My First Month as a Missionary: Dazed & Confused

Me, on the balcony of our piso overlooking Arrecife 28 years ago.

I recently blogged about my first day as a missionary and how it felt to return to that place after 27 years. Because we were on a cruise last month, stopping at 5 of the Canary Islands, I had a chance to revisit the island of Lanzarote where I started my mission, a place I hadn’t been in the 28 years since then. I surprised myself by being able to pick out my apartment by sight even though the city of Arrecife has changed quite a bit, and the apartment has been renovated. The exterior balconies have now been enclosed, probably to keep out the sands from Calima, an annual dust storm that happens in the Canary Islands, bringing sand from the Sahara, across the ocean, obscuring the sun. Calima can last for several days when it comes. While I was there, our balcony would sometimes fill with sand overnight. Lanzarote is a very windy island, the most eastward of the archipelago, the closest to the coast of Morocco.

The biggest obstacle to memory was that I only served there for 5 weeks, and then never returned to that island, and most of the time I was there I felt like I didn’t know what the heck was going on. I was the only missionary being sent to Lanzarote, and I had just arrived in the islands after a long flight. When I arrived in Arrecife, I was alarmed by the 18 year old men in military garb casually holding machine guns, standing around the airport looking bored. I remembered thinking “I could easily take away that gun, and I’m not that big or strong,” envisioning the possibilities for violence and mayhem if any random person were so inclined. That’s a sight I saw in all the airports in Spain, one that I never quite got comfortable with.

When we got back to the apartment, my trainer Hermana R. told me I could take an extra half hour to unpack and rest up before we went out to work if I wanted to. By this point I was dead on my feet, not having really had any rest since arriving in the islands and being sent out on splits with a Spanish sister (see previous post). I was jet-lagged and exhausted. I fell asleep mid-unpacking, and when I woke up I found her staring at me, eager to get out the door. She kindly explained she didn’t want to wake me so she let me sleep an extra hour, and was I ready to go? She excitedly said that we had a goal that we would not speak any English, only Spanish, partly to practice and partly because one of the sisters in the other companionship in our piso was a Spaniard who didn’t speak any English. She also said we were going to get up early every day at 5 A.M. and go running. She had big plans. When she paused for a moment I held up a hand and I said, “Yeah, I’m not going to do that stuff.” My lack of sleep was bolstering my feistiness. I said I would speak Spanish whenever we were with Hermana D because that’s only polite, but that I wasn’t committed to 100% Spanish all the time, and that I wasn’t waking up even 30 seconds before the mandatory time for any reason, and that I was not a runner. While I could tell she was disappointed that I was not working out the way she had hoped she gamely pasted on a smile and said she was glad I was there. Later, when I was a trainer, I recognized within myself that same desire to treat one’s trainee like a Pygmalion or a little doll, someone to shape and mold; I remembered this experience, and steadfastly resisted that desire.

Those first few weeks were a bit of a blur. I had an almost palpable craving for mail, for contact with the people who knew me as a real person: a letter, a tape, a care package from my roommates or home. I didn’t receive any mail from my boyfriend while I was there, although I did receive a couple encouraging letters from my crush who was serving in the Netherlands. For some reason, our mail was delivered to the Elders’ apartment, and one day they finally mentioned I had received a box from home. I was very excited, wondering what it might be, although I doubted it was going to cookies or other treats as my parents are pretty practical people. “Tampons,” the Elders told me. “It’s tampons.” I asked how they knew that, and he explained that’s what was written on the contents label on the outside of the box. When I opened it, that is what it actually contained. And deodorant. At this time, neither of these “American” items were readily available consistently throughout the islands. Deodorant there was usually an alcohol-based roll with the brand name Fa. There was no anti-perspirant for sale. While I was glad to have these items, it was a little underwhelming as my first care package.

I was beginning to notice that the packing list I received with my mission call was pretty useless given the tropical climate. Nobody wore pantyhose. There was absolutely no need for sweaters, long sleeves, dress shoes, or a rain jacket. Much later I was in another area that was at a higher elevation and I did wear my cardigan; we also created fashionable nightcaps from our pantyhose. But at this time, I was noticing that I needed some clothes that were better for summer. I also found that my calf-length “swingy” skirt from J. Crew was a big mistake on this windy island when a breeze blew it right over my head. Rather than looking like Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch, I looked more like an inverted umbrella wearing see through white bicycle shorts. It wasn’t my finest moment. When I finally wrestled my way out of my skirt, I noticed lots of pedestrians having a good laugh at my expense.

