September 26, 2012

Mexican Parties and the Bolivians - Week 5

Bonjour, tout le monde!

Well, it's been three wonderful weeks in the MTC. It's been five weeks, but three wonderful weeks. Just kidding, every week is wonderful. Just wanted to give a shout out to my BYU friends who fully understood that.

Anyway, we've had some highs and some lows for this week. Let's start with the good:

This week marked our halfway point in the MTC. We're in here for nine, and we're now finished with five weeks. So, to celebrate the occasion, we decided to have a fete (party). So, on Saturday night, we gathered all of the food we had, went and bought chips and salsa from the bookstore (it's a very diverse bookstore), and invited a select few from the other Paris district to come and party with us. Granted, we may have been celebrating the wrong culture with the whole chips and salsa thing, but we had a good time anyway. We basically had a mountain of food, so we didn't exactly want everyone in the whole MTC to know about it and try to come. I mean, who wouldn't want to hang out with the French missionaries, right? Anyway, since we didn't have enough credit left over on our blue cards to hire a bouncer, we made a secret knock to get into the party, and anyone invited had to know it if they wanted to get in. It's the beat of a French Christmas song in the hymnbook ... we figured no one would figure that out. We turned off the lights and used finger lights and had a miniature dance party to celebrate halfway, then finished off the night with party poppers to really make the celebration complete. (Thanks mom for the finger lights and party poppers!)

Unfortunately, we didn't have enough foresight to take out the garbage before we left for the night. The next day, when we walked in the classroom, the smell of salsa and queso had permeated the walls to the point that none of us could stand to stay in the room for more than a minute or so. Thus, we turned on the fan and let the room air out for a few hours. It was tolerable after that.

And now for the low of the week: they took away The Flavor from us.

During our stay at the MTC, our residence consisted of one small room with four closets and enough beds for the six of us. Then, this week, the MTC decided that it was a fire hazard for six missionaries to sleep in a 10x15 room with barely enough floor space to spread out a Monopoly board. So, they made Elder Wallace and Elder Louis move out of our room and into another room down the hall with some Haitian Creole missionaries. We were all a bit sad, because it felt like they broke up the Fellowship.

Elder Barr took the hit particularly hard. But first, some background: Elder Barr talks in his sleep every night. Sometimes, we all wake up to him screaming, "no no no no no!" or telling us that he thinks we're wrong. It's kind of a throwback to my college roommate telling me I have beautiful eyes while he was sleeping. Anyway, the night that Elder Wallace and Elder Louis moved out, we woke up to Elder Barr turning over in his sleep and saying, "Elder Oliverson, I want Elder Wallace to come back and sing me to sleep. I miss him," to which Elder Oliverson replied, "Elder Barr ... are you awake?" followed by a swift and loud, "I'm awake. I just miss him."

Poor Elder Barr. I think he's okay with it now.

Speaking of the residence, we have some interesting neighbors. They're all Spanish speaking missionaries going to Bolivia, so we just refer to them as the Bolivians. We're not exactly sure if they go to class or not, because every single time we go back to the residence, they're always hanging out in the room. Whenever we see them on campus, they always run up to us saying, "Frenchies! Frenchies! Bon-jurr!" They're leaving today though, so we won't look quite as popular as we're walking around. That's okay though, because I think they only liked us because they came in and took enough food to feed a family of 10 every night when they got hungry. I'm not sure what we'll do with all our food now that the Bolivians are leaving. I suppose we'll just have to eat it ourselves.

If you don't know how MTC teaching works, we teach our teachers who are posing as investigators that they met on their missions. This week, as Elder Barr and I were helping Jean-Michael to prepare for his baptism and learn to keep the Sabbath day holy, we were suggesting activities for him to do in place of shopping and playing sports and working. During the course of the lesson, I mentioned that I played board games and card games with my family, to which he responded with a question asking if he was allowed to gamble on Sundays. As luck would have it, neither Elder Barr nor I knew the word for gambling, so we took a leap of faith and told him that he was allowed to play those kinds of games. When our teacher gave us our feedback, he was excited to point out our mistake. Needless to say, I won't be telling any more investigators that gambling is a good activity to do on Sunday to bring families closer.

We had a secret goal this week to find out our teachers' first names. We refer to them as Frere Larimer or Soeur Larsen, so we never had a chance to find out. We guessed the names of our teachers and put the top votes on the board, but they were reluctant to give up their first names. I suppose it was the only leverage they had over us. But, after turning our teachers against each other, we finally found out the first names of everyone. That was satisfying.

We found out our own names this week as well. Elder Louis from inner-city Boston decided to give us Boston names. I'm Treyvon, plus we have Trissie, J, Jamarcus, Shampoo, and Terrell.

Well, I'm out of time again. Thanks for everyone who sent letters this week. It helps more than you know!

A Bientot,

Elder Trevor "Treyvon" Wilson

September 19, 2012

San Francisco - Week 4

Good afternoon! I hope your week has been as great as mine.

