The first few days of the MTC are behind me, and I'm starting to get our schedule down. The first day was crazy, and had no down time at all. They took me to my room, dropped off bags, picked up language materials, and then went straight to class, where we stayed for 3 hours, with no English. We have three teachers-Sestra Tucker, Sestra Vulcrepa, and Sestra Watts. It wasn't too bad because I had learned a bit from Pimsleur (Thanks Aunt LaNae!), but it was still a bit crazy. They just kept repeating things over and over and checking for understanding. Later that night, we had some very interesting experiences. We were in groups of about 20, and moved around different rooms, and each room had a different investigator in it (they spoke English so that part wasn't hard). As we got to know each investigator, asked questions, and shared testimony, the moderator would pause us, ask a few probing questions, give us time to discuss, and then resume our roleplay. The investigators weren't real, but honestly, it didn't really matter. The testimonies we shared were real, and our desire to help them was real too so that's all that really matters. It was also hard to see, that no matter what we did, the investigators never committed to anything. It was hard to see, and it really forced me to examine myself and my shortcomings to find better ways to teach and help people we come in contact with. Anyways, that was day 1.
Thursday was probably the hardest day so far. We had another class with Sestra Tucker, but we didn't really learn any Croatian. The entire class was just her introducing us to Almir, our first investigator, and then giving us instructions to start preparing for the lesson. Still little to no Engleski, but somehow we understood. We had more studying in the afternoon, but we just sat in silence for 3 hours in a room, trying to understand what we were looking at. That was especially hard because at that point I felt like I wasn't going anywhere, and no matter how many times I repeated Moroni 10:4 in Croatian, I still didn't have it memorized. But, after dinner, we had a wonderful meeting with our branch presidency, which really lifted my spirits, and helped me remember why I'm here. One thing our branch president said really hit me. He talked about living in the shallows. Basically, on a river rafting trip, in the rapids, you're moving fast and have to act fast in order to navigate the rapids, but you move a large distance very quickly. However, when you are in the shallows, you don't have to act at all, but you don't go anywhere. Being at the MTC is like living in the rapids all the time, and he encouraged us to jump in, and don't hold back.
Friday was probably the best day. We had some great study sessions, lessons with Sestra Watts and Vulcrepa (side note, Vulcrepa is actually Croatian for either Wolf-tail or pulled turnip. We called her that and she thought it was funny), and then we taught our first lesson to Almir! We had a script with what we wanted to say, as well as a few different pages open to common phrases and other things we might want to ask him. All Croatian. No English. Welcome to day 3. We went through our script pretty quick, with just one big glitch. We asked him "Will you read the Mormonova Knijga (Book of Mormon), and then we *think* he said that he doesn't have one and then asked us if we had one. We didn't, so that hurt. Won't make that mistake again. Anyways, once we were through the script, we didn't know what to do, until he asked us a couple questions. Even though we didn't understand him, we tried to answer what we thought he asked. Then I started making stuff up on the fly, grabbing one or two words from about 20 different phrases that I had in front of me to say something to fill the silence. Right towards the end, I was thinking we needed to set up another appointment with him, so I tried to ask him when we could meet with him again, but I actually said, "Why can we see you again?" He seemed pretty confused, and then I realized what I had said, and corrected it. Then we set up another appointment for (I think) Monday night. We went back to our classroom and laughed about our mess-ups. Then sister Vulcrepa had an amazing lesson (still all in Croatian) about the gift of tongues. She talked about how we can be worthy of the gift of tongues. She had us study a few things in PMG and the scriptures on our own. At one point she asked one of us to read D&C 90:11. I read it, and nothing has every hit me so hard. It basically says that everyone will have the chance to hear the Gospel in their own language, from the mouths of those ordained unto this power. One of the steps to receiving the gift of tongues was to believe in the gift of tongues. I wasn't sure if I did, especially after the rotten day of studying I had had before, but after reading that scripture, I knew it had to be true. But the lesson wasn't over. She kept talking in all Croatian for about 30 more minutes. And I understood so much more of it! I tried to listen and understand as many words as I could, but I didn't understand anything I didn't already know. But somehow, the phrases and sentences were crystal clear as to what they meant. At one point my companion, Starjesina James asked me what she said, and I translated perfectly a string of words I know for a fact I don't know yet. The gift of tongues is real and I'm so glad I got a taste of it last night. The Gospel is true, and I'm so glad I get to share it! I'm loving it here even though it is hard and I'm tired! No pictures this week, sorry. (Although its only been three days, so there's nothing exciting I would take a picture of). Love you all, and can't wait to hear from you!
