Friday, February 27, 2015


January 15, 2008 – January 27, 2008

A little bit of missionary humor. This is the front door of an apartment we stopped at. The sticker in the top left says “I accept! It’s that easy,” but the icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe indicates that this family is Catholic, and probably not very interested in receiving Mormon missionaries.

Elder Nájera and I had a few setbacks during the early part of 2008. Our area was very large, so we had to plan our appointments carefully to make sure that we weren’t spending too much time and money taking buses between different neighborhoods. Several of our investigators had lost interest in listening us, or in coming to church, so we had to stop teaching them to free up time with others. In some missions in the world, the people are much less open to listening to Mormon missionaries, so when missionaries find people that want to listen to them, they’re able to spend more time with each of their investigators, and probably don’t decide to stop visiting them unless the investigator asks them to. One of the tricky things about my mission was that there were always a fair number of people that were willing to listen to us, so we had to learn to prioritize our lessons based on who seemed most likely to progress toward joining the church. It was nice to know that we would eventually find people that wanted to be baptized, but it was still hard to stop visiting people with whom we’d already formed relationships just to go back to going door-to-door and street contacting again.

When Elder Guerra went home, the leadership in our district changed. Elder Guerra had been the district leader, the one responsible for a few pairs of missionaries and teaching a weekly training meeting. When he left, the sister missionaries in the area next to ours were also transferred, and two new elders, Elder Tovar and Elder Eduardo, replaced them. Elder Tovar was the new district leader. Elder Eduardo was a new missionary, fresh from an MTC in Mexico City. Unlike the MTC in Provo, the Mexican MTC was small, and only hosted missionaries bound for missions in Mexico that already spoke Spanish fluently. Today, that MTC has been replaced by a much larger one, also in Mexico City, that hosts a wider variety of missionaries.

The Xalapa Zone after a district meeting in January 2008. Standing: Elders Eduardo, Lindsay, Nájera, Breceda, Calzada, Bowman, Bada. Sitting: Elders Hernández, Schwarting, Alonzo, Sharp, Durán, and Kowalski. Not pictured: Elder Tovar.

Elder Eduardo’s presence meant that I was technically no longer “the new guy,” but he was probably still more effective than me since he was more familiar with the language and the culture. We did a couple of rounds of splits with Elders Tovar and Eduardo, and I got to work with Elder Eduardo. It was simultaneously cool and intimidating to work with each other since we had so little experience between the two of us. We didn’t always know what to do, but we managed to muddle through our lessons. I was glad I’d had the experience of doing splits with the local teenagers in Alborada, so it wasn’t quite as hard as it would have been otherwise.

Another one of my difficulties during this time was my impatience with my own progress and situation. As a junior companion, I was constantly doing things wrong, and I didn’t feel very great about my own abilities. In retrospect, I think I was craving recognition and praise. I had grown up as the oldest child in my family and was used to being good at the things I tried to do and being congratulated for it. I’d done well in high school and had also just come off a successful freshman year of college the year before. Compared to these victories, being stuck in a foreign country talking to people about my religion took me out of my comfort zone and made me feel kind of defeated about my own abilities.

The unfortunate result of this struggle was that I started to fantasize about being assigned to a leadership position. The LDS church uses a lay clergy. Teachers and leaders in the church aren’t paid for their service, so they have to hold normal jobs in addition to the time they devote to church service. This also means that there’s no career clergy, so leaders and teachers and all other types of positions in the church are filled by extending callings, or assignments to specific positions.

We’re taught not to covet specific callings just because we want to be recognized as important. This is kind of backwards from much of the business world, where ambition and drive to get a promotion can be seen as a good thing. Most of the time this isn’t a problem since the “higher” positions in the church just require more of your time and still offer no compensation, so theres really no reason to want them. But in this case, I really did want to be assigned to be a leader, probably because I felt insecure about my abilities. I knew it was wrong, but it’s still how I felt.

I did my best to channel my ambition into trying to become a better missionary. Brother Toledo, my MTC instructor, had given each of his students a packet of notes he’d drawn up for a training meeting when he was a missionary. It was titled “How to Be an Effective Leader,” but it had lots of good general missionary advice drawn from Preach My Gospel and supplemented with his own experience. I read through it again and felt motivated to try to apply some of its suggestions.

A few people around me had also unknowingly contributed to my interest in leadership by mentioning that they thought I’d eventually become a leader in the mission. Brother Toledo was actually the first. He had been a fantastic instructor, and I had a lot of respect towards him, but that also meant that when he said I’d probably be a leader, I believed him and took it as a deep praise, when it was probably just meant to inspire me to be better. It happened again in Xalapa when the zone leaders surprised us with an evening visit. They stopped by just to talk to us and get a sense of how the work was going in our area and within our companionship. While they were talking to me, Elder Breceda said I’d probably become a leader in the mission eventually. Elder Nájera said the same thing during one of our study sessions one morning when he could tell I was getting frustrated with my teaching ability. Each of these occasions made me want to be a leader even more.

To be clear, I’m not including this issue in my blog to brag about my leadership potential; I’m including it simply because it was a real part of how I was feeling during this time. I’m actually pretty embarrassed to admit how much I thought about it back then. The best I can say for myself is that I did try to keep my feelings to myself. I knew it was wrong for me to be jealous of others’ leadership positions, so I never talked about wanting one. More than anyone else, Elder Nájera probably suffered for my pride. It’s not easy to be companions with someone who thinks he’s too good for his position, and I’m sorry to say that Elder Nájera had to deal with my bad attitude more frequently than I’d like to admit. In retrospect, I’m glad he was so patient with me, even when I wasn’t patient with myself.

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