Monday, June 16, 2014

"For behold, the field is white, already for harvest..." "D&C 4

We had the Assistants to the President over for dinner yesterday. They are two of 8 missionaries assigned to Fort Jackson on Sunday mornings, so we always ask them how it's going at the Fort.  The Fort is a happenin' place in our mission.  Before we came, the office couple we replaced, the Deckers, were assigned to go to the Fort on Sundays.  It was Elder Decker's job to fill the portable baptismal font.  Sister Decker remarked in an email she sent to us before we came out that it was rare that they didn't have at least one baptism at Fort Jackson every Sunday.  We wondered about that statement - if we were understanding her correctly - but it's true!  Since we've been here (over 9 months) we know of only one Sunday when there wasn't a baptism!

The Fort is a "field, already for harvest!"  (D&C 4:1-7)   Many of the soldiers come with their Mormon buddies just so they can get out on a Sunday morning.  Fort Jackson is a basic training camp - a boot camp - and the soldiers are harshly treated and very restricted!  When these young men and women have the opportunity to get out of the barracks on a Sunday morning for a couple of hours, they are glad for the chance!  But, some come because they've gotten to know soldiers in their platoons who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and they like what they see.  Some of their Mormon buddies are returned missionaries who have just joined the Army.  Some are just young men and women who try their best to live their religion.  Whatever their reason for coming to church, a lot of soldiers attend services at Fort Jackson.

The missionaries always arrive early.  Vans and buses carrying soldiers start pulling up about 15 minutes before the meeting begins and the missionaries get to work. They greet the soldiers and ask if there are any questions about the church.  If there are questions, the missionaries pull the soldiers aside and start talking to them.  Sacrament meeting begins at 9:30 AM and lasts about an hour.  When Sacrament Meeting is over, soldiers who are baptized members usually go on to their next meetings - the men go to Priesthood Meeting and the women go to Relief Society.  Some of their non-member friends go with them, but many stay in the chapel and are taught by the missionaries.  There are two sets of elders and two sets of sisters assigned to the Fort, so they break up and there can be as many as 8 clusters of soldiers who are being taught at the same time.  Sometimes the teaching is on-on one, depending on the needs of the soldiers.

The first time we were at the Fort, we sat a few rows behind a group of soldiers that Sister Gale was teaching.  She taught about the restoration of the gospel.  Her lesson was short but very powerful, we thought.  When she finished, she asked the soldiers to kneel and pray individually and ask God if what they had just heard was true.  It was so interesting to me to see how this worked.  As the soldiers finished praying, Sister Gale asked them how they felt and asked if they had any questions.  We weren't close enough to hear the soldiers' responses and they were facing Sister Gale and away from us.  But that's how teaching is done at the Fort - and I guess pretty much all over the mission.  We've never had the opportunity to sit in on a missionary teaching discussion, but it's my understanding that this is standard procedure.  The missionaries teach and then immediately ask the investigators to pray and get confirmation from God, through the Holy Spirit, that what they've heard is true.

While the missionaries are doing their work, there are two sets of Priesthood holders up front who are giving Priesthood blessings to any of the soldiers who want them.  I'd say that most of the soldiers asking for blessings are already members, but some of them aren't.  Both times we were at the Fort, there were quite a few soldiers at the front of the chapel waiting to get Priesthood blessings.

Meanwhile, outside on the lawn, the font is filled and those who have been taught, have attended church for two weeks and have passed the baptismal interview are baptized.  Sometimes they are baptized by one of the missionaries assigned to the Fort, but many times they are baptized by the army buddy who introduced them to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This was a busy morning at Fort Jackson.  Looks like 3-4 baptisms.
 Elder Fenton presided at the services and Sister Fenton kept the records.
On days when there are several baptisms, the Fentons were very busy!!!

Elder Saunders (left) and Elder Gonzalez (right) were witnesses of the baptisms on this Sunday morning.

After each soldier is baptized, he or she is taken over to a chair by the building where they are confirmed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and receive the Holy Ghost.  The male soldiers are also ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood.

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