I can hardly believe that I’m actually here. It still feels incredibly surreal. There are days when I’m standing on a doorstep and suddenly think, “what in the world am I doing here??” That’s when the person opens the door and I get a reality check. Yes, I’m really wearing a name tag. Yes, I’m really a missionary. Yes, I am expected to do more than blink at the person holding a door open.
Hello from California!!!
I’ll start at the beginning.
My MTC district took the train from Provo to SLC, where we flew to Burbank. It was really hard for all of us to think that we might be seeing each other for the last time. We had all written notes to one another (yes, even our Elders) and I finally read mine last night. I cried. But anyhow. President and Sister Hall met us at the baggage claim and ushered us outside. Into a sea of missionaries. All going to San Fernando. FIFTY of us. Our whole time in the MTC, we thought we were the lone 7 going to San Fernando, then we get to California and there’s 42 others. Largest transfer in the history of the mission. And SO chaotic. (side note – by the time I got to Burbank, my red luggage had given up the ghost. I was an unhappy sister missionary)
As we put our luggage in the truck, a guy leaned out of his car and yelled, “Good luck, Elders! Good luck, Sisters!” I found out later that he is some guy who starred in Fifty First Dates. Cool, huh? Welcome to California!
We stayed the night in hotels, and the next day had some training and had our transfer meeting. It was really cool, President Hall was reading the names of the new companionships, and a little voice said, “you’re up!” and suddenly I had my first field companion and first area. I’m currently assigned to Mission Hills, and my trainer is Sister Stewart. She’s from Utah (go figure), and is super excited about missionary work and really sweet. We got to our apartment, and she had decorated the room and had organized my desk for me.
The Mission Hills ward is itty-bitty – they hardly fill the chapel. I guess Cromwell spoiled me for fellowshipping – so used to two overflows of people! But everyone was so kind and very gently commented that I would likely need more sunscreen than the other missionaries serving in the ward. And apparently I’m the first east coast missionary they’ve had. We also have 2 elders in our ward (they are on bikes), both from South Korea, Elder Ahn and Elder Kim. They’re hilarious. We’ll keep them.
My first night in the area, we went to meet the Relief Society President, Sister Ryane. She is quite the character, and I love her already. She’s single and works part time, so she really devotes all her spare time to the ward. We worked out a plan last night to visit the sisters in the ward who are less active, sick, or widowed. I’m really excited to get to know the ward members better. We’ve already visited one sister who broke both her elbows a few times. Her name is Hattie, and she’s from Honduras. She calls us all ‘baby’ and is so sad that she can’t cook, because she thinks we all must be starving. She is so sweet, and is so loving. I feel terrible for her – her son George doesn’t really help her at all. I ended up rewrapping her bandages for her and braiding her hair (she calls it her Hispanic Fro), and we helped her tidy up her living room and kitchen. I love being able to serve people. It reminds me of how Jesus talked of “succoring the people.” Succor means literally ‘to run to.’ I love being called to run to those who need our help and love at the drop of a hat.
We had a chili cook-off for our ward on Saturday and I got to meet about half the ward. Our bishopric is the funniest thing to see: the Bishop looks like a cross between Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs on Discovery) and James Bond. Wearing flip-flops. And he sounds like Mike Rowe. He’s got really young kids who are adorable. His daughter attached herself to us immediately. She’s 12 and has already decided she wants to serve a mission. The first counselor is this older brother who looks totally world-weary, and the second counselor Bro. LaPena is Filipino and wears lurid colored ties. I think we’ll get along fantastically.
The ward (and the people we serve) is such a mash-up of people. About a quarter of the ward is from Central/South America, another quarter is Filipino or Korean. I am loving it. It’s so different from home, but I am learning so much.
