This first letter is a clear example of what we call in the mission field "Elder-itis", only I was too green to realize it at the time. Elderitis is contracted by investigators when Elders spend too much time with an investigator, forming more of an emotional, personal attachment than a spiritual one. It can actually be a fine line that’s all too easy to cross for new missionaries. In this particular case, the incredible chaos of trying to teach with all those kids around made it hard to stay for short lessons, which contributed to the Elderitis. Knowing what I know now, we *really* should have started teaching her in a local member’s home much sooner, and arranged some sort of child care so that we could teach her more efficiently. This is definitely one lady that I wish I’d met at the end of mission instead of the beginning.
Mom, Dad, and sisters, (12/7/89)
I’ve had a wonderful week, full of powerful teaching experiences and growing friendships and it’s all sort of come to a peak today. I’m so wiped out. We’ve been teaching S (6 kids under 7?) heavily and I guess I’ve become attached again. I’m beginning to think it’s unavoidable. She’s been accepting it almost completely: praying, reading, studying, came to church, the lot. Been progressing well and we’re very excited. Really, we’ve become close, to her and her kids. We have a great time over there, while teaching. So good that twice a week, we’re there for 3-4 hours teaching one discussion.
Today was a little different. We were there 5 hours today. She said she knows what we teach her is truth and she feels and "sees" the Spirit often when we teach her, but something in "herself" holds her back from getting baptized. She guesses she doesn’t recognize the necessity for proper authority. Then, at the end of the 6th and final discussion, we mention that only member who meet high standards of righteousness can enter the sacred temples (we have to tell them that, I guess). She had a problem with that. Said that God wouldn’t close his doors to anyone. I tried to explain it to her and we got so frustrated that she got up and walked out. She came back 2 minutes later with red eyes and damp face. She tried to explain to me that she understood, but couldn’t believe in that right now. I broke down and cried on the spot. I don’t know why – I guess it was because I cared so much it hurt to see her fighting the truth, combined with my frustration at not being able to explain it clearly. It was a tender moment at best. I felt terrible, but at the same time close to her, knowing that at least she understood and would most likely, someday, accept it.
I really, really wish I could travel back in time and give myself a good thump on the head. No wonder you couldn’t explain it well! The Spirit had left that discussion 4 hours ago! Also, if I’d known my Old Testament just a little beyond a few key scriptures, I could’ve explained that temples have always been this way, since at least Moses’ Tabernacle in the Wilderness. God doesn’t close his doors to anyone, he just sets reasonable expectations for admittance. It’s us weaklings that whine about his expectations being unreasonable.
We’re still going to see her, often I hope. She’s really a wonderful person and she’s said she’ll miss us when we’re transferred. Amazing how strong a bond can form in so little time.
To answer your letters, I could always use a Christmas bonus… clothes and gear are fine (though the ties were sent home because they were NOT English – I got razzed every time I wore them, from members and non-members. I could use more than the 4 I have. Paisleys are safe.) Unexpected expenses like bike repairs and Christmas conference will make $ matters a bit tight in the hear future, though. Send only what you can.
I got a letter from President P about all the changes [in the ward back home]. About the letter from [the mission] President: Elder B says his parents got one too. Had nothing to do with the H’s, he assures me. [referring to the visit I had from a family back home] He send lots of form letters.
Elder B says: "jam on custard!? Yuk!" That’s how odd they are here. They don’t like PB & J, M&C, syrup on pancakes, you know… good stuff 🙂 I’m staying with a newly married couple. He’s American Air Force, she’s English.
Maybe you could talk to the missionaries about coming to dinner without preaching (they’re instructed not to anyway… a spiritual thought at most, referrals at least) and then mention it again to Dad. They’re just hungry and the only reason I asked was because I konw how much I appreciate dinner appointments. I have to say, that news hurt.
I’m referring here to my repeated requests for my parents to ask the Elders back home over for dinner. My dad (an inactive member at the time) evidently saw this as a Trojan Horse tactic of getting him to listen to preaching, accompanied by a healthy dose of guilt. Honestly, all I wanted was for the Elders back home to get as good or better treatment than I was. But I can understand, given where dad was at the time, why he was suspicious.
I’ll call Christmas day between 9am – 2pm your time. Can’t say when ’cause my plans for that day are in the air still and I don’t know when I’ll have access to a phone.