So this Thursday, we went to San Francisco. No big deal. After a short nap, we woke up at 2 in the morning to fly into California to the French Consulate. We took a bus to the Salt Lake airport, the MTC threw a packet of information at us, then left us to fend for ourselves. We had a group of 11 missionaries all going to France, so it was interesting traveling the whole day in a pack. The MTC gave the packet of information and the cell phone to my companion, Elder Barr, which is ironic because he was the only one of us who hadn't flown on a plane before and he was the one responsible to get us through the airport. We all kind of freaked out a little bit when he was dropping papers and our passports and visa paperwork everywhere as soon as we walked into the airport, so we quickly took responsibility for our own paperwork.

Our flight left at around 5, and I sat next to a man going to Oregon to visit his family. He didn't know about missionaries and he was curious about what we did, so I told him about it while trying to fight off the desire to sleep. It was only an hour and a half flight, so we got to San Francisco pretty quick.

Once we got off the plane, we used the cell phone they gave us to call a taxi service. A half hour later, our personal driver named Edgar showed up. He's from the Philippines, and he was really nice to us. But I'll get more into Edgar later. After about 20 minutes of riding in the van to the center of the city, one of our tires went completely flat, and we had to stop in the middle of the road. Since we had been awake for around 6 hours without any breakfast, we asked Edgar where the closest bakery was, got out of the van, and walked a block down to breakfast. We really had to work for it though. Since we were stopped in the middle of the road, we had to hop onto the train tracks for the public transportation system, not get hit by the train, then jump a fence onto the platform to get into the intersection so that we could finally reach the sidewalk. Not 10 seconds after we had gotten out of the van, a drunk man ran up to us asking us if we were Jehovah's Witnesses and asking us if we liked his hat. If you were wondering, his hat wasn't anything special, but we said we liked it and walked away. Life in public is a little different when you wear a missionary name tag. The entire day, basically everyone stared at us. People stared from their cars and people stared from the sidewalk.

Edgar had promised us that there would be a replacement van by the time we finished breakfast, so we took our time and met Edgar back in the middle of the road. When we came back, we discovered that either the replacement van also had a flat tire, or our van had never gotten a replacement. We assumed it was the latter. But since we only had a half hour until our appointment at the consulate, Edgar decided to abandon the plan to get a replacement van and decided to flag down taxis for all of us. Since he wasn't having much luck getting a taxi in the middle of the street, Edgar decided to try for taxis at the nearest intersection and motioned for us to follow him. Let me tell you, we were quite the sight to see. It was a group of 11 missionaries following a Filipino man through the middle of the street like a family of ducks, then hopping train tracks and a fence to get to the other side. I think traffic was slowing down to try to figure out what was going on. Anyway, good ol' Edgar found us a few taxis and paid a little extra so they would be aggressive and get us to the consulate on time. That was a scary ride through the middle of San Francisco. I think our driver laid on the horn more than he let off. But, at least most of us got there safe. Just kidding, all of us got there safe.

The appointment at the consulate only took around 45 minutes since all they needed was a signature and a picture, so we had the whole day to ourselves, but without a driver since the van had a flat tire. So, we found a map of the city and took to the streets because we were determined to have a good time. We eventually made our way through Chinatown, where we were not only a herd of missionaries, but the only ones speaking English and we were significantly taller than everyone else. Then we walked through little Italy, bought some food at Trader Joe's, walked down Lombard Street, and eventually made our way to Fisherman's Wharf. We judged that we had walked at least 10 miles throughout the day. Sometimes, we found some LDS people who were nice and kind of freaked out when they saw such a big group of missionaries. Other times, people would call us a "Big group of Mormons," but they had an odd tendency to forget the second M in Mormon. So, I cheerfully responded with something like, "I don't believe so, sir, but I hope you're having a good day nonetheless." One man responded to the question in an angry voice with, Compared to what?" To which I said, "Why, compared to normal, of course!" I don't think he was having such a good day that day.

Fisherman's Wharf was nice for a few reasons. For one, we liked to stand next to the dancing man dressed as a gold statue because it was the only time during the day that people stared at something besides us. We took some pictures as well, walked around some stores, and had lunch at Boudins ... clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, of course. I was entertained whenever we would be in a store, because we always had people asking us questions. They all thought we worked at the stores because we were all wearing name tags. Silly tourists.

By this time, we finally thought to check the phone. When Elder Barr looked at it, he found out that Edgar had been trying to call us all day because he was concerned with where we were. Apparently, Edgar had fixed the flat tire by himself, then drove to the consulate to wait for us. I guess he just missed us, because he waited outside for three hours, then decided to get out and look inside the building for us. We weren't there anymore so he didn't find us, but after searching for us in the building, he came back to find an $80 parking ticket that he had to pay. Poor Edgar. But, we eventually got a hold of him after we walked around Ghirardelli Square, and we had him take us to the Golden Gate Bridge. People there thought we were in San Francisco for a conference and had us take pictures of their family for them.

We eventually made it back to the airport and while we were waiting in line for security, we kind of got attacked by a group of 50 Polynesians. Apparently their son had just gotten back from a mission and they kind of freaked out when they saw us. They pulled us all out of line since they wanted to take pictures of us, then gave us all candy leis and sent us back on our way. It was a good change to have nice people in San Francisco who recognized us.

