It's been more than a week at the MTC (though it seems like it's been longer). Life is different, very regimented with a strict schedule to follow from 6:30 am to 10:30 pm. But my companions make it fun. I lost Elder Valles to Elder Mendez from Honduras who just transferred into our district. He's serving in the Salt Lake central mission, Spanish speaking. I'm actually learning a lot of Spanish from him. I translated a phrase with the word forgiveness that he didn't know how to say in English. 'Otuafi keeps it fun with his jokes and laughter. One thing that's great about him is that he's always smiling. Having Mendez is nice because we can play soccer together (the heat kills though).
We were talking about where we would have our "mission batch reunion" from our district. We jokingly said Samoa, Elder Otuafi looked up from his writing, frowned, and said... Tonga... He wasn't lying when he said Tongans (and other pacific islanders) love their volleyball. He spikes super hard on the court, I’m glad I was on his team. 'Otuafi is a super faithful missionary. He loves rugby and got a professional contract to play in Australia but he said he puts God first. He was less worried about it than I was. He said instead of rugby, he wants to "get a life. When he played in high school, he got "chased out" of his high school's team because he was too rough. He got picked up by another team and was their team captain. He forced his team to fast and pray before each game, and they won "everything". Pretty cool stuff.
As a zone leader, I have to do missionary training, orientations, and interviews. For the interviews I feel pretty inadequate, I've only been here for a week and I have to sit down with district leaders and ask them about their companionship, companionship inventory, and fix any personal problems before meeting with the Branch President about them. You'd be surprised about the issues we have to deal with sometimes, sleeping on time, getting to class on time, etc. – especially when I'm guilty of them. I have to work on being a stronger example! I try to be very humble in these interviews.
One of the Elders I interviewed had already finished college. Talk about having more experience and wisdom than me! He was very nice though, it made it a lot easier. He's going to Mongolia. It's interesting. Apparently the Mongolian missionaries (who left on Sunday) cannot openly proselyte in Mongolia. They travel in their P-day clothes without name tags ("civilian" clothes, no suit and tie) and cannot go through customs or security with their companions. They go there as English teachers and then if a member in Mongolia brings them investigators, they can teach it in the churches there. It's a very fragile relationship.
One of the most significant messages I've learnt from my time here is to love everyone. I literally love each of my companions and those in my district AND the people I'm teaching. I have to teach lessons every day, to teachers, and this past week, to an actual person investigating the church. I feel like gospel and the Mormon Church can bring so much healing and joy to people's lives. I really want to share that happiness. One of my investigators was in a pretty deep hole with drugs, alcohol etc. She has changed her life and left all of that behind by living this message of happiness we want to share as missionaries.
During one of our gym times, I wore my "Brown Class of 2017" neon green shirt. It (soccer) was pretty easy, dribbling around a bunch of Americans, but very hot, it sapped my energy. At the end, one elder asked me about the shirt, why am I class of 2017. I had to tell him that I'd already attended a year of college. (so I'm silently 'repping Brown). Mendez is called "Elder Messi" by the other missionaries because of his skill and because he wears a Barca Messi shirt.
For church, Elder Timmerman and I have to sit up on the stand looking over everyone. It's hard not to fall asleep (Dad, I feel your struggle). We have to plan talks each Sunday because the Branch Presidency will pick us "randomly." I didn't get chosen.
Having E. 'Otuafi as a companion is great, he's a scripture encyclopedia. You ask him for a reference, and he'll recite it to you. Timmerman is great at it too. The one thing I still find a bit weird is that everyone prays before they eat in the cafeteria. Growing up in a place NOT the MTC or BYU where everyone is Mormon has really only had me saying prayers to bless food at home or at church functions. Here everyone does it. Elder Palo (Timmerman's companion) does not have totally fluent English but he is hilarious in his Philippine accent. When we were walking by the computer lab one day, he stopped, pointed at someone and said, “eh you're using Facebook ah?” I guess you had to be there. When we were in the cafeteria the other day, he pointed to his coke and said, “I love iced tea”. It looked like tea, but as you probably know, Mormon's don't drink it. We laughed and laughed and laughed. I'm so happy here because everyone is so nice and inviting. My district especially is hilarious; we might laugh a bit TOO much.
