The Elder’s Mite- Week 6 at the MTC with Elder Washburn

November 14, 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.

Hello all!

I hope you have all had a great week since I last reached out. Things have been steadily chugging along here at the Provo MTC. Considering that most missionaries spend either 3, 4, or 6 weeks here for their respective languages, it is easy for the individuals staying for upwards of two months to feel something akin to immortality in comparison to the. For those of us in the Armenian district, we are starting to feel that way. We have seen hundreds of missionaries arrive, reside, and pass on before us into their respective fields. They have no idea what several months at the MTC can do to a missionary. I have made the joking reference to prison before, but perhaps for Latter-day Saint it would be more aptly labeled “Spirit Prison”. Cabin fever starts setting in and things get… weird. Haha, but thankfully I am still enjoying my time here. The food is great, the community is a lot of fun, and the instruction and training continues. I don’t intend for my tongue-in-cheek comments to be read too seriously.

Last week’s soccer match against the Scandinavians was better than the week prior, although it ended with a 1-1 tie. The Slavic, Baltic, and Caucasian districts were still satisfied though considering that we were outnumbered by about 3-2 and yet still played hard. Our signature formation continues to be “The Iron Curtain” wherein a mass of about 20+ missionaries form an impenetrable wall around our goal. Considering that it snowed once this week, we are predicting that Soccer Saturday saw its last game for this year, but we could be wrong. Our zone has taken to practicing soccer during exercise time several days a week now. We would really love to end our year-long season against the Scandinavians with a win thereby ensuring that we would remain amongst the oral traditions of the future missionaries here for several transfers to come.

This last Thursday was also the last time we had a face-to-face practice TRC, where my companion and I teach two twenty-minute lessons to local Armenian-speaking volunteers. It ended well and we were incredibly satisfied with how our language skills are improving. Few hiccups of the grammar we have learned thus far and our ability to comprehend what others are saying are growing by the day through our studies and God’s grace. This Tuesday however, we had a Skype TRC where we taught a 30-minute lesson to an actual Armenian! We called her in the morning and through video chat, testified of the importance of faith and how faith can help us get through challenges in our lives. She was an older lady, incredibly kind and helped us with a few mistakes we made. It was seriously so cool 1) teaching an actual Armenian. 2) completely in Armenian, and 3) understanding what she was saying back to us! My eyes welled with tears as she ended the lesson with a prayer and asked God to bless us in our efforts as missionaries. Total milestone for my companion and I!

On Thursday, one of our instructors shared with us an experience he had at the MTC where he was asked to better understand the concept of sacrifice. As missionaries, we will be asking people to sacrifice certain things as they desire to follow Jesus Christ, and more particularly, if they desire to become members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through being baptized. Whether in the form of giving up time, money, talents, or personal vices by becoming members of the Church, a lot of what we may be asking would constitute a new sacrifice being asked of the seeker in question. “So,” he challenged, “I want you all to think of something that you are going to go without for a week, a sacrifice that you will make, so that you can better understand what it means to sacrifice.” Some in our district considered such a request somewhat ironic given that as missionaries, we have already and will sacrifice so many things so as to serve in Armenia for two years. But, we all agreed to take him up on the challenge and to do so with a prayer in our hearts for a specific thing that we want God to help and bless us with. Examples of things given up by the other missionaries included vows to go without hot showers for a week, to forego writing their girlfriend for a week (I am not so brave or foolish ?), to give up desserts, to only speak Armenian, or to sacrifice the occasional nap. I chose to give up sleeping with a mattress, blankets, and pillows with my hope being that somehow, I might grow in my capacity to “comfort those who stand in need of comfort” as per my baptismal covenants. I have been sleeping on the floor, with nothing but a thin pad underneath me and a single blanket for when I get too cold. Sure, the quality of my sleep has decreased, but it is nothing compared to what many in Armenia might face. If all I receive from this is increased humility and solidarity with those who likewise go without (although not intentionally) then I will consider it a worthy exercise. And of course, I am only doing this until this Friday. This is my elder’s mite so to speak and because I have been given much, I too must give, however little.

Thursday night, I left an anonymous note on my teacher’s desk when leaving, suggesting to them that they should conduct an anonymous survey with our district so as to obtain feedback on improvements that might be made in class and how they might be better able to serve us. I didn’t do this because I have been struggling with anything major, or because I thought there has been any major flaws with our instruction, it was merely a suggestion that I thought could help further communication and improvement. The teachers were collectively quick to conduct such an anonymous survey by the next class period and immediately began implementing changes in class based off of the feedback they received. Things have improved a lot, not that they were bad before, and I think everyone appreciated the chance to speak their mind freely without fear of offending anyone.

