Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Week 3: Still in the MTC but an adventure today!

We learned that Madeleine's request for a Criminal Background Check from California never arrived. Therefore, Madeleine's Slovenian visa application is seriously stalled. The Church's Travel Office instructed her to phone me to figure out which forms are still missing and how we could reconstruct the whatever items are necessary for her visa application to be completed.


Today has been an adventure, the biggest adventure of my week. I had to phone my home plus I left the Missionary Training Center campus for about an hour. Speaking to Mom on the phone today was great, though stressful because of the stuff we're trying to figure out. Then going off campus.... that was something!

We took a shuttle to the Provo Police Station and I had accidentally left my name-tag at the front desk so I was wandering around the police station without one. Sister Tanner had hers though, so things were good. It took the woman at the front window of the police station about 5 minutes to do my police background check. Compare that to the two week wait that they have in California. And the fee was 10 dollars, not $60 like it is in California. Good grief! But it was nice to drive around Provo a bit and see the place where I resided the majority of the last three years. It’s hard to believe all my friends are just down the street but I never see them even though I’m in Provo too. The MTC seems like a different city, actually a different world. And when we go to the Provo Temple it seems like I couldn’t possibly be in Provo—my life is so different from when I lived here as a student going to BYU.

Our meetings with the investigators have been off and on. Some of the time we are really able to invite the Spirit and have a wonderful meeting with them. I love those times; they're definitely the best parts of the week. But there never seems to be enough time in a day to plan for our meetings and still learn Slovenian. Even as our language becomes better, we're constantly reminded of how little we can actually say. We probably know a couple of hundred vocabulary words and now we're learning how to apply them. Cases are the primary structure of Slovenian and most Eastern European grammar, and that's something that doesn't even exist in any form in English. It makes things considerably more complicated until we really get the graphs down and learn how to use them well.

There are SO MANY graphs to memorize! We sit in the classroom for most of our waking hours, with the little seats and these slanted desks off which everything falls. I sit by the window and have a view of Mount Timpanogas as the sun rises and strikes the southeastern side and throughout the day until the last pink rays vanish. It is a strange thing to know that I've seen the entire progression of the light on the mountains throughout a day from sunrise to sunset--from the same position. But we learn so much here so fast and we have such dedicated teachers. Sister Kelly, one of our teachers, has been just wonderful with Sister Tanner and I and comforting us when we're feeling like we're not doing as well as we should be. Sister Okoren, who used to play the part of our first investigator, is really intense about wanting us to just say what we're doing and mean it, and to not be afraid. Brother Johnson is probably the best Slovene speaker that the mission has produced in at least 6 years (so says sister Okoren) and so he is a great asset to us when we're confused about anything with the language. Besides, he is always really excited about what he teaches when he teaches about the language, and so it is pretty great to have him as a teacher. We don't feel like we're getting through to him with the gospel yet, so we're hoping to fixing that. (He is playing our shy Slovene investigator, Milan).

You know, having multiple investigators throughout the week role-playing the part of real Slovenes is a new addition to the MTC. It only changed as recently as August. It means that we have a lot less time on our hands to mess around because we have to be planning all the time for the two lessons we have to teach per day. And if we don't do well by making the gospel relevant to the investigator or by helping them to see the benefit of it in their life and how they can make a connection with God themselves, then the investigator will ask us to stop coming. Which means there are real consequences for not doing well. This already happened to the Slovene Elders and Sister Tanner and I are terrified that it will happen to us. We hope so much that the Lord will be with us. I know that these aren't real investigators, but we know this is much what it will be like in the mission field of Slovenia so it is important to us that we learn how to teach well and help people find their way to God.

I don't think I've ever said this, but the sister who sleeps on the bunk bed above me is the same sister that I met at IHOP when I was having breakfast there with my Mother and friends the morning I entered the MTC. She is going to go to the Czech Republic for her mission and she is awesome. All the other sisters in our residence hall are awesome. They’re all going to the Czech Prague Mission and they're all friendly and focused. Everyone desires to be obedient so we start quiet time and go to bed on time practically every night. We also always get up before 6.30 A.M., which is wake up time. It feels great. Every night we have a group prayer together and then we each say something about the person who said the prayer aloud. This week was “colors,” and I was shocked by the colors people assigned me: I got maroon, magenta, red, bright purple, and pink. I did not anticipate that at all.

