Hello from the MTC!
This'll be the last time you hear from me on here from Utah, but I'll get to that later.
First, I want to share a story that Elder Bednar told us in a talk. There was recently a missionary who was proselyting in a rougher area of town. As he was walking through an alley, a man shot him in the chest. Luckily, he had a Book of Mormon in his suit pocket, right where the bullet hit. The bullet stopped as soon as it got to the Isaiah chapters. HAHAHAHAHAHA! I liked that one!
But really, it's been a great week. I first want to share an experience while I know I have enough time to. My companion and I have been teaching a man named Chet for the entirety of our stay here (really it is our teacher role playing as a man he taught while he was on his own mission), and he is the most difficult man I've ever met. He would sit through the entire discussion hardly paying attention, not really responding to our questions with any sincerity, and it was the most absurdly complicated thing I've ever seen. However, when we asked him about his belief in God and in prayer, he said that he believed God was there, but that he only wanted to help us on the "really big things," and that He "doesn't want to just hold our hand our whole life." So, we had a start, but especially at first had no idea what to do.
On our third lesson with him, this Friday, we asked him if he would relate any experiences with prayer that he had had himself. He finally opened up and told us that when he was about six years old, his older brother got in a car accident and the doctors didn't expect him to survive. Chet and his grandpa went to the Catholic church and prayed for him all night, when Chet received a very clear "he'll be all right." Chet told his grandpa this, and sure enough, his brother came out okay.
This was a powerful thing to hear... but why in the world wouldn't you have complete faith in prayer after having an experience like this?? We asked him essentially just that, and wanted to know what shook his faith in prayer.
He eventually told us that a few years after that, his parents were going through a divorce. At first, Chet prayed that his parents could stay together, but when he saw that wasn't getting anywhere, he prayed simply for comfort. He told us he never got an answer to either one. This was the hardest thing Elder Danielson and I had had to talk about since we got to the MTC. What do you do when someone thinks their prayers aren't being heard? We teach so much about prayer, testifying that they will get an answer--and now someone didn't?
But, luckily, my companion and I have another, more helpful companion called the Holy Ghost!
We first read to him Moses 7, when Enoch has a vision that Satan has the Earth in chains, just laughing. Meanwhile, Heavenly Father is watching it all crying. Enoch essentially asks God "How could you cry? You have the ability to change whatever about the situation that you don't like; why cry instead of act?" Heavenly Father answers that he gave people their agency, yet "hate their own blood." We explained to Chet that while God couldn't stop his parents from getting a divorce, he was indeed weeping for him the whole time.
Then the real miracle happened. We read from Doctrine and Covenants 121, where Joseph Smith is in Liberty Jail, clearly very distraught. In verses one and two, he says, "O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?" As soon as we read this, without nudging him, Chet simply said, "Yup... that's how I felt." We continued reading verses seven and eight, which is God's answer to Joseph, "My son, peace be unto thy soul: thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shalt exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes." Then, at the last second I felt I should read the next verse: "Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands."
In a total shot in the dark, I asked "Chet, did you have any friends who welcomed you with warm hearts and friendly hands?" I had no idea what he'd answer, but the question almost slipped out of my mouth. If the answer was no, I have no idea where we would have gone. But, sure enough, an LDS family that he was friends with had invited him to live with them while his parents were splitting up. It didn't take any pushing or prodding for him to realize that God did, in fact, answer his prayers by sending him angels in his life.
We got him to pray that lesson, by telling him that he was never going to be sure of what he was learning until he test tried it himself; he's too difficult of a guy to take our words for it. I haven't heard a more heartfelt prayer in my life. We asked him if he wanted the warm feeling that he had with him whenever he wanted. Without hesitation, he said yes, so we explained to him that the only way that could happen is by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, which had to come after baptism. We'd invited him to follow Chirst's example and be baptized four times in the past, but this time, he said yes! Haha, Elder Danielson and I were so ecstatic that we didn't really know what to do from there. Kind of a Best Two Years moment there.
What I'm working on now is trusting the Spirit to help me say the right thing all the time. I have a stupid pride issue where I trust myself more than the Lord sometimes. That sounds awful, I know, but think about your own life and I'm sure you'll find instances where you fit the same category.
My teacher told me I need to learn that silence is okay. Apparently, when nothing is put into my heart to say, I just start rambling about random stuff until something meaningful comes to mind. Raise your hand if you're surprised that I talk too much! Haha, but really, it is very hard for me to just sit quietly and let what we've talked about sink in and let the Spirit teach the majority of the lesson.
Well, as I said, I leave for New York next week. Monday at 7:05 am, I'll head to Detroit, then to Rochester. It's weird, because I have no idea what area I'll be in until at least Monday night. A week from now, I could be in Rochester, Buffalo, Niagra, Palymra, or who knows what else. What is cool, though, is that most of my district didn't get the same letter that I got about shutting down Facebooks and emails, just me and one other kid. I'm hoping that is a hint that I will be one of the missionaries using social media in New York to make contacts.
The MTC is still just the MTC... although we find ways of entertaining ourselves.We have gotten very good at cup flipping (turning cups upside down on our trays while still half-full, trapping the juice or milk or whatever underneath without spilling), sliding down our dorm's banister that includes five 180 degree turns, and all sorts of other hoodlum things. The best, hands down, was building a blanket and pillow fort in our room a few days ago. I will certainly send pictures of that home soon!
There is a group of 23 missionaries coming tomorrow headed to Singapore. I am beyond jealous. Ha, I'm just glad I wasn't called to Mongolia, though; they have been here 15 weeks now because there was a recent government change and the church has actually taken a few missionaries out of the country, while keeping these Elders in the MTC. Two and a half weeks is long enough for me!!
Please write me! You have no idea how weird MTC time is. You may think you have seen me just two weeks ago, it feels like I've been here three months! Any news is good news! Tell me about your life, tell me about the world! If you care about politics, keep me updated! (Especially about the Mongolia situation.) Remember, the only way I can be normal when I get home is if I talk to you while I'm gone! Save me from awkward-RM-syndrome!
Finally, I just want to add my own testimony of prayer to that of Chet's. Anyone who went to my farewell heard me talk about praying for help with a question, and being clearly directed to Alma 42, which answered my question perfectly, and closes with Alma instructing his son to stop worrying about it, because he had been called to preach the gospel, and that should be his focus--quite fitting for me, a month from my mission, to read. Well, I had a similar experience last week.
The MTC is hard, no doubt about it. While I didn't really doubt the truth of what I was teaching, I prayed harder than I have for a long time if I was really supposed to be here. Kind of a Martin Harris-type moment where I keep going back to make sure God meant what He'd told me before. Sure enough, as I was reading the scriptures a few minutes after, I came across this answer in Doctrine and Covenants 6:14:
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time."
I promise you, if you need direction, comfort, or simply a knowledge that God is looking out for you, just pray and open the scriptures. You will be guided to what you need to hear if you are willing to put in a little bit of effort. I can promise with complete assurity that there is no more comforting answer than one from my Heavenly Father letting me know he is on the other line hearing me, and that He wants what's best for me.
I love you, but I don't miss you.