August 29, 2011

Week 3!

Dear Family,
Thanks for all the letters and advice. I need it because, if you haven't already noticed, I'm kind of an idiot. Dad, you are doing an awesome job writing to me. I love hearing from you, especially your advice. I'm trying to do my best on staying organized, but you know how hard it is for me as well as the rest of your children. I wonder where we got that from.....¡Un Chiste! And yes, I agree, we need to take God very seriously. I think in our Church it's very easy to remember that "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say" because we focus so much on doing the right thing. However, that being said, we could also probably afford to be reminded that "when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." God loves His children and wants to bless them, but if we sin, or flout the laws of God, the irrevocable law of Justice demands some sort of consequence. It is in fact sad when people don't understand the magnitude of their decisions.

Taggart: I have been doing much better at speaking Spanish all day. It's gotten to the point where I can tell stories in Spanish fairly well and my personality is starting to shine through in both languages. I will have to agree with my roommate Elder Herpel, who wisely noted that by the time we leave the MTC, we'll most likely be unable to speak either Spanish or English. I will be left with the ASL alphabet and broken Spanish. So I need to work even harder. Diligence is not my strongest attribute, but I'm working on it. Along with charity, and humility, and patience, and kindness, and love, and......I think you get it. As it turns out, being perfect is hard. But I'll keep trying.

This week at the MTC has been full of learning experiences. Not so much startling revelations, but rather the real applications of what were before hollow concepts. The idea of study, to me, for example, has never been a fully developed or fully practiced principle. But I worked very hard with Hermano Esteves to lay out a Language Study Plan, one that I actually do on a daily basis. Essentially, what I'm trying to say, is that there are many things in our lives that we think we have learned, but have yet to learn to truly apply. True understanding comes to the heart, not just the mind. Look it up in the scriptures. True Doctrine. Therefore, make principles a part of your nature, not just your psyche. Diligence doesn't come from memorization; it comes from being forced to work 16 hours a day until you enjoy it at least in part. Just ask Dad about the truth of that statement. I should also mention just how much of a boss Hermano Esteves is. That guy is awesome. He should run for president. He's cuatro-lingual, an amazingly loving, caring, and sensitve missionary, and a wonderfully difficult teacher. Hermano Jensen is pretty cool too. Elder Wheeler (who's been sober for two weeks now) and I finally really starting planning our lessons for our investigators. Our current investigator, Claudio Santizo, is a 17 year old Guatemalen whose mother and sister have recently been baptized. He's only investigating to find out why his family got baptized. Elder Wheeler (who loves his skinny jeans) and I spent a good three hours truly discussing and focusing on the needs of Claudio before the lesson. It's amazing how much better your day is when you spend it thinking about other people. That's why the MTC flies by; time goes quickly when you are trying to fulfill the needs of many other people.

Also, I've finally started taking notes so that I can stay awake during firesides/devotionals. They're ballin', but my bad habits always get me. So I'm trying to fix them. Last Tuesday, we talked about the role of God the Father in our ministry. It was nothing that I didn't already know, but it was everything that I didn't think about, which mostly made me reflect on the importance of truly knowing what you are saying. If you preach without understanding, it's just as bad as preaching without believing. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but honestly, think about the tough questions in your lives and then think about the tough answers you've been forced to come to. Make sure you remember those answers and if you don't have any to begin with, then that is what you should focus your scripture study on. When people ask, "Why is it so important that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are seperate and distinct beings?" or "How does the role of Heavenly Father differ from that of Christ?" be sure you can answer. It's so much nicer to know than to be forced into silence.
I love and miss you all!

August 17, 2011

Riley letter number two!

Well, I'm still going to try to balance much better than I did before, but it will be a challenge. I don't have ready access to a scale here. Also, I'm much in the same boat that you were. I love the principle behind the rule, but often not the rigidity of the rule itself. That being said, I have already realized how important it is to use your time wisely here. If you aren't using study time for study, you are not getting the Spirit as much as you should. It's that simple. Follow the directions and you will have a wonderful (if not exactly exciting) experience at the MTC. I'm pretty cool with wonderful, so that's what I'm aiming for right now. If I find a better way (I highly doubt it), I'll let you know.

