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.
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