Thursday, September 29, 2011

September 29, 2011

Ah, I love life. This is pretty much the best job ever, and I'm pretty sure it's only going to improve once I get into Chile.
Here's what's new in my life.
Pens. The other day I was writing in Preach My Gospel with one of my usual bic 10 cent apiece pens. Every time I moved my hand, though, I would smear my writing! All of a sudden, another Elder swooped in and let me borrow his zebra f-301, which not only doesn't smear, but writes so tiny I can fit twice as many notes on a page! I now own three. They're pretty sweet.
Fitness. I just might be in better shape now than I have ever been in my life. Not only am I eating the very best the MTC cafeteria has to offer, but I'm playing soccer 4 times a week, running once, and working out for ten minutes (just exercises using my body, no weights) four times a week. It's weird, I think the diligence I've been putting into everything else here makes it easier for me to be diligent at exercising. But hey. I like it.
Español. Español es increíble. Yo he visto el don de lenguas trabajando en mi vida mas que yo pensé es posible. Cuando you llego en Chile, yo todavia sentiré como yo no entiendo nada, pero yo podré enseñar el Evangelio, y este es lo mas importante. Y yo todavia tengo uno y media mas semanas aquí, mucho tiempo para estudiar y practicar.
Loving people. I think I have finally pushed through into this place where I can love all the Elders in my district even when they aren't doing exactly what I think they should, which has been a problem for me in the past. It's an interesting feeling, and it requires me to look past what I see on the surface to what I know that is good and what I can guess about the past of each Elder. I hope this new state will transfer over to Chile, and that I will be able to love my companion and other elders I work with, no matter how they act with regards to how I think they should.
Leading by the spirit. I had a pretty amazing experience last Friday. Every Friday morning is a district study, where for thirty minutes we talk about whatever the district needs. This last week it was goals--we had the goal to speak 100% spanish except for in our residance halls before 7 and after 9:30, but for five days I had heard maybe an hour of spanish a day from each elder. I knew this needed to be brought up, but I also knew if I rushed into it in my usual way I would hurt feelings and not accomplish anything. What happened instead, is that I was guided by the spirit just as I am when teaching an investigator to know what to say, how to say it, when to bear testimony, when to ask questions, when to keep silent. It was a pretty great study. I didn't really do anything besides stand at the front of the room, but I think every elder in there recommitted to speak Spanish, remembering that we aren't just learning it for fun, but so that we can teach the gospel to the Chilean people.
It's really amazing how clearly I can see the influence of the spirit in my life right now. I think it's not so much that I have it more in my life than I did before, although that is probably true... however, I think it is more that, because I spend so much of every day talking about the spirit and how to help other people feel it, I notice it myself.
Final point: Sacrifice. I had this insight while I was teaching in the TRC last week--every sacrifice I have ever made is now worth it. I'm not going to list off everything I've ever given up to prepare for a mission, but there are definitely things I would have liked to do but didn't because I knew I needed to be ready to come out here. And it's all worth it! I haven't even gotten to Chile and it is worth it. There have been times when I have been able to point to individual, specific instances and say "I knew this scripture when Javier (one of my 'investigators') needed it because I paid this price three years ago," or "I have received this blessing because of something that I chose not to do last year." It's really amazing to see it this clearly--and if my sacrifices have all paid off two months into my mission, how much more will I value them in two more months? A year? Two years? Fifty? After this life?
I love this. I pretty much have the best job in the world. Travel plans come in later today--within 10 hours I'll know exactly when I'll arrive in Chile!
"Y ahora bien, repose sobre vosotros la Paz de Dios." --Alma 7:27.
~Elder Jason Ray

