Sunday, March 17, 2013

Practice and Patience

October 18, 2007 – October 26, 2007

I haven’t really talked much about what the Missionary Training Center trains missionaries to do, aside from speak a foreign language. I’ll explain some of that here.

The MTC is all about turning shy, scared young people into outgoing, enthusiastic Gospel teachers. Some missionaries arrive on their missions basically ready to go, and the MTC just makes sure they have the right doctrinal knowledge and sets them loose on the mission field. These missionaries are naturally open, bubbly, relatable people. I was not one of those missionaries, unfortunately. I considered myself a quieter, more reflective person. I really wanted to be a missionary, but doing so usually meant putting myself well outside my comfort zone.

One of the biggest personality hurdles throughout my entire mission was learning to talk to strangers on the street about my religion. Missionaries do this all the time, in most places. They’ll walk right up to you, stop you on the sidewalk, and just strike up a conversation about God, families, church, and other things. From the very beginning, this was one of the hardest things for me to get used to.

In the MTC, pretty much the only people you ever see are instructors and other missionaries. Everyone’s the same religion, so you can’t exactly go looking for people to teach about your church. Instead, every missionary gets taught to just randomly stop other missionaries they don’t know on the campus and role-play a mock street contact. Missionaries try to do this regularly, so that it’s not such a big deal once they get out in the field and do it for real. Even just role-playing was really hard for me, though. I never knew what to say; I felt awkward stopping people who looked like they had somewhere to go or something to do, and I was scared of rejection.

Actually, we did a lot of role-play in the MTC. While we were learning the lessons that missionaries generally teach to investigators (people interested in the church), we would practice explaining the different principles with our missionary companions or our instructors, switching back and forth between being the teacher and the supposedly-uninformed investigator. Sometimes we would also practice teaching to volunteers, non-missionaries that came to the MTC so that missionaries could practice teaching someone that wasn’t studying the lessons every day.

I had a really hard time teaching. My mind would blank; I would get hung up on parts of the lesson that I didn’t think I’d explained very clearly. I had a hard time simplifying what I thought were pretty complicated topics into words that non-church members would understand. I was a bit of a perfectionist and got frustrated when I didn’t do as well as I wanted.

One day, Elder Stojic and I were teaching a group of eight volunteers at the MTC. All eight of them had been missionaries themselves, having recently returned from Argentina, so they also spoke fluent Spanish. I was really intimidated. I couldn’t help thinking that whatever I said, these returned missionaries would know a better way to have said it. I did my best to try to teach the principles we’d prepared, but I kept getting stuck and embarrassed, so I relied on Elder Stojic a lot. He was completely the opposite of me then. Somehow, he thrived on this kind of environment. He spoke to those mock investigators as though he were meeting a big group of old friends. He taught in three sentences what I’d tried fruitlessly to explain in three minutes of convoluted Spanish.

Elder Stojic.

I was relieved that we didn’t look totally stupid in front of this group of experts, but I was also selfishly bitter about how well it had gone for him, while going so badly for me. I wrote in my journal:

I still don’t understand why he’s such a better teacher than I am. I study so hard and try to make use of all my time, … yet he still makes me look like I’ve been here 5 weeks fewer than him when we teach. I wish I could figure out what the difference is so I could work on it. Part of it probably is pride, but I sincerely want to improve myself for the sakes of those in Veracruz, and he obviously has something I don’t….

At that point, as during much of my mission, I really struggled with my attitude. I took being a missionary so seriously; I was so convinced that missionary work was just a bunch of hard work that I missed out on opportunities to enjoy myself and make other people happy. Looking back, I’m able to say that I had success as a missionary, but I know I’d have had much more if I could have just been more relaxed.

I’m glad I had the chance to have been Elder Stojic’s companion. He was patient with me while I was going through this and made me more open to the idea of being relaxed and enthusiastic later on in my mission, even if it did take me a while to learn that lesson properly.

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