Plugged In

Hi everyone! This is going to be a pretty short post even though there's been a lot of stuff happening, because, well, we've been so busy that I haven't had time to write it all down as it happened, and we've had a lot to get done today as well!

I'm going to focus mostly on this last weekend, because that's when most of the exciting stuff started!

Thursday:

We had an amazing lesson with a less active member who was a referral. Elder Sansom referred to it as "textbook" and said that he's only had maybe 1 or 2 other ones that went that well. We switched off, citing scriptures and bearing testimony and the Spirit was really strong. Upon leaving that appointment, I was at such a Spiritual high that I was definitely starting to get why everyone says you never want to come home!

On our way back to the apartment, E. Sansom stopped and felt prompted to knock a door that we were next to. A man named "Wander" opened it up and talked to us a bit. He's got a really crazy schedule, and we've never actually gotten into his house, but we keep giving him challenges to read different parts of the Book of Mormon and he keeps achieving them and having more questions. We joked that if we had to teach every lesson via a 45 second door contact, I guess we'd be happy to do it. 

I also got certified to do online proselyting, which we do through Facebook as some of you may have seen on there. I can't really look at anyone's posts (part of the app that Elder Sansom made shows even your newsfeed all together so that you can focus), and I can't chat with anyone from home, but I can add friends. Our Facebook proselyting involves using the program that Elder Sansom made, which lets you search by area and by different criteria (for example, people from Puebla, Mexico, people from Santo Domingo, people who have listed "Spanish" as a language), then there's another button that will click every single "Add Friend" button on the results page for you. 

We go through, messaging pretty much everybody and try to steer the conversation towards the Gospel as quickly as possible, though we definitely get to know some really cool people! We've even run into some of them walking on the street and recognized them from chatting with them! It's apparently been just as effective or slightly more effective than knocking doors has been for finding people who are interested in our mission. That's good, because we got whitewashed into this area, meaning that both of us are new, and we didn't have anybody who the previous missionaries there were teaching, so we've had to start pretty much from scratch. We do have one couple who had been taught before who want to be baptized really bad, but we're still trying to help them get to church. 

Anyway, sitting in a McDonalds for the free wifi and talking to confused people on Facebook in Spanish has been a pretty funny means of trying to find people to teach.

Friday:

Friday was Zone Conference! It was really cool to be able to meet everyone in the zone. We had some really great talks, and took a group photo! I'll try and get it on this email, but if not I'll upload it to my blog later.

Saturday:

I went on my first exchange to Patterson! I was with one of our Zone Leaders, Elder Risenmay, who's a great guy and has been in Patterson long enough to know the tricks of getting around. That's good because Patterson is also the sketchiest place in our mission. People in our mission joke about wanting to go to Patterson to get a "Patterson-esque" story. It was recommended that I bring a wallet that didn't have anything in it... just in case.

It turned out to be really good though! We taught some personal English classes and met a lot of the people they're teaching there who are all really close to baptism! We met a member lady there who served a mission in Peru way back in the day, and she didn't have time to cook before we got there so she got us Burger King. We ate Whoppers and drank Inca Kola while she showed us mission pictures! It was a great time!

Sunday:

We finally met our ward! It was great, but it was a little sad to see that we only really have one active family from our area. We asked one of the other missionaries who'd been in Passaic for a while which families were our area and which were not, and he pointed out one family and then was stumped. We have a lot of inactive families and members, but trying to get the ward to focus on them (because our job is mostly finding new people) has been difficult at times. We still have great hope though!

Apologies for the short email after such a long one last time, but we've got an appointment soon with Wander. Hopefully things will settle a little in the coming week so that I can keep a better record of it and send it all out next week!

Much love,

Elder Kai Reyes

Pictures:

It's apparently common to see Elmo strapped to the front of trucks. This was my first time.

Also, an attempt at cooking for myself. Not bad?

Así Es

A lot has happened this week! This has felt like the longest week of my mission. Probably because I haven't had a P-Day since the 29th. But that also means I've got a lot of cool stuff to share!

I'll get right to the action:

Sunday (September 30):

Sunday was a really bittersweet day. It was my last day at the MTC, and it was also fast Sunday due to General Conference. We had an amazingly spiritual testimony meeting with our Branch, and we got to meet the Zone Leaders who are replacing us. I'm so excited for them to be able to experience the same amazing growth that Elder Moore and I did. I know they'll do a great job. We had our exit interviews with the Branch Presidency where they asked us the question that they ask every missionary who leaves the MTC: "Is the person who you are now the same person that walked in the gates of the MTC?" 

Of course not. I've learned so much about myself, about hardship, and about the things that really matter to me. 

We had our final Sunday night devotional, which due to some of our inside intel, we knew was supposed to be Elder Ballard speaking. We didn't know about Sister Ballard, and so even though we were disappointed when he canceled at the last minute, I'm very very glad that he was able to have that last time with her.