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,
Life is pretty fantastic. I hope in the next 26 minutes and 8 seconds I can describe just a little bit of why I am so happy right now, and I'll certainly try.
But first, I need to make a plea for a friend of mine. I was talking to another Elder in our hallway a few nights ago--he's not in our district, he's a week ahead and in another zone. But anyway, he mentioned that not many people besides his family write him anymore, which is rather sad. I said that I thought I could help him, at least for next week. And thus, here is my request--would anyone reading this with a spare ten minutes and a heart of gold mind writing to Elder Burt? Only one letter is required, although he is a nice guy and he might write back. I told him that I would tell everyone that his grandma died and he really needed a word of comfort, so you could write with that excuse if you wanted. Here's his info:
Elder Marshall Samuel Burt
MTC Mailbox #226
MEX--MCNW 10/04
2005 n 900 E
Provo, UT 84604
Muchas gracias!
First up--street contacts! Elder Lucero and I decided that, every day (usually while we are walking back to our residence at night, because while we may be awesome we're also kind of slackers), we would 'contact' two sets of missionaries and bear them our testimonies in Spanish. The first time or two were pretty hard, we were psyching ourselves up for it and talking about how important it is that we learn how to do this, but we soon found out that it is easier than we thought and a ton of fun. I think it's the most fun when we are talking is Spanish to someone learning Russian or Chinese, someone who has absolutely no idea what we are saying! And Elder Lucero is a natural at street contacting. He has an amazing I-want-to-get-to-know-you-and-share-what-I-have attitude that just shrazzles during street contacts. And to think, just a few more days until we will be doing this 1500 miles away, to people who don't speak any English at all!
So, yesterday was my first all-Spanish day. I spoke only 7 words of English, all by accident, and dutifully atoned for those 7 words with pushups at the end of the day. I think it was a lot more frustrating for the people around me than it was for me--once I got started, once I was not letting myself even think in English, it just kind of happened. But it also helped me see just how far I have left to go. I need to communicate the feelings and ideas of my soul with people in this language, and sometimes I have trouble explaining that I am ready to go to lunch!
I want to write a little happy note about one of the Elders in my district, Elder Stringham. Elder Stringham was the senior companion these last few weeks, so I got to interview him to see how things are going. Through this experience, I got to learn his back story. E' Stringham has never been crazy into the church, although he has been a member his whole life. Since the start of high school, he has been a pole vaulter. This last year he focused on pole vaulting a lot. He's good. I'm talking olympic good. Since he started really getting into it, the olympics have always been his goal. Up until a few months ago, he wasn't sure if he was going to serve a mission or if he would stay home and train. But he prayed about it, felt like he should go, and here he is! And now he is striving and trying hard to have the spirit with him guiding his actions and his lessons. It's quite inspiring for me to see.
Devotional this week was Elder Russell M. Nelson. Yeah, that's right, three apostles in the time we've been here, and apparently Elder Bednar is long overdue as well! I'm so crossing my fingers. Anyway, he talked about the Book of Mormon (in connection with this months Ensign). My favorite parts were actually something that his wife said, and something that he said not about the Book of Mormon. His wife talked about obedience, and suggested the slogan "Not Even Once." I like it :D What E' Nelson said that isn't exactly related to the Book of Mormon is this: "You are never an annoyance or an inconvenience to someone you are teaching. You are their link to divine glory. They may not know that, but you do." Talk about inspiring!
One privilege that I think missionaries have more in abundance (or maybe I'm just noticing this more now that I am a missionary?) are gifts of the spirit. Along with the gift of tongues, which believe me is the only reason I ever got past preterit vs. imperfect, I know that I have been/am being given the gift of interpretation of tongues, the gift of leading with love, the gift of teaching by the spirit, the gift of joy in my work, and others.
Ah! Running out of time, only 9 minutes left. Better start typing faster...
An opportunity that we have once a week here at the MTC is to teach in the TRC, where volunteers from around town come to hear a lesson taught in Spanish (and other languages too, I'm sure). For the first two weeks my mentality was kind of that these are members, they didn't need a whole lot, and I didn't know Spanish very well, so I would make sure to bear my testimony but wouldn't worry about it too much other than that. I have since had a change of heart. I am a called and set apart missionary with the mission and purpose of inviting others to come unto Christ, of changing lives. This means everybody--investigators, members, other missionaries, even my mission leaders and, I hope, everyone at home that I am writing. With this attitude and decision, this weeks lesson at the TRC was truly amazing! I love feeling like I'm starting to figure things out!
Speaking of figuring things out, this week I also had a moment of realization. I am doing really well here at the MTC. I am learning the language quite well, being a district leader has stopped being such a stress, I'm used to the sleep schedule and the work load, I love my companion, the food is quite good if you do a little searching, everything. As I see it, I have two directions I could go from here. I could get complacent with how well everything is going, and slip into mediocrity, or I could keep on striving and pushing for higher and higher levels of excellence. Of course, I want to keep on striving for excellence. I think right now, the way I can best do this is to reach out to those around me, to love and serve and lift them as I myself continue to progress. So that is my goal!
This is really such an amazing experience. I thought I wanted to serve a mission when I came here a few months ago; I want to serve even more now. I thought I could teach by the spirit and recognize the hand of God in my lives; I feel like I am constantly engulfed in the spirit now. I thought I wanted to be obedient and do everything my God has asked me to do; now, I want to be obedient with all my heart and soul, because I love my God and because I know I will only succeed in this work with the miracles that He is prepared to give me when I obey.
¡Estoy viviendo la sueño! La iglesia es verdadera, estamos salvados mediante Jesucristo, y estamos preparando el mundo por Su segundo viviendo.
Con amor,
Elder Jason Ray

