Friday, December 25, 2015

Week 5 - Hydroplaning Elders, Lots of French, and Christmas

Hello World! I hope that everything is well."I hope that Star Wars VII lived up to your expectations!" He said without a trace of envy or bitterness in this voice!

This is the second to last time I'll be emailing you from the MTC. It'll be different after that. The emails will smell of cheese and be generally snootier. Look forward to that. In seriousness, the days are counting down and I'm both wildly enthused and anxious. I am grateful for the chance I've had to be here and all the people who have lent me support while I'm here. I am grateful for all the people (read as: all of you) who have played a role in my life before this that have led me to this point!

The universe breathed a great sigh of cosmic satisfaction this week. I, Elder Hacker-- (ironically) note the last name, was called as the zone Internet Coordinator. Which is a glorified way of saying I help the new ones learn how to use a computer. 

We've had a bit of snow recently. Gym floors are slick. During our gym time the frequency of Elders hydroplaning has jumped from zero to one. Poor Elder Anonymous was running to retrieve the stray ball, at full speed, to stop it from bouncing into any one else's space. In a glorious slide that lasted a good 6 seconds he lost control and found himself firmly on the earth God has so lovingly created. 

We had an activity about Jacob 5 earlier this week. The second counselor in the branch presidency makes his own blends of grape juice. They were remarkable. His name is Brother Markam. That was almost a pun

The grape juice that the counselor in the branch presidency shared with the missionaries.
Having some fun with the grape juice

There's been a lot of awesome experiences this week with the language. I had the chance to bless the sacrament this Sunday in French. The feeling was overwhelming. To imagine that I'd be sharing this with the people in France shortly moved me very deeply. The opportunity to feel the love and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ transcend language was something else. Additionally I had the chance to give a blessing in French. That was equally astounding. It was simple, to help someone be able to quit smoking and feel that she is loved by God, but it was a very spiritual experience.

Elder Dunoskovic got a nerf gun. We used our whole evening free time trying to catch the bullet out of the air. 

This week, while reading in Moroni 7, we were talking about charity and the sources of love. At length, I learned that in many ways, Charity is the opposite of pride. Typically, and according to a dictionary, I think a person would say that humility is the opposite of pride. Charity, the pure love of Jesus Christ, the love mother's feel for their children, the love of people you have never met, the love of turning outward... leaves no room for being selfish. It leaves no room for being prideful. Pursuing the best for others not only finds you the best also, but also leaves one humble. The challenge is to turn moments of charity-- like an act of service, into a lifestyle of charity. A lifestyle of love that cares not for any gender, race, differences, differing opinions, or how annoying the other person is. When you lose yourself in other people, you find yourself. And there is no greater example of love than that of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ loves you. He knows exactly what your feeling. This Christmas, if you would read in Luke Chapter 2, the story of the birth of the Savoir. And meditate in your heart and your mind what that means for you. And if you aren't sure what that means to you to pray to know what it means for you. Ask what the Savoir has done for you. Ask if he loves you. Pray with a real desire to know more. Pray with faith-- even just a desire to believe-- to learn and grow.

Christmas lights at the MTC

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Week 4 - Snowman, Teaching Practice, and the Difference Between Death and Love

Salut tout le monde!

I hope that this email finds all of you in good health and cheer. I hope that you're having a happy holiday season full of capitalism and maybe a wee bit of family affection too. Happy holidays! I'm now past the halfway point in my sojourn here at the MTC. The food has grown a little less exciting I sadly concede. The general atmosphere of spirituality and fun is still here in full force. Increased if anything. It feels bizarre to say that it's approaching rapidly a months time. I am blessed to have this opportunity.

A fair distance from the temple this morning we decided to build a snowman then dress him up all missionary for a nice photo. Included is that photo. There may or may not have been several throaty renditions of the Frozen classic, "Do you want to build a snowman?". I cannot confirm this. Elder Dunoskovic had never built a snowman before-- he was raised on hyper masculinity and testosterone ;-)  Even he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

We had a change in how classroom time is used. Now we teach other pairs of missionaries in their respective investigator personas 4 times a week. (I tried to name mine both Javert and Jean ValJean but ultimately decided that it was difficult to seriously ask, "Javert, will you commit to reading and praying to know the Livre de Mormon is true?") We also teach two french-speaking church members, in person here or via Skype in France, on Wednesday. We teach "Quentin", the lovely train conductor who has a curious heart of gold once a week. And we teach "Totokura", a poor smoker who can barely afford food and struggles with an unhealthy alcoholic cohabitant. It's quite the spectrum of practice. It's always a lot of fun to share such a message.

