Happy Thanksgiving!

I have to say that it really didn’t feel like Thanksgiving yesterday…getting up at 6am, eating 3 regular-sized meals rather than one big one, not feeling so full I want to be sick, no football, no family, no brown (for some reason I associate Thanksgiving with wearing brown and I neglected to bring anything brown with me)…not the typical Thanksgiving at all. I’m glad being at the MTC for the holiday is only a one-time deal, but it’s been unique in a positive way.

Yesterday we had three devotionals (meetings where everyone is together – all 1,500 of us, with a guest speaker or program of some kind) – one with Elder Oaks, one with LDS Humanitarian Services, and one with various missionaries performing. They have us arrive early for these and we sing prelude hymns for 15 minutes before the meeting starts which I really, really love. For the first devotional in the morning the last prelude hymn was ‘Families Can Be Together Forever’ – now we are all sleep-deprived, not at home with our families on Thanksgiving, so it maybe wasn’t the ideal choice on the part of the conductor. It got lots of people crying, including me – a rare and unexpected thing. Sister Talbot turned to me and said, "You’re not a robot!" which was helpful as we both laughed and were able to sing at least the end of second verse. It was actually a sweet moment – not in a ‘sweeeet’ surfer-dude kind of way, or in a sweet, saccharine kind of way – it was a moment of feeling really, really grateful for the people in my life, in a meaningful and touching kind of way. That was a theme of Thanksgiving, for me and for everyone here I think, being grateful for the great people in our lives, both in the real world and here. I miss seeing and communicating regularly with so many of you for sure, but I’m also really grateful that I enjoy the people here as much as I do.

Anyway, in addition to the devotionals we did a big service project – we made about 360,000 meals with the organization Feeding Children Everywhere. It was a nice experience, I think there is going to be some news coverage of it in the Church News, on KSL, Deseret News, etc. I was one of the table captains (blue hairnets if you see photos). Organizing people without being bossy and being enthusiastic and getting people excited is so not my thing, especially with 18 year-old boys, but we were efficient and no one seemed miserable, so I consider that a success.

On normal days we basically spend a lot of time in class, and some time teaching real, fake investigators. They’re non-members or converts who are playing themselves as investigators before they joined the church. Ours is very nice, and teaching isn’t bad, but I’m not vrey good at it. When we first met ours we were getting to know her and we ended up talking mostly about therapy and Philosophy. She’s from a different country and wasn’t sure what the difference between Philosohpy and Psychology was, and she even asked me about a philosopher I liked. By the time we had to leave we had talked about God for all of about one minute, and the ONE thing she wrote down during our 30 minute visit was the name of the philosopher I mentioned. When we were walking back to our class I realized that philosopher is an atheist, and wrote about the non-existence of miracles. Oops. Our next lesson was much better though – Sister Talbot took the lead and the conversation was about God’s love for us and the guidance he can provide. It wasn’t preachy, it was a very natural conversation based on questions our investigator had and on sharing our own experiences. It was a much better missionary moment, but it also made me realize something….Sister Talbot told our investigator that we loved her. Now I knew loving people was a part of this whole mission thing, but some how I failed to realize that that means TELLING people I love them, with words. I think I thought I could communicate love some other way – by the fact that I’m talking to them, and maybe exude love through my eyes or something. Going to have to work on this one.

Actually there is so much I have to work on and learn. I’ve definitely had several Abraham and Isaac moments here, thinking, ‘Ok, I provide I was willing to sacrifice a lot and I proved how much the gospel means to me – I came here, but can I be done now? can the knife-weilding arm be held back before I lose the next 18 months?’ Luckily those moments are more the exception than the rule, and we all think being out in Ohio will make those moments even more rare. Being able to have more control over our own schedules (the when at least, if not the what) and being able to work with real people will be really nice.