While it was nothing like losing a loved one, saying goodbye to our District was incredibly hard. We had to say goodbye to the Hermanas first, which was probably one of the hardest parts of the night. Throughout my time at the MTC, I felt as though I had gotten the privilege of getting to have four more amazing younger sisters for a few weeks, and knowing that I'd have to be gone by the time they woke up on Monday was really painful. I'm so proud of each one of them.

A few minutes after parting with the Hermanas and returning to our residence, I heard a knock on my door. Opening it up, I was surprised to find a bunch of the Elders from our zone waiting outside the door. Over the course of the next hour or so, almost every single one of the Elders in our zone stopped by to thank us and give us their contact information. I was really touched by their efforts to send us off. I challenged them to keep the zone a family and to make it an even better place for the new Elders coming in. One said "You and Elder Moore made this experience great for us. Of course we'll make the experience great for them." I had a really sudden allergy attack where my eyes started watering a lot. 

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Monday (October 1):

We woke up at 4:15 am to leave. We said farewell to the other Elders from our district (who woke up early just to say goodbye, what champions). We took a bus from the MTC to Frontrunner, then Frontrunner to Trax, then Trax to the Airport. Our Frontrunner to Trax transfer was fun, because we had to pull like 30 bags off of the train in the 2 or 3 minutes that it was stopped for. After chatting with the family in the airport, we took a pretty smooth flight directly to Newark. Getting off the plane, the first thing I noticed was the humidity. It felt like I stepped into a sauna. We rendezvoused with a bunch of Spanish speaking Elders who got in from the Mexico MTC. They took us to the mission home where I ate like 3 plates of lasagna because it was such a great contrast to the MTC food. 
We went over some rules and went to bed.

Tuesday (October 2): 
This is where things got pretty crazy pretty fast.

We met our trainers and got assigned our areas. I'm with Elder Sansom, who is an absolute boss. I was told by probably 7 different people on our way out of the building that he's the smartest Elder in the mission and the best trainer and I honestly believe it. He's a pretty scholarly guy with a great sense of humor and an amazing testimony. One of the first things we talked about was that he had, and is coding some things to help the people in our mission find people to talk to on Facebook. I mentioned that I have some coding experience, and he was really excited. Apparently, he's leaving in December, and there isn't really anyone else to take over the projects and work out some of the bugs once he's gone, so he thinks I'm the answer to a lot of prayers on that front which was awesome. He's a great missionary and not really afraid to do the work necessary to get things done which I really respect.

We got assigned to our area, which is West Passaic Spanish. Our apartment is great, even though you can tell that no one's been there for a while. Passaic had been closed for a few transfers, and then had a trio of Elders trying to cover 3 different areas in it for a few transfers. We got doubled in (meaning E. Sansom had no experience with the area either, so we both went in blind), so it's been a little bit overwhelming to try to figure out what I'm doing when he's pretty open about the fact that he has no idea what's happening here. 
That said, he's really good at hustling, super spiritual, and speaks pretty great Spanish. He can listen to speeches and live translate them super accurately which is really cool. It's funny because people see the name Reyes and assume I'm the one who speaks Spanish, but I rely a lot on him to translate. Especially with Dominicans. He had us out the door almost immediately to try to knock some doors as soon as we got settled. 

Our area is almost entirely Hispanic. Walking down the street, it's probably an 80-90% chance that someone replies to us in Spanish. It's mostly Mexican and Dominican which is really fun, but it truly is a huge melting pot. We've met someone from almost every Hispanic country, and I'm starting to get really familiar with the different traits of each. For example, like I mentioned before, if I can't understand what they're saying, they're probably Dominican. A lot of the native members don't understand either though, which makes me feel a bit better. We've had Mexican, Peruvian, Ecuadorian etc. members complain that the Dominicans don't speak Spanish which was pretty funny to me.

We use a lot of technology in our mission, which is super nice. All our notes on everything is cloud based, which means that we can see all the notes from all the previous missionaries about how lessons went or how they met someone almost immediately going back for a few years. For our first day, we picked 5 names of people that hadn't been taught in over a year, prayed about them, and then crossed two names off. Then we compared notes. I had a really strong feeling about one of the names, so we went there first. It turned out to be really good, and we had 5 return appointments in just under an hour and a half! We're still following those up, but it was a pretty good confidence builder for me to feel like I could be useful even as a greenie.

We also went grocery shopping (because we hadn't gotten a Pday), and I realized that I have no idea what I'm doing or how to cook, so that's been a fun journey this week.

Wednesday (October 3 - Happy Birthday, Mom!): 
We went to District Council and met all of our District. That night, we moved a member into a 4th floor apartment with no elevator and a narrow stairwell. We had planned on being there for maybe an hour, and ended up being there for 4 and a half hours trying to push a refrigerator up 8 sets of stairs only to find out that it wouldn't fit through the apartment door. They were super nice though, and bought us pizza and Inca Kola after, which was awesome. They also gave us 4 referrals to some of their less-active family members which was great too. I'll see if I can get some videos of our struggle attached.