Friday, September 16, 2011

September 15, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,
What is a pirate's favorite animal? Arrrmadillo! 
Why yes, I am enjoying myself here. That little beaty was Elder Lucero's. He has a shockingly great pirate accent.
I think I should take this time now to thank you (and others) for the sweets. Somehow I have avoided gaining any weight so far (in fact I think I'm back down a pound or two), but with the delicious quantity of cookies that Elder Lucero and I have, it's a surprise! So muchas gracias, todos.
So, my mentallity is that every year of my life will be better than the year before was, both looking back into the past and looking forward into the future. I think here at the MTC, the same is true for every single week! I am loving life, loving my mission, loving Spanish, loving my companion, more than ever before. Gah. Such a good week.
I think part of my spiritual maturing here, though, is recognizing my weaknesses more. As I think you, mom, said a few weeks ago, (paraphrased), "seeing more of your weaknesses is a sign that you are coming closer to Christ, not farther away." So I have a story to share about this.

Coming into my mission, I knew I was going to follow the rules. Once I got here I figured out exactly why. Before I left, I heard dozens of RM's say that "at the MTC, they really drill obedience into you." Turns out it's true! Every Sabbath day, and every devotional, they mention obedience at least once. And we have had a couple devotionals entirely on obedience. But the nuance is wrong when you say "drill obedience into you." It isn't obedience they are drilling into us; it is the knowledge of how to unlock blessings and power to learn the language, preach the gospel, to be a missionary. They are drilling into us how to have the spirit with us more than we ever have before in our lives, how to experience joy more than we ever have before. It just so happens, the way to do this is by obeying the commandments of God, by being obedient.
Well, that was a tangent. Anyway, a few days after I got here I was reading in the missionary handbook and read that "You should only communicate with family and friends on preparation day." So I decided, then and there, that I would only read letters on preparation day. And I kept that up for five weeks! Last preparation day, I was using my key to open a letter I had gotten three days ago. A sister next to me asked, "do you wait to read all your letters until preparation day?" "Yeah..." "You know you don't have to. You only have to write them on preparation day."
Huh. If an Elder had told me that (which, now that I think of it, several had), I wouldn't have believed them. But, assuming that the sisters know there stuff, I decided to ask my Branch President. In his own words, "You don't have to re-write the rules. The brethren have said you can read letters as you receive them." Oh my gosh! For a whole month, i had been putting off letter-reading for no good reason! So this is a good lesson for me, over-zealousness doesn't accomplish anything. The Lord has told me where He wants me. To go farther is, in it's own way, just as disobedient as lagging behind.
No more over-zealousness for this Elder!
So, this week while teaching one of our investigators, Elder Lucero and I heard words that every missionary dreams of. "Elderes. Quiero bautizarme." Direct translation: Elders, I want to be baptized. Woah! We really hadn't been expecting that at all, we still thought this particular investigator was miles behind in gaining a testimony. It's really something to see the way the Lord works with people at the same time we do--we are just instruments! And i can't wait to get down to Chile and hear real people say those same words, after having similar experiences. (This particular investigator knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet while singing a song about him. Me gusta esta experiencia).
This Tuesday we had the privelege of hearing from Elder M. Russell Ballard, of the quorum of the 12. Fantastic devotional, as can be expected. He talked about how to be a wonderful missionary. Study hard, work hard, keep the message simple, love the people. Oh, this is the most exciting work in the world!
Something that I have been trying to work on basically since week one is to show the joy that I have inside of me to other people, through my eyes, my hands, my face, through all of me. This gospel makes me happier than anything else in the world, and I want people to be able to tell that just by looking at me! I think I'm getting better at it, bit by bit. This last week, I have been trying to show my joy by my excitement, and by stepping out of my comfort zone.
Excitement: During my lessons, I have tried to keep a smile on my face and a warm, bright attitude during the entire experience. I think thiat I am really starting to figure out the right attitude I need to teach with, thinking about how much I love the gospel, thinking about what I want for the investigator, thinking that I love the investigator as a child of God.
Comfort zone: The first few weeks here at the MTC, while waiting ni line for food I would usually study vocabulary. This past week, however, every meal, I have been striking up a conversation with the person ahead of or behind me (or sometimes both), trying to demonstrate this same excitement and enthusiasm, along with a whole lot of friendliness and interest in their life. For one thing, this is just a whole lot of fun. I like people. For another, I think I am learning to develop the attitude I will need to talk with everyone in the entire mission of Vina del Mar.
Next up--street contacts! Or sidewalk contacts anyway. Hopefully nobody will mind hearing my testimony in spanish even thought they are learning Tiawanese.
Viviendo el sueño. Estoy haciendo la mejor obra en el mundo.
Con mucho amor,
Elder Jason Ray