The 4 Hermanas assigned to Lanzarote in my first month, in front of our door. The rent on that piso was $400 a month each!

I quickly discovered that understanding an MTC teacher speaking Spanish with a California surfer accent is very different from understanding an eighty-year old woman with 3 teeth and a lot of colloquial expressions. I spent a lot of time asking my companion what people were saying. Having Hermana D. living in our piso (apartment) was a real help. Aside from her being a native Spaniard, she had a great sense of humor and found my mistakes adorable. We created our own vocabulary to amuse ourselves, poking fun at my lack of words. She still lives in the Canary Islands, and I always go visit her whenever we go there, and she reminds me of that every time I see her. We re-wrote the mission song to amuse ourselves by changing the words to be about a great meal we were going to prepare after we got back to the piso at night.

I don’t remember many of the people we taught, probably because I really struggled to understand them, but I do remember one teaching appointment with a young mother. My trainer suggested I teach the discussion, and I gave it a good effort. When I was bearing testimony of the principles, I suddenly started to bawl–not just a sniffle, but a full-on ugly cry. I tried to pass it off as spiritual, but the investigator was a bit frightened by my outburst, and my companion explained that being a new missionary is really hard, and sometimes it just creeps up on you. At least that’s what I think she said–it’s what she said to me afterward.[1] One thing I concluded quickly was that “ugly bawling” is really only assumed to be spiritual within the context of the church culture, not necessarily at large.

The local branch was probably the best one of my mission, very close knit with a wonderful bishop’s family and fantastic members. The bishop had a teenage daughter that we sometimes would bring along when we taught. Not too long after, that family moved to another island, and the branch changed dramatically, but in the 5 short weeks I was there, we had two branch events for missionary work: a pageant on the beach, and an airplane crash reenactment in the chapel to teach about the Plan of Salvation. We also had a fun zone conference with the president’s family where we went on camel rides and to see some of the volcanoes in Timanfaya National Park.

Although my Spanish was pretty bad at this point, I was also disappointed that my French was starting to get jumbled up with it. Every once in a while, I’d say something I thought was Spanish that turned out to be French and not linguistically close enough to make sense. Sometimes it worked, though, so I kept trying it. I had studied French for 6 years prior to my mission call and was somewhat proficient. About two weeks after I arrived, two of the Elders, Elder W and Elder P, asked me to conduct a baptismal interview in French for them because their African investigator spoke some English but was really most comfortable in French, and he was afraid he wouldn’t understand everything if the interview were in English. I had a copy of the interview form in French to be sure I got the right words, and it went pretty well. It was my first and only time conducting a baptismal interview. I wasn’t actually aware until later that only the Elders did baptismal interviews. I thought they were asking me because you had to have someone else do the interview if you taught them (also not correct). The man was baptized, and he attended church that Sunday. [2] The branch was very welcoming and wonderful, and we took lots of photos.

That same piso last month–I recognized the door, although the balconies have been enclosed.

The other companionship in the apartment was going through some unspecified personal trials that required a lot of extra time spent in the piso. Elders W and P who were assigned to check on us at night (none of us had a phone) would often get roped into hour-long evening sessions, listening to Hermana C who was upset. I didn’t figure it was any of my business what was going on with her, and I was ill-equipped to know how to help anyway. Despite my own atypical first-month crying outburst, I have always shied away from emotional people. There was a lot of talk about temptations and Satan trying to stop the work. My trainer offered to do splits with them to change the scenery, and so I got to spend some time practicing my Spanish with Hermana D. Elder W was the senior companion to Elder P, and I would often get stuck in our living room talking with Elder P and Hermana D while Elder W tried to be supportive to Hermana C and my companion would stick around as chaperone (or that was how I interpreted it). As I told my trainer, I just felt like everything would be fine if we all just left the apartment and got to work. As I said, I wasn’t very well equipped to handle this sort of thing. Lo and behold, when transfers came, Hermana C and I were sent to Gran Canaria to become companions. I asked Elder P what was going on once, and he said that sometimes as a missionary you get extra temptations. He was talking about Satan tempting people directly, and since I didn’t normally get very wrapped up in this kind of thinking I was curious what he meant. He said, “Like you’re teaching a charla (discussion) and suddenly Satan puts this thought in your head to pick your nose.” I laughed because it was such a stupid thing to imagine Satan tempting you to do. I thought he was either making fun of the idea that Satan was personally tempting people, or he was just trying to deflect the conversation from whatever they were discussing in the other room, or just as likely he didn’t think it was that big a deal either. He didn’t say that directly, so I was probably just attributing my own thoughts to him.