Thursday (October 4):

We went and checked out our chapel. It basically sums up my experience so far here in NJ: it's a great chapel, right between a strip club, an alternative medicine shop, and the Passiac County Probation office. 
I love this area, but it's definitely got it's quirks. There hasn't been a day here where I haven't heard 8-10 sirens. There's a lot of cockroaches and a lot of clubs whose doors you avoid looking in. One thing that's kind of sad is that people keep thinking that we're immigration officers. Sometimes people will look really uncomfortable when we talk to them, but as soon as they realize that we're not migra they become super friendly. 

Friday (October 5):

Today was super humbling. We spent a lot of time on a few appointments that weren't super effective, and people didn't really want to listen to us. The ones who did didn't live in our area, so we ended up sending all of the interested people to different missionaries which is always a bummer.

I learned that accepting food is very very important. One time, I was offered an apple as we sat and talked with one of the members, and I was kind of like "Oh, I'm good, I just ate breakfas--" and Sansom was like "--Oh yeah! We'll take them, thanks Sister!" When she wasn't paying attention he looked at me very seriously and said,"Always. accept. food." I thought that only referred to formal meals, but apparently it's everything and it's very offensive to not. 
I also saw Elder Sansom get pretty fiery on Friday, which was cool. We were talking on a porch with some drunk Mexican men, one of which was being pretty rude. E. Sansom tried to give him a card and explain who we were and he said (in Spanish) "Are you Catholic? No? Then (pointing at the street) there's the road, get out of here." E. Sansom was pretty unimpressed. The man asked again, "Are you Catholic?" and E. Sansom said "No, and neither is Jesus Christ." The man looked super taken aback, and I thought we were going to get stabbed, but E. Sansom just told them to have a nice night and started to roll out. What a boss. 

Saturday and Sunday:

General Conference was amazing! Most of the people on my mailing list already watched it, so I won't talk much about the messages, but it was a fun struggle to try to watch it at the ward building. Apparently, our ward council decided that they should only show the Sunday Morning session at the Chapel, so no one was there to help us set anything up. We ended up connecting someone's phone to a TV and watching a phone-sized stream of it on the TV with a bunch of snacks which was great. 

This post is already pretty long and dense, so I'll wrap it up here, but I'll try to attach some of the funny signs and things around town that we've seen. The title of this weeks email comes from Elder Sansom's catchphrase. Whenever we have something disappointing happen, or someone “jukes” our appointment, he'll just shrug and say "Así es" which means "That's how it is" or short for "Such is life" (Así es la vida). 
Hope everyone is doing really well!
Lots of love,

Elder Kai Reyes

The Trilingual Coke Guy

This is probably my last Saturday post, so enjoy! This week I got to get in my last goodbyes to the MTC, and I head out very early Monday morning to fly to Newark.

To all the people who have been asking me about how I'm doing with the food here: I've lost about 7 pounds since I got here. I can't tell if that's because I've been exercising more or eating less or both, but I'm honestly happy to have a little extra buffer for when I get to Jersey and start getting fed super rich Hispanic food by members almost every day.  

This week was a great capstone to my experience here at the MTC. Our zone is doing really well which Elder Moore and I are taking complete credit for. When our Branch President heard we'd only given 3 blessings this week he was pretty excited that everyone was doing so well. 

We unfortunately didn't get any new missionaries in our zone this week because we got the two last week, but that did allow us to focus more on that group which was good. Here's some fun stories from that group:

Story 1: 

I wasn't really thinking much about it, but I was drinking a can of Coke (decaffeinated of course, because that's the only kind available here) while I was doing the orientation for their group last week. Since we've got a fridge in our room (medical purposes), I've been stockpiling sodas and have been drinking a lot of them this last week. Well, apparently according to the new guys, almost every time they've seen me since, I've had a Coke in my hand. Consequently, they've started referring to me as "The Coke Guy" or "Coke" or just "Cola" which I think is hilarious. Every time I walk up to a large group of them I get "Hey! It's the Coke Guy! What's up Coke Guy?" or "Hey Cola!" Most have them have learned my actual name at this point, but it's always fun when they forget to just hear "Hey Coke Guy! Can you help us for a bit?"

Story 2:

One of my friends here at the MTC got me a Russian language book, and Anne sent me one of her old ones, so whenever I get frustrated with learning Spanish and need a break, I just whip out the Russian book and feel really glad that I'm not going to need to know that to survive in Jersey. I've learned a decent amount of beginner phrases in that time. While I was talking to a large group of the new guys, one asked "So where are you going? And what language are you speaking?" Another one said "Well, he's  in our zone so he must be speak Spanish, right?" Jokingly I said "I speak Russian" in Russian, and all of their jaws dropped. "Are you trilingual!?" I laughed and told them I'm not quite there but I'm working on it. Now all of them just assume I speak Russian, which I also find hilarious.