To Taggart: thank you so much for your letter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! By the way, well that incredibly large amount of exclamation points might have offended your more reserved eyes, I just wanted to give you a taste of what it was like to live with Cody Larkin Tuma. He talked that way, he walked that way, and he ended every sentence with a similar or greater amount of exclamation points. Every. Single. Sentence. Anyway, I really appreciate your words of advice. I'm feeling more comfortable with Spanish right now, although I still have a lot to learn. A lot. But you're right: my Spanish four training is the most in the district and I can speak my mind pretty regularly these days. However, I can still do better at learning. Mostly, I need to start taking your advice and Hermano Estevez's advice (he's my teacher here; a little, round, jovial Honduran who is the kindest, most sensitive, most compassionate, and most demanding teacher I think I've had. He kicks our buts with the Spirit and with a smile): I need to speak Spanish all day long with my district. It's hard to do, especially when most of my sentences go over my companions' collective heads, but I need to do it more. If I really dedicate myself to only speaking Spanish, I'm going to be that much more prepared for Oaxaca. I think. I hope.
Moving on: Elder Wheeler (whose motto is: "Es SUPER-bueno and I love it) and I got our mock investigator to commit to baptism on our second to last meeting with him. That is not a good thing. We really need to invite on the first or second lesson. The problem was, we were preparing our lessons in an English mindset. In English, we can teach a lot and we can teach the subtleties and intricacies of each topic. In Spanish, we can stutter and pause a lot. Anyway, we needed to stop confusing our investigator regardless, so one day last week we decided to teach an entire lesson just on feeling the Holy Ghost. It went spectacularly well, if I may say so. The Spirit was definitely there and for the first time, I was able to bear my testimony in Spanish without having to modify any of my sentences. Talk about the gift of tongues. So, from that point onward, we taught simpler, clearer, bolder, and more powerful lessons. We ended our time with Juan Hernandez by talking about the Restoration and the wonder that is the Priesthood. I like teaching, even in Spanish. Anytime any of you have a chance to teach, take it. You will never learn more or feel inspired more than when you are trying to do the Lord's work. That's my lesson for the week, by the way. Do the Lord's will, not your own. The more you think about how it will be inconvienient for you to do what the Lord wants, the less blessed you will be. If you just give up on your personal needs and do it the Lord's way, you will find happiness and a few other blessings that you didn't even know that you needed or wanted. But the Lord knows. I know it sounds surprising, but the Lord always knows what we need.
Well, now for the good stuff: MTC life is starting to go by faster now. My district and I are officially not "the new guys" anymore. Yeah, we're veterans here with one whole week under our belts. But we still need all the help we can get. We also got into our normal schedule on Monday. From now on, we do the same thing week after week after week. Which is okay with me. Our schedule rocks! We have gym time at night three days and week and let me tell you, there is nothing better in this world then spending a whole day in a white collared shirt, slacks, and tie while sitting in a small, stuffy, hot classroom bent over scriptures and spanish dictionaries and then being able to change into shorts and a t-shirt, and heading out to a field to just run around. The cool night air is EXACTLY what you need. It's freedom and it's wonderful. Perfect way to relax and detox.
Love, Riley

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August 12, 2011

My First Week In The MTC

Well hey there family!
I guess you will get an email before a letter, though I have, in fact, written a letter. Heck, I've written two letters, but have yet to send either of them. Sorry. Anyway, I clearly got here safely. Preston took good care of me. He showed me around his work, told me about the girl he likes, and successfully prevented me from listening to real music while I was under call. Go Preston.

After I was quickly whisked away at the cavernous gates of the MTC, I was given my key, room assignment, instructions, MTC card, and number that would replace my name....oh, wait a minute, sorry, that last one was from my time I spent in prison. Getting back on track, I was given my nametag, which is like the most important thing you get here aside from a basic understanding of a language and a stronger testimony of the gospel.

Eventually, after being mugged by one of my former May 2100 brothers (Elder Carlson, who happens to be in my zone as well), I met my companion, elder Wheeler. Elder Wheeler (who has red hair) is tall, from a small town in Kansas, and much, much better at finding his way around the MTC than I am. Seriously, they could not have made it any harder to orient yourself here. The buildings and trees, I'm pretty sure, were designed to prevent missionaries from longingly gazing out at the world. All you can see is the curve of one mountain and man, every time I see it I think of camping and hiking and all those things that remind me of freedom. You're probably getting the idea that I'm homesick or something, but honestly, it's great here. I've learned so much and I feel much more confident with Spanish already. Elder Wheeler (who gives me gummi vitamins everyday), as it turns out, is both brilliant and spiritual, a common combination out here. My other two roommates are equally as awesome. Elder Edwards, to put it lightly, is a boss. Hardcore. He's progressed so much at Spanish and, at the same time, helped out his companion, Elder Herpel (like Purple but with an h), who know absolutely no Spanish. Also, Elder Edwards manages to be hilarious while also uplifting others spiritually. He told this one joke (and you may want to hold on to something, it's so good): What's an owl's favorite subject? OWLgebra! HA! Get it?! Killer, I know. I don't know how people come up with these things.

Seriously. Other great things about the MTC: I get to spend honest time in the scriptures. I read my scriptures before, but now, in order to take up time, I have to actually study the scriptures, which is very healthy for me. Did you know Romans chapter six is perhaps the most amazing thing I've ever read? Aubrey was very right when she commended the rhetoric of Paul. Also, I'm studying specifically the subject of baptism and man, am I learning things I never even thought of before. You should go through your topical guide and look at all the scriptures involving baptism. Now how often do baptism and repentence go hand in hand? Baptism isn't for a remission of sins; Baptism is to demonstrate and seal your repentence, which of course grants you a remission of sins. The two are one and the same. That's why investigators need to do so much to get baptized and eight year olds don't: eight year olds don't need to repent yet, so the baptism can take place immediately. Investigators have to repent and show their willingness to continually repent before they get baptized. It's a cool ordinance.

Another lesson: during some extra time that I had to ponder, I realized the Lord has a pattern in place here on earth and it's everywhere, simple, and obvious, but incredibly powerful. Go look out at the horizon. How much sky do you see? And how much earth? Only the bottom of your view is earth and the rest is heaven, free and pure. That's His pattern: a little adversity, a little sadness, and lots of joy, lots of righteousness. How much time do we spend in mortality and then how much do we spend in immortality? Same thing. I've got more: how many rules do we have compared to our freedom? More freedom than rules, I'd say. How much life do we get to live and how much of our life do we spend dying? Only the end. As it turns out, this life isn't that hard or that miserable as people make it out to be. For the most part (and that "most" is very vast indeed), the Lord has given us happiness. Appreciate it and count your blessings. I've had to already.

Oh, I should probably mention that Elder Wheeler (who loves basketball as much as I do) and I taught our first mock investigator yesterday. I only had to say four words in English during the whole of my two-thirds of our twenty-five minute lesson, though my grammar was not exactly what you would call correct. Still, it means I'm getting somewhere. I definitely couldn't do that four days ago. Well, my time is running out. I love you and miss you and I expect to hear from y'all soon. Talk to you later!

Elder R. Johnson