Monday, September 30, 2013

Week 1 (9/20/2013)

I have only been here one week, yet it already feels like I have been here for at least one month.  Each day is so long, yet the days go by so quickly.  This last week has been an amazing experience that I can't possibly describe in one email in the next hour.  On the day I entered the MTC, I had mixed emotions of excitement and anxiety.  However, as we pulled into the MTC parking lot and I saw all of the missionaries waiting at the curb to help the day's new arrivals with their suitcases and help them get checked in, all of my anxiety disappeared.

I felt so much excitement and joy that I was finally here.  I almost forgot to give Aunt Annette a hug goodbye.  My escort guided me through check-in.  I can't explain the feelings of excitement and joy that filled my heart when they gave me my name tag (the Sister that gave me my tag actually knew Dad and said that Dad had saved her husband's life when he had a medical emergency in China.  She started tearing up as she told me about it. I can't remember her name though).

 The day I entered the MTC they put us right to work learning Portuguese.  Our beloved teacher Irmao Hodson would not speak English to us at all.  I love my companion Sister Young.  She is from New Hampshire and has finished her freshman year at BYU studying Spanish.  She loves playing piano and running and she is the same height as me so I think it's safe to say that we are perfect for each other.  I also have grown to love all of the Elders and Sisters in our District, which consists 12 people (4 Sisters and 8 Elders).

I room with Sister Young and the two other Sisters, Sister Ruiz from Mexico / Texas and Sister Reichman from Washington/South Dakota, in a room with three bunk beds and two double desks.  I was able to get a bottom bunk, which I am happy about.  The Elders and Sisters in our District our all going to either the Brazil Recife or the Brazil Natal mission.  Sister Ruiz and Sister Reichman are one of the companionships going to Recife.

The Elders in our District can be immature at times, but they are adorable and I love them as if they were my little brothers.  They definitely keep the long days fun as they make amusing comments and draw funny pictures on the white board.  The other day Sister Young and I went to the cafeteria to eat breakfast.  When we brought our trays to the table where all the Elders in our District were sitting, all of the Elders simultaneously went "Ohhhhhh!!!!"  when they saw us.

Sister Young and I were kind of confused by their strange reaction and gave them a weird look.  However, we set our trays on the table and then left to get some fruit and yogurt.  When we returned to the table, all of the Elders were gone and all that was left were our two lonely trays of food.  We ended up finding Sister Ruiz and Sister Reichman and sitting with them while we ate breakfast.  When we finally arrived at class, prepared to confront the Elders about their weird act that morning, we found them diligently studying their scriptures in the room they had vacuumed and cleaned while we Sisters were still eating breakfast.  :)

On our third day at the MTC, we were given the opportunity to teach an investigator in Portuguese. Sister Young and I were both fairly nervous.  However, in the end it went really well as we talked to Geofferson about the gospel and how families can be together forever in a language that we did not know.  We were able to continue teaching him every day for the last week.  I testify to you that the Gift of Tongues is real.  I cannot explain it.

In the last week, Sister Young and I have been able to communicate different messages to our investigator Geofferson in Portuguese five different times.  Throughout each lesson we have had, I knew that my Portuguese was far from perfect and I did not understand every word that Geofferson said.   We sometimes had to ask him to repeat a question we didn't understand the first time.  However, every time we asked him if he understood us, Geofferson answered with the affirmative. It is not that Portuguese has suddenly been embedded into our mind.  It is more like, as we teach our lessons, we are able to communicate our message across to our investigator using the few Portuguese words we actually know.

As I think about how my companion and I have done this.  I am amazed.  However, I also know that I could not do these things without the Lord.  In my Patriarchal Blessing it says I will see miracles occur.  I believe that I now can officially add one miracle to my list.

As Sister Young and I have taught five different lessons to Geofferson in the past week, I must be honest and say that each of them has been very different and some have been better than others, not because of our language skills, but because of our approach to each lesson and our diligence in preparing them.  After one of our lessons, Sister Young and I were both a bit disappointed, which I believe was a combination of the disappointment that came from not feeling prepared for our lesson, not feeling the Spirit as strongly in our lesson as we had in our last lesson, and Geofferson's declining to be baptized.

When we returned to our classroom, we began to evaluate our lesson and think about what gospel principles we should teach Geofferson tomorrow.  As we discussed different ideas, our District Leader came over to us and kindly and respectfully reminded us that we should focus on teaching people and not teaching lessons.  Although, I had initially believed we had been doing this, Elder Padgett's meaningful words of advice changed both Sister Young's and my perspective of the lesson we would teach Geofferson the next day.

Sister Young and I spent the evening discussing what we believe Geofferson truly needs to hear and we both agreed that Geofferson needs to learn more about the influence of the Holy Ghost so that he can recognize its promptings and presence in his life as he reads The Book of Mormon and prays about the truthfulness of it. We both agreed that Geofferson did not totally trust us and that, in order to gain his trust and relate to him more, we could share some personal experiences with him.

