Friday, August 26, 2011

August 25th

Dear Mom and Dad,

Thanks again for all your letters! They are incredibly comforting to read. To answer some of your questions--I get mail every single day of the week (except Sunday), but I only read/answer mail on preparation day. I am adjusting very well to the sleep schedule, which I think makes my roommates jealous--maybe after a year of BYU I can sleep through anything, be it uncomfortable beds and early sleep schedules or roommates killing zombies in the next room over?

I think I've decided I'm going to send back one of my memory cards before I leave the MTC, so you can not only have pictures from my stay here, but a video recording of my district singing "Secreta Oración" (Secret Prayer). We've been singing it several times a day since we got here, and it sounds pretty awesome now.

So, I decided for this letter I would do a little "Life at the MTC" segment, just for fun. It will, of course, be in completely random order, because I'm awful at organizing my thoughts in any sort of logical sequence.

First off--the Elders. My companion, Elder Lucero, is fantastic. I hope I've mentioned that already.. We get along really well, and work like champs together. The other Elders in my district are Elder Brose, who started a few businesses before leaving on his mission; Elder Mehr, who played hockey for BYU; Elder Defiguredo (no I didn't spell that right), who wants to either run a private defense company or go into prosthetics; Elder Eriksonn, who might have been a hipster before coming here (he owns 60+ pairs of shoes anyway); Elder Wardrop, who swam a 50 free, 25.00, at age 17 without every swimming before (just for perspective, at that same age, after several years of swimming, I was at a 27.50); Elder Marvin, who gave us all a really fantastic beginners course in basic farming; Elder Stringham, who can do both back and front flips while wearing missionary clothing; and Elder Wilson, who I like even though he went to USU.

While at the MTC, I have run into a bunch of people from school (mom and dad, these names might not mean much to you, but I knew all of them at school). Elder Busby, Elder Danielson (who was in my zone), Elder Gillis, Elder Wheeler (just got here yesterday), and Elder Frewerda.

Our schedule goes about like this. We wake up at 6 oclock (easier to get a shower if you are up before everybody else), and start studying by 7. We have a 30-min breakfast break, a 45-min lunch break, and 45 minutes for dinner. Other than those 2 hours, from 7 in the morning until 9:30 at night, we are either in class, teaching an investigator (in spanish), studying the language, studying the gospel, studying the gospel in the language, or singing Secreta Oración. Oh, we also get 40 minutes of gym, which lately we've been using to play football. And by football I mean soccer. I'm pretty terrible at it, but one of these days my foot is actually going to connect with the ball the first time I go to kick it.

Mealtimes are a blast. The MTC cafeteria has such a deleciously awful variety of food, my companion has gained 10lb since coming (being me, I have probably put on about half a pound). Extra entertainment comes from trying to slip plastic spoons into each other's pockets without them noticing, teasing Elder Brose about a Hermana who looks "like Princess Leia," and wondering at what the orange juice is going to do to our digestive systems.

I was told before I came to the MTC that tie trading is a big deal here. It is, but either I'm not very good at it or none of my ties are that cool, because I've only traded one. Elder Mehr went trading last night, starting with one tie, and ended up with 6! However, I still have many weeks left here, and I am still hoping to garnish my collection with a few corbatas.

One of my favorite traditions in our zone is "Hasta Ver." Hasta Ver the spanish translation of "God be With You Til We Meet Again." Every time a district in our zone is about to leave, the entire zone packs into one room (some 40-50 elders in a room meant for 4. It gets pretty sweaty), sings "Hasta Ver" (first three verses at the top of our lungs, the last oen reverently and quietly), and then listens as each Elder in the district bears his testimony. We have had a district leave both Sundays I have been here so far--it is such an amazing experience! Three Elders in our district are leaving for the Guatamala City MTC next week (Elders Brose, Mehr, and Defiguredo are going to El Salvador, and need to learn the Mayan-influenced Spanish they will teach at the Guatamala MTC), so we will have another Hasta Ver this Sunday.