Funny story that will undoubtedly make your day… we were walking home and waved hello to one of our neighbors. She didn’t speak any English, but we managed to get across that we were missionaries, and that she believed in Christ. She ran to her apartment, and then came back with her iPad and a translation app. That didn’t want to translate from English, only TO English. Sister Stewart totally ditched me, so I’m left to somehow communicate with this dear old lady. I’m thinking she wants to talk about Christ – we set up an appointment – and she really just ended up asking me if I wanted to slim down. She’s a Chinese medicine practitioner. Being the awkward person I am… I managed to get through the conversation, make an appointment (wherein WE would be talking about CHRIST, not my desire to slim down…) for the next Sunday. We got ahold of the Korean speaking elders (they roam the mission), and they came to meet with her. But before that, she dragged us to her apartment, where her son who speaks English translated. We managed to steer the conversation away from slimming down and to the Church. Her son was interested and asked where we held our meetings. A little over an hour later, the Korean missionaries came, went to her apartment and came back down. She doesn’t actually speak Korean. She just reads it. They don’t speak Chinese. The YSA sisters we live with are thinking about seeing if the son wants to go to the YSA ward. I feel like missionaries in San Fernando need a crash course in Korean, Spanish, and Chinese. Us poor English speaking missionaries are absolutely oblivious.
We live with 2 other sisters – Sister Cottrell and Sister Kemp, who are the Sister Training Leaders in our Zone. They are awesome, but we don’t see them very often except in the evenings. They are so busy with the YSA, and we’re usually teaching or visiting ward members. Since both Sister Cottrell and I have birthdays this week, we are allowed to take a few hours and go to the temple! We are all super excited. I am looking forward to the temple, but not the morning Los Angeles traffic that goes with it. We’ll be leaving at 0730 with Sister Ryane. I will take lots of pictures and send them next p-day.
Wednesday was the first full day as a missionary in the field. We had a district meeting in the morning, study time, and then taught a lesson. My first! Jose is progressing towards baptism, and is really excited to be married in the temple. The lesson went super well, and he really does want to draw closer to Christ. After we met with Jose, we went contacting. Our referral wasn’t home, but we stopped at a house and talked with a man for a few minutes. He had an orange tree in front of his house! I was so excited about it, and he just laughed and told us to take some home. We taught another lesson to Jorge, a recent convert. It actually ended up that Sis. Stewart talked with Jorge while I taught his little sister, Esmeralda, about the Book of Mormon. It was so cool to see her eyes light up when she realized that the Book of Mormon is about her ancestors (her dad is from Mexico, and her mom is Navajo). I am excited to work with her, she’s the sweetest little girl.
We are also working with a family in our area who wants to be baptized. The only problem is that Fredy (the dad) works on Sunday to support his family. Gina doesn’t want to come to church without him. We’ve set a baptismal date of October 13th with them, and I’m really excited to see them progress. They are so sweet, and their youngest kids, Adrian and Angela, are adorable. Gina thinks they are too crazy, but in all honesty, they are normal 2 and 4 year olds. She’s worried about taking them to Church, but we introduced her to Sister Gillan, who is the 1st Counselor in the Primary AND works with kids on a regular basis as a speech therapist. I think they are more comfortable with the idea of their kids at church. We are teaching them again tonight.
I love being a missionary. It is hard, and our days are long, but I have really come to love the people that I have been called to serve. I only want what’s best for them. I wish the whole mission could have the happiness the Gospel brings, but right now my focus is on Mission Hills. It’s not a really affluent area, and there are issues with gangs (every house has tall fences and locked gates), but people watch out for each other. Missionaries here are loved and respected, don’t worry! We live across from an RM who checks up on us every once in a while, and our apartment manager is incredibly nice. Our A/C broke, and the heat has been insufferable, but she’s working on getting someone out to fix it. In the meantime, we pretend we live in Mexico or Peru and deal with it. A little inconvenience I don’t mind. But it did liquefy my only Rittersport chocolate!!
Know that I love what I am doing, and know that it is perfect for me. I miss everyone from home, and rely on your prayers! Hopefully next week’s email will be more coherent (I will write notes on stickies of what I want to remember!).