Story 3: 

We're not supposed to keep score during exercise time at the MTC, which is a rule that we've always kept except for one game of sand volleyball yesterday. A team of the new guys pretty handily beat another district, so Elder Moore and I grabbed some guys and went over to play them. They started off by beating us point after point until it was 10-0 in a game to 25. They were talking a lot of smack, and questioning whether we were actually Zone Leaders. Their tune changed when we started rallying back up. Eventually it was 22-17 with them in the lead. I got rotated back to the front line and started stuffing a few of their spikes so hard that some of the Elders from the other older districts were rushing the court and yelling "That's my Zone Leader!" We tied the game up, and then after going back and forth for a few rounds ended up winning 31-29. They were devastated, but we were good sports about it and let them know that if we were there for them if any of them needed blessings needed to talk. I think we've finally got their respect.

I really don't have much else to say this week except that I love my zone, but especially my district. Big shout out to all of them for being such a great surrogate family for me for the last six weeks. I'm excited that they're going to go be great missionaries, but I'll definitely miss them a bunch.

Spanish mistake of the week:

Meant to say: "hijos de los hombres" (children of men)

Actually said: "hijos de los hombros" (children of the shoulders)

Thanks for all the great packages, letters, and emails! Expect a really long email next week when I report on my first week in the field!

Much love,

Elder Kai Reyes

The Countdown Begins

 The front of our shirts with our district motto: "Labor and struggle and do all you can!”

The front of our shirts with our district motto: "Labor and struggle and do all you can!”

I'm taking off soon!

This coming week will be my last week here at the MTC, and this will be one of the last emails that I send from Utah. Thank you all for all of the great messages, packages, and spiritual thoughts that you've sent my way throughout the last month! It's officially been 31 days since I started my mission, and it's incredible to me that it's gone by this fast already.

We received our travel plans yesterday. Elder Moore and I will be on the same flight going nonstop from Salt Lake to Newark on October 1st. We check out of the MTC at 4:45 AM which is going to be a struggle, but we're honestly so excited I'm sure I won't sleep much anyway.

This week has been really bittersweet, and a lot more hectic as Zone Leaders than last week. On Monday, one of the Sisters in our zone disappeared. Her entire district, campus security, and everyone were looking for her for a few hours. Eventually they found out that she'd been really sick and had run off to a bathroom because she was super nauseous, but for the first part of the day everyone thought she'd just bailed from the MTC completely. We gave her a blessing that night which was great. We've given a lot of blessings this week. One on Monday, two on Tuesday, two on Thursday, and another last night, Friday. Six blessings in five days. I honestly can't wait to do more.

There was more excitement Tuesday with a devotional talk by Elder Neil L. Andersen and it was really cool to feel the atmosphere in the devotional hall while he was there. After his talk, he went around the room shaking hands and people started just spontaneously singing hymns until the whole room was doing it together which was pretty incredible. One of the Sisters in our district is apparently close friends with his family, so he took her and her companion out to dinner before the devotional with the rest of his family and then had her read all the quotes during his talk. Jealous.

Wednesday was pretty crazy. We had our last teaching practice (TRC) for the rest of our MTC stay. That night we got to welcome the new missionaries coming into our zone. We had 27 come in this week. That's more than double the normal amount of missionaries that we usually get, so trying to round everyone up and make sure everyone is taken care of was a bit more of a challenge. We're trying our best to get to know all of them, and I think by today we've really gotten closer to most of them, which makes it really rough to have to tell them that this is going to be our last week with them. We're also really close with our district. Wednesday Elder Batista's parents sent us customized t-shirts with a logo for our district that has our district motto on the front, and then some word or phrase on the back that have to do with something we did or our personality. I'll include a picture and an explanation of each at the end.

Thursday was a hardcore language day for me. I feel like things are really clicking in Spanish. I've still got a few things to work on grammar rules wise, but mostly I'm just focusing on expanding vocabulary now which is cool. One of the Elders I made friends with here gave me a Russian for Missionaries book before he left because he didn't want it, so now whenever I get frustrated with Spanish and need a break, I just try to learn Russian for a little bit which feels like banging my head against a wall over and over, and then Spanish becomes much easier. That night one of the Sisters in our district approached us and asked us for a blessing of healing prior to an operation that she's having on Monday, which will partially determine whether she'll be able to stay here at the MTC. Usually Elder Moore does the actually blessing part, but that night I felt really impressed to give it myself so I called an audible right before we were going to start. It worked out really well, and she and I were both in tears about half way through. 

