wonderful counsel. Following his presentation, we were hosted to a very nice lunch in the basement cafeteria and it was very nice. Reluctantly we said goodbye to all of our new friends we had made the previous two weeks and then Pam and I left and our MTC training was concluded. 

We stopped at Erin and Weston's and got to see them and then returned to Monroe that evening. Everything was fine at home and we have a couple of days to finalize our packing, load up the van and head East! 

 Pam checking something on her phone before heading out to classes
 This is Elder & Sister Hubbs who we shared teaching experiences with. They are on their way to Malaga Spain.
 This is one of 12 huge murals in the new MTC buildings. They are at least 30 feet wide and our back lit and look very real. This is Alma I when he left King Noah's court and began teaching people in the Wilderness.
This is all 9 missionary couples and Elder & Sister Sparrow.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Week 1: MTC

This is our attempt to describe the beginning of our missionary experiences starting at the MTC on the 5th of February, 2018. We arrived mid-morning and passed through the guard gates and followed a whole line of cars dropping off couples just like us. Young missionaries were scurrying around giving directions and we parked the van and went inside the foyer and were given our name tags then to another desk and got an instruction packet, next to a travel desk and got a check for our travel to Jacksonville and finally to another desk where they gave us a card which would give us entry into all the buildings, rooms, elevators, etc. We located our room for the next two weeks, deposited our luggage and then went to the main building (S1) where we met our Branch President, President Gines and he welcomed us and let us know his role in our stay at the MTC. We were assigned to District "K" and I was asked to be a District Leader. For the rest of the first week we attended classes all morning and afternoon studying and being taught our role as missionaries and using Preach My Gospel. We learned how to teach and were assigned a couple that we would teach 2 different lessons. We also had the opportunity to teach a member from the community who came each Friday to be taught a lesson. Our first teaching opportunity was kind of intimidating, but the second was better and the third enjoyable. Monday night we attended a Family Home Evening for the Senior missionaries (about 100) and Tuesday evening a weekly MTC devotional where we heard from Elder Benjamin Hoyos of the seventy and his wife. We really have enjoyed the associations of other senior missionaries and those in our district quickly became fast friends as did our teaching couple. The first week seemed to go so slowly and all of a sudden it was over. Saturday we did laundry at Erin's and a little shopping and a trip to the Provo Temple which we enjoyed very much. Sunday was special with a sacrament meeting with the senior missionaries, followed by a Sunday school type Gospel Discussion and then priesthood and relief society meetings. We attended a "Match the Message" meeting, the men together and the women together and it seemed to me that it was the first time the MTC presidency had a chance to meet all the new missionaries who arrived the previous Wednesday and went over rules, procedures, and expectations. Later we attended a devotional for missionaries who were leaving the MTC the following day. That was really nice and charged up the missionaries for their departure. Finally another devotional in the evening where one of the District President's and wife spoke and were very, very good. We've had a great first week and the food is good and plentiful and the friendships we've made wonderful. If only the bed was a little softer!

Week 66 (6 - 12 May)

Monday morning, Pam and I left for the USO at 9:30 am. No Dough dinner was that evening, so we were busy. Upon arrival my birthday was cele...