Letters from the Field – This is My Doctrine – Week 3 at the MTC with Elder Washburn

October 24, 2018

Jaxon Washburn was a previous guest on the Latter-day Saint MissionCast (click here to listen). He was called to serve in Armenia and will share his letters from serving in the Mission Field each week. Subscribe to our blog to get every letter.

Friends and Family,

It is my pleasure to write to you once again this morning. It has felt both strangely close and yet so long since I last wrote, I suppose such is just one of the many effects of life here at the Provo Missionary Training Center. There is a strange sense of timelessness here, compounded by my awareness that I will consider this to be home until early December. But, already, I am one-third the way completed with my studies.

I am greatly astounded and pleased by the amount of progress that I have made in regards to my language studies. We have these weekly activities called TRC’s (I have no idea what they stand for) where we teach a fluent Armenian-speaker, typically returned missionaries themselves but sometimes Armenians living in the area. Last Thursday was the first time we had TRC’s, and my companion and I ended up teaching two twenty-minute lessons to three different individuals. I felt incredibly nervous going in, and to be honest, my companion and I had memorized a ton of lines prior so as to help us with our conversations. As soon as I walked into the model living room where we would have our conversation, my mind went absolutely positively blank and I forgot literally all of my lines. ???
Luckily, my experience wasn’t just limited to confusion. I prayed a silent prayer that I would be able to remember the words enough to be able to communicate, and though I am sure my Armenian could use some refining, for this discussion and the discussion afterwards, a full forty minutes, I was able to (mostly) understand what was being said but more importantly 1) share meaningful scriptures, 2) bear my testimony that God is our loving Heavenly Father and that we are all His children, 3) and offer an invitation for the person to spend their prayers this week seeking to know that such was true. My companion, Elder Gooch, kept looking at me with the most stunned look on his face because I was speaking Armenian phrases that we had never been taught, yet I was bale to throw them together on the spot. Both of the lessons went very well, we have a lot of room to improve, and will have them again this Thursday. In a few weeks though, we will be Skyping actual Armenians in Armenia and having conversations with them. I look forward to the challenge and though I am pushing myself, I am not letting myself ever get down on my mistakes or imperfections in speaking. There are a lot of them right now and I know that the language will come in time. As for my lesson on not stressing too much on memorization and instead relying on the Spirit to guide my words, I found such effectively summarized in the following verse from the 84th section of the Doctrine and Covenants saying:

85 Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be  meted unto every man.”

Besides having that neat experience, I will now move on to tell you of my zone’s contentions with the Scandinavian nations on the soccer field. Colloquially referred to as “Soccer Saturday”, various zones (composed of multiple districts, we being the Armenian district) will compete against each other on the field in front of the Provo temple in an ultimate soccer match that ends up being close to 50 v. 50. Our zone took ample time to frenzy and rally ourselves before charging out en masse. Draped on many of our shoulders were the flags of the respective countries we would be serving in. I mentioned in my previous email the “alliances” that we had entered into as a district; this is where such is manifested to the greatest extent. Gathered together were the Armenians and Georgians, Latvians and Lithuanians, Russians and Ukrainians, Estonians and Slovenians, and a few Khazakstani missionaries. As we took the empty field, shouting and announcing our presence, we were all silenced upon hearing deep and defiant cries from out in the distance. On the horizon, beyond the car line ( there is a parking lot separating the field from the entrance of the MTC) we could just barely make out the tops of flags of various Scandinavian nations. Quite literally, it sounded like Vikings were in the distance. The opposing forces broke the cover of the car line like and army pouring out of the cover provided by a forest. They ran onto the field in their strength and proceeded to taunt us. Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Icelandians, Finnish, Poles, Dutch, Belgians, and missionaries from Trinidad all assembled before us. The ensuing soccer match, more than 50 on 50, was epic, and after a worthy struggle, unfortunately we were beaten and routed with a 0-1 defeat. It was a sad day that I am sure the MTC bards will recite for several more transfers.

The food here remains delicious, I honestly don’t think I have been fed a repeated meal since arriving. Much better than what people told me coming in. Back to the language, Armenian is unique for several reasons:

  • In Armenian, sarcasm is virtually non-existent and Armenians typically do not understand it if you use it over there. If you are familiar with Drax the Destroyer from Guardians of the Galaxy, you will understand how well sarcasm goes over.
  • In Armenian, the only “I am sorry” that people typically say is over extreme cases like “Forgive me for burning your house down”. Lesser forms of apologies are seen as unnecessary. The same goes for “excuse me”. The Armenian people are typically direct, far more so than Americans are used to being. 
If I remember more, I’ll be sure to mention them in future letters.

I mentioned a few weeks ago after General Conference that I found myself somewhat uncomfortable with one of the talks. If vulnerability is allowed, I’ll elaborate a bit more on such. Granted, General Conference typically contains rhetoric that calls one to increased introspection, discipleship, and repentance. For myself and others, as we listen to the words of our Church leaders, prophets and apostles, we consider the ways in which we may have room to improve our lives, and such can carry with it its due discomfort. I am used to, expect, and welcome such discomfort. We should all be uncomfortable when reading the words of Jesus in the New Testament and other scriptures. We could all live better, more compassionate, lives. However, a different kind of discomfort can and does take place at times when Church leaders voice views, either individually or on the Church’s behalf, that run counter to the surrounding cultural and social currents. On one hand, prophets have been doing this since the earliest pages of the Bible, and often serve as social/cultural critics as well as inspired conduits. The way that this has manifested itself with the Latter-day Saint tradition has varied historically, and in many cases, I have found such social critiques or counter-cultural stances to be needful.