The work’s going great. Couldn’t be busier, for sure. Been so busy, we both got sick. Just a cold, but it slows us down some. 6:30’s awful early when you’re under the weather.
Boy, do I feel like a missionary.
Love, Elder Chris
Mom and all, (12/12/89)
Once again, because of messed up P-day schedules, not much has happened since I last wrote. By "not much" I mean relatively, of course. We helped "decorate" (wallpaper, ceiling paper, and paint) someone’s house on Sat. Nice change. Ought to do service more often to sort of break the monotony. Funny, you’d think that there isn’t much that would be different (day to day) in missionary work, but reality is that surprises are constantly keeping you on your toes. A good prospect for discussions all of a sudden has to be scratched off because her husband says not to come around anymore, S doesn’t show up to church but a guy that was taught 2 years ago just shows up of his own accord. Odd. Gotta be ready for anything. Like when our ward mission leader sent us to a lady’s house as a "cold" contact, but when we get there, we find out she’s actually a member who’s husband (who happened to answer the door) was the guy we met last week at the squash courts playing with the same mission leader. Good grief!
My older, wiser eyes now see the tactic the ward mission leader (a local member overseeing missionary work in the ward) was using, because I’ve shamefully used it myself on occasion. You’re too much of a coward to come out and ask your neighbor if they’d like to meet with the missionaries, so you send them over "blind" just hoping that the "chance" visit will spark something. Lame.
On thing that’s been on my mind occasionally lately is my chosen profession, or rather, lack of one. The direction I’m heading in Engineering offers security and challenges and possible happiness/interest in my job. Another direction is looking… interesting though. Remember you said you always thought I’d be a teacher? Well, with the teaching experiences I’m having here and something that was said in a talk I heard recently, believe it or not, I’m considering that for the first time in years. That "something in a talk" was about your students building your buildings and healing your patients. But if I was to teach, who? where? I find it easier to teach people my own age right now, so should I be a professor? But that requires a doctorate. In what? I’ve had an awful hankering to write lately. But I don’t dare do that full time. So do I teach English? I know I just shouldn’t worry about it out here, but it’s a habit of mine – looking to the future, "never his mind on where he was, what he was doing." (Yoda, to Ben about Luke, Empire Strikes Back)
I asked T what kind of person I was to make the decision easier, but all she had to offer was criticism, so… (Yeah, she’s changing. I’m not sure what to think.) What am I, mom? Am I a people person? Am I really creative? Do I have the work ethic to get a solid degree in Engineering? I’m learning to work harder, but also to broaden my mind, possibly beyond what I may consider a confining, "logical" profession. Argh! I wish missionary work made money. Then at least I wouldn’t have to decide.
For now, I’m fat and happy (fat only in the spiritual sense). Just finished making a Christmas tape w/ Bing Crosby, John Denver, Mormon Tab, and the works. Even Gene Autry and Eartha Kitt ["Santa Baby"? On my mission? Shame on me]. And I’m eating my spontaneous M&C creation (a bit of mac, a bit of cheese, till it looks right – a BIG pot of it). Ahhh. A relaxing P-day at last. Only because the Assistant to the President said we couldn’t go to Birmingham as a district.
Christmas time is nice here too, it’s nice to know. A local radio station has a Santa sleigh drive down (pulled by a John Deere) every street in the area, blaring carols on loudspeakers and sending runners to the houses to collect money for charity. I took some pictures to prove to sis that he’s a world-wide thing. Weird: had to use a flash at 4pm (sun sets at 3.30).
Hope you got the message that I’d like you to mail my US Christmas cards. A lot cheaper that way. And faster. I don’t know what you had in mind for Christmas presents or what have you, but suits are real cheap here. For the same price I got that dark suit (on sale), I can get the suit of my dreams (double-breasted, all wool) at regular price – cheaper when the January sales start. There’s so much to buy here. It’s a test for me, for sure. More music and clothes than… I don’t know, but it’s distracting. You’d love it too. The public markets (traveling) sell good stuff that’s actually in style and all. I’m so worldly. I’m glad I have a tight budget.
I should go. Doubt this’ll reach you by Christmas, actually. Hope all is Christmas-y.
Lots of love, Elder Chris