Friday was the day when we all realized as a district that our journey together is coming to an end very soon. Like I mentioned before, we received our travel itinerary which really hammered home the fact that we'll all be going to very different places and won't see each other for another year and 10 or 11 months. We've all come to feel like we're our own little family just trying to take things day by day here. I realized that while it was really hard to leave Salt Lake and my real family and come down to the MTC, it felt more like a summer camp or something because I was never really that far away from home. However, now that I'm heading off to Jersey, I'm not only going to have to leave behind my real family, but also this second family that I've come to love so much, and really truly be away from home. I've really grown to love the MTC and my assignment here.

To sum this week up in sentence: I'm as sad to leave the MTC as I am excited to go out to the field; and I'm really excited to go out to the field.

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Funny Spanish error of the week, courtesy of Elder Miner:

What he meant to say: "La muerte espiritual" (Spiritual death)

What he tried to say: "El muerte espiritual"

What he actually said: "Almuerzo espiritual" (Spiritual lunch)

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Our district's shirts. From back left to back right:

Elder Rollins: "Solo Espanol" - Elder Rollins has been great at trying to speak only Spanish during our day in order to train for the field. 

Elder Palmer: "Sack" - During one of our classes, Elder Palmer did a "getting to know someone" roleplay with our teacher as a demonstration. The idea was that our teacher would ask him questions about himself and demonstrate how to connect with people and develop interpersonal skills. When the teacher asked Elder Palmer what he had for breakfast, Elder Palmer replied with just "Sack." (Meaning the sack breakfasts and sack lunches you can get here.) There was a silent beat before everyone burst out laughing.

Elder Batista: "Super Bien" - Elder Batista's catchphrase pretty much since he got here has been "Super Bien" and he uses it in place of "Awesome" or "Cool" all the time. It's caught on in our district too.

Elder Miner: "Representantes" - Elder Miner, as our District Leader, likes to make sure that our district is always conducting ourselves properly by reminding ourselves that, as missionaries, we are representatives of Jesus Christ. Whenever we get too rambunctious or the conversation starts to go in the wrong direction, you can count on hearing "Elders, somos representantes," from Elder Miner.

Elder Moore: "You've Got Mail" - Elder Moore gets a lot of mail. Like, a lot. Whenever we check the mail there's usually one or two package slips for Elder Moore from someone from his town in Idaho Falls. 

Me: "Yit" - For the first couple weeks of class, the phrase "How do you say ___?" = "Cómo se dice ____" was on the board of our classroom. Around the beginning of the second week, I filled it in to say "How do you say 'yeet'?" = "Cómo se dice 'yít'?" which became a really popular term very quickly in our district afterwards.


Front left to front right:

Hermana Von Feldt: "Trabajar-ed" - Hermana Von Feldt has been pretty good at trying to integrate the Spanish she does know even when she doesn't know how to say a full sentence in Spanish which many times results in fun English-Spanish combinations like "We trabajar-ed really hard today!" (trabajar means "to work"). 

Hermana Memory: "Bad Memory" - Hermana Memory and Hermana Quick both wanted to clarify that their names shouldn't necessarily set expectations.

Hermana Jaramillo: "Un Jaramillo"- Hermana Jaramillo has the hardest name to pronounce for most people in our district. Like Hermana Von Feldt, she also likes to mix Spanish and English, usually by saying "un ____" like "Can I have un cookie?"

 An amazing hair day I felt I had to capture.

An amazing hair day I felt I had to capture.

Over the MTC Hill

Earlier this week we hit the point in the MTC where we realized that we're counting down the weeks until we leave as opposed to counting up the weeks that we've been here! My flight leaves to New Jersey exactly two weeks from Monday. We've got our last teaching practices this coming week, and then the week after that is pretty much just cementing our language skills into place. 

I'm excited to move forward, but I feel like I just started being able to relax and enjoy the teaching practices more. The guy we're teaching is a really great person, and we've been able to embrace our lack of Spanish and have some fun.

For example, on Tuesday, we were trying to teach about how Christ's Apostles were killed and his church was broken up. Elder Moore was trying to say:

"Después de Jesucristo, los apóstoles fueron matados."(After Christ, the apostles were killed.)

He accidentally said "Después de Jesucristo, los apóstoles fueron mutados." 

Which means "After Christ, the Apostles were mutated."

We all laughed a lot after Fernando explained what that meant.

 The entire squad (Elder Palmer and Elder Rollins are hiding in the back.)

The entire squad (Elder Palmer and Elder Rollins are hiding in the back.)

The rest of this last week has been pretty amazing too. We were able to go to the Temple last Saturday. It was crazy busy, but it was a great experience to start off the day. We're heading out in just a moment to go today.

In terms of day to day activities, there's not a whole lot new to report. Recently, the entire MTC campus (and I'm assuming most of Provo) has smelled like a campfire due to the huge amount of smoke rolling in from what I've been told is a massive wildfire in the Spanish Fork Area. Our prayers are with anyone who's been affected by the fire or has loved ones who have been.

