Monday morning, the last day of 2018. Hard to believe the year is gone already. We began the day authoring our blog for the week and then began the narrative on our December 2018 report to church Military Relations headquarters. At 10:30 am we drove to the Naval Station and visited with Tony and Nikki Head for a while. They had a wonderful Christmas and we were happy they were home again. Tony was going TAD to Norfolk in mid-January and we discussed what help we could provide for Nikki and the boys. From Mayport we drove to Wal-Mart on Kernan and did some shopping for “white elephant” gifts for an upcoming USO New Year’s Staff/Volunteer party at a Jacksonville Beach restaurant. Following lunch, we returned to our apartment for the afternoon. At 4:30 pm we got ready and left for a New Year’s Eve activity at President & Sister Lee’s home with members of the Jacksonville East Zone. Pam needed an interview, so we arrived at 5:20 pm and she met with the President and I joined other missionaries (Schroeder’s & Waites and Sisters Davis & Paulsen) in the kitchen helping to get things ready for the dinner. What a wonderful evening! Tables were set up in the living room, dining room and kitchen to host the missionaries and by 6:00 pm everyone was present. Sister Lee had us assemble in the living room and she went over procedures for the Fondue dinner—probably a first for most of the missionaries. Following a prayer on the food, the dining began with the senior missionaries staying in the living room and the Sisters migrating into the dining room and Elders into the kitchen. Elder & Sister Whitehead and a daughter and son-in-law arrived about 5:30 pm and it was nice to see them again and they joined us. The Fondue was wonderful with beef, chicken and shrimp as meat dishes and bread, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli to use in a cheese dip. For the next hour we enjoyed the food and visited with Elder & Sister Schroeder, Elder & Sister Waite and Elder’s Carter and Shirtliff. It was entertaining to listen to Sister Schroeder act as match maker for the two elders. The Schroeder’s and Waites were doing interesting work in Gainesville at the University of Florida and would both be finishing their missions in May. This summer there will be a complete turnover of senior missionaries including President & Sister Lee. Following the main course was Chocolate with strawberries, bananas and pound bread to dip and it was delicious. Sister Lee had assigned cleanup duties during her instructions and the Elders and Sisters got fully engaged and within 15 minutes everything was done. We said our goodbyes to everyone and left at 8:30 pm and the mission van was right behind us filled with elders and sisters.
Tuesday morning began the new year—2019. We were 11 months into our mission and it had been a most pleasant experience for us and we enjoyed the superb leadership of President & Sister Lee. We felt safe and protected and managed the excitement of driving in Jacksonville! Rather than detail the strife and discord in our country and the world, we want to note the invitations of our beloved Prophet and President, Russell M. Nelson, for the new year. Though a prophet for less than a year, he made an immediate impact on the church and the world. Here are some amazing invitations to help us draw closer to the Savior:
1. Manage social media time.
2. Read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover.
3. Start a revelation journal.
4. Schedule regular study time with your family.
5. Attend the temple regularly.
6. Use the full name of the Church.
Today we felt it inappropriate to make visits so let our friends enjoy their day as families. We took a drive to Brunswick, Georgia to see that historic town and began about 11:30 am driving north on I-95. The freeway was fairly quiet, and we enjoyed the ride. We made a false turn and discovered we were heading back to Jacksonville but got that righted and finally crossed the Sidney Lanier Bridge into Brunswick from the south. As we later discovered the southern part of Brunswick was the “old town” and quite remarkable with beautiful streets lined with Victorian homes and a neatly restored commercial section, including an old “S.W. Kress” building. We practically had the streets to ourselves and wandered up and down taking pictures and remarking on the beautiful old Oak trees filled with Spanish Moss. We stopped at a park named “Mary Ross Waterfront Park” where was located an old waterfront lighthouse and a memorial to “Liberty Ships” of World War II. During the war 16,000 workers constructed 99 Liberty Ships; 4 per month to aid in supplying Europe during the war. Also tied up at an adjacent pier was a beautiful old sailing vessel called the “Peacemaker” and was for sale. After spending an hour or so in Brunswick we headed back towards I-95 and found the more modern part of Brunswick and it was a busy place with roads going everywhere. We eventually found the freeway and stopped for lunch and then continued south to our apartment in Arlington Hills. It had been an interesting drive. The coastline of southeastern United States was so different from the west coast—so many rivers and streams feeding estuaries, inlets, and marshlands. It was a wonder how the early pioneers had the “grit” to settle these areas as land passage was almost impossible. Also, the “critters” and insects would have been intense.
Wednesday morning, we drove to Ikea and did a little shopping and then had lunch in the St. Johns Center before returning to our Arlington Hills. At home 3 letters we had sent out to military members were returned because they were not deliverable, so that was the answer we were seeking. We also received a text message from a family in the Orange Park area confirming their status and we appreciated that. We also saw a statement from the First Presidency that discussed changes to the Temple endowment ceremony and a lot of hints from various media posts that the endowment had indeed changed. “…Over these many centuries, details associated with temple work have been adjusted periodically, including language, methods of construction, communication, and record-keeping. Prophets have taught that there will be no end to such adjustments as directed by the Lord to His servants…” We looked forward to being in the Temple to witness the changes. At 2:45 pm we drove to the airport to pick-up Tyler Gneck and a friend who were waiting for us. It was good to see them again and hear about their visits with family. On the way to the Naval Station we encountered a street full of police cars at the intersection of Mayport and Wonderwood Roads and were directed to the back gate of the Naval Station. The short of the story is that it took 90 minutes to get on and off the base due to the heavy “go home” traffic and only one small gate available. We later learned there had been an armed robbery at Lucky Charms Arcade (by the USO) at 2:00 pm and a suspect car-jacked a car from a nearby housing area and kidnapped the driver and in his escape hit a police officer at the intersection of Mayport and Wunderwood roads which caused the main gate to be closed for several hours while police processed the scene. What an afternoon! We finally made it back to our apartment safe and sound.