Both Elder P and Elder W became good friends of mine throughout the rest of the mission, although that was unusual. Most of the elders assigned to “check on” the sisters didn’t go to these lengths to make friends, although I did notice that districts on less populous islands (8 missionaries or fewer) were always closer knit. One evening after working in the hot sun, my legs had swollen so much that they were coming out over the sides of my shoes. I think it was some sort of sunburn related swelling. I had my feet propped up with ice bags on my ankles, and I was complaining that my legs looked like elephant trunks. I’ve never had that happen before or since, but Elder W began calling me “my little elephant ankles” as a joke, said the way W.C. Fields would say “My little Chickadee.” Of all my assignments, Lanzarote was probably the most optimal in terms of collegial relationships with other missionaries and branch members, and although we didn’t baptize anyone, I felt involved in the work.

I discovered during my first month that being embarrassed was an inevitable part of missionary work, whether it was a bluntly labelled box from home, showing my knickers off to a street of strangers, scaring people by crying in their kitchen, or having a temporary hideous deformity. I decided that the best way to deal with personal mortification was to point it out and retell the stories to my fellow missionaries so they could enjoy the joke at my expense, too. It’s a strategy that hasn’t failed me yet.

  • How long did it take you to understand what was going on as a missionary?
  • How was your relationship with your trainer and the other missionaries when you started? Did you make lasting friends in your first area with other missionaries or members?
  • What moments of mortification did you experience in your first month?

Discuss.

[1]  when she kindly suggested I not lose my marbles during teaching appointments in future, or that’s at least what I think she meant to say. It was good advice.

[2] Our mission was operating under the advice of Alvin Dyer’s Challenging & Testifying Missionary, so church attendance before baptism was not required. If someone felt the spirit, you challenged them to be baptized, and away you went. Somewhere in my subconscious I remembered that my parents had been on the year-long 52 lessons plan when they joined the church, and while that seemed really too long, I had a few misgivings about the speed to the font in the Dyer program. Still, missionaries are good at compartmentalizing, and I figured that everything beyond baptism just wasn’t our job. Once I had baptized, I didn’t see it that way.

Comments

  1. While I really enjoyed this post and the great stories that came with it, I really want to comment to commend you for pulling off a sister missionary Molly Ringwald vibe in the pics. So cute Hermana Ringwald!

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    My mission was also really big on the Dyer approach. We approached it like cowboys; baptizing in an apartment swimming pool was the kind of thing elders there thought was a good idea. These attitudes caused a lot of friction with the regular members.

  3. Angela C says:

    Kevin, yes, there were some real downsides with retention following the Dyer model, and the members were often resentful. I almost skipped ahead to another incident that illustrates this very well, but I’ll save that for another post. These issues came up repeatedly in my mission. In retrospect, the missionaries I was with in Lanzarote weren’t too caught up in mission culture, probably another reason we stayed good friends. Whenever I served in a smaller island, we did what we thought best, not what we were told.

  4. Angela, I hope we get many more of these mission posts! I mostly remember that in my first district was an Elder from my MTC District. We hadn’t really been that close in the MTC, but we stuck like glue after those first few months in Mexico together. We saw each other every few days and could talk in English (!) and complain in our naive way about Mexican culture and groan about the embarrassing things we’d experienced. The first area of the mission has many tender memories for me.

  5. “operating under … Alvin Dyer’s Challenging & Testifying Missionary”
    I may never learn to be amazed at the things that hang on in our Church culture. The Dyer approach was out in my European mission 50 years ago, having caused no end of problems for the Church in Scotland, etc. It hadn’t worked really well where I was anyway, though there had been one missionary fairly effective (defective?) with it as a result of his charismatic personality and his unauthorized activity days with teenage locals who liked hanging out with an American and practicing English. I could never understand the if-you-can-get-them-in-the-water-they-are-ready approach except as some leaders’ effort to impress the important people back home in Utah with baptism statistics.