Remember how last week I wrote that Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke to us? Well this week Elder Russell M. Nelson was our guest speaker. It was so cool! He spoke of the Book of Mormon and about how it is relevant and necessary in our work. Specifically he talked about the new special issue of the Ensign magazine that focuses on the Book of Mormon this month (Ensign, October 2011). He told us it's an incredible resource for us and that it must be a keepsake for every missionary. We were all given one issue of next month’s Ensign. AND there is an article specifically about the Book of Mormon being translated into Slovenian! How cool is that? It was so awesome to read – an entire article about Slovenia! :) Everyone should read it.

I am not worried about the fact that I’m going to be here for another 6 weeks. Like I said, time is weird here so I don't think it will feel like 6 more weeks. It hasn't even felt like three weeks so far. I don't know what it has felt like… Just time outside of time, I guess.

But I am learning so much. This is awesome.

Vse moj ljubezen,

Sestra Ary

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

WEEK 2: From the Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT

Hello everyone!

I am so happy to be here. The first few days were as hard as everyone said they would be, what with the language being the only thing spoken and the immediate teaching opportunities in Slovenian and all new people and having a companion with you constantly and everything. But my goodness, I have never been so close to the Spirit in my life. I feel like it is all around me all the time and that in particular when I am going to the teaching opportunities the Spirit speaks through us so even with our dreadful Slovenian, the investigators can understand that they have a Heavenly Father who loves them, and that they are important, and that their life can change if they want it to. They can over come everything they have been facing, and they can go forth with the light and knowledge of truth, their hearts and minds turned to a loving creator and the Savior of the world. It is so beautiful to see them become interested in the lessons as we speak truth and the Spirit speaks to their hearts, explaining what we don't have the capacity to say. I know so much more Slovenian, but there were two days last week that we didn't have an investigator so my learning stalled because I didn't have the pressure of needing to speak for a half hour straight.

I am working with two of the Elders in my district on a song that we are planning an audition to perform in the MTC devotional. We are singing, "Abide With Me, Tis Eventide." One of the elders is fabulous on the piano, and the Elder I am singing with Starsina (Elder) Mills, has a beautiful tenor voice. I sing the first voice as a solo, then he joins in the chorus, then he sings the second verse and I join him in the chorus, then we sing in unison and a capella the third verse, and then sing a rousing last chorus together and a capella on the last phrase "tis eventide…." It is a wonderful song to sing and I really hope we are chosen from the audition. I would love to have this opportunity to perform.

Did I tell you last time that Elder Russell M. Ballard came to our Tuesday evening devotional? I don't think I did because the devotional was the evening after I wrote to you. He was awesome. We are never told who will be speaking beforehand and if it is going to be an Apostle, we can only guess because they don't show who it is up on the giant screens until only seconds before the speaker begins. I was sitting in the choir (which was huge! 400 missionaries, 4/5ths of which were Elders) and suddenly, when the doors opened, everyone in the front stood. Then it was Elder Ballard who entered! It was awesome. He spoke about how we need to be our first converts and what we are learning from being on a Mission. I wrote a lot of notes. It was fabulous. Everyone was so excited that he was there.

Yesterday we had the first new investigator. It was one of our Slovenian teachers, Brat (Brother) Johnson, but he was playing the part of a Slovene named Milan. It is amazing how little he seemed like himself when he was doing the part because I really felt like I was teaching Milan and not my teacher. We knew nothing about him when we knocked on the door, so we were expected, through asking questions and trying to figure out through what he answered in Slovenian, what part of the Gospel he most needed to hear at that time. It was intense, but the Spirit really was there to help us. I felt strongly that he knew that what we were saying was true, and that he could feel the Spirit as we spoke. It was a beautiful experience. I floated on a cloud the whole rest of the evening and even dreamed about teaching investigators last night. It is such a joy to teach, I cannot even believe it. And the best part is that it doesn't even really matter how good I am at Slovenian or anything else. What matters is how much the Spirit is there and what he communicates to the investigator. As long as the Spirit is present, the investigator will learn, and I don't have to panic about failing. Only when the Spirit is not there is there a problem.