Thursday, September 8, 2011

September 8, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,

To start off my letter today, I want to relate another little MTC tradition known as the tower challenge. To be honest I have no idea how far or wide this tradition stretches--to our zone, at the very least, possibly more. Anyway, The week before a district leaves for the field, they choose a meal in which they eat an entire tower of cereal (just to put this in perspective, estimes for one tower are around 45 bowls). Before Elders B, M, and De left for Guatamala, we decided to do a tower challenge with Lucky Charms. It was all well and good until someone said we should go for two towers--by this point everyone had eaten somewhere between 5 and 10 bowls of cereal. We only made it halfway through the second tower (Frosted Flakes) before everyone felt too sick to go any farther. That night we met one of our new teachers, Hermana M. The whole class period we were slow and sluggish, and I'm sure we all looked like we were about to throw up! Ah, the MTC.
So, I had a realization related to food the other day. I probably should have had it right after the tower challenge, but somehow I missed that.... how I feel here is incredibly related to how I eat, because we spend 10+ hours each day sitting down in class--not enough moving around to justify eating junk all day. Thus, if I eat something healthy and energizing for breakfast, all morning I feel fantastic. And if I eat junk for lunch, then during the afternoon I feel like junk. Good realization for life, but especially for here at the MTC where I am so sedentary.
Every Friday, as District Leader, I am supposed to interview all of the senior companions of each companionship to see how they are doing, what their goals, are, what they need help with, etc. Last week I decided to interview everyone in the district, just to start off right. I am incredibly glad I did. I don't usually see any of the other missionaries teach, or hear what is going on inside their heads, so it is easy for me to only focus on the times when they are breaking rules or being lazy. Through these interviews, I got to see how dedicated, motivated, and spiritual each of these Elders are, and to see the huge strides they have made in the last four weeks. This will be good for me to remember all throughout my mission, and probably all through life. Isn't God such a great teacher?
I decided a few days ago that, because I believe everything happens for a reason and especially callings in the church, there is some reason I am the district leader here. I know a couple of ways it will help me--I am learning patience, love, and hopefully a bit of discernment. But what about my district? I decided that one thing I do have and have in abundance is an appreciation for music. So I am trying to share this appreciation by putting each Elder in my district in charge of choosing and conducting hymns (4-10 hymns a day, usually) one day a week. Right after I decided this, the devotional speaker (Elder Jay E. Jensen, quorum of the 70) said that hymns are an underused missionary resource for bringing the spirit. So I hope it was the right choice. And I hope it actually works--a couple Elders are really frustrated with the amount of singing we do, or with the hymns in general.
Shifting the focus away from my district, I absolutly love studying here. Learning the language is such an incredible experience--Yo puedo tener conversaciónes en solomente español por un hora, o dos horas, no problemo! Ayer, mi compañero y mi planeamos nuestras lecciónes con uno de nuestros investigadores, Santiago, en solomente espanol. Yo pude sentir el Espíritu Santo ayudandonos para hablar y para entender. Fue marravillosa. (while I'm thinking about language, note of apology--last week, in every letter I wrote, I spelled the word "muy" by the French spelling, "moi." ¿Que cosa?)
Along with learning the language, the periods of personal study are some of my favorite times here. I feel like I am better able to understand and apply the gospel doctrines and the scriptures here than at any time before in my life. I can already tell that I am going to have some amazing experiences with personal revelation--and revelation for my investigators--through the scriptures on my mission.
Last point, this week I'm going to see if I can finish writing before the clock hits 0 (30 minutes a day, should be plenty, I just talk too much :P)
In this last week, I have heard a lot of emphasis on giving the Lord your heart. Elder Holland spoke on this for a good 10 minutes, and without hearing any of his talk, Hermana M, one of our teachers, spoke about this as well. I have decided that, in order to give the Lord my heart, I need to have an every-day strengthening of my desire to serve Him, to give Him my all; I need to be willing to give him every single bit of me, from my thoughts just before I go to bed to the way that I play soccer, all of it. And as I give the Lord my heart, I will find myself more whole and more happy than I have ever thought possible. So that's a goal for my mission, and I believe it might be developing into a mission statement--to give the Lord my heart.
Well, I made my goal--clicking exit with 10 seconds to spare! Estoy muy felicidad. El Evangelio es verdadero.
Vos amo,
Elder Jason Ray

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Our First Pictures!!!