 Elder Miner, Elder Batista, Elder Moore and I at the temple! I think it was Elder Batista who didn't take another photo because he didn't realize my eyes were closed, he just thought they got like that when I smile because I'm part Asian, lol.

Elder Miner, Elder Batista, Elder Moore and I at the temple! I think it was Elder Batista who didn't take another photo because he didn't realize my eyes were closed, he just thought they got like that when I smile because I'm part Asian, lol.

The bulk of this week's interest for me has been in our duties as our new duties as Zone Leaders. Our phone actually rings a lot more than I thought it would. It's pretty funny when it does because everyone is so used to having no phone calls here that a ringtone going off makes the whole room pause and look. 

We've had some ups and downs this week in terms of our zone. Tuesday was particularly hard because we had to let go of one of our newer missionaries. He's being sent home for a couple transfers, and wanted a blessing before he left. We weren't told why he was leaving but in the context of what everything his district was saying it sounds like there may have been a death in his family.

It was a really bittersweet moment to be able to be there helping give him his last blessing before he heads home until January. I'm a bit saddened that I won't be able to be there to watch him grow and get ready for the field, but I'm glad I got the chance to know him before he went back. 

It's really weird to think that it's only a few transfers until January. Today is 9/15. 3 months (about 2 transfers) will be 12/15. 

We also found out today that we'll be losing one of the members of our zone who's been here the longest. He's released on Monday for 4-6 weeks for medical purposes. We gave him a blessing last night and that was a great experience too, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't hard to let him go.

This week we got our first district of new missionaries. Elder Moore and I got to give them orientation and really get to know them. Then we toured them around the MTC and rallied the entire zone to come visit their room. It was awesome to see the joy in their faces as they watched all 60 of their new brothers welcome them into their new zone family. 

We've started trying to make the zone a more tight-knit unit. We're trying to eat together more, exercise together more, and talk to each other when we see each other more. It's had a really apparent effect on the mentality of the whole zone. 

In terms of exercise, I feel like I'm making progress. I've been running a lot more (which I hate), doing a lot more sit ups (which I hate), and feeling a lot more fit overall (which I don't hate). 

Thanks to whoever sent me cookies! You guys need to put a name on them so I can call you out in these emails!

We're heading out to the temple now, but I'll be back on in hopefully a couple hours in order to answer replies and other emails from throughout the week!

Apologies for the shorter emails as of late, everything is honestly so similar day-to-day that there's not a whole lot of new stuff.

Expect some more lengthy emails over the next few weeks as I transition into the field!

Much love,

Elder Kai Reyes

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Yo quiero Taco Bell!

We got Taco Bell for dinner on Tuesday. I was a little excited.

In the Zone

In the interest of time (and because most of the days this week felt pretty similar), this post might be a bit shorter than usual. However, if you have specific questions or want me to elaborate more on anything feel free to reach out and I'll respond ASAP. I can respond to emails at anytime between 6:30AM and 6:00PM on Saturdays. 

Sunday:

Sunday was our first Fast Sunday at the MTC! For those of you who aren't familiar with fasting or Fast Sunday, it's when we don't eat for two meals and 24 hours in order to try to focus on Christ and then donate the money we would've spent on food (and some) to those in need in the Church. We do this the first Sunday of each month, and usually we try to pick a specific cause to dedicate our fast to. 

This week I felt inspired to fast for my companion, Elder Moore. I wasn't super sure why, but I did feel that he'd been having some frustrations with the language and really missed his family and his girlfriend. He'd been emailing his girlfriend every other night or so (which we found out is against the rules, more on that later) and I just felt like his experience here could be better overall, so I dedicated my fast to him. 

It turned out to be an amazingly spiritual day. A lot of the time, fasting can feel like a chore. I'm pretty sure getting grumpy when we're hungry is a hereditary trait in my family, and it's especially easy to be negative when you've woken up at 6:30, haven't eaten any breakfast, and know you won't be eating any lunch.  

However, Sunday was different. Elder Moore and I started the day by teaching a lesson on gratitude, which I think helped set the tone for our mindset for the rest of the day. We talked about the fact that instead of focusing on being frustrated on all of the rules here, we should focus on the fact that there's something to be grateful for in each day. We should also remember that it's not just our Mission President asking us to follow the rules, he's just asking us to do what God asks us to do. Hearing so many other Elders complain about things around the MTC reminded me of this verse from 1 Nephi 3:

5 And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord.

6 Therefore go, my son, and thou shalt be favored of the Lord, because thou hast not murmured.

Don't get me wrong, a lot of the MTC is hard, boring, or frustrating (we joked that it's the necessary sorrow needed to comprehend the joy of the rest of your mission); but I felt like I could imagine our Branch or Mission President saying that same thing: 

"Your brothers keep complaining that my rules are too hard, but they're not my rules."