  6. That Challenging & Testifying Missionary program is terrible. My MP loved it and we were very aggressive about challenging/coercing investigators towards baptism. A big regret I have is that I never stood up and voiced my concerns even when I was the district leader where visiting APs wanted to cap a zone work day with a baptism of someone who had never attended church or met the branch president. The potential for this program to become priestcraft in implementation is too great. I hope and pray that my son leaving this summer won’t encounter it but I fear that it will continue to rise zombie-like wherever an ambitious MP chases greater baptism numbers.

  7. Franklin says:

    We tried the Alvin Dyer plan for about a week, with no results. It wasn’t a missionwide program, though, just a gimmick one of my zone leaders found somewhere. I think Dyer did more damage to the Church than just about anyone. Most of the inactives in my mission were baptized during the infamous period when he presided over the European Mission.

  8. Wow, these posts are bringing back memories! Some good, some less so. In my first area we lived in the smallest and dumpiest unit in a small and dumpy apartment building owned by a member in an adjacent ward. He was essentially a slumlord with several similar buildings. His buildings were the cheapest in the area and mostly filled with people on the margins. We taught a man in the building who, I later figured out, had a prescription pill addiction and serious mental illness. We learned he no longer wanted to meet with us when he served my companion and me with a restraining order. One night we were awakened by the friend of a woman who lived upstairs from us. The woman was suicidal and we had to literally talk her off of the ledge of a window. In that same area, we received a media referral for a man in a small town on the upper edges of our area. I always got a creepy feeling in that town when we visited and I really disliked going there, but we had virtually nothing else to do so we went. Long story short, the guy was a rabid anti-Mormon who locked us in the house and tried to force us to watch anti-Mormon videos with him. We eventually talked him into letting us go, but it was quite frightening. Fortunately the rest of my mission wasn’t quite as exciting/terrifying, but my experiences in that first area deeply colored the rest of my mission experience and shaped my view of missionary work to this day.

    I’m still convinced of a few things that the church and mission program needs to do a MUCH better job addressing. (1) Missionaries need some (very) basic mental health training and training on how to handle situations involving people with mental illness. Specifically, how to spot signs of mental illness and clear guidance that missionaries are not equipped to get involved and should immediately contact authorities or remove themselves from potentially dangerous situations with people exhibiting signs of mental illness. (2) I don’t think there is a lot of attention given to safety issues that are specific to sister missionaries. I’ve spoken with a number of former sister missionaries who had uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situations involving men and we all felt entirely unequipped to handle them.

    Finally, I served in the early/mid 2000s, and by that time I didn’t see much of the Challenging & Testifying Missionary program directly, but I think its effects linger on and on. I rarely had opportunities to teach as a missionary, but I spent a great deal of time working with less active members who were baptized by overenthusiastic missionaries and basically became inactive very soon thereafter. After visiting one such man, my companion (who very much carried the attitudes of the “baptize now, convert later” ideology) said “I’m sure glad he was baptized, even if he isn’t keeping his covenants.” I remember looking at her and thinking she was bat-guano crazy. After being home for 10+ years, I think that even more.

  9. I don’t think I understand to this day what was going on in the mission. My mission president had come in just four or so months prior to me, and he had completely revamped the mission. He sent at least two missionaries home every month, demoted leaders for no baptisms, and didn’t have APs because there was no one good enough to be an example in baptisms for the mission. I got my visa late, so I came in on P-day rather than the day before, so I got no training on mission rules or procedures (and let me tell you, I could have thrown the white bible out the window for how much good it did me navigating my mission’s rules). I actually got threatened with being sent home in my second transfer because I sent a letter to on of my MTC friends in the same mission.

    Gosh I hated my trainer. He had four months on the mission and thought that he was hot shiz. Not a day went by that he didn’t remind me that he became a trainer after only four months, and he insisted that all we spoke was Portuguese. I felt bad for him, because I came into the mission speaking better than him, and my darker coloring versus his lighter made the Brasilians always talk to me rather than him. We fought a lot, and I think we both cried in the shower when we found out that we’d be spending two transfers together. It didn’t help our relationship that I was severely depressed and had to speak to the mission shrink every few weeks during companionship study. The people in our ward, on the other hand were wonderful. I still talk to some of them on Facebook, and when I returned to Brasil to teach English the summer after I got home, I was able to visit a lot of the people that I loved from my first and second areas.