Not all of such stances come so quickly to me personally though. As a committed disciple of Christ and a member of the Church, I take seriously not just my covenants but also my membership when it comes to affirming, supporting, and sustaining views, positions, doctrines, and leaders. I do my best to approach such thoughtfully, meaningfully, and appropriately. A major area in which I have wrestled with reconciling my views are in regards to the LGBTQ community, sexual orientation, and gender views in relationship to my devotion and conviction the Restored Gospel. Of course, I am by no means a victim. There are others who must wrestle with such on a far deeper and more personal level than I ever will, but still, for awhile such has weighed heavy on my mind. President Oaks’ recent talk at General Conference on the subject of sexual orientation, gender, and the Church was bold and represented further “line-in-the-sand” rhetoric on the subject. I hold him to be an inspired man, and I sustain him, but in the moment my heart ached for what I knew would likely be a difficult message for my LGBTQ Latter-day Saint friends to hear. So I prayed for them, I continue to pray for them and President Oaks as well. We could all use further revelation, light, understanding, and compassion on the subject. As per a sort of rallying cry for the Restoration, I have faith that the heavens are not closed and that God speaks to His children still. I don’t know what future years or decades will look like, or how such may be worked out in the end, however like Nephi in the Book of Mormon, I can say that “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (1 Nephi 11:17)

There are others here at the MTC who have wrestled as I have. We are faithful, we are missionaries, we sustain our leaders, but we do pray for continued light and sensitivity on the matter. Because I only wish to speak and teach authentically and honestly, I have reached out in full transparency to my branch president on the matter, expressing to him my concerns, my views, and my limitations in what I am able to teach and testify of with conviction. I can testify of eternal families, but I am not in a personal space where I can honestly represent myself in testifying that such is composed of heterosexual couples alone. I am comfortable by all means informing individuals as to what they should expect when considering joining the Church, and I am completely willing to speak clearly on what the Church’s present policies, doctrines, and stances are, I just am not in the place where I can affirm them personally. We’ll see what comes out of such, in all things I seek to be faithful to the Lord, to my LGBT friends and family, to my covenants, to those I teach, and to my leaders in being true to those things that I have a conviction of. The MTC can be a difficult environment at times for individuals with such concerns, but it is also a refining one. Here I am learning to be more compassionate, speak with more grace and charity, and minister more effectively. There have been tender moments amidst some of the times that I struggled. For instance, last Sunday a member of our branch presidency in class asked us who we see as someone truly converted. I shared that I had someone in my life that I considered a close friend, who, as an openly homosexual man, chose to join the Church and how such was a powerful example to me of faith in the face of adversity and challenge. While at first it seemed as if the teacher was about to respond negatively to my remarks, I was surprised when he briefly paused the lesson to share with us missionaries a time where he felt prompted by the Lord to listen to an LGBT individual in his life, in a fully open and loving way, and how he gained immense spiritual growth, understanding, and compassion because of the experience. He expressed to the class his faith in God, that he knows that though such is a major sacrifice for many now, that God has a plan for all of us, and advised all of us to seek such love and understanding in our ministry. My heart was touched, and I became grateful for having shared, even when worried that my comments might not be welcomed.

Moving on, my companions continue to be an exceptionally funny bunch, including Elder Mandla, our token Australian. Because of him, we consistently have Australians eating or gathering near us, and they are all immense fun to be around. To the individuals who have written me, either by email or letter since I have been here, thank you.

A few other highlights: We got to listen to Elder and Sister Soares (Elder Soares is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) speak last night at an MTC fireside that was streamed to the 13 other MTC’s around the world. They were both wonderful. I joined the MTC choir and so I was able to sing for them (though not by myself of course! ?) I taught a lesson on Sunday during Priesthood, on the topics of repentance and baptism and their significance. Like always, I tried to not have my comments be of the routine sort that one could find in Preach My Gospel or other missionary materials. Our class had a pretty good discussion and it was a breath of fresh air to teach in English. I made sure to include some snippets from Church History in my lesson through the help of the new Church history book, “Saints”. My whole district will soon be receiving copies for themselves, I have been pushing all of them to read it for awhile now.

Other than that, life has been good. On a mental, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual level I have been happy, healthy, and fulfilled. I go to bed tired each night, but I know that such is the mark of a day well spent studying hard in order to soon help others. The Armenian people are in my prayers nightly, and I hope that I’ll have to opportunity to touch lives there, if not at least my own. When I am feel myself missing home or needing a break, I’ll sing some Coldplay songs to myself and contemplate on the many memories I have been blessed to have with my friends and family. My sense of purpose and my reliance on the Lord has been sustaining me through the demands of missionary life. My vocabulary is growing at a rate of close to 30 words a day now.

To close, I will share with you an observation I made while reading the Book of Mormon this week; I am almost completely done with it since starting it afresh on the plane ride to Provo. In reading through Third Nephi, chapter 11, wherein the climax of the Book of Mormon with Christ’s visit to the Americas, I paid special attention to the words he first spoke as recorded. After speaking on the subject, necessity, purpose, and manner of baptism, Christ for the first time establishes what he personally states as his doctrine. He says:

“29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.”

Let us all follow after his words in speaking with more compassion, controlling our anger and heated emotions, and pursuing understanding and mutual respect rather than anger and contention. It is the doctrine of Christ that such things should be done away with. An individual and community truly touched by him will seek kindness, soft-speaking, empathy, meekness, charity, and love in the words, rhetoric, and manner in which they interact with and speak towards one another.

As someone striving, and often failing, to be a disciple of Christ, this is something I will continually seek to do and strive to emulate. I invite all of you to consider how you might do the same. How much better would the world be if only such were the case!

I love you all and send you my prayers,

-Elder Washburn 

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