Monday, June 27, 2011

What Goes Into a Mission?

For one thing, a lot of clothes. One result of my thrifty (read--cheap) habits is that I don't have many clothes that will work for a mission. My "nice" pair of shoes is coming apart in a couple of places, so I needed two new pairs of those, plus boots for rain and mud. For the last few years I have used a sports coat I got at Goodwill for under ten dollars, so I needed a couple of new suits. Add to that a bunch of white shirts, socks specially made for tracting (who knew there was such a thing?), some ties, odds and ends like shoe-shine kits and outlet converters, and a giant sham-wow for a towel, and that price tag is looking a little bit frightening.

For another thing, I'm getting in shape. This really started at the beginning of Spring Term, when I started playing racquetball 4 times a week (for a class) and basketball, volleyball, or running about as often (just for fun). This routine has morphed into hiking all around the state of Utah--Arches National Park, Zions Canyon, Bryce Canyon. Encouragingly, none of the hikes we have gone on have worn me out, I feel in pretty good shape for stuff like this. Which is very, very good, as evidenced by one guy's description of Valparaiso, one of the bigger cities in my mission: "It's like they dropped houses everywhere they could, which is incredible considering the hills. I mean, big hills, all over the places. I do not want to be in that city during an earthquake. By the way, how are your knees?"

I am also spending a lot of time with my family--while hiking, while in the car, while visiting extended family all over Utah. I am going to miss them. I don't think the kids have quite realized that I will be gone, completely and totally gone, for two whole years, with no communication but letters. Not even Skype. Also, my dad's mission stories have suddenly gained clear and perfect relevancy. Whereas before they were entertaining, now they are vital information I need before I make the same sort of journey myself.

This Friday I am going through the temple. I still remember the day that one of my roommates went through during Spring Term. There was a light in his eyes afterwards, a brightness, a gleam, that was not there before. I cannot wait.

Every year of my life before this one, I have looked towards a mission like I would a far-away mountain. Definitely there, but too distant to worry about much. Now, however, it occupies much of my thoughts. What will it be like to live in Chile? To teach the gospel to people who have not grown up in the church like I have, in a language I don't yet know? To spend every minute with some random guy--no, not random, nothing about this is random--with some specific-but-not-yet-known guy? To retract myself from the world I have lived in for the last 18 years so that I can devote myself completely to God's work?

To feel the spirit confirm what I say in this language I don't yet know, perhaps every day for the next two years? To see people give up their lives to follow Christ? To see miracles happen, even to be a part of them?

The time seems to be slipping by faster and faster all the time--this mountain is no longer far off in the distance, it will soon fill my entire view--but still, I cannot wait.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Most Exciting Moment of my Life

I think this post is long overdue, but I'm glad I'm finally writing it. With a really sensationalist title considering that this experience did not include firefights, car chases, or sky diving.

What it did include was a big white envelope with "Dear Elder Ray" written on the front. 

Funny, isn't it, that despite 18 years of ups and downs, adventures, disappointments, amazements, living life the best way I know how, the most exciting moment to date was cutting open a white envelope with blue-handled scissors, trying to keep my hands from shaking, imagining the words I was about to read? 

I put in my papers towards the end of Winter semester. I figured my call would come during the first week of Spring term--turned out it was the second week. I had it sent to my Uncle Larry's house, since I wasn't 100% sure where I would be living in the Spring. And so one Wednesday afternoon my phone rang. "Hey Jason, we've got a bit white envelope at our house! What time should I bring it by?" 

Immediately after this phone call I had a class, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Phenomenal class--probably a big reason I am here Spring term is so I can take this class. But that Wednesday I could not focus at all. I texted my mom, my dad, my bishop, my friends and family, everyone who had ever asked to be there for my call opening. When class finally got out I burst out of that room like a slingshot, my phone immediately against my ear to figure out how I was going to Skype both of my parents at once. 

My Uncle didn't bring the call until 8:00, and my class was out by 6:30, so I tried to find a way to keep myself from going crazy in the meantime. I ended up listening to a talk by Ronald A. Rasband about the calling process; how a member of the first presidency or the 12 will kneel in prayer before he begins assigning missionaries, listening closely to the spirit that gives a powerful confirmation for each and every Elder called. 

Finally my Uncle arrived. At this point my world kind of shrank down to the size of an 8 1/2 by 11 envelope. I'm pretty sure there were a lot of people there, and my bishop might have brought donuts. But once that envelope was in my hand, everything else kind of faded into the background. 

One of my roommates grabbed a pair of scissors. I took a look around the room--Wow, there are a lot of people here, I didn't know I had this many friends!--and the turned back to the envelope. I think I narrated my actions for the benefit of my parents, who were watching from a tiny little webcam. "I'm opening the letter... still opening... I'm doing it slowly to build suspense..." (in truth I was doing it slowly because my hands were shaking so much I couldn't work the scissors). Then it was open. I pulled out the paper--someone shouted "cover the mission!" so I put my hand over the bottom half of the first paragraph.

Before my hand settled over the name of my mission, I thought I saw an accent mark, a little squiggle that doesn't exist in any English/American words. Oh my gosh! I'm going somewhere with an accent mark! I think this was the point when my heart started racing like a speedboat. 

I read of the words, slowly and loudly so that everyone listening could hear. "Dear Elder Ray." Elder Ray. Wow. How cool is that, being called Elder? 

Finally I got to the line where they stated my mission. I moved my hand and read it aloud: "You have been called to serve in the Chile, Viña del Mar mission." Language: Spanish. Date: August 10th, Provo MTC. 

I stepped back, stunned and amazed, and fell down. Literally, my legs just stopped holding me up, so I sat down in a heap. I think in that one moment it came into my heart as strong as anything ever has--this is good. This is right. This is where I need to be! Everyone around me was cheering, clapping, yelling my name and their congratulations. 

Chile. I'd better start calling it Chi-le instead of Chill-y so I don't sound like a total American, even though I am a total American. Chile is the really narrow one right next to the ocean, right? What is it like? I don't know anyone who has been to Chile! I wonder if they have delicious bananas like they do in Brazil. I think they probably do, but it seems kind of discriminatory to say "oh, Chile is in South America--bananas!" Oh my goodness, I'm going to Chile! With bananas! 

I got up and hugged everyone in the room, and people slowly trickled out. I read through the mission packet--I need to bring a warm coat and plenty of moleskin for blisters--and then through the letter again. 

I had never considered going to Chile. Brazil yes, my YM president back home went to Brazil and it sounded like an amazing place. I had also considered Norway, Russia, South Africa, Las Vegas, and Iran, but never Chile. However, from the moment I read off the name with the squiggle that I didn't know how to pronounce, I knew it was right. This assurance has not left me for one moment since then. Chile. I get excited just saying the name.

There are more parts to this story now--miracles and amazing 'coincidences' (I don't believe in coincidences)--but I'll save those for later, since this blog post is getting pretty long. 

Chile. Oh yeah.