We had an amazing Mission Conference and a great Sunday Devotional. The focus was on love, which I thought was a great topic. We sang an amazing arrangement of Praise to the Man which gave me chills.

Throughout the day, I kept having random feelings throughout the day to do certain little things, like to introduce myself to someone I didn't know (instead of going to dinner immediately) and finding out that they were a good friend of our family; or to move a certain way in the cafeteria (and feel like I was an idiot for doing so) only to narrowly avoid having everything knocked out of my hands because I did. It felt like baby steps, but also like I was starting to get the hang of listening when I was getting prompted to do something.

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Elder Eggett, MTC Music Director

 

 

 

To top off the night, we watched the Restoration video, which left us in a really good mood to start our new week.

Monday:

Monday we started TRC's, which is when we teach someone interested in learning about our church or someone playing that role. We've been teaching a young Chilean guy named Fernando, who tends to fall asleep during lessons. It's been a little bit frustrating at times, especially because we don't get any feedback on how we're doing, so we're not sure how to improve, but it's definitely humbled me in terms of how fluent I feel in Spanish. I've been putting a lot more hustle in this week to learn Spanish instead of just resting on my laurels and coasting day to day. That's been really helpful in motivating me.

That afternoon we did a serious gym session and ended by doing burnouts (which is where you just keep lifting until your muscles completely fail) and I ended up unable to put my arms above my shoulders which makes it pretty easy to sleep.

Tuesday:

Today was pretty much the same day as yesterday. For some reason I was randomly really frustrated during the middle of the day, but cooled off pretty quickly and had a great time during our Tuesday night devotional. 

Wednesday:

We did our last TRC of the week. We also did a workshop on using technology which I really enjoyed. In Jersey we're allowed (and encouraged) to use Facebook and Instagram to find people who are interested in our message. It's pretty cool to be some of the first missionaries to be able to utilize these tools.

Thursday:

Thursday I really started to step it up in learning Spanish. On Wednesday I learned 5 new words (just the ones on DuoLingo) and today I've accumulated 76 different words that I've learned and studied today. Looking out for words and trying to speak the language as much as possible is a great way to keep myself motivated throughout the day.

Friday:

Friday was an interesting day. We had normal class, lunch, class, dinner, exercise and were getting ready for bed when our Zone Leaders (Districts are groups of 10 to 12 missionaries, Zones are 10 to 12 Districts) came into our room to give a blessing to Elder Rollins who just felt like he needed some comfort and guidance in teaching. The Zone Leaders are in charge of managing all the missionaries in the Zone, as well as making sure that they're all doing well physically, emotionally, and spiritually,  which includes giving blessings to anyone who feels like they need one. Apparently, they do it pretty frequently. Elder Anderson and Elder Palmer (not the one in our room) had us stand in on the circle while they gave the blessing. It was a really cool thing to be a part of. Anderson mentioned that it was the 4th blessing he'd given that night, and the 25th blessing he's given since being a Zone Leader which is amazing to me.

While we were writing about it in our journals about it, President Cook, our Mission President came into our room to chat. He's a super loving guy. He pulled Elder Moore and me out to talk to us in the staircase of our building where no one else was around. He asked us how we were doing with being obedient to the rules, and I realized that he'd found out about Moore emailing home when he shouldn't have been (he didn't know it was against the rules). 

He said "I heard there was a problem with emailing home. We just need you to be exactly obedient."

We were pretty sheepish but were happy that he was more love and less anger about it. He said that he had an obedience assignment for us, which we felt like was fair. 

We get those all the time from our teachers in class like "Make sure your companion can see the screen of your phone at all times." Or "Make sure you're using all of your planning time in the morning and not sleeping in." So we figured it wouldn't really be hard to add another one of those if it meant that we weren't going to get chewed out. 

He said, "Elder Anderson and Elder Palmer are leaving on Tuesday, and we'd like to call you as the new Zone Leaders."

Wait. What? 

"You're going to have to set the example for the next 3 weeks as the leaders of all these missionaries. We'll talk more on Sunday."

We're super excited. Elder Anderson was too. 

"I called it from WEEK ONE!" -Elder Anderson

Saturday:

We haven't told anyone in our District. Some of the guys who've been here for a while or who talked to Anderson know, but we've been keeping it on the down low and just told everyone that we got chastised by President. 

I guess we'll clear that up tomorrow.

Much love,

Elder Kai Reyes

Equally Yoked Together

Happy Saturday!

The last two and a half days have felt like a full week or more. Probably because I went from working 20 hours a week during the summer to near 15 hour days here at the Missionary Training Center. A LOT has happened to the point that I keep referring to things as having happened "yesterday" before being softly reminded that the event in question actually occurred a few hours earlier. 

Wednesday:

After being dropped off by my family in the afternoon, I was shuffled from station to station getting various papers and items. After a brief stop to my room to drop my bags off I was sent straight to class where I met my companion for the next six weeks, Elder Moore.