Speaking of Ohio – we got our travel plans and we are on a flight at 5:30am on December 8th with a two hour layover in Denver, then on to Cleveland. That means we have to leave the MTC at 2:30am – brutal! But luckily we’ll get to go to bed in Cleveland at what feels like 8:30pm becuase of the time change. It will be a long day but we’re excited! And it’s warmer in Cleveland, at least this week ๐Ÿ™‚

Last week I mentioned the eagerness and earnestness of the kids here – this week I am mostly just impressed with them. Yes there is a lot of what feels like missing experience, knowledge, awareness, etc. but I have seen, over and over again, how humble and committed they are to doing what is required. There is somethign striking abou tturning a corner to see 2 18 year-old boys standing and praying together before they walk into a room to teach someone, even though they know that person isn’t really an investigator. And then to see how excited and touched they are when a lesson goes well or when they feel the spirit also leaves an impression. They knowledge and experience stuff will get better, and I’ve already seen whta feels like significant change in some of the elders I have gotten to know. One elder who has a slight speech impediment and is really shy, seemed really, really nervous the first time he was asked to bear his testimony. Sister Talbot and I were both worried about whether he would make it. But he has since become more confident and clearly has a strong testimony driving what he is doing. In that first testimony he said something about not knowing everything or understanding everything but that ‘it’s easy – you just have faith.’ That maybe seems a little naive or ignorant but it seems to work pretty well fo rhim. I’m not sure how much growth I’ve experienced here, I think I feel less confident in myself and my abilities then when I came here, despite the fact that I’ve learned a lot, but I’m going to try to keep Elder Mafi’s philosophy in mind – it’s easy, just have faith.

Now for some lighter stuff. Some people have asked about the food here – it’s been good. Lots of variety and it tastes fine. But there are a LOT more carbs than I am used to, and a lack of cheese. Both of these things represent a dramatic departure from my normal diet and have definitely impacted my digestive system, as has being in a new place and sharing a bathroom with 50 other people. Bananas and grapes have been my friends, but I definitely miss having a piece of cheese before bed.

Since I can’ tgoogle all the things I wish I could google or would like to know – I am going to use this blog to ‘google’ (make requests) and hope whoever reads this might be able to email or mail (preferred) the answers. Here is this week’s list:

  • Washington’s Thanksgiving address (Elder Oaks mentioned it – I thought of you Emmy!)
  • Lincoln’s Thanksgiving declaration
  • Letter from WW Phelps to Joseph Smith, and Joseph Smith’s response
  • Food items that have fiber, other than bananas and grapes (and spinach – no thanks)
  • Any helpful analogies to illustrate the importance of opposition in all things – I have a hard time explaining that well when talking about the Fall
  • How old is Elder Oaks? And how old are his kids? He sang with his family and some of them looked way too old to be his kids

I’m out of time to write anything spiritual – to sum up, Mosiah 4 – specifically vs. 17-19. I read that chapter today and it’s got a lot of good stuff in it which I just don’t have time to write about here.

I will leave you with some things I’ve overheard here at the MTC this week. They give a good sense of this whole environment I think:

  • "I didn’t even cry and we got him to commit to baptism!" – Excited Elder
  • "I made a huge mistake and kissed a girl the Sunday before I left." – Elder who doesn’t realized he could have (and should have!) kissed that girl the Monday and Tuesday before he left too!
  • "My brother went gay." No comment.
  • "It’s physically hurting me to have charity right now." -Sister trying really hard.

Thanks for the letters sent this week – I really, really, really appreciate them and will try to respond.

Pictures may be coming in a separate post if I can get this computer to work in time.


48 Hours In

It’s been a very, very long 48 hours, but not in a completely miserable sort of way – just in that more has happened than seems possible in a mere 48 hours. The elders in our district got up at 5:30am to workout yesterday, which we all talked about at breakfast, and then at dinner my companion (brainwashing is setting in as using that word in this way doesn’t feel strange to me at all) asked them if they got up early to workout again – and it took us all several minutes before we realized that we hadn’t yet slept since the first early wake-up. Yesterday was a LONG day.