On Sunday, I was unexpectedly pulled out of class to have a private meeting with my Branch President. About five weeks ago, I reached out to him with several concerns that I had regarding various instances of obedience rhetoric at the MTC that I felt constituted unhealthy spiritual paradigms, and regarding a few points of concern that I wanted to make him aware of when it comes to aspects of the missionary teaching curriculum, Preach My Gospel, that I would be unable to fully teach/testify of along the lines of personal beliefs and ethics. He warmly and kindly listened to all my concerns, agreed with many of them, offered counsel, support, guidance, and encouragement, and let me know that there was nothing that I expressed to him that made him worry about my own testimony, standing, aptitude as a missionary, or capacity to represent the Church. He appreciated my vulnerability, transparency, honesty, and authenticity, let me know that I wasn’t the first to approach him with such concerns, and assured me that my Mission President would likewise work with me to make sure that I can serve in a way that is honest and appropriate. I have a strong testimony of the vast majority of what I am teaching, but I am still seeking to gain further understanding in certain areas. Luckily, having a perfect testimony has never been required in order to serve a mission, and I am incredibly grateful to have had such a positive experience in talking to my Branch President about my areas of wrestling and concern.

On Sunday night, we had an MTC-wide devotional where a music group, the Lux Singers, came and performed. They specialize in religious and devotional music and performed multiple hymns from the Protestant Reformation and Renaissance, contemporary Latter-day Saint hymns, and original compositions that were incredibly touching and beautiful, all testifying of Jesus Christ.

Last night, we heard from Elder Gary Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Lesa Stevenson. Their messages about the Savior were much appreciated, and Elder Stevenson spoke on things that he referred to as our “missionary survival kit” while on our missions. I thought his best comparison was in comparing the scriptures to the ability to start a fire. I know that in my life, not only have I received immense personal guidance from the scriptures of my own faith tradition such as the Bible and the Book of Mormon, but I have also received additional light from the sacred writings of other faiths. Primarily though, my focus here at the MTC has been on the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and I have been able to consistently study them like never before. For myself, they warm me with their teachings, light the way before me through the confusion of life, and represent a collection of writings that I center my life around.

Being a missionary can be incredibly difficult at times. Not only do I find myself interacting and serving with individuals with theological and religious perspectives that differ from my own, though we come from the same faith community, there are also hundreds of rules that one strives to abide by. The vast majority of them constitute common sense safety protocols or standards of personal behavior. Others understandably are designed to mitigate distractions, focus missionary work, or foster spirituality. At times, there are some though that for the life of me make little sense, but in making the choice to serve a mission, I understood what I would be agreeing to. For this reason, despite the occasional frustration, I have been able to maintain positive spirits and have never once questioned my decision to serve. Though I may presently see some of the rules here as necessary hoops to jump through in order to serve the Armenian people, I am fully willing to jump through them. As an example, the act of shaving daily has become for me a kind of sacramental or monastic experience, one where I offer up to God something that I wouldn’t typically do (shaving on a daily habit) for the purpose of leaning in as much as I can into the missionary life. I expressed all of this to the Branch President and was reassured that such represented a very healthy way of looking at things, which is good because if I saw things differently, I imagine I would be having a more difficult time.

I went to the temple today and had a very enjoyable time. I have really been trying to absorb and appreciate it as much as I can before my departure. I learn of my flight plans within the next week.

As I continue in my missionary training experience, I am increasingly envisioning myself as engaging in the closest thing to the monastic life that my faith tradition has to offer. My time here has been incredibly contemplative and refining and I hope continues to be so. As the days grow colder, I find myself reflecting on various thoughts and questions that weigh on my heart and mind, often as I walk down the frosted paths throughout the MTC. It is days like this that while walking, I can hear the bells sound from the nearby belltower at the BYU campus, chiming to the classic Latter-day Saint hymn of “Come, Come, Ye Saints”. It is a strange experience when coupled with the missionary life, essentially being the Latter-day Saint equivalent of what one might hear on the grounds of an abbey or monastery.

Still, I can’t help but to echo the final line of the song, given that it speaks to the state of my heart right now as I press forward in the Savior’s work and ministry. All is well. All is well.

Until next week,

-Elder Washburn

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