Being here is so amazing. I am surrounded by guys--excuse me, Elders--who have decided to give two years of their lives to serve the Lord. The spirit is here in everything we do. The gift of tongues is real--I am awed by how much Spanish I already know (I would write some of this letter in Spanish, but I only have 30 minutes and I'm rather slow with it still), and how fast I am learning. The spirit guides what we teach and what we say, even when we are teaching one of our Maestros or each other. We are doing the Lord's work--someone mentioned last week that, every day, roughly half of the members of the church are praying for us. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Amor y Oración,

Elder Jason Ray

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Letter #2!!!!

Dear Mom and Dad,

Thank you for the letters, which make me happy; the death bars, which my companion and I are consuming far too quickly; and the promise of a family picture, which I will love seeing each night while I write in my journal.

Sadly, we did not get jetpacks on Sunday, although I am beginning to see what people meant by "it get's better." The experience itself hasn't suddenly become fantastic--I still think it was from the start--but time has started to zip by. I mean, it's already Thursday now, I've been here for more than a week! The saying is "The days go like weeks and the weeks go like days," because although one day can seem to drag on forever, before you know it you're ready to leave. I think this different perception of time comes because I've realized that this is for real. It isn't just a week-long camp, or something that I'm trying out to see if I like it. I'm an Elder, and this is what I do!

In every Youth Missionary Preparation activity I have ever been to in my entire life, one of the activities was sewing on buttons. I believe in one activity you actually got points for how many buttons you could sew on in five minutes. A few nights ago, I pulled a string on one of my new shirts and bam--there went a button. That night, I sewed on a button. And felt totally awesome. I mean, every missionary activity I had ever been to couldn't lie--sewing on buttons means you are a missionary! So I must be a missionary, because I was sewing on a button! Admittedly I couldn't remember several key points, like how to finish sewing it on, but I think it will stay on for a few more months at least.

Our district is Branch 8, District C, or just district 8C. District 8D had the wonderful idea of putting up a piece of paper on the top of their door that used the "D" in "8D" to spell out a slogan. They were district "8Dulce Bomba". Sweet bomb? It doesn't really make sense, but en espanol it's just fun to say. We appreciated their efforts so much that we decided to do the same thing to our door. We are now district "8Como Un Jefe."

Are we allowed to say "like a boss" as missionaries? Maybe we should change it to "like a Zone Leader."

I've decided that I really like the title "Elder." All of the connotations that my life experience has given that title now apply to every person around me. When I call someone "Elder ___," I am saying that they are hardworking, dedicated servants of God commited to bringing people to Christ. I think it really helps me to appreciate those around me. Also, every time someone addresses me as "Elder Ray," I think I become a missionary just a little bit more.

The more I think about it, the more I am grateful that Elder Lucero is my companion. Our district doesn't have any Sisters in it, which means that it can get pretty rowdy at times. And doesn't always smell fantastic. (I love my district anyway...) Elder Lucero is always willing to go somewhere else so that we can find the peace and quiet that we need to really study hard, to really work hard. He is also incredibly insightful about what we should work on for language study, where our weaknesses are, and on what we should prepare next to teach our investigator.

Our investigator, Manuel. (His real name is Hermano Roberts, but we're not supposed to know that yet). We have so far had 4 meetings with him, all in spanish, and have managed to get through the first two lessons. Tonight, Elder Lucero and I agreed that we should ask him to be baptized. Really, we probably should have asked him two lessons ago, but we're still learning, so that's ok. Although Manuel is an actor pretending to be an investigator, there is some amazing fairy dust (and by fairy dust I mean God's power) here at the MTC that makes our lessons seem completely real. We are really being led by the spirit in what to teach, and coming to love 'Manuel' as a child of God who is seeking for the truth. It makes me excited to teach people who really are looking for the truth, who really have been prepared by the hand of God, and to experience the joy that I am tasting here, the joy of bringing people to Christ.