Thursday morning, we left for the USO at 8:30 am and opened the facility and processed bread and pastries that had been donated and they were ready for patrons by 9:30 am. We cleaned up trash and recyclable items and by 10:00 am Charlie Tramazzo and also Joyce Schellhorn (Director) had arrived. We got bins and packed up Christmas items from Joyce’s desk and hutch. Pam spent time in the kitchen going through the cabinets with Joyce and disposing of things that were not used—some to the free table and some thrown away. We concluded our work at 2:00 pm and drove to the BJ’s on Atlantic and bought crackers and continued to the Mission Office. On the way Pam prepared a gift of cheese and crackers for the office staff and Sister Whitehead and Elder Grieve were working and we visited with them for a few minutes, left the gift and returned to Arlington Hills and our apartment. We learned of the change in mission boundaries as our mission was going to incorporate much of the Macon Georgia and Tallahassee Missions to the north and west. It would take place in July.
Friday morning, we left for the USO at 9:00 am. Originally, we were going to Adventure Landing to take down a Christmas tree decorated by the USO, but they weren’t open in the morning, so we got busy doing other jobs. We returned to our apartment and Pam got some ingredients to use with chicken and then went to Beams in Jacksonville Beach and picked up several hundred pounds of chicken and hamburger. At the USO we unloaded the meat and Pam began processing chicken for Monday’s “No Dough” dinner. I set up the main room for the dinner and got down roaster ovens for Pam and helped her with the chicken. The packages were frozen hard, so we had to warm them to get the packing material off the chicken. While doing that Nikki Head came to visit with Pam. After Nikki left Pam checked out what I had done and began cooking chicken in the roaster pans. We had a couple of community service workers come in the afternoon and a lady helped Pam and I worked with a man preparing boxes to ship to the middle east. Pam and I finally left for the day about 3:00 pm and had a late lunch and then home. We had a nice visit with Alex Jr. and Cynthia in the evening.
Saturday morning, we began the morning with laundry and then at 9:30 am left for a USO Volunteer and Staff Party at Whiskey Jax in Jacksonville Beach. We joined with about 30-40 others from all over Jacksonville. From Mayport there was Joyce Schellhorn, James McCullough, Charlie Tramazzo and his wife, Megan DeGance and her husband, Julie Davis and Donna and her daughter, who help on “No Dough” dinners. There were representatives from JIA and NAS Jacksonville and the executive staff of USO Jacksonville. Mike Brian welcomed everyone followed by brunch and awards. Each facility director called up its volunteers and presented them with certificates for their service and a pin. Pam and I were honored, and Joyce said some nice things about us and mentioned our service as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The final event was “white elephant” gift sharing and that took a while. Pam and I ended up with candy. We visited with several individuals following the event, mostly about our mission and Utah. We left at noon and drove back to our apartment in Arlington Hills and changed clothes, made our bed and put another load of clothes in the washer and dryer and then went nearby for some lunch. We filled up the van with gas and stopped at a Basking & Robbins and had an ice cream cone. Finally, we headed back to our apartment with one stop at Garret Gardner’s home and met him for the first time. He was a less active member of the church serving in the Navy on the USS Milwaukee; Jerald Lagae’s ship. He told us about himself and his family—he was from Louisiana and had been a member all his life but not active. His wife was a non-member and they had two children ages 8 and 10. He welcomed future contact and visits. We returned home and did a little housework and took care of more laundry and spent a quiet afternoon and evening. Pam had a nice visit with Ann Marie and it sounded like she was all set for her hip surgery next week.
Sunday morning, we left for church in Jacksonville Beach at 9:30 am. Today was the first Sunday on the new schedule outlined by President Nelson last month. The chapel was full today and we had Jenny Black & Olivia, Sam Lagae and children, Shay Tuttle, Tyler Gneck, Gary Noblit and Stephanie Jarvis with us today. Several husbands were standing duty and Gary’s wife, Devaney, was in Idaho. President & Sister Lee were also with us and it was nice to see them again. Sacrament meeting was excellent and lasted just one hour with good testimonies. Brother Hardy taught the gospel doctrine class in the chapel during the final hour and it was also very good with a lot of participation. We visited for a while and then left at noon and returned to our apartment. Pam and I studied the first lesson in the new Individual and Family curriculum book and it required a lot of pondering to process the questions. Sam Lagae called and invited us to dinner. We left at 5:00 pm and Pam took some frozen beans to contribute to the meal. Wendy Delgado and her son Elijah were also invited and by 6:00 pm we were ready to eat. The meal was excellent, and we enjoyed visiting with Wendy and Sam. The little kids were all over the place, but we enjoyed the evening.