I ran into Elder Mark Kim twice this week! It was a nice surprise to see a familiar face. It felt very unnatural to refer to him as Elder Kim though.

The next French speaking group will arrive this week. We are now officially the oldest French speaking trainees now. The former seniors just left yesterday: Mostly to French speaking islands.

I had the chance to welcome senior couples to the MTC but not the young missionaries. It was a wonderful opportunity and a lot of fun. They probably cry a fair bit less too.

Speaking about the language: on Monday we spoke only French. It was difficult and a grammatical catastrophe but very good practice. Additionally, the words for:
'the love'---> l'amour
'the death'---> la mort
Because the French loath clear communication these are pronounced very similarly. The only difference is with 'the love' you make a make a slightly different nasal sound. we were teaching a lesson and my companion and I are bearing testimony about the love of God and Jesus Christ. As one can guess we were not saying the right word.

Which leads to the obligatory-but-thoroughly-enjoyable-testimony part of this email. What kind of missionary would I be if I didn't include it? As the Christmas season dawns with bright colored bows and whatnot, I'd like to take a moment and reflect on love. I love my family. I love my friends. I love the wonderful gospel that is put on the earth. I love the ability to progress and overcome weaknesses. I love forgiveness. I love Jesus Christ and the atoning sacrifice he performed for us. I love my Father in Heaven. And whether you love all those same things or not, I know that season is a time for loving others. It's a time to reflect a minute amount of the love our creator has for us, outward. Turn not in but outward this season. Lose yourself in the wonder of other people. Love strangers, family, and friends. I promise that if you do this you'll find yourself going closer to Christ whether you wanted to or not. I challenge the readers this season to make a conscious effort to love other people. And to kneel in prayer and give thanks for all those you love. In doing so you will feel the peace and love of God in turn. Je dis ces choses au le nom de J├ęsus-Christ, amen. 

And that's all she wrote. Thank you for your continued love and support.

Included is the attempt by the souers to take a photo of them all jumping.

Avec la mort-
Elder Hacker

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Week 3 - December 8, 2015  Fast Sunday, Teaching Members, and Dictator-Butlers


This email commemorates the 21st day here at the MTC. My sojourn here is about half complete now. And might I just say it's already been a wonderful unforgettable experience. There is a diversity of culture, testimony, ideas unheard to me before. I have two awesome instructors. There is a very strong presence of the Spirit here. The days are impossibly long but unbelievably fast too.

This Sunday was fast Sunday and was thus a little unusual. We had dinner Saturday at around five. Then in lieu of the normal breakfast and lunch meals, we had more meetings. There are a lot of meetings here. One where the Branch president spoke and one where we generally discussed how to "Endure to the End". The real highlight was the sacrament meeting itself. The meeting is maybe 60-70 people. All French-speaking save one Elder who is going to the Haitian-Creole Boston mission. Haitian Creole sounds a bit like caveman French. We can all understand what he says for the most part. The Sacrament itself and all the hymns are done in French, after which the remaining time was turned over to the missionaries to bear testimony in their mission language. To no surprise the testimonies were continuous and there was never that awkward silence falling over the congregation. The testimonies borne were simple-- in part because we don't know how to say anything other than simple things, but that made them all the more beautiful: All these young beautiful people expressing simple truths about God, Jesus Christ, and what they (they being the young beautiful people) believe, while the Holy Ghost echoed the truthfulness of their words. It was very cool and spiritually uplifting.

This Wednesday we had the chance to share a brief spiritual message with people who are already members of the church. It's quite the change of pace from the usual role playing with instructors. It was a nice break and was much more relaxed. Speaking in our broken and pause-filled French is still a struggle however. My companion and I talked with a returned missionary who served in Africa, and a French teacher mother plus ten year old kid. It was both heart-warming and slightly demoralizing, mostly the former, to hear a ten year old raised here in Utah speak French with better fluency than us. 

