Friday, March 22, 2013

Ready to Leave

October 27, 2007 – November 5, 2007

The elders of District 47-D with our flight plans out of the MTC. From right to left, Elders Shearman, Stojic, Newman, and Lindsay.

After weeks in the MTC, most missionaries are itching to get out to the mission field. Two weeks before you leave the MTC sends you your flight plans, which give you your itinerary and instructions on how to get to wherever you’re going. It’s pretty exciting, though maybe not enough to justify that photo.

Bro. Toledo’s jack-o-lantern on Halloween in the MTC. I don’t know why there’s toilet paper inside. He stuck his cell phone in there to light it up.

Halloween also came near the end of our stay at the MTC. Of course no missionaries dressed up or did anything really unusual, but it stuck in my mind as the first significant holiday of my mission. Bro. Toledo showed up dressed in his normal white shirt and tie, but also brought a costume just to show us for a second.

Bro. Toledo as Morpheus (from The Matrix) and as a vampire. Yes, at the same time.

Occasionally, we worked with instructors other than Bro. Toledo and Bro. McDaniel. One instructor that taught us a couple of times was Bro. Nelson, who, as it turned out, had served in the Mexico Veracruz Mission, where we were about to go. Like many MTC instructors, he had been an assistant to the mission president while on his mission. The assistants to the president (usually two of them working as companions) are the highest positions of mission leadership to which young missionaries are assigned. They work directly under the mission president and oversee the zone leaders. Bro. Nelson was so excited that we were going to his mission; he told us all about the mission president there and showed us a bunch of photos. We could tell that he had loved it and would have gone back in a heartbeat if he could have.

He also told us that we would soon meet his “hijo” (son). Huh? Turns out it was more mission slang. He explained that new missionaries refer to their trainers (their first companions in the mission field) as papás (moms and dads). As it turns out, this little joke has all sorts of extensions, and missionaries will talk about their mission hermanos (brothers and sisters), abuelos (grandparents), and other things, all in reference to who trained whom. It’s all part of a larger joke where the mission is your “life”. You get “born” when you leave the MTC for the mission field, and you “die” when you finish your two years and come home. I even heard one or two missionaries talk about being “pregnant” when they heard they would be assigned to train new missionaries. I guess this is the kind of amusement people turn to when they aren’t allowed to watch TV.

Anyway, Bro. Nelson explained that his hijo, Elder Olín, had recently been assigned to be an assistant to the president. The assistants always help pick up the new arrivals from the MTC at the airport and give them a brief orientation before sending them out with their papás, so Elder Stojic and I would meet Elder Olín and his companion soon.

On one of the last days in the MTC, they put all of the missionaries leaving that week for Mexico on a bus and brought us to the Mexican consulate in Salt Lake. We’d had to apply for our visas before we entered the MTC, and they only just granted them in time. It’s not uncommon for American missionaries to have to wait longer than the two months they spend in the MTC to be allowed into Mexico. Those missionaries usually have to stay in the MTC longer (which sounds awful) or they get temporarily assigned to a mission in the U.S. until their visas come through. We were fortunate enough to get ours in time.

My Mexican visa. Note that Mexico’s formal name is Estados Unidos Mexicanos (United Mexican States). My trainer later joked that I was still in the United States when I got there.

When we came back to the MTC later that day, someone from one of the other districts had drawn this on our classroom chalkboard:

The text reads, “BROTHER TOLEDO VERSUS THE WITCH.” The drawing Bro. Toledo is throwing an apple and saying a word that translates roughly to “the impact of an apple” (as in, impacting against the witch’s face). The real Bro. Toledo wrote, “Jajaja,” which is how Mexicans write “hahaha.”

By this time, Bro. Toledo was famous among the other districts in our zone. It hadn’t taken long for everyone to figure out how awesome he was.

With visas in hand, it was finally time for us to leave for Mexico. Our last Sunday was a chance to reflect on the MTC, take photos, and say goodbye to people we might not see again. Our district took a walk back to English’s grave and took a happier photo to make up for the long-faced one we took before. It’s funny; while I was still itching to get out of there, in the end I realized I’d miss it, too. For some reason it’s so much easier to look back on really hard times and remember them so much better than they seemed when you were in the middle of it.

District 47-D with our instructors on our last day before leaving. From left to right, Elder Lindsay, Bro. Toledo, Sis. Gordon, Elder Newman, Elder Shearman, Elder Stojic, Bro. McDaniel.

We had our own testimony meeting on Sunday night, and Bro. Toledo joined us, even though he wasn’t working that day. He just came because that’s the kind of guy he is.

The elders of District 47-D at our departure testimony meeting with Bro. Toledo in the center.

Even more surprisingly, Bro. Toledo showed up at 4:00 AM the next morning to see us off! His dedication level bordered on crazy, but we loved him all the more for it.

Bro. Toledo, as happy and positive as ever, as we sleepily loaded into the bus to the airport.

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