Next up, I need to figure out this whole spanish language thing. A bit of grammar, a whole lot of vocab, and a truckload of practice. However, I know that if I really try to learn this language diligently, with the right attitude, and with the spirit, I can. I'm going to illustrate this point and close with a story about Manuel.
Yesterday, on our fourth visit with Manuel, Elder Lucero and I just couldn't get into a groove. We were struggling with words--even simple ones like "do" and "for"--and everybody kept getting distracted. After 20 minutes of struggling through our lesson, Elder Lucero finally picked up on something the spirit had been trying to say. We changed tactics, and talked about what Manuel needed to hear. Not only did he (and we) start paying attention, but Elder Lucero and I stopped struggling to find words, conjugate verbs, and piece together sentences. As we bore our testimony of prayer, taught Manuel how to pray, and commited him to pray to know if what we were saying was true, we spoke in clear, simple, flowing spanish. It was amazing! The gift of tongues is real, and God's power is with us.

Love and Prayers,
Elder Jason Ray

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Our First Letter!!

Dear mom and dad (and anyone else who decides to read this),

First off, a bit of business. While I am at the MTC, a great way to reach me is It does 1-day delivery, which is nice, but I will admit it isn't as personal. Just thought I should make you aware of the option, though. [Editor's note: in order to write to Elder Ray through, you will need to know that his MTC Box # is 296 and his departure date is 10/10.]

I made it through the first few days! Oddly enough, I have actually been enjoying the first three days! Every single Elder I've talked to who has been here longer than a week says "just wait until Sunday--then things will get better." I think on Sunday we must get jetpacks, because things have been pretty fantastic already! So, what to tell.

Mi Companero, Elder Lucero, is the man. Excuse me, the Elder (our Branch President said we should trade "guy language" for the language of the Lord's servants. Not guys or men, Elders. Oh, and we can't put our hands in our pockets either). He is from SLC, played football in high school--from which he just graduated--eats about seven bajillion times faster than I do, is amazingly friendly, helps me con espanol, and suggested to me that we join the choir. He is also going to Vina del Mar, along with the other two Elders in our room and three more in our district. Es fantastico. (I didn't italicize that because I'm not actually sure if 'fantastico' is a word).

Learning the language is pretty crazy. The very first thing we did when we got here, before we were oriented, before we met the mission president or sang "Army of Helaman" (with the words changed to "and we ARE NOW the Lord's missionaries. It was a great moment), was sit for two hours while Hermano West talked spanish at us. I say talked spanish at us, because there was very little returning conversation.

However, I am now at the point where I can put together some basic sentences, including getting to know someone, bearing my testimony, and saying a basic prayer. Sure, it takes some time, and my vocabulary and grammar could use some work--about nine weeks of work, to be exact--but still, it's coming! All of us are amazed at how quickly we are picking up the language, considering that there were only two Elders who understood Hermano West on the first day, and then only just barely.

To motivate us to study and work harder, our first experiencia ensenar en espanol was yesterday. Yeah--we taught an investigator in spanish after two days at the MTC. To be honest, there was a whole lot more confusion than there was actual teaching, but Elder Lucero and I did manage to bear our testimonies of the Book of Mormon and pray in spanish. And hey, the investigator was an actor who was exceptionally nice, so I don't think we did any harm.

I just remembered a funny story--the day we got to the MTC, our nametags had an orange sticker on them meaning "we are new and have no idea where to go or what to do." The thing I love about this sticker is that while you wear it, everyone is amazingly friendly! (I only took off my sticker yesterday when the mission president approached me in the cafeteria and asked me to remove it). All day long, Elders and Sisters would come up, welcome us, shake our hands, tell us that on Sunday things get better, etc. Because my nametag is in spanish (Elder Ray La Iglesia del Jesucristo de los Santos de los Ultimos Dias), a lot of Elders would welcome us with "Bien venidos, Elderes!" For the entire first day, I would thank them with "Bien venidos y tu!" Finally my companion told me that they were saying "welcome," and I responded with "welcome to you too"... But hey, I'm learning!