    I was about 70 pounds overweight when I arrived in Brasil, and it was quite mortifying when I realized that Brasilians (and my American trainer) always comment on physical appearance and weight. I lost all those 70 pounds in my first month and a half, but I still managed to break a couple chairs. One day, it was super rainy and I slipped and fell into a mud puddle. I had to tract the rest of the day, covered in mud with my companion laughing at me and apologizing for how dirty I was. I wasn’t allowed to sit down for the rest of the day, in case I got peoples’ furniture dirty. I’m amazed I stayed on my mission for as long as I did for how miserable I was my first month.

  10. I got Dyer’s talk from somewhere and tried it out. I think most people thought I was crazy. But I did mange to recruit one subsequently inactive family. They were too poor to be accepted by that branch anyway.

  11. I also served in Spain (Bilbao) in the mid 90s. I got to my first area late on a saturday night and went to church the next day (a fast sunday). I couldn’t even understand the kids at church. I was so discouraged. Later I realized it was because most of the members were speaking gallego with me (sort of a spanish-potuguese hybrid). It probably took me about two months to really figure out what was going on.

    My trainer tried the tough love approach with me. As I mentioned, I got to the area late on a saturday, so I couldn’t get to a store to buy food. By the time we broke our fast, I had been 36+ hours without food. Since I had none of my own food, my trainer wouldn’t let me borrow any food until he was ready to break his fast.

    I got a severe cold/flu after a couple days. Trainer wouldn’t let me rest so it just kept getting worse. Finally, we had zone conference after about 10 days of being sick and the mission president’s wife sent me home immediately once she saw how miserable I was. She chewed out my companion for not letting me get any rest to get over it. One of my favorite moments with my trainer was seeing him get yelled at for being a jerk.

    I guess that’s a long way of saying I didn’t make lasting friends in my first area. However, after two months I was transferred and made the greatest friends of my mission in area 2 which was traditionally considered a “hole” area. I was so excited to have a good companion and to get away from area 1 that it was infectious and the whole district had a ton of success. We had two baptisms as a district in that area in four months when they hadn’t had a baptism in four years. It really reset my mission.

  12. Left Field says:

    Each missionary bought and ate his\her own food? That’s weird. Is that the practice in other missions?

  13. Left field: I can’t speak for flop, but when I served we bought and ate our own food also, with only a few exceptions when we arranged with other missionaries or our companion to pool together for meals. We mostly ate lunches in bars since there wasn’t really fast food anyway, and you could always get a good bocadillo in a bar. Sometimes I’d buy for my companion if I had more money than they did (which often happened because we paid our own way back then – there was no pre-set amount by month; my first area was $700 a month, mostly due to the high rent cost).

    My trainer made me a sandwich when I first got there that I wouldn’t eat because it was egg salad mixed with tuna on a rustic bread loaf, and that just seemed really odd to me at the time. Now it sounds pretty good, but I wasn’t ready to try that so soon into my mission. It wasn’t a local delicacy or anything – just something she made up.

  14. I am enjoying this series so much. I didn’t have the language barrier on my mission, but the culture shock from my privileged southern California upbringing and time in the BYU bubble to the pretty severe poverty and depression of rural and small town upstate New York was still quite an adjustment. I had never met adults who were illiterate, didn’t know the first thing about SSO/disability, food stamps, low income housing and the rest. I was blessed with a hard working and who truly loved the people of our area without reservation and showed me by example how to do that. One of the biggest “shocks” of my early mission days was learning that missionaries sometimes broke bad. We had a little streak in my first area of elders going to movies, staying out late, etc, and it was shocking for this very naive sister.

  15. I love mission stories, though I can’t decide if they make me more sad or glad that I didn’t serve a mission.

  16. My wonderful trainer taught me one of the most important lessons of my mission during my first month in a depressed industrial town in eastern Hungary. I had said something scornful about the widespread local interest in UFOs (one big tome even showed Joseph Smith on his knees, looking up at two figures identified as extraterrestrials). Her reply: “You know, their spirits want a relationship with their Heavenly Father, and they just don’t know where to look.” Twenty-five years on, I’m still chastened and moved by her compassionate example. Romans 8:16 became a favorite passage for me.

