Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Mission: 10 Years Ago

(Blogger formatting hates me, forget captions!)
Ten years ago tomorrow I entered the MTC. I knew next to nothing of what I was getting in to. I only knew that I would spend the next two years going where the Lord wanted me to go, doing what the Lord wanted me to do. For me that meant California and speaking Spanish but first, nine weeks in Provo at the MTC.
My parents took me into the MTC's main building where we were sent to a large meeting room. Some vindictive official played a movie whose entire purpose was to remind the bright eyed, eager young men and women just how much they were going to miss their families and the poor heartbroken parents how much they were going to miss their sons and daughters. My parents were sobbing by the time it was over and it was time to say goodbye. They later told me they got in their car, drove to a parking lot and wept until the tears wouldn't come.
Keep in mind that at no point during my mission was I more than a 10 hour drive from home. I kept the key to my house on my key chain to remind me that I could go home anytime I wanted. But I was where I wanted to be. I just didn't know what was going on. I laugh at myself thinking about it now.
I somehow grabbed all my suitcases, found my dorm room, my companion, the other missionaries from my district and settled in for the night but not before saying my prayers and reading my scriptures. Lights out, 10:30PM.

Learning Spanish was hard for me. I don't suppose learning a new language is a particularly easy chore for anyone. Sure it's easier for some people but it still is a lot of hard work, a lot of study, memorization and practice. For me speaking came easier. I figured out the grammar fairly well I suppose, for a Gringo. I could conjugate my verbs with the best of them. But put me in a room and ask me to understand what someone else was saying and you'd get an eager 19 year old looking like a deer staring at headlights.

I always felt like the knowledge was there, like I had the ability but the best way I can describe it, I was a pressure cooker and there was this heavy lid that I just couldn't throw off. If I could I'd understand.

One night, a couple of weeks in, I get the prompting to read the Book of Mormon in Spanish. Not necessarily out loud but just to read it. So I figure that it would take my about 15-20 pages a day to get through the 642 pages, you see, I wanted to read it in the MTC before getting shipped out to Sacramento.
It was hard but I loved the progress. At first I would only pick up words here and there. Then I started looking up some of the words and it expanded my vocabulary. Still it wasn't until pagina (that means page) 627 while reading Moroni 4:3 that I understood what I was reading.
It would be months before I felt I understood what anyone was saying to me. In fact my first night with my new companion in Stockton, CA we went to dinner and someone asked me, De donde vienes? Where do you come from? I had no idea. I mean, I know where I came from, I just didn't know what this nice lady with the good tasting food was saying. After about five times of me asking Que? and the hermana (sister) repeating the question my companion finally bailed me out and said, "Where do you come from" Oh, the light bulb comes on. "Soy de Chandler Arizona." I was pathetic, sure but not hopeless.

About six months from the day I started my mission that lid came off. I could not only speak, I could understand. Sure there were words here and there that I hadn't been exposed to yet and would eventually learn but I could speak and I could understand. It wasn't just a miracle, it was the blessing of the Gift of Tongues and the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues.
During my mission I met with mutli-millionaires, poor illegal immigrants, drug addicts, newlyweds, doctors and mechanics. I was spit upon, egged and there were multiple times when the Spirit whispered to me to run away, get out, drive away and turn now. The Lord protected me in very dangerous situations. (I heard a number of gunshots while going to my first appointment and then someone was stabbed just a couple of doors down from where I was at). Through it all I saw how the Truth changes lives. God changes lives.
I'd like to think that I helped at least one person in some small way. I never kept a tally of the people that I taught who were baptized, I just tried to remember all of their names. Still if my mission didn't succeed in helping anyone in California change for the better, it helped me. My mission changed my life forever. It was the most difficult thing I've ever done and that hardship impacted my soul and I came to know God as I have never known him before.

I am far from perfect. And I don't know everything. But what I do know is this, God loves His children and He wants us to return home to Him.

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