Sunday, March 10, 2013

“Just Make It to Sunday”

September 6, 2007 – September 8, 2007

The next couple of days weren’t as memorable as the first, but I’ll tell what I do remember and try to fill in some of the blanks.

I believe the next day was when Sister Gordon joined us. The MTC had originally assigned her to a beginner’s course in Spanish, but she had quite a bit of experience with it already, so they moved her up to intermediate. I don’t know if she had a companion in her original district, but in our district she was a “solo” sister, which meant that she had a female companion, but her companion was in another district than her, so they spent most of their time separated. While she was with our district, she had to be with at least a pair of elders (never with only one elder). It was an unusual setup that only occurs in the MTC. Sis. Gordon had attended BYU for a few years before leaving and was headed to the Washington Spokane Mission (speaking Spanish). She became the fifth member of District 47-D.

The members of District 47-D pointing out their missions on the MTC’s big map. From left to right: Bro. Toledo, Sister Gordon, Elders Shearman, Stojic, Lindsay, and Newman.

We also must have met our MTC instructors that day. The MTC hires returned missionaries in the area (often BYU students) to teach classes part-time to districts of new missionaries. An instructor teaches the same district until the district leaves the MTC. I want to say we met Brother McDaniel first. He was a BYU student from California who had served his mission in Argentina. He was friendly, knowledgeable, experienced, and he loved Argentina.

Bro. McDaniel.

Our other instructor was Brother Toledo. He served in the Mexico Cuernavaca Mission and had just recently returned. In fact, we were the first district he taught after being hired as an instructor. To our surprise, we learned that Bro. Toledo was from Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico, which was inside my and Elder Stojic’s mission. At the time, he was a new student in BYU’s English Language Center and spoke very little English. He later told me that it was a miracle that the MTC hired him, and from what I remember from the MTC, I believe it. Bro. Toledo almost never spoke English to us; instead, when he used vocabulary we didn’t know, he patiently explained in Spanish to help us deduce what it meant. In the entire nine weeks we were there, I don’t think I heard him say more than ten English words to us. He also was one of the most caring people I have ever met. We could all tell that he loved us, missionary work, and God. There were many times that we relied on his incredibly positive attitude to help us through our own challenges.

The two instructors worked as a team. One would teach a class in the morning, and another would teach in the afternoon. Bro. Toledo helped us learn to understand Spanish as spoken by a native speaker and helped us build vocabulary and correct pronunciation. Bro. McDaniel was able to teach us the grammar rules (which is actually very hard to learn from native speakers because they never learned the rules, they just learned what sounded right). He helped us feel more at home in the MTC and was able to empathize with the difficulty of preparing to serve in a culture very different than your own.

Classes and studying were pretty much all day, five days a week. “All day” typically started before 8:00 AM and ended after 9:00 PM. Some days of the week we had other meetings or trainings, but we spent most of our waking hours in the MTC inside the same small classroom. Once a day, we would get an hour of gym. There was no free time (really, none) on these days.

The other two days were Sunday and Preparation Day (P-Day). P-Day is as close to a “day off” as missionaries get. In the field, P-Day is when missionaries can go shopping, do laundry, write letters and email, play sports, or see sights. Even so, missionaries have to be back and ready to work by 6:00 PM on P-Days. This means that even P-Days are usually busy and can be stressful at times because you need to get so much done. P-Day is set to some day of the week by the mission president. In the field, my P-Day was Monday, though in the MTC, it was Tuesday. In the MTC, we went to the temple each P-Day, though this wasn’t possible once I was in the field.

Elder Stojic and me at the Provo Temple.

On Sundays, we had almost-normal church meetings with the branch president and others. Sundays in the MTC were pretty relaxing compared to other days; we had a few hours in the afternoon that were unscheduled, so we could take walks around the MTC and up to the nearby Provo Temple or even take a nap. Missionaries are not allowed to go beyond mission boundaries, and in the MTC that meant staying inside the MTC fence except for the temple grounds and field across the street. But Sundays still felt like relative freedom. One thing the missionaries that had been there longer kept telling us that first week was to “just make it to Sunday.” They were right. The first four days were the toughest of the entire MTC stay, as far as I remember. Trying to get used to the schedule and rules and learning Spanish is really taxing, but that first Sunday feels like heaven after so much hard work.

It was sometimes easy to lose track of why you were doing what you were doing in the MTC. You’re not sharing your beliefs with anyone outside the church yet, so you don’t see any results from all your work. Early on at the MTC, I got frustrated and discouraged. In an attempt to pull myself out of a bad attitude, I wrote myself a pep-talk note in my study notebook:

Remember: all this crap, all these rules, all the … tasks you have to complete, all of them are a means to an end. If any one of the vocabulary words you memorize helps you lead someone to the gospel, it was worth all the time you spent. The details are not the focus themselves, but if you attach yourself to them, you will have better success offering the message.

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