Jason and his companion, Elder Lucero.

Matching ties! (From the missionary mall.)

With Elder Lucero again.

Jason's district---what a beautiful sight!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 1, 2011

Wow, what a week. I have a ton to write about--we'll see if I can get to it all in 25 minutes. I'll try to explain in chronological order, but I've never been very good at ordering things, so... we'll see.

So, before I came into the MTC, somebody gave me an odd piece of advice. "Don't laugh during prayers." "Well, of course I won't laugh during prayers--that's ridiculous!" I thought. Now that I am here, however, I see that it was an apt and needed warning. For some reason, at the MTC, laughing in prayers just happens! Almost every single night when we have companionship prayer (with four elders, everyone in our room), at least two people are choking down laughter by the end. And none of us can ever explain why. Nobody has to say anything funny--all that we really need is for someone to be praying!

A few weeks ago, we started using our gym time to go play soccer. Getting ready for Chile, right? Well, I'm pretty awful, having not played since age 6, but it's still a blast, and we play every chance we get. And miracle of miracles, I'm improving! I've scored 2 points in the last 4 games (most games our team scores 2-3 points), and sometimes when I kick the ball down the field, it actually goes where I want it to! Of course, by the end of nine weeks I'll be playing like a pro, then I'll get down to Chile and get pwnd by a couple of 8 year olds. But then I'll teach them the gospel and baptize their entire family, so it will all work out in the end!

Two days ago, three of the Elders in our district left us, heading to the Guatamala City MTC. They are all going to San Salvador, and need to learn some variations in Spanish that will be spoken there. Now the remaining 7 Elders in our district are all going to the same mission, which is kind of cool, but we'll miss the three who left--Elder Brose, Elder Mehr, and Elder Defiguerido.
Added to that, Fall Semester started at BYU. The result--we lost both our teachers! Hermano West and Hermano Rogers might be the greatest teachers in the entire MTC, but Hermano West quit so that he could focus on his studies, and Hermano Rogers was reassigned because of his school schedule. *tear*. Our new teachers are Hermano Pace, who went to Spain and speaks with a definite accent (Jo mi Jyamo, Ethpania), and Hermana Mount, who for some reason everyone can understand really well. Having an Hermana teach our class is interesting, and I think I like it. Less flatulence, more focus and respect.

Elder Brose, who left for Guatamala on Tuesday, was our district leader. Any guesses who the new district leader is? Yup... it's me. I kind of ruined the surprise by buttoning up my coat so that I could stand up when I was called in Sacrament Meeting, and immediately after I was called I fell asleep, so I think the start of my assignment was pretty auspicious (sp?). For reals though, I am very excited and more than a little nervous to have this calling. I really don't know any more than any of the Elders in my district--we all got here at the same time. But I now have the responsibility to lead the district, ensure that everyone is following the rules, and conduct meetings. First thing, I decided that I would never think of myself as "leading the Elders." I would "love and serve the Elders"; if I thought about leading, my already-huge-ego would explode and I would lose the companionship of the spirit, a companionship without with I would be totally sunk. Loving and serving, however, is definitely a challenge! What do I do when someone knowingly breaks a rule, then is completely disrespectful when if I mention it to them? I'm still trying to figure that out. I think my purpose as a district leader (or district lover and server) is the same as my purpose as a missionary--to invite others to Christ. That means that I don't--and I can't--make anyone follow the rules. I can only invite, and hope they understand the power and blessings that come from obedience.

En otra notícias, espanol es moi bueno! Me encanta la idioma celestial (yo recibí ese frase para mi antiguo maestro, Hno. Rogers), y estoy moi animado porque de la cantidad de cosas estoy aprendiendo con el ayuda del Espíritu. Si, yo hago errores, y si, espanol es difícil, pero yo puedo tengo todos conversaciónes, todos lecciónes, solo en espanol. ¿Es fantastico, no? Y pienso. En seis mas semanas, cuanto mas yo aprenderé!

So, now for the highlight of the letter. Every tuesday, the entire MTC has a devotional. This Tuesday, we had the privelege of hearing from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. What an experience! I could feel the power of his testimony and his teachings, and the truth of what he said. He talked about our calling, how prophets throughout time kept on going because they saw our day, the great work that we would accomplish--and that would not end in apostasy--and took heart. He said that we do not have the right to soil the wonderful image the world has of missionaries, now or after we get home. He said that Christ would want us to know that He told the truth; that Christ wants us to give Him our hearts; that the difference between us and him is that we are apostles with a little 'a', and witnesses with a little 'w'. It was such an incredible devotional!

Now I am out of time. Until next week!
Con Amor,
Elder Jason Ray