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 🙂
Hope to hear from some of you soon!