  17. Left Field says:

    I think my mission president would’ve been pretty unhappy to hear that companions were buying and eating separate meals. It wasn’t like a rule or anything, but it just sounds like it would have been seen as a sign of some bigger problems. I don’t think anyone would have ever thought of cooking an individual meal unless they were really, REALLY ticked off at their companion. The food in the apartment was for missionaries to eat; it didn’t really belong to a person. If we swapped companions, or happened to have the other elders over during a meal, we just would have prepared something.

    We always bought groceries and split the bill, and alternated days cooking. I think whoever didn’t cook had to wash the dishes. And whoever wasn’t cooking or washing dishes could be studying or showering or otherwise making efficient use of time. The separate food thing seems horribly inefficient to me. You have to both be cooking, you’re competing for pans and stove space, you’re duplicating purchases of staples like milk and butter and spices and bread.

    I was just very startled by the idea of buying your own food and eating separate meals. It would not have occurred to me for that to be a thing. But I guess it’s the culture of the mission and/or the time. It’s been nearly 40 years since I was a missionary. I’m curious the times and places missionaries have dined together, and when they don’t.

  18. John Mansfield says:

    Left Field’s memory of food belonging to all reminded me of one particular night. I had arrived in a town that day where two other missionaries were already serving; my own companion wouldn’t arrive until a day or two later, if I’m remembering right. Late that night in the missionaries’ house, we were all hungry and the only food we could find in the kitchen was an old, dry, very hard loaf of bread. As we sat together at the table chewing pieces of it and laughing at the situation, I said, “I believe I could drive a nail with this.” I found a loose nail and a board, and tested the proposition, and managed to start the nail in about half an inch. Remembering this, I puzzle how it was that I found a nail and a board so quickly.

  19. Left Field: I don’t really remember doing much cooking per se. I think I probably ate out about 80% of the time, just like I had in college the 3 years before my mission, supplementing with sandwiches, ramen, eggs, mac & cheese, and bowls of cereal. A few times we would cook if our district was getting together – but then it was like pot luck with everyone contributing or maybe a break the fast meal. Routine meals with my comp? Nah. I had one comp who would eat a boiled egg with spinach every day. I’d just throw together a sandwich or some fruit. Sometimes we’d buy rotisserie chickens with potatoes. I often would just buy my comps lunch because I didn’t want them to be embarrassed if they didn’t have money to eat out, and I always preferred to eat out. Cooking for just two people doesn’t make sense to me, even now.

    Hna D and I did make meals at the end of the day, but she wasn’t my comp. We were just throwing together whatever was in the fridge, so I don’t really know whose stuff it was. I do remember in other 4-missionary pisos (very rare as a sister), we would sometimes make a big pot of stew or pasta and everyone could eat it. I would just buy that stuff and tell them to eat whatever they wanted of it.

    I do remember one time my companion & I made a box of mashed potatoes. It was just one of those add water things. I think we found the box in our piso, and it was already opened. As we were eating it (one out of a bowl, one directly out of the pan), we kept encountering these little black pieces in it and setting them aside. Eventually one of those pieces looked enough like a cockroach leg that we stopped eating.

  20. I can’t think of very many companionships who jointly prepared meals in my French mission. This was 29 years ago. And we always cooked – eating out was an expensive proposition that was only a rare treat, even for lunch. The Church equalized mission costs right in the middle of my mission and that change didn’t really alter how we ate or prepared meals. I only had one companion where we had communal food and jointly prepared all meals. Admittedly we got along really well but we also had similar tastes in food and a willingness to experiment widely on recipes we learned from members. Many of my companions had REALLY limited palates and would only eat pasta, bread and few vegetables. It was just understood that you cooked your own food was never an issue. You shared with your companion if they needed something and there were common ingredients (flour, spices, etc) but then own food as well.

    So I wouldn’t say whether or not companions cook together or not has anything to do with how they get along.

  21. Left Field says:

    I remember one day when I had switched companions with the other missionaries in the district. My companion for the day was cooking breakfast. “Do you like your yolks whole or broken?” he asked, simultaneously pounding the eggs with the spatula without waiting for a response.

    “Um… I like them whole.”

    So that would be a reason to cook separately!

    I think what surprised me more than cooking separate meals was the idea of keeping track of who owns what food, instead of just stocking the apartment with groceries for the week. And if you’re transferred… well, I’m not sure how that would work in theory or in practice, if the food goes with the missionary and not with the apartment.

