Friday, August 30, 2013

MTC Remembered

Our MTC distric's name tags on suitcoats and sweaters.
So, two weeks ago Bryan came home from work with a surprise.  He had remembered an anniversary that hadn't even crossed my mind: 11-years since my first day in the Missionary Training Center.  I'm not sure how more than a decade has passed, but we had a lot of fun with the kids re-creating some of the highlights of being a missionary-in-training.

My companion for the evening: Sister Katie!
Bryan printed up name badges for each of us (complete with the "dork dots" they put on missionaries their first day) and we paired ourselves up into companionships.

Sister Robyn and Sister Amber--sisters indeed!

This companionship may need to be reminded of a few missionary dress and grooming standards.  Like shaving.  And wearing pants.
For dinner Bryan made up some of our MTC cafeteria favorites.  

Like crepes with pudding,
and an endless supply of chocolate milk.  
Neither Bryan nor I ever stayed in a normal dorm on college, which meant the MTC was our only real encounter with the wonder that is a chocolate milk dispenser--yum!!
We talked about what it's like being a missionary, and the girls put on a puppet show for us.

Paperbag puppets on parade.
And, since getting mail is a HUGE deal on a mission, Bryan even made up packages for each of us with a little treat inside.
Check out the return address.  Guess where Bryan went on his mission... :)

It was a fun surprise and a fun evening, but I have to admit, it's had one drawback: it's made me super nostalgic for the real MTC.  This morning it got so bad I actually dug up my old photo album and decided to scan in a few (kind of scary?) pictures from my days as a brand new missionary.

Opening my mission call on the phone with my parents.  (When you're called as a missionary it could be to literally ANYwhere in the world.  From your hometown to Outer Mongolia, it's pretty much all on the table, so opening your call is really exciting and nerve-wracking!)   Taiwan - Kaohsiung Mission, Mandarin speaking: woohoooo!
My parents weren't able to fly out to the training center in Utah with me, so I was dropped off by my little sister Karin and my grandparents.  Back then they used to do a meeting with all the family members and the new missionaries, and then at the end family would go out one door and missionaries would go out the other.  Without parents in the audience, it made that last goodbye a lot easier -- I was literally the first missionary out the door.  (Although if I'd known everything that would come over the next 18 months, I may have have found an excuse to linger a little longer... :)

Requisite picture in front of the training center that first day.
On a mission, everyone is divided into districts that work together and support each other.  A similar pattern is followed at the MTC.  This was our district at the beginning of the adventure:

Say "nai lao!"
Two of the sisters in our district already had a strong background in Chinese, so within the first couple of weeks they actually left the MTC in favor of having more time to serve as actual missionaries.  We also had two elders decide to go home within those first couple of weeks.  One was so extremely homesick he started having fainting spells.  One was our district leader.  I don't remember exactly why he left, although I do remember feeling incredibly sad when he told us he wasn't staying.

While it was sad watching our district shrink, between being such an unusually small district and staying at the MTC for so long (most foreign-destined missionaries back then stay for about 8 weeks to learn the language; between learning Chinese and having visa visa delays we actually ended up staying there closer to fifteen weeks!) we became a really close-knit group.  

I especially came to love my companion: the amazing Sister Julie Johnson.

Sister Johnson ready to gobble up our carefully constructed candy tower.  (When did we have time to do this??  The MTC schedule is super filled with classes, study, service, etc., and yet looking back at my pictures you'd think all we did was play!)
In 2002, elders (boy missionaries) waaaaay out-numbered sisters (girl missionaries) and some elders didn't necessarily take sisters very seriously.  Not the elders in our district though!  They were great to us, and in return we loved finding little ways to cheer them on.

Like a candy poster when everyone was feeling a little demoralized after the district leader decided to leave.

Or decorating the classroom walls with encouraging notes and hershey kisses...which were quickly rearranged to look like bullet holes.

Hit the deck!

Or making up a get-well goodie bag (with the Branch President's permission) for an elder in the district who was sick.