Starjesina (Star-yesh-ee-nah) Christensen
P.S. My companion reminds me of my cousin, Elder Barnes in Wisconsin!
P.P.S. Credit to Elder Thompson for 'hello from the inside' couldn't resist :)
I’m heading out for 2-years to the Adriatic North Mission, a beautiful area between Greece and Italy. Some days I feel I can do anything, and am thinking along the lines of, “challenge accepted” and “bring it on” in regards to my mission. Other days I wonder, “Whose idea was this? To send me, a scrawny goof from Idaho there?”, until I remember that this is a call from the Lord. I don’t know why Heavenly Father chose me to serve there, but I know that He has many reasons, and I can’t wait to find out why. I know that any assignment that comes from the Lord is inspired, and that he has a plan for me. Furthermore, whatever happens, I know that God will provide a way for me to do what he has commanded.
I want to begin by sharing a letter I received many years ago from a dear friend. It reads:
I just had to write to tell you how much I love you and care for you. Yesterday, I saw you walking and laughing with your friends; I hoped that soon you'd want Me to walk along with you, too. So, I painted you a sunset to close your day and whispered a cool breeze to refresh you. I waited and you never called. I just kept on loving you. As I watched you fall asleep last night, I wanted so much to touch you. I spilled moonlight onto your face- trickling down your cheeks as so many tears have. You didn't even think of me; I wanted so much to comfort you. The next day I exploded a brilliant sunrise into a glorious morning for you. But you woke up late and rushed off to work- you didn't even notice. My sky became cloudy and My tears were the rain. I love you. Oh, if you'd only listen. I really love you. I try to say it in the quiet of the green meadow and in the blue sky. The wind whispers My love throughout the treetops and spills it into the vibrant colors of the flowers. I shout it to you in the thunder of the great waterfalls and compose love songs for birds to sing for you. I warm you with the clothing of My sunshine and perfume the air with nature's sweet scent. My love for you is deeper than the ocean and greater than any need in your heart. If you'd only realize how I care. I died just for you. My Dad sends His love. I want you to meet Him. He cares, too. Fathers are just that way. So please call Me soon. No matter how long it takes, I'll wait because I love you. Your Friend, Jesus Christ
I love the Savior, and I know that he loves each and every one of us. Because of Him, we are never alone. This beautiful way the Savior’s love is portrayed here makes me feel the words of the primary songs, “I Feel my Savior’s Love”, “Beautiful Savior”, and “How Great Thou Art” so much more deeply. Such feelings, I feel, can only be truly expressed fully through music. Many times, when I was feeling worthless or beaten or just not good enough, the words “Heavenly Father, are you really there? And do you hear and answer every child’s prayer?” these words came to my mind, almost so subtly that I didn’t notice. And then, time and time again, I felt my Savior’s love, in all the world around me, and his spirit warmed my heart. Having the Savior in my life means everything to me, and I hope that He means everything to you. In Moses 1:39, it reads, for behold this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. To me, Christ is everything. To Christ, we are everything.
As a missionary, our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. And since “every member a missionary”, that is really the purpose for all of us. Essentially, this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the holy ghost, and enduring to the end. First, faith in Jesus Christ, which is the basis for any testimony we have. By believing in him, we find that we want to follow his teachings, which leads us to repentance. We then repent so that we can follow Christ. In order to fully follow Christ, we must be baptized, as he was, and then receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, to guide us to follow his example as closely as we can. Finally, we must endure to the end. It would be remiss of me if I didn’t include some sort of running analogy, and I feel it fits very well here. When in a long-distance race, I spend most of my time in that race in a state where my body is on the edges of how fast I can run, without it hurting. Towards the end of a race, when going for a final sprint, all pretenses of staying in that zone, and try and push through the pain for my final “kick.” For me, I feel this final sprint is not a part of “enduring” however. In the gospel, we must endure to the end. Heavenly Father knows exactly where our edges are, and what we need to do to become the best that we can be. But this ‘pace’ that Heavenly Father asks of us is not a slow walk that does not challenge us, nor is it a sprint that will leave us collapsed and unable to stand, but a solid run, at the edge of our limits, where we will learn and grow the most. Enduring to the end is not easy, but with our Heavenly Father’s guidance, we can all make it back to him.
Brothers and sisters, I know this church is true. To echo the words of Paul in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” I know that this is God’s church on this earth, and that through this gospel, we can return to live with our father in heaven again. Time and time again, I have put this gospel to the test. And I testify, as Joseph Smith did, “after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!” I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that through Him, the priesthood was restored, and that Jesus Christ lives, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.