Missionaries staring thoughtfully out the window

There had been some construction going on outside the residence hall. And there were a few loose bricks here and there. Seeking to satisfy my desire for a unique keepsake here from the MTC, I wanted to take a piece of the building itself. While I don't remember stealing specifically being banned, I assumed it was included in the umbrella of things not to do. So every day I'd pass by those bricks, casting a longing glance, then wander off to class or a meal or whatever else I had for the day. One evening I walked outside to find the construction worker hard at work fixing the building. I asked him if I could "steal" one of those bricks. He helped me pick out a nice one. My theft was now justified. So the moral of the story is patience justifies whatever crimes you'd like (just kidding).

The brick

The other notable thing this week was an activity I proposed to the other three Elders I live with: I'd say a career, then we decide which of the four of us is that career would be suitable for. It was decided that none of should be a secretary. I'd make a solid surgeon, an excellent explorer- think Lewis and Clark with coonskin cap-, a butler, a teacher/professor, as well as the most suitable to be a dictator of the four. My companion Elder Iacopucci will be one or multiple of the following: a fencer, chef, actor, orca handler. Elder Dunoskovic is suited for farming, detective work, authorship, piracy of the non-digital variety, and a hitman. Elder Taylor is the astronaut, film directer, pilot, and clam diver. That should also serve as a bit of description about each of us.

I'd like to end this email with a thank you, a testimony, and a challenge. Thank you for those who have supported me, both before I embarked in my service and during. I'm grateful to hear from and about you and have you in my prayers. Stay fresh wherever you are. Je vous aime. I'd like to write briefly about faith here for a moment. As I've been teaching "investigators", chatting with a myriad of missionaries, and soul-searching myself, I've seen the whole spectrum of faith. People who have none. People who have loads. People who believe one thing and don't really know another to be true. Myself included in these categories. And it doesn't really matter in a lot of ways what quantity you have. A lot of missionaries and one of the people we teach seem to not think this: They try and quantify how much they believe things. For faith is not to have a perfect knowledge. It can even be to have know knowledge and simply desire to believe. That's all it takes to start. Simply a desire to believe things. Whatever quantity of belief you profess to have is enough, simply because it's there at all. And you grow it by using it. You grow it by acting on it. You grow it be reading the Book of Mormon and asking through prayer if it's true. You grow it be seeking after the truth willing to believe whatever answer you find. So my challenge would be to read Alma 32 in the Book of Mormon (if you have one-- if not the material is free to access via technology. The church has an app for all the scriptures.) and learn about faith. And then strive to act on whatever faith you do have. Water those seeds.

With affection.
-Elder Hacker

Another "Sweater Monday" for the District

The less reverent version of the "Sweater Monday" picture

And from another email Alex sent answering some of our questions:

The food is still pretty great! No complaints. They repeat various types of burgers and sandwiches often but the other line has yet to repeat. They get the BYU creamery ice-cream on Tuesdays and Sundays which would probably default as my favorite.

The Branch president is President Dowling. The mission is all French speaking save a Haitian-Creole speaking Elder headed to Boston.  Sundays are marked by Church service, a devotional in the evening-- someone in the Quorum of the Seventy or a high ranking MTC guy so far, a film (generally a general authority's past talks here at the MTC). There are a few hours of class-time also. We have a district based Sunday School thing and meet as a Zone for a devotional review/testimony meeting.

So besides Thanksgiving I hear a devotional every Sunday and Tuesday.

The choir which I'm still in performs every Tuesday devotional.

Our service project is setting up for the devotionals Saturday night after our gym time. Lot's of putting chairs in lines.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Week 2 December 1, 2015 Stool Samples and the Benefits of Inadvertent Disobedience

A lot has happened this week. Thanksgiving and all. The MTC has been a busy place indeed! I'll try to write most of what happened here:

I have two feces related stories to start with.