It’s like drinking from a fire hose, not so much about learning the gospel but learning to teach, which is good because wow is it needed. There are a lot of eager and earnest kids here (kids, yep) and they’re very endearing in their eagerness and earnestness – clearly have good, genuine intentions, but I am convinced that the ONLY way missionaries convert anyone is through miracles, and it probably happens in spite of the missionaries more than because of them. We had a practice teaching seminar thing the first night and it was a complete disaster! They had us in groups of 60-70 missionaries trying to ‘teach’ one fake investigator. Obviously not an ideal teaching scenario, but regardless, it quickly became a scripture quote-a-thon and testimony-off with lots of preaching AT the different investigators – so clearly not effective. Part of it was a little bit of the BYU competitive weirdness I remember from being in classes there – lots of people trying to say the right thing, give answers they think are needed to questions that weren’t necessarily asked with the idea that bearing testimony or being assertive about beliefs (as long as they’re true) is always appropriate and will always have a positive result. But the instructors here are well-aware of this problem, and in fact one instructor yesterday said, "You missionaries are BAD listeners. Use your ears and quit thinking about what you want to teach these people – just listen!" I have been very surprised at the emphasis placed on listening and loving people. I have not felt, even once, that I am being asked to push an agenda, give a sales pitch, or convince anyone of anything. The focus is very much on helping people in whatever ways we can and inviting them (not pushing them) to find happiness and peace for themselves and their families. I’m very grateful for that perspective and approach.

As for the people I’ve met…despite the fact that most of you, if not all, thought that dealing with a companion would be extremely difficult for me – after 48 hours it has actually been really great, I might even say it has been a delight. Maybe not quite that, but Sister Talbot (my companion) has been a very pleasant surprise. She is 19, but very mature – she has probably taken a more mature approach to a lot of things than I have. She is from Tropic, UT (by Bryce Canyon), studied at UVU, and did the Miss Utah Pageant this year as the representative from Garfield County. She is a really welcome combination of faithfulness and down-to-earthness. We laugh and sometimes roll our eyes at the weirdness here, and we can both say what we think – when we like things, when we don’t, when we have gospel insights, when we want to do something, whatever – without worrying about bothering the other person. I am extremely grateful that the two of us were paired. (You can see a picture or two of us together in the attached).

There are four of us going to the Cleveland mission/Kirtland Visitor’s Center (interestingly there are some other sisters here who are going to the Cleveland mission but not assigned to the Kirtland sites) and we are all in the same room and same district. The other two are Sister Gren (from Spanish Fork) and Sister Henrie (from a small town in Nevada). The elders in our district are going to the Eugene Oregon mission (keep an eye out John and Jan) – two are from Hawaii – Elder Falatea and Elder Borden – they are both really, really awesome. And then there is Elder Harrison (from MD, age 24, joined the church last year) and Elder Montague from Payson – both also cool guys. We all get along really well, I have no complaints about any of the people I’m with and I’m not just saying that, I can’t think of any even when I try.

Nobody seems too appalled by my age, though the sister who carried my bags when I got here and walked me around did seem shocked that I was 27 – she thought I only looked 21. I’m not sure what a 21 year-old looks like exactly, and I’m not sure if I’m flattered or concerned about that. She didn’t seem thrilled that someone thought she looked 22 (she is 19) so maybe I should be offended. The sisters in my district don’t seem bugged, though there are definitely some age-related quirks and differences. We are at very different stages of life, and there have been some cultural references made on both sides which were received with blank stares. I don’t feel far ahead of the people around me by any means, the age thing provides me with experience that they don’t have (Elder Falatea told me not to call myself old, just ‘experienced’), but they all have strengths and there own experiences that are valuable and not a function of years.

The hardest thing thus far, which I am only a little bit ashamed to admit, has been phone separation. I didn’t really do a proper goodbye on Wednesday as part of the dropoff process -I was wrapping up a few things when my phone unceremoniously died – it was very jarring, and I’ve thought about how I might like to have that moment to do over again, or how I wish I’d just charged my phone that morning. When I check the time here (on my analog watch, like an Amish person) I get a little bit upset that I can’t also check the weather (seriously, who has to figure out the weather for the day by looking outside), or Instagram (I have no idea what hilarious things the babies of my friends and relatives have been doing in the last two days), or sports scores, or text messages. The sisters in my district make fun of me for my phone issues but I tell them I have 8 more years of phone addition than they do and they don’t understand.

