Count Your Many Blessings- Week 7 at the MTC with Elder Washburn

November 28, 2018

My dear friends and family,

Spirits are high here at the Provo Missionary Training Center. The whole campus is abuzz for the upcoming Thanksgiving week and the approaching Christmas season. The MTC has informed us that we won’t be having classes on Thanksgiving Day and will be able to enjoy a large feast in the cafeteria, a special devotional which will likely be attended by an Apostle (or multiple?), a service event where we will prepare over 350,000 meals to give to economically disadvantaged youth around the country, a movie showing of “The Other Side of Heaven” with Anne Hathaway, and then finally an evening of Christmas lights and early caroling. I am very excited and have been greatly contemplating all the things that I am thankful for this Thanksgiving season. Foremost on the list of things that I am grateful for are my family in all its uniqueness (parents, step-parents, siblings, step-siblings, and all others), my dear friends from all over, my Savior Jesus Christ, and for the chance of a lifetime to serve the people of Armenia in any way I can. My joy is full and my life is good.

My studies have been continuing as normal. Not much to report except further improvement and learning. We have passed over now into full review of the things we have learned, which will take up my remaining 2 weeks of being here. There are only a few more grammar concepts that we will cover, but other than that, we have learned the necessary things to speak Armenian. My mind has been swimming with all kinds of cases, tenses, moods, and various conjugations. The language continues to be fun, yet challenging, to learn. We all improve more day by day, and I look forward to reporting on my progress several months, much less a year, from now.

In our district, Elders Gunter and Stratford were made Zone Leaders of the Eastern Europe Branch, which means that they have leadership responsibilities over the various Slavic, Baltic, and Caucasian districts in our zone. Their third companion, Elder Leon, was made District Leader. As with the other elders in my district, I am very close with all of them, and I love the bonds of brotherhood and unity that we have formed together. I know that the 7 of us will be good friends for the rest of our lives.

As far as soccer goes, given that most of the Russian, Baltic and other districts we have come to love have already left and been replaced with new elders, our district is the oldest in our branch. That put us all in charge of hyping up the zone for Soccer Saturday, which we did to great effect. As part of our pre-game rally, we shared the following scripture (hilariously prooftexted) from 1st Samuel 16:17 “And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me.” We then ran onto the field, had further chants and taunts, and then rushed the Scandinavian position. I have never seen the Slavic, Baltic, and Caucasian districts play as well as we did that day. Our offense was incredibly aggressive, our passes were pristine, and our defense was impeccable. We beat them 1-0 and in celebration of our victory, I treated everyone to a round of Cactus Coolers (a popular soda here) on me. It was a great day and may have been our final Soccer Saturday of the year before they close the fields.

On a spiritual side, I had a neat personal insight and answer to something that I have been struggling with regarding missionary life. Within the Church, what is referred to as “The Gift of Tongues” is understood as a spiritual gift or manifestation wherein under the influence of the Holy Spirit, an individual is able to understand and speak a given foreign language that they have been learning to greater effect beyond what is understood as their own comprehensive or speaking abilities. I have struggled with this a bit at the MTC because often it is cast in the light of a “Day of Pentecost” moment where a person miraculously begins speaking a foreign language completely off the cuff, or to the opposite, it is described as learning a language under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Regardless of the myriad ways it is described by those who experience it, I have struggled to have a testimony of such on a more personal level. One night in class though, it clicked for me in a way that made sense to me. What I understood in that moment was that the “gift” part of the gift of tongues shouldn’t be thought of as a miracle of itself, but that the “gift” was that when I needed to, God can and will assist me in attending to the spiritual and physical needs of a people whose language I barely speak. Despite my flaws, imperfections, and weakness in language, the gift of tongues is that I can serve, love, and minister to those around me, and that they will be able to know and feel of my love and sincerity. I failed to articulate my thoughts on this subject exactly as I understand and experienced them, but the highlight here is that I have found peace and clarity on something that I sought further light and understanding on, and for that, God is good.

Today in the temple, I was able to participate in ordinances using names given to me by the temple. I participated in the initiatory ordinances of washing and anointing, a prerequisite for receiving one’s endowment. The names given to me were all from 18th-century China, coming from the Haibei (sp?) region and thus were all in a dialect of presumably Mandarin. This was a really neat experience because it was a lived-example of the purpose of Latter-day Saint temple work and theology: that all are alike unto God and all will have the equal opportunity to receive ever blessing, truth, and opportunity to draw closer to Him whether in this life or the next. For me, this is one of the most compelling and appealing aspects of the Restored Gospel, and I am grateful to worship a God that loves all equally, that has destined none to eternal damnation, and that has provided a way for all to receive Him into their lives for eternity.

With the Christmas season approaching, one initiative the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is taking is trying to promote family unity and service opportunities during the holiday season. This year’s initiative, “Worldwide Day of Service” encourages everyone, regardless of worldview or denomination, to work together on December 1st to do acts of service. You can find more information about it here:

Regardless of your worldview, I think the vast majority of humanity holds service and selfless compassion to be virtues worthy of striving towards. I can bear my testimony of service. I know that as we reach out to others, live the Golden Rule, and build up those around us, we will find our relationships, families, friendships, and communities transformed into a better world. This is something I hope to bring to Armenia, and I pray and study diligently every day so that I might be able to so such. I testify that Christ lived the kind of life that I seek to: one that brings healing, hope, relief, comfort, peace, and joy to those around me.

In the meantime, Thanksgiving is upon us! Count your blessings and seek to bless the lives of others throughout the week. Looking forward to just two more weeks until Armenia. Know that I love and am grateful for all of you. I feel your prayers and support daily.

-Elder Washburn

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.

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