Firstly: Belgium is all sorts of uptight about their immigration policies. They are afraid of "foreign fecal parasites" apparently. So we were called into the medical office and given a white paper bag with a bio-hazard vial inside of it, gloves, and plastic tub, etc... And it was our job- nay our privilege- to return with a feces sample. There was a great deal of moaning and groaning and consumption of fiber bars on the part of our district. In the end over the course of two days we had all finished our task and happily returned with a filled white bag.

Secondly: I have in my twenty years occupied a great deal of space outside. I have also been underneath many birds in my life. I have seen a great deal of bird waste on things before, including my car. I have never, however, up unto this point occupied the same space as falling bird feces before. Until this week that is. There isn't even much uncovered space for such event to occur at the MTC. Most of it has covered canopies! I cannot stress my amazement as I reached down to wipe what I assumed was a scuff or a bit of road salt off my shoe only and found something far less pleasant but equally rare. This is the least likely event that's ever happened to me and man was I pumped! I exclaimed with enthusiasm to my district about what had befallen my shoe. This has been a defining moment of my mission so far.

So the other big event would be Thanksgiving! They relieve us from the normal classroom studies and instead gave us a sweet Thanksgiving meal. Served in the cafeteria but real turkey, excessive potatos (Take that Dan Quayle), yams, fruit salad, pie(s), green beans-- all the fixings. After Lunch we had a service project. We formed ridiculous assembly lines of missionaries and filled and sealed some 357,947(?) meals for hungry children. It was a great deal of fun and not a lot of work. Serving your fellow is always a peace-bringing and fun experience. Then we had a thanksgiving devotional. Elder Dallin H Oaks spoke as did his wife. With a number of musical numbers. Many of which included his family playing instruments. They had an Oaks string quartet of sorts that were particularly moving. He spoke strongly about family and gratitude. Hearing an apostle of God speak so close was an amazing opportunity. I'm grateful. We actually had three devotional's that day. Another one was on humanitarian aid. The other was just about gratitude. Then we have dinner. We had earlier in the day thrown together some weak PBandJ's with chips and drink. We returned to our classroom as a district (just the ten of us), and pushed our desks into a cute little table and ate while sharing stories of gratitude and family and love. It was a very nice time.

The disobedience part now: We have to change our sheets weekly. And all the other elders did so enthusiastically. I forgot. And did not take the old ones off my bed. The other three elders had thrown their sheets down the hungry maw of a laundry chute with abandon. As it turns out, they had no clean sheets. My disobedience was punished with still having sheets. The others suffered.

Sunday rolled around. My companion is the district leader and he learned suddenly that he was supposed to teach an hour long lesson... avec companion, after sacrament. So we had a few minutes to prepare and threw together a little ditty about baptism and the Holy Ghost. It was actually a great deal of fun and we had awesome class participation and discussion.

We had our first snow this week! And second. They flip on the Christmas lights and it's beautiful at night. With a light layer of white.

We went to the temple again-- that was awesome. On the way out we ran into an Arabic (I think) Elder and his companion. He was pretty new to snow one might imagine. So he had, on temple grounds, built a wee little snowman, like a foot tall perhaps. It was heart-warming. He was terribly a embarrassed and refused to take a picture with it though.
To the temple on a snowy day

The district by the temple

Some Blue Steel, part Le Tigre, and a bunch of soeurs who wouldn't "look fierce" when politely asked :-)
The heartwarming tiny snowman

And the elder who made it

[Additional Email from Alex answering questions]

The MTC is already shaping up to be awesome. I love hearing about the family and all the things that are going on there. However mundane they may seem to you guys, it's wildly exciting over here.

The orange juice has had no adverse affects. I mostly drink cranberry juice or water though. The food is the best of a cafeteria I've had, but it's still cafeteria food. No repeats yet! They seem to have a lot of variety at least! I'm enjoying it. I see how people can gain weight though. The unlimit-ness of it all surely helps.

There is only one class and that is french/teaching/everything else.I have two instructors now. They are both amazing and impart such fantastic advice and testimony! We teach once every normal day and have two member teaching appointments (in french also) on Wednesday. These can be skype calls too. And multiple people. They are stressful but the spirit helps so much. I string together sentences with double or triple the fluency whenever I'm teaching.

Gym time is nice. If anything it's nice to just stop thinking for an hour or so. I either basketball, volleyball, or four square usually. I've ran a few times. The gym is not crowded at all right now because we are in a missionary low point right now. Until Wednesday at least.