    Loki, I agree in general that how you cook doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how you get along. Just that in context of a culture of generally cooking and eating a common meal, making your companion cook his own separate dinner sounds a bit like the missionary equivalent of sending your spouse to sleep on the sofa. I think in my mission that’s just how we usually did the food, and perhaps we didn’t really think about the possibility of doing it any other way. I didn’t think of it until I read these comments 40 years later.

  22. I just wanted to add that I, too, am really enjoying this series. I never served a mission, and I doubt that I would have been any “good” at it, but I find that now I’m intrigued by these details and insights into something that’s so much a part of our culture that a lot of us don’t even think about what’s going on with those people behind the nametags.

  23. My first transfer… oy. Because I had been in the native speakers class at the MTC (tested into it, as I’m not native, and unlike all the other American missionaries going to my mission) and because I arrived a week late due to visa issues, my companion and the APs were the only missionaries I met on arrival.

    Because I arrived late, I also didn’t have any money; my monthly allowance hadn’t been sent to my account yet. All I could afford to buy during the first half-week was a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread, and other bits of food; my companion neither lent me money nor shared food. (Rare was the companionship that shared food; in my case, I didn’t want to eat what they ate, and vice versa. I ate All-Bran with fortified yogurt and fruit for breakfast every morning, if that gives you any hints.) He also adapted the morning schedule to eat breakfast before his “Six Months to Sexy” exercise routine, which meant that I had to eat breakfast and shower during time allotted for personal study. This wouldn’t have been a problem if he were also not 1) required to send in reports on my adherence to mission rules and 2) inclined to say I was “disobedient” to the rules regarding schedule if I were 15 seconds off the prescribed times. And when we were out and about, I swear he spent more time regaling me with stories about how he’d broken into every high school in Utah Valley and about all the girls he hoped were still available when he’d get home.

    Needless to say, when I found myself training I bought cakes for them upon arrival, lent them food and money without keeping track, and was more lenient with the precision of the schedule. That’s not to say I didn’t have problems—I had plenty—but I tried to learn from others’ mistakes.

  24. Late to the party . . .

    I had some advantages and some disadvantages as a missionary, but to stick to Angela’s big questions and avoid too much mention of how cute she is (I was trying to put my finger on it, and someone pegged it with ‘Molly Ringwald’), I think my biggest advantage was my age. I turned 22 the day before l left the MTC in April 1987 for Sicily. I had not grown up in the Church, had only briefly visited Utah (not counting the MTC), and had attended a very large, diverse, secular university for 3.5 years prior to my departure. Italy was a culture shock, but the insularity of many of my sheltered heart-of-Mormondom companions was almost a bigger one. As a recovering Catholic from the “real world,” I could relate to investigators and people we spoke with better and less judgmentally than some of my colleagues.

    My biggest disadvantage, aside from extreme introversion and a strong tendency to think too much, was also age-related: I’d been a member for 13 months when I entered the MTC. I simply had no fetchin’ idea what I was doing. If I had known, I might not have been so anxious to go, despite the very strong prompting that I needed to. (Anxiety, in fact, played a very large part in my entire mission experience.) I had a lot of book-larnin’, a strong testimony, a good logical understanding, but not much clue as to how people worked. In addition, I was handicapped by having been a pretty “golden” convert – the Church for me turned out to be something I had been looking for, I devoured everything I could find out about it, and my spiritual conversion experience was both very strong and very, very fast. I suppose I thought that it should be self-evident to everyone, that my experience was the way it was supposed to work.

    It did not.

    Fortunately, my mission president was a local, whose home city was inside the mission boundaries, and although a few gung-ho elders tried the Dyer approach, he shot it down pretty quickly and insisted on an orderly approach to baptism and conversion. I had a serious run-in with one Dyer-oriented elder (my ZL!) about that in a remote city during a beastly hot summer month in which things really went badly for the four of us, necessitating a corrective visit from Prez. That good elder and I have long since apologized to one another and can laugh about it now, but it was a difficult time for all of us and, I think, for the branch.

    Although I am sure I touched some hearts, I would be immensely surprised if anyone I taught has joined the Church in the 28 years since I left Italy. Facebook has recently made it possible to re-connect with a few members and old contacts, which has been a great blessing, but I haven’t been fortunate enough to return. Unlike many of my companions, none of my kids has (yet) been called to Italy, either. *Sigh.* Maybe someday.

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