I wasn't really worried about who my companion would be until I got to the closed door of the classroom, at which point the fear of being stuck at the side of some antisocial nutjob or juvenile troublemaker for six weeks came to a peak. However, opening the door, I was super relieved to meet Elder Moore and couldn't be happier with my partner for the next few weeks.

During that class, each pair (there are 10 people in our District, 6 Elders and 4 Sisters) was given time to look at some of the murals around the new MTC building and think about the purpose of being a missionary. We all then shared our thoughts. After Elder Moore and I shared our thought on our turn, one of the louder Elders said with a nervous laugh:

"Are we sure these guys aren't secretly Returned Missionaries?"

That was a pretty nice confidence boost for both of us.

Elder Moore is an 18 y/o from Idaho. He's a great guy; very understanding and mature. He too played rugby in high school, as well as football, track, and basketball. We're both planning on exercising a lot to keep the MTC food weight off and have been doing push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, etc. in the morning and before bed.

One of the first videos they played at the welcome meeting was called "Equally Yoked Together" which was about Oxen using teamwork to pull heavy sleds at competitions, and had the moral that both missionaries in the companionship should be team players and work together. However, Elder Moore and I, in accordance with our fitness goal, took the title to also mean that we should both try to get as yoked as possible during our stay here. While we've only had one dedicated exercise period so far, I'm pretty optimistic.

It was a long day of class and teaching "investigators," the latter of which was an amazing experience and I really poured my heart out. That combined with the stress of leaving home and family left us pretty fragile emotionally. Consequently, Elder Moore an I made a pact that while we were reading the letters that friends and family had given us for the end of our first day, we wouldn't judge each other while the other bawled their eyes out. 

When the time came though, we were both stunned. We went through each letter slowly and methodically and kept looking over to make sure the other was okay. Neither of us shed a single tear. Instead, as we found out after, we both wrote down in our journals that we were just so happy. Our hearts were so full. That feeling kept us in good spirits and helped us through the night.

Thursday:

We were told by several people on Wednesday that the second day was the hardest day of the MTC for them. We were pretty exhausted from the day before and still adjusting to the schedule (bed at 10:30 and up at 6:30 for my friends who don't know). I've also had a cold since Wed. which has made my brain feel pretty muddled.

We started our first day of Spanish classes. I'd like to take a moment and thank all of my Spanish teachers in school. I've been asked by multiple people who have been here for 3, 4, even 5 weeks if I'm at their level or even ahead of them in class which has made me feel pretty confident in the language. 

Poor Elder Moore, on the other hand, took two years of German in school and never touched Spanish until Thursday. He had a rough time during class and was feeling pretty discouraged throughout the day. I've been trying to just be there when he needs help and answer questions, but the language is the most frustrating part for him which was hard because...

Friday:

We had 10 HOURS of language study. 2 four hour classes and 2 one hour self-study sessions. I had assumed through all these classes that we'd start like a traditional Spanish class with the alphabet and sounding things out and all that. While we did at first on Thursday, it became clear on Friday that this was not the case. Instead, they just started giving us phrases and words pertaining to a specific topic and then just let us learn from osmosis. I didn't know most of the words as they were pertaining to giving prayers, and scripture is currently extremely hard for me to try to understand in Spanish. I'm starting to get the hang of at least praying now, but even with my background in Spanish the class is a lot of hard work.

Luckily, we had our first exercise time on Friday where we could get out of our shirts and ties and play some sand volleyball out across the street from the MTC. Being able to run around freely and mess around in the sand was really refreshing. Elder Moore and I make a pretty good volleyball team too which is nice. We ended the day happily tired.

Overall, the first few days were pretty rough, and the MTC is definitely a weird place. It feels like a mix of EFY, seminary, and Spanish class but all dialed up to 11. The food is pretty hit or miss with mostly misses, but since I've been using so much energy during these days I've been pretty hungry by the time we get to each meal which seems to make the food taste better. Both Elder Moore and I have been pretty impatient to get out to Jersey at times, but at this point we've been more able to slow down and enjoy the experience. Being this walled off from the outside world has been both relaxing and unsettling, and I've definitely appreciated all the emails I've gotten throughout the week.

I'll try to keep future blog posts shorter and more to the point, but I guess it seems like the best way to express how I'm feeling at the moment is to just throw a bunch of new information at you and see how you feel haha.

Love and miss you all. Week 0.5/104 complete.

-Elder Kai Reyes

 

Pics: 

I haven't taken a lot because I wasn't sure on the rules but here's a few.

1. Elder Moore and I.

2. The View from our classroom onto campus.

3 & 4: Our classroom, which I'm including to make the people who had to use the old buildings mad.

 Elder Moore and I.

Elder Moore and I.

 The View from our classroom onto campus.

The View from our classroom onto campus.

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