We got to welcome and navigate the old couple missionaries too. That was interesting. They range from super pumped, ready-for-our-fifth-mission, raring-to-go geezers, to hesitant, nervous people who aren't quite sure if they're ready to leave Oklahoma for Siberian wastes.

Week 1 November 24, 2015 First email from the MTC

Bonjour family! It was a great joy to read all your emails and to get your packages and whatnot! I've missed you guys. The Dear Elder messages have been awesome. I got a package full of goodies and I'm very thankful! You guys did wonderful. My companion and the other elders are thankful too. I only get an hour to email so I'll try and fit it all into one.

First: I'll answer your questions the best I can! Right after you dropped me off I followed that nice elder who's learning Mandarin who picked me up at the curb. We went through a building and got our missionary ID cards-- the ones that they add six dollars on every week. You use them to get into buildings. There was no grand meeting or orientation. We went from building to building collecting books and papers with schedules and information like that. Then I was dropped off at the class room. I sat next to my newly-met companion and the teacher Frere (Brother) Kellet entered and spoke only in French for three hours. They were not gentle introducing us in the language at all! I do not recall that much from high school it turns out! Then after that mentally-sapping excursion we went off and did some other stuff.
And he's off...

My companion Elder Iacopucci is from New Hampshire.He sometimes says that things are wicked and tapped maple syrup by hand back in the day. It's pronounced like a Y. We get along great and have senses of humor that overlap plenty! He's got an awesome testimony, a heart in the right place, and is the district leader. Which makes me vice-district leader.

Elder Hacker and Elder Iacopucci in front of the Provo Temple

Our room has just the four elders. Elder Taylor of California is the tanner one in the picture attached. That's all four of us on the first day. Elder Dunoscovic (It's a Croatian last name) is from Utah and he's the other with lighter hair. He has a mad case of the giggles. Elder Taylor references a lot of movies. I'll tell you more about them as time goes on. The shower pressure leaves something to be desired. They have separated stalls and it's warm enough and is never too crowded.
The four roommates on their first day

My district is all going to Paris France save my companion who's off to Eastern Canada. We have the four Elders and six sisters. They are all very nice and it's a hardworking district with a great spirit! I feel close to them already!
The district minus one elder and one sister.  
The whole district
The sisters in the district

6:30 in the morning we woefully roll out of bed and go shower. I descend the ladder since I live in the top bunk. Shower and get all gussied up for the day. Pray. Go to Breakfast from 7-7:30. The we go teach an"investigator" all in French. That lasts anywhere from like two seconds to like 30 minutes. Then we go to class and study for an hour. Companion study for an hour. Language study for an hour. Then we have Lunch at 11:30. Then we have another 4 hour class room session: sometimes with a teacher and sometimes by ourselves. Then dinner at 4:30. After which we have another 3 hour classroom session. Then we have gym time for a bit. And then we go back to the residency hall for sleeping. The first two days were all mixed up and different.
Evening time in the room

A tiny football in flight
On Monday evenings after all is said and done the most beautiful thing happens. All the elders gather up their ties. And go out into the halls. And a makeshift tie bazaar opens up. With trading, and bickering, and the occasional yelling in a foreign language (It's awesome that general small talk covers so many languages. This is by far the most ethnically and linguistically diverse place I've ever been in and I love that. There's a friendly elder from Aruba who pronounces my name in a way that never fails to make me smile. I can't pronounce half of anyone's last names here either.) This tie bazaar is one of my favorite things. Such a beautiful sight and sound.

The people here are very friendly. There's a whole new breed of small talk I've discovered: "What mission are you going to? Do you understand the language as little as I do? Good luck? The hashbrowns are so bad, right?"... stuff like that. The spirit here is something else. Even the cafeteria seems to be filled with the spirit. Studying the scriptures and discussing things and praying have all taken on new meaning while I've been here. It's taxing and difficult but awesome.

Not to say things have been all good. I've been discouraged and fearful and confused at times. But with help from the Lord I've pulled through so far.

I joined MTC choir too.

I can pray in french now.
It's Sweater Monday!