The food is getting a little intense here, meaning, I am getting tired of it already. They try to have a lot of variety, but when you eat from the same cafeteria every day for every meal, it can get repetitive. Fortunately, we have been making friends with the wonderful Elders in our district and so it makes the meal seem not as bad. I am still hungry all the time of course, but I am trying very hard to eat healthy food and not overeat. Our cafeteria is like Jerusalem at rush hour, meaning I always feel like I’m about to get into a head on collision with one of the various heavy-laden tray carrying Elders. Seems I always suffer at least a couple of fender benders. It is ridiculous. We only get a half hour to eat every meal, which is not enough time when you are me and you (apparently,) eat quite slowly. An Elder sitting across from me can finish two hamburgers, a plate of French fries, a bowl of ice cream, a banana, and four cups of Gatorade in the time it takes me to finish a salad! I'm even slower than my companion, and it's not like she has abnormally fast eating skills or anything.

Relief Society this week was wonderful again and so was a workshop we had on Friday. Once again, the things I am praying about are the things I am taught. This week I prayed about developing a stronger testimony of the Joseph Smith story and then we had a workshop only on that and I really felt a peace and joy about it, the Spirit testifying to me of its truth. It was just fabulous.

One of the Elders said that my Sacrament meeting talk last week about olives, olive oil and the symbolism with Christ and the Atonement was the answer to one of his prayers. It was amazing, he said, because he had spent a lot of time wondering why it is that we use oil when giving a blessing to heal the sick. He said that was a question that had bothered him for a while and that it was answered during my talk when he realized that it is a symbol of Christ and His atonement, and the healing power of the Atonement. It made me so happy to be part of the answer to someone's prayer.

I am so glad that I am here. I am learning SO MUCH!!!!! !! It is the COOLEST THING EVER!!!!!!!!! Thank you to everyone who supports me. I want nothing more than to keep learning and serving.

Z moj ljubezen,

Sestra Ary

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

1st week of my mission


I have been here in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) for less than a week so far but things are already so different from how they were before and I have learned so much. I can now pray, speak, and bear testimony in Slovenian, as well as teach a lesson (which I've done three times now to varying degrees of success). I have a wonderful companion. Her name is Sister Tanner and she is from North Hollywood. I know, what are the chances? She is a BYU-Idaho student and is planning to be an English teacher when she graduates from college. She is a really determined person with a wonderful, bright face and vibrant green eyes. It is fabulous to be a companion with someone who wants to learn the language as much as I do and who is as determined to succeed. She and I have been through a lot already together, several ups and downs, and I am learning a lot from her. It is “Preparation Day” today, and I am writing this in the laundry room (the biggest laundry room I have ever seen). But, let me start at the beginning…

The first day was extremely intense. Actually, everything about the first few days was intense. It felt like an absolute eternity from Wednesday to Saturday. When we arrived immediately our Slovenian teachers (who only spoke in Slovenian from the first moment onward) greeted us. It was more than a little discombobulating. First up was a meeting with the Mission Presidency and all the new Elders and Sisters. There are several hundred of us. Following the meeting, we were sent to dinner and then to unpack before our first real Slovenian class.

Every class is three hours long and we have two classes a day, five days a week. After classes we have personal and companion study, then language study. All of it has to be done in the classroom, which means we spend about 10.5 hours every day in the same room. The rest of the time we are either in the gym, eating, sleeping, or getting ready for any of the above. Time to write in my journal is even limited. Ten and one half hours in class in a single day is enough to start to drive one crazy, and it certainly did that for the first few days I was here.

On the third day, at about noon, we had to teach our first lesson in Slovenian to a native Slovene. Maya was an "investigator" but even though she really wasn’t, it was an incredibly nerve-wracking and stressful thing to teach her. Unsurprisingly, we knew how to speak very little that first lesson and we understood even less. The investigator didn't respond very well to our testimonies, but we had her pray which went well.

