Hola mama y papa!
I love you all so very much! Tell everyone thank you for all of the letters and dearelder.com notes they have sent. Everyone is so encouraging while I go through this time of growth and change. I definitely won't be able to write back to everybody very quickly, but I will try! Being on the Lord's time makes you take more seriously the use of down time because every moment is so important. Just one of the many things I have been drilled in these few days :)
It is not possible to give a full relation of everything that has happened to me since entering the MTC on Wednesday. These last few days would fill a whole journal if I only had the time to write it. So I will give the highlights and the "reader's digest version" as mom would say.
The first thing that happens when a new missionary arrives in the MTC is the placing of the name tag (Dad please improve my grammar, I am typing very quickly). A host missionary (mine was named Elder Howard) takes all of you bags and guides you to a room where a volunteer sister asks you two questions. "Have you been to the temple and received you endowments?" and "Have you been set apart as a missionary by your stake president?" Once you say "yes" to both questions she slides the black name tag onto your pocket and says "You really are a missionary", at least she did for me :) It was a very significant moment and it felt at the same time to be a culmination of years of planning and preparations but also a beginning of something much much bigger. You can probably image the cheshire sized grin that was on my face then.
After receiving the name tag my host missionary dropped off my bags in my residence hall (not a dorm, as all the buildings are consecrated) and took me to my class room to meet the other missionaries in my district. The following was one of the most terrifying, surprising, motivating, and definitely humbling moments of my life. I was one of the last missionaries to arrive in my district (equivalent of a class) and I immediately noticed that I didn't look like the other missionaries there. The teacher arrived shortly after I did and began by saying "Bienvenidos a espanol avanzado. Ustedes van a estar aqui por tres semanas". (Congratulations on your advanced Spanish. You will be here for 3 weeks. loosely translated by Mom and Dad!) As it turns out my phone interview must've gone better than I thought, and they placed me in an advanced Spanish district. Advanced districts are for fluent speakers. They don't get time to study the language as all of their time is focused on learning the teaching methods and lessons in their native language. So in three weeks I will leave the MTC and begin proselyting in Spanish to the real people in St. George Utah. It is like I get three weeks to do what other gringos get to do in nine. I have been humbled literally to tears. But if the Lord wants me to speak Spanish, I will be able to preach sufficiently and with the Spirit. It is His work, and He won't let the weakness of one instrument get in the way. I really do have a testimony that the gift of tongues is real.
As I said earlier I am very different from the people in my Spanish speaking district. (Yes I have permission Dad) We are Hermanas Gonzales, Barrera, Walter, Alspaugh, y Elderes Lopez, Barboza, Medrano, and my companion Elder Herrera. All of them grew up speaking Spanish in their homes, and my companion Elder Herrera is from Peru. As far as Spanish language resources the church has given me to learn, my district is the best one. Mi companero is so extremely patient with me as I struggle to express myself all the time in this language. He gently corrects me when I make mistakes and gives me ideas about how to better learn. For instance, I mentioned to him that it frustrates me that I want to express my testimony so much but I am just not able to, and he challenged me to write out my testimony in Spanish that is meaningful to me and understandable to others. He is pretty much the best. We don't look like each other, act like each other, and definitely don't think like each other, but the Lord prepared us for each other. He thanks me a lot for helping him be obedient and on time as he is not as used to a structured lifestyle. And it is very helpful that he has worked as a Spanish-English translator for years. So the Lord does prepare a way to do hard things, even in 3 weeks. No one learned Spanish overnight, or even in a week, and I'm sure I'll wish for more time when it is time to hop on a little plane down to St. George, but it is amazing that I can already see my progress over a few short days. I have received so many genuine and kind compliments from teachers, from members of beginner and intermediate districts (who have been here much longer), and most importantly from the native speakers of my own district. I think most meaningful was after I got very frustrated when teaching a lesson Elder Herrera said to me "You really do have the preparation to do this thing. You have the ability to touch hearts." And I guess bringing the Spirit is more important that having ability, and all the ability and eloquence in the world amounts to nothing without the power of the Holy Ghost.
Really learning Spanish is just one part of the preparation that takes place in the MTC. Also very important is Making The Change to really become a missionary in attitude, habits, and thoughts. Our branch president(congregation leader, we are not big enough to be a ward) taught us that exact obedience brings miracles. This really resonates with me. How could I not want to obey the Lord with exactness when He has blessed me so much and given me everything? How could I not want miracles to happen, not in my own life, but in the lives of those I will teach? For the miracles that come from obedience truly belong to them.
So in short, I am actually really loving my time here. Up to this point my favorite places to be have been wherever my family is and in the temple (and I guess with my family inside the temple). The MTC is rapidly climbing that list. I love the sense of purification and consecration this place gives, even when I run into the brick wall that is my own weakness. I love you all so much, and I will get to write again on my next preparation day (Thursday). Jesus lives, this work is so real.
Les amo much,
Elder Michael Stewart