I don’t have a ton of time left, but here are a couple more things that might be of interest:

I am here for three weeks because we get an extra week of visitor’s center training (you were right mom). We’ll actually go up to Temple Square twice in our last week, for most of the day, as part of that – and on at least one trip we’re actually expected to proselyte there. That is completely terrifying, but it will be fun to see the lights I suppose.

Sister Talbot and I were made Sister Training Leaders last night (worst title ever – as soon as I feel I can do so without being completely and prematurely difficult, I will be making a proposal about changing that). We don’t really have much we’ll have to do since we’re all in the MTC, other than attend extra meetings that are really early in the morning, and it was a decision made based simply on a two-minuet conversation with the branch president last night, so it’s not a big deal at all – but we get a phone!!!!!!! It doesn’t call out, can’t make calls, can’t do messaging, and you can’t even see any of the pictures you take on it – basically all it can do is receive calls from the MTC office. But I will just enjoy holding it in my hand, and maybe even putting it in my back pocket…when I get to wear pants.

The rules so far haven’t been difficult at all, and most of htem really make sense and are necessary to maintain any kind of order with this many 18 and 19 year olds in once place. We’re actually given much more freedom and left to our own devices more than I would have thought. They expect us to use our time wisely and focus on important stuff, and for the most part, amazingly, people really do! Some quirky rules….not suppose to use the words ‘guys’ or ‘girls’ to refer to each other – we are always supposed to say ‘elders’ or ‘sisters’ and when addressing a group ‘elders and sisters’. We can’t even high-five elders, handshakes only. And with other sisters, ‘to avoid the appearance of "something else"’ we aren’t supposed to rub each other’s backs or play with each others’ hair…major bummer.

There is one rule, however, which is COMPLETELY ridiculous. Our district leader (Elder Harrison) gets the mail for us. We don’t get our own mail. We saw that our box had letters in it yesterday, but we didn’t have a district leader then, and we haven’t been able to connect with him yet today to get our mail which is KILLING me. We are going to establish a better routine to avoid this frustration, but just know I have not yet received all the letters you’ve all sent me which is why I may not be answering questions that were asked. I will get those today though, and still have time (hopefully) to respond to some today (via snail mail).

Our P-days are Fridays while we’re here, so that will be the next time I can email. It appears I can only send two pictures in this email so I included one of Sister Talbot and I, and one of our district (minus Elder Harrison and Montague).

Life is good so far – feel like I should say something spiritual….James 5:16 is a good scripture I came across today. I invite you to read and think about it if you are interested ๐Ÿ™‚

Hope to hear from some of you soon!

What’s in a name tag

I’ve been set apart as a missionary,ย  though I won’t get my nametag till tomorrow, I’m officially ‘Sister West’. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to introduce myself that way with a straight face. Though maybe in Amish country people will find that less weird.

But I’m thinking about this new identity and what it means for ‘just Jenn’. I won’t be a completely different person, but I have a new purpose andย  there are different expectations of me now. I’ll be watched in a way I haven’t been watched before, I’ll be tagged as a representative of someone and something that really matters and I want to be careful about that without losing the joy that can be found sometimes in less careful moments.

‘Whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it’ – I feel as though I’m about to lose at least a part of my life, which I find worrying, but I’m intrigued to see what kind of life I’ll find to take it’s place.

Off to the MTC tomorrow – letters and emails will be appreciated (DearElder.com does same day letter delivery in the MTC, all via their website, for FREE), but even more than that – I’ll be needing lots of prayers and good karmic vibes sent in the direction of Provo and then Ohio.

Weekly Updates

I’ll have one hour a week to do email while I’m in Ohio, so I’ll mostly be writing one sort of summary/update and posting it here. If you’re interested in reading those updates, you can click the follow button over on the right and they’ll automatically get sent to you via every week (and you can turn it off at anytime if you’re sick of hearing how amazing rural Ohio is).

I’d love to hear from anyone who cares to write me while I’m gone. I can get email but since my computer time will be limited I might be able to respond more easily to snail mail.

Email address:

Mailing address till December 8th:
Sister Jennifer West
2005 N 900 E Unit 211
Provo UT 84602