The next day we had our second meeting with her, but she hadn't done the tasks we had asked her to do so our planned lesson sort of flew out the window. We realized that a big mistake we made was in not giving her a sheet that explained exactly how to pray. Even though we had taught her how to pray, apparently she had forgotten so we didn't make any progress, though our Slovenian had already improved. I could understand more what our teachers, Brat ("Brother) Johnson and Sestra (“Sister”) Kelly said and we began to better understand how to teach.

Being in a language immersion program, we are sort of clueless half of the time, which can be really frustrating. Sestra Tanner and I realized that we were being too focused, that we weren't having any sort of fun and thus weren't happy. We have been working on lightening up. Our Elders in the Slovenian part of our district (there are three of them, they're a triple companionship) are wonderfully fun so I’ve been trying to be more upbeat like them. I think that could really help.

Our saving grace was on Sunday when we didn't have any classes or language study and instead we had wonderful things such as a huge joint Relief Society meeting, MTC choir (which consisted of about 500 people of whom only 100 were Sisters) and Sacrament Meeting. Every Sunday we are supposed to write a talk on a topic assigned to us. The talk has to be exactly five minutes long, and you only get about 30 seconds warning if you are called upon to present yours. The President of the MTC, President Brown, attended our Sacrament Meeting, which apparently doesn't happen very often. He reorganized our Branch Presidency and then stayed through the rest of the meeting. Surprise! It turned out that I was the first person asked to speak (about a 1 in 60 chance that it would be me). It turned out well though.

My topic was the Atonement, and while that is about one of the largest topics under the sun, it was still wonderful to speak about. I had planned on talking about Jerusalem and what Gethsemane and the Garden Tomb are like and how, when I lived in Jerusalem, we turned olives into olive oil as a symbol of the Atonement. I had about 15 seconds to get my stuff together and walk up to the stand before I spoke. Fortunately I had my talk planned, and I was grateful that I had not chosen to read from “Preach my Gospel” because I only realized afterwards that I only had the Slovenian version with me. I spoke for the five allotted minutes, describing in detail the symbolism of olives and the process of making oil, and how the oil has been used to heal, to light the way, and is still used to consecrate. I also bore my testimony of the Atonement and my gratitude to Christ for doing something so extraordinary for me. I used a few verses in Alma to talk about how the Atonement was necessary (a great and last sacrifice) and then ended. President Brown said, “Thank you,” as I walked down and afterwards told me the talk was fabulous and that I have a wonderful understanding of the Atonement. That meant a lot to me. I really felt God was directing me on what to say and how to say it. I never felt nervous or alone, even though I was speaking in front of the MTC President and all these Elders and Sister whom I have never met before.

Yesterday (Monday) we had another lesson with Maya. Sister Tanner and I were planning it when I suddenly felt we ought to explain the concept of eternal families. We did this, and I hope that helped Maya recognize the necessity of the Gospel in her life. When we were meeting with her, I suddenly felt that we should not have her read the section we had been intending her to read, but instead we should have her read something in 3 Nephi about Christ. I was looking for the chapter on Christ blessing the children but could not tell which one it was because it was all in Slovenian. So I just picked one, hoping it was good, and asked her to read it. It turned out that it was 3 Nephi chapter 11 which is the section where Christ descends and the people feel the nail marks on his hands and feet and get to meet him face to face. I was astonished that it was such a good section to have her read and really felt like we had the Spirit with us. But it was not all good, she still hadn't prayed, and we missed something critical she said in her long Slovenian speeches. Sister Tanner and I were pretty discouraged, so we had to pray for help that we could have the Spirit with us in all things and that the Lord will be our constant companion. We felt better after that and were able to cheerfully prepare for today, which is “Preparation Day” and has so far been really relaxing.

Well, I have only 3 minutes left. Let me say that I am so grateful that I am on this mission. Though it is hard and discouraging at times, I have already learned so much -- not only about the language but about sincere prayer, about the Spirit, about humility, and sincere love. I am so excited to learn and grow more because I want to be better than I am and spend the rest of my life serving the Lord in any way I can.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me to prepare for and pay for this mission. It has meant so much to me. I am so glad I am here!

I love you all! Thank you Mom and Dad!

Z ljiubezen,

Sestra Ary