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Stake reaches out to members during crisis

In the Norfolk Virginia Stake - where more than half of its members are in the armed services - it's not uncommon to reach out to others when a family member is deployed. It's a way of life.

But when Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm Jan. 16, stake leaders made looking after the personal needs of parents, spouses and children with loved ones involved in the war the highest priority.Once the war began, anxiety, personal torment and worry became the adversary in the area, which is home to servicemen and women of major Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force bases, according to Bishop Donald M. Pence of the Norfolk 2nd Ward.

"With the Navy Fighter/Attack Base in Virginia Beach and the world's largest naval complex in Norfolk, everyone in the stake is close to someone deployed," Bishop Pence explained.

While the majority of servicemen and women are in the Navy, all branches of the armed services are represented throughout the stake.

The Norfolk Stake presidency called a stake bishopric meeting Jan. 17 and emphasized the importance of visiting every family - member and non-member alike - affected by the Persian Gulf conflict.

"We feel personally involved because so many in our stake are involved in the crisis," said Pres. Daniel Dills of the Norfolk Virginia Stake. "My biggest concern is that we really need to make sure we are genuinely reaching out to all those involved - in the stake as well as others in the community who are not members."

And there is a lot of reaching out going on behind the scenes, he said. Students gave one seminary teacher, whose husband is in the Persian Gulf, flowers and cards to brighten her spirits and give her emotional strength.

"This is a trying time," said John Blackburn, counselor in the Norfolk Virginia Stake presidency. "It is very stressful for those who have a spouse or family member over there. We are trying to reach out as much as possible through home teaching and visiting teaching."

Bishop Pence said, "As usual for this area, the Young Men and Young Women advisers take extra care to ensure the youth have rides to Church and activities.

"Primary children write letters to those overseas. The ward mission leaders are busy sending servicemen's editions of the scriptures along with copies of general conference videos and other supplies to aircraft carriers and ground units deployed.

The Relief Society becomes a support foundation for many of the families who are separated by deployment.

In speaking of the visits he made to ward members, Bishop Pence explained, "Some of the members [in the war zoneT are pilots and infantry who are in the direct line of fire, while others are a little farther removed, stationed on ships and submarines. However, to the families back home, uncertainty prevails no matter where their loved ones are located. The safety of their sons, daughters, spouses, mothers and fathers is paramount.

"One thing in common with all the visits is the importance and strength of the gospel in the lives of these families."

Bishop Darrell Harding of the Norfolk 1st Ward said about 75 percent of the members in his ward are in the military.

"We have about 530 members in our ward and about 215 families. Forty active priesthood holders left when the war broke out. We have spent time trying to reassure [their wivesT and have given lots of blessings. We have had one-on-one discussions with them.

"The backbone of supporting others usually comes through home teaching, but most of the home teachers are in the Persian Gulf, so we have lost that support. Those left behind are trying to cover everything. We've been relying a lot on the Relief Society presidency and the Relief Society itself to help out where a home teacher would normally help."

The Norfolk Virginia Stake remains committed to ease the loneliness and difficulties brought on by Operation Desert Storm. Members are reminded to "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:2.)

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