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 DearElder.com. 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 DearElder.com, 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