As great as the elders in our district were, the sisters on our floor in the dormitories were every bit as amazing.  I'm not sure anywhere on earth is as close to living in Zion as living in an MTC dorm.  At least on our floor, I never heard an unkind word, never saw a rule broken, never heard a complaint.  In retrospect, it's hard to believe living in a room with barely enough space for two sets of bunk beds and four small desks could feel so much like heaven, but it did.  Sister Johnson and I were at the MTC for much longer than the average companionship, between learning Chinese and waiting for visas, so we saw a lot of other sisters come and go while we were there.  And even though we were only in each other's lives briefly, each of them was a wonderful example of women devoted to serving the Lord and loving His children.

Not every moment we spent together was serious though:

Explaining to a sister from Asia how a tampon works.  
NOT goodie bags.  (Stool samples were part of the visa requirements...)
Someone's parents sent this fabulous spider for Halloween.  Sister Sonoda was not impressed.
Sharing sweet treats from someone's care package.  (Yay for Chinese pajamas--wish I still had some of those!)
When a new companionship would arrive, Sister Johnson and I got to decorate their door to help them feel welcome.  Sometimes we apparently got a little silly in the process...

Hmm...not sure if this counts as "quiet dignity"??!
Ooops!  We accidentally decorated Sister Johnson too!
Most of our hours were spent studying though.  Personal study.  Companionship study.  District study. Learning the gospel.  Learning the language.  Learning to teach.   We were blessed with great teachers and great opportunities.

I have no idea what this chalkboard drawing done by one of our teachers was supposed to mean.  I'm hoping it was examples of NOT good incentives??  Maybe???  
And then suddenly our 12 weeks were up and it was time for our district to scatter around the world.  

Except some of us didn't scatter.  

The three of us destined for Taiwan got held up by a visa problem, and were left behind.  Our poor branch president wasn't quite sure what to do with us--two sisters and one orphaned elder--but I think he knew us all well enough by that point to know we were dedicated missionaries who were, despite the photos in this post, unlikely to become distracted.

So he did something unheard of: he let two sisters and one elder be a companionship.  Elder Christensen obviously still lived in the elders' dorm, but other than that it was the three of us together.  At one point we were walking through 1M (the main building with the cafeteria and offices in it) and all of a sudden we heard a member of the MTC Presidency calling us to come talk to him--NOW!  We scurried over to his office, where he demanded to know what the heck we were doing walking around with a companion-less elder.  We tried to explain the situation, but he was unconvinced and we were terrified we were about to be kicked out of the MTC.  Thankfully he finally was able to reach our Branch President on the phone, and we were allowed to carry on with our day.  (Although we tended to travel in large groups of missionaries anytime we went in 1M after that! :)
Missionaries are never alone--you're always with your companion.  Unless you happen to be an elder with two sisters for companions.  Then you sometimes end up alone waiting for them while they're in the restroom.
Elder Christensen trying to fit in with his new companions.
For the first week in our strange companionship we continued to have teachers and meet regularly for classes.  As the visa delay dragged on, however, our former classroom and teachers were needed for incoming missionaries and we were shuffled off to an empty room and left to fill the hours with personal and companionship study as we saw fit.  Those were wonderful days!  I doubt I will ever again have whole days where it is ok to spend nearly every hour focused on the scriptures and understanding the gospel (well, and learning Chinese...there was that too... :), but I am grateful at least once in my life to have had that chance. 

And then it was over for real.  The week before Thanksgiving we finally boarded a bus to the airport.  But like most endings, that was really just the beginning of all the great/horrible/soul-shaping experiences that make up a mission, all of which the MTC helped us get ready for in ways that go waaaaay beyond learning a few phrases in Chinese.  


  1. See that big map you're pointing at? Texas is right in the middle :)

  2. WOW You guys were so much younger! how did that happen?
    You also had great clothes!!!!

  3. Hi! Our daughter Hannah is serving a mission in Panama right now so this was particularly interesting and fun to read. I've developed a strong testimony that being a sister missionary is an incredible blessing. I'm so glad you had the opportunity to serve. It definitely helped shape you into an excellent leader and church member. What a great way to help your children celebrate with you! I'm glad I've kept the link to your blog and love your posts.

  4. You are such an awesome person! I loved reading this post. What a fun thing for your husband to remember and to celebrate with your kids. I'm sure you were a great tool in the Lord's hands!