During the first few days here, we participated in various teaching experiences. These were in English, and their purpose was to help us see the importance of missionary work, and to come to love God's children as much as he does. They were truly amazing! I'm coming to see just how vitally important this work is, and a desire is growing in me to really share this message, el mesaje del amor de Dios, with as many people as I possibly can. Especially the people in Chile.

We have spent a good deal of time these last few days learning our purpose. Our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ--invitar a las persones a vidar a Criste. We do this through the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. Really though, the emphasis on inviting is wonderful. Thus, as we have been learning the ropes of the MTC, learning the language, playing basketball, learning the language, eating greasy food, learning the langauge, and learning the language, I have been able to step back and say "it's ok if I don't score a dozen points, learn a hundred words, or eat as fast as Elder Lucero (I don't actually worry about that one). My purpose is to invite others to come to Christ. If I am centered around that, I will succeed no matter what.

I have also come to see that the gift of tongues is real. When we are studying, teaching, and learning with the Holy Ghost, I can feel my mind and spirit stretch and grow to grasp and understand things that would usually take me weeks to comprehend. I can see now that, on my own, I would need a full two years just to feel comfortable with the language. With the power of God on my side, however, I know that I can do anything and everything He has asked me to do. Right now, that means preaching the gospel in Chile, Vina del Mar, in Spanish.

Thank you to everyone who has kept me in their prayers, written me, or helped me get to this point.

Con amar y oracion,

Elder Jason Ray

Sunday, August 7, 2011

So You Want to Write a Missionary? (Address Updated)

The time has come. I'm headed off to serve the Lord for two years. If you want to get in contact with me in that time, pretty much the only way to do that is through letters. Here's a quick how-to.

First stop: MTC. I'll be spending a few months in Provo, Utah, learning Spanish. While there, my address is:

Elder Jason David Ray
MTC Box 296    10/10
2005 N 900 E
Provo, UT 84604
United States

While I'm in the MTC, you can not only send me letters, you can also send packages with things like cookies in them! Not that I'm suggesting you do, just that you could. 
Starting on October 12th, I will be in Chile. Once I am there, you will have two ways to get in touch with me. First off: Pouch mail.
If you want to use the pouch mail system, you won't have to pay international postage--just one American stamp will do. Write your letter on a single sheet of paper, fold it in thirds, and tape it shut while leaving both ends open. Then put a stamp on it as if it is an envelope, and address it to:

Elder Jason David Ray
Chile Viña del Mar Mission
POB 30150
Salt Lake City UT 84130-0150

If you want to send a regular letter, put it in an envelope with international postage and send it to:

Elder Jason David Ray
Chile Viña del Mar Mission
4 Norte 1112
Viña del Mar
Valparaiso, Chile

This address may change over time, I'll ask my mom to keep the address on Facebook current. If you want to send a package to Chile, this is always the address you will use--however, I have no idea how reliable Chilean mail is, so I might never see the package. I can probably figure this out once I get there and hear stories from other missionaries. 

You can also write me using When I am in the MTC it will be completely FREE to use, and when I am in Chile it will cost the same as domestic mail (the pouch). You type up your letters and they print them out and bring them to me. It's pretty cool.  (You will need to know his box #--296, and his leave the MTC date--10/10)
My letter policy will be, if you write me, I'll write back. Once I get to Chile it is 2 weeks in the mail either way, and depending on how busy I am it might take me a week to write back, but I will. 
For weekly updates on how I'm doing, check here on my blog--I'll ask my mom to update it with the weekly letters I send to her and my dad. 

Thanks for your time and your letters!
~Elder Jason Ray