During a huge devotional with all the missionaries, they offer translation and headsets for that. I asked for Mandarin Chinese and the lady didn't want to give it to me. She said they were only for people from outside the U.S. I told her I was from Shanghai and she said we don't have a lot of Japanese headsets. I guess Shanghai, Japan is a place I haven't heard of. All jokes aside, she did eventually give me the Chinese one and I got a lot of vocabulary from listening in Chinese. I saw an Elder Dyer in the devotional, he's from Bountiful Utah. Do we know him?
The interesting thing in the devotional is watching the sign language missionaries when we sing. When they say the words, "Alleiluah" (how do you spell that?), they clap.
Elder 'Otuafi loves to say something absurd, wait a second, and say in a booming deep Tongan accent, "I'm just jooking" (pronouncing the o's). He also loves to say, "shush your mouth" (pronounced shoosh).
During another gym time, unfortunately everyone went to play volleyball. It was only me, Mendez, and Elder Marah, from Sierre Leone (he has lived in Utah for 4 years). Back in Africa, he had to walk miles for water every day, so he is really good at carrying things with his head. He walks back to the residences with his scriptures on his head every day. 'Otuafi said back in school, every Friday his school (the Mormon school) would fight the public school. He said they would fight until the police came! However, when someone brings a knife, they're "wussies"... but if they do that, you run... to the police...
One of my teachers, Elder Villanueva is great (well both of them are great, the other one is Sister Dietz), he really wants to make us better missionaries. He gave us some good advice, we should asked deeper questions like why do you think Jesus Christ offered to sacrifice himself for us, rather than do you understand?
Elder Timmerman and I picked up new international missionaries and did some introduction things. We kind of balance each other out. I'm more outgoing in these leadership role situations while he's more reserved. Although I think I’m talking too much, I should probably try to get him more involved. Elder 'Otuafi's brother came to the MTC and looks very similar to him, but with not as good English. There's another Elder Li from Shenzhen, China. He says there are a ton of members there. Oh by the way, an Elder Li got transferred to advanced language and I now have a three way companionship again, he's from Fremont, and is going to Singapore Chinese speaking. He went to UC Berkeley for a year before this.
During dinner, Mendez and 'Otuafi will get apples all the time. 'Otuafi will make references to the fall of Adam when he ate the forbidden fruit and say, when Mendez takes the first bite, "you just made Adam's transgression" (shaking his head). It's too funny. I'm going to miss them when they leave, because I'm here for an extra week! They send out Riverside missionaries together, and there's a batch leaving next week.
Yesterday we had "in-field orientation" with trainers that were some of the most charismatic people I have ever experienced. They really pick qualified individuals for this. We learned about how to involve members in both finding people interested in the church and finding referrals. It's really all about love.
During the orientation for ALL new missionaries in my zone, I did a similar introductory exercise as with all the international ones. I told them that they are all meant to be here and there are people waiting for them to bring their love and their message of healing in the mission field. Someone made a joke about having someone "always following them" (their companion of course). Afterwards they met with our branch president, who really loves us. He's got white white hair and uses phrases like "snubbing someone to the post" and "how the cow eats the cabbage" that frankly, goes over the heads of the international missionaries, and the US ones...
The point is I'm very happy, love my companions and am enjoying this time with them. I can't wait to get to California, though!
Elder Dyer in front of the Provo temple
Elder Dyer's district in front of the Provo temple
District handshake (part one)
District handshake (part two)
Elder Dyer at Provo temple
Elders Li, Otuafi, Dyer
Elders Dyer and Mendez
Elder Dyer studying...
Elder Dyer really studying...
Elder Dyer really really studying
Classroom with Elder Otuafi
New "Tri-panionship" - Elders Dyer, Otuafi, and Li
It's been a long day...
It's been a REALLY long day
Classroom treat break
In front of Provo Temple