As I told Sister Young the story of the experience I had during my 2008 midterm exams when I had been having a hard time with my medical conditions and opened up and read the scripture John 14:26, we both felt the Spirit and had tears in our eyes and recognized that our own spiritual experiences would help Geofferson in much more meaningful ways than a lesson about the Word of Wisdom or the Law of Chastity.  We took turns talking about how we thought the Lord perceived Geofferson and how we should perceive him.

It was an amazing experience, and later Sister Young said that she was glad that we had a somewhat disappointing lesson that day, because it had totally changed the way we would approach lessons in the future and had helped us humble ourselves and learn from our mistakes (later on, we both found out that in an attribute assessment we had both taken today, we had both put down "humility" as one of two Christlike attributes we believed we could work on).  The Lord teaches us in mysterious ways.

The next lesson went really well.  Before we met Geofferson we decided to sing a hymn to invite the Spirit.  We both wanted to sing "Love One Another" before we even told each other! We are definitely Sisters (or "Seesters" as you pronounce it in Portuguese). We talked about the influence of the Spirit in our lives and I shared the experience I had during my 2008 midterm exams.

As I prepared to share my experience, I was curious as to whether or not I would cry when sharing this experience and reading the scripture that touched my heart so long ago in a different language.  My question was soon answered when tears streamed sown my cheeks as I read John 14:26 in the Portuguese language and had to say "Desculpe" (sorry) multiple times to apologize for my sudden emotional breakdown as I felt the Spirit so strongly.  During our last lesson with Geofferson, we asked him one more time if he would follow the example of Christ and be baptized.  To our excitement and surprise, he answered "Sim" (yes).  Sister Young and I were so excited.

In the last week we have grown to love Geofferson so much and have prayed for him and his family everyday.  Before this lesson, Sister Young and I had invited Geofferson to read Alma 32.  Right before the lesson we decided to read it together out loud.  Although, I had read this chapter multiple times as a child and always knew that it was the chapter about faith, when Sister Young and I read the chapter this time, my whole perspective on faith changed as I tried looking at these scriptures through the eyes of our investigator and thinking about how these words would influence Geofferson's decision to be baptized or not.

Faith is a simple thing.  However, it is not easy to act upon, and at times it takes a lot of courage to take that step into unsure darkness with the hope that you will soon be encircled by light.  There is only so much that I, as a missionary, can do to share the gospel with God's children, the rest is up to them.  I just hope and pray everyday with faith in the Lord that through me, the Lord will be able to touch the hearts of the individuals He is preparing me to meet over the next 18 months and for the rest of my life.

In one of my BYU classes last year, I came across the quote, "A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are made for."  We as missionaries, investigators, and individuals were made to take leaps of faith and act on things that we cannot see but we hope are true.  It is only after we take these steps of faith that the darkness will become light, our perception of the world will change, and our hope will become knowledge.

Yesterday, the day after our last lesson with Geofferson, Sister Young and I walked into class and to our surprise, saw Geofferson there.  He casually, yet excitedly, said hi to us and we were shocked to find out that he was going to be our new teacher.  We had always known that he wasn't a real investigator, but we were really surprised!  He told our class that our lessons had helped him truly feel the love of Christ, something that he had never felt before, and that his faith had definitely grown as he had listened to us bear our testimonies and read the scriptures we had assigned to him.

In the last week I have had fun playing beach volleyball during gym time, something that I was always scared to do before, and today our District will get to go to the temple together, so I am really excited.  Also, Victoria [my former roommate at BYU] just got reassigned to the Las Vegas mission, and I have met Sister [Amie] George, Sister [Tiffany] Pao, Sister [McKinlee] Ward, and Elder Easton in the last week.  Pretty fun!

Sister Dyer with old friend from Shanghai, Sister Amie George, in the MTC

This morning, Sister Young and I were in our room getting some stuff while our laundry was going, when we suddenly heard over the intercom, "Will Sister Dyer please come to the front desk dressed in missionary attire?  Is Sister Ashley Dyer there?"  To my surprise, instead of feeling overwhelming joy, like most Brazil missionaries here when they hear their name because they expect to get their "Happy Travel Card" ("Visa" is a forbidden word here), I was filled with overwhelming fear and despair.  I finally answered and said "I'm right here" (You can talk to the intercom here – Pretty cool right?). Sister Young and I quickly rushed over there, and the whole time I was filled with fear.

When I finally got to the front desk, instead of telling me I had my "Happy Travel Card"  they told me that I had been chosen to sing at Relief Society General Conference in the Sister Missionary Choir.  Rather than being filled with overwhelming joy at this news (which I am really excited about), I was filled with overwhelming relief.  In the last week I have come to love each individual in my District like family.  I love the Elders and Sisters in my District so much and I fear the day when our amazing District family will be split up and each of us will head off in our own direction to the mission the Lord has planned for us.  But, until then, I am treasuring the time I have to spend with these amazing young men and women, who I know will grow up to each become unique, strong, amazing individuals.  

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