The highlight of the day was when we arrived back to the Salt Lake airport. We had planned on eating dinner at Cafe' Rio and had been anticipating it all day. While we were waiting in line to get our food, a nice lady gave us $100 to pay for our dinners. That was the best dinner ever.

Anyway, I don't have enough time to go into more detail, so I'll have to end it there.

Thanks for the letters and the support, and I'll talk to you again next week!

Elder Wilson

Our flat tire.

The bay ... oh and the prison!

Lots of pictures, lots of cameras!

Trevor's MTC companion, Elder Barr.

Our walking path.

Had to get some chocolate!

Elder Louis with his candy lei.

Finally, the end of a very long day. But eating Cafe' Rio made it all worth it!

The Congo jacket as referred to in last week's letter.

September 12, 2012

Congo Jackets and Chainmail Ties - Week 3

Good afternoon, family and friends!

It's been great to hear from you and hear any news about the outside world. Thanks for everything that's been sent!

We're the most experienced French-speaking missionaries in the MTC now. The other districts in the French zone left yesterday, which whittles us down from around 160 French missionaries to maybe 70 or 80 of us now. Since we're the oldest, we're prime targets for being called to speak in Sacrament Meeting. Our church meetings are in French and to give us practice, the counselors of the Branch Presidency call us out of the crowd without warning to have us speak to the congregation in French. Before, we didn't have to worry too much because they call on the more experienced ones, but now the pressure is put on us.

With the mass exodus of French missionaries came a lot of MTC tradition. Objects, clothing, and food are all passed down from generation to generation of French missionaries ... like the Congo Jacket. As the story goes, a missionary going to the Congo ripped off the sleeves off his jacket when he found out that Congo missionaries don't wear sleeves because the weather is too hot and humid. He decided not to take it with him, so it's passed down to the rest of us in the MTC. We're required to wear the Congo jacket on P-days if we don't want bad luck and lack of baptisms for the rest of our missions. We also are handed down signed seat cushions, ties, boxes of food... you name it. We decided to start something of our own. Elder Oliverson of our district used to drive around Smithfield, Utah with a big mustache on the front of his car. We think we're going to give that to the next generation just for fun. Here, Elders - have a four foot long moustache.

Since the other Elders were leaving, we staged a heist early in the morning. Since we spend around 10 hours a day in our classroom, the chairs and desks become fairly important. As it turns out, the new missionaries are given the old, uncomfortable ones and the older missionaries take the larger, nice desks. But, since there are more younger missionaries than there are older missionaries, we had to steal the desks and chairs out of their room early in the morning before the other Elders could get to it. It's just about as exciting as it gets here in the MTC.

Ties are our form of expression and how we show our personality. It's basically our freedom in wardrobe choice every day. So, ties become pretty important here. Every week, there's a secret tie trade hosted by older missionaries in their residence where Elders bring the best they have to offer and do a swap late at night (and by late, I mean 9:00 pm). Not just anyone is invited to these tie trades. You have to be invited by older missionaries in order to know the location and time. Basically, you're invited when someone sees you wearing particularly nice ties day after day. Being the classy and well-dressed Paris missionaries, we're naturally invited every week. We shove as many ties as we can into our pockets and sneak over to the building where the trade happens. It's basically the black market of MTC missionaries. When we get tired of ties, sometimes we just trade it away for new ones. Some ties get legendary between the tie trades. For example, the Chainmail tie. It's a dark gray tie that's for some reason ridiculously stiff ... someone must have soaked it in starch or something. So missionaries for generations have joked that if you're wearing that tie, it can stop bullets like chainmail. Such is the culture of the MTC.

Well, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that we have to fly to San Francisco on Thursday to go to the French consulate and sign visa papers. The good news is that we get to wake up at 2:00 in the morning to make it there in time, so I'll get to have 4 hours of extra study time during the day. Usually, we're not allowed to wake up until 6:30. Oh, wait. Maybe I mixed up the good and the bad news.

(editor's note: originally, Trevor was supposed to go to San Francisco last week, but the date must have changed.) 

We're so excited to go to California though. We're mostly just excited to eat something besides MTC food. We'll get breakfast and lunch in San Francisco, then probably dinner in the airport. Apparently there's a Cafe Rio in the SLC airport. I think it's calling our names.

The sense of time in the MTC is interesting. Everyone says that the days are long and the weeks are short, which is fairly true. I'm just thankful whenever we get to sleep in until 6:30, since we wake up at 5:50 on P-days to do laundry, at 5:45 on Saturdays to do service, at 6:00 on Sundays to get to church on time, and 2:00 this Thursday. The service on Saturdays usually involves cleaning restrooms in one of the large buildings in the MTC or wearing a big vacuum on our backs that make us look like Ghostbusters, which we use for cleaning the stairs.

We found a few missionaries going to Tahiti who are from Paris. We usually just like to hang around them and speak French to practice, and they're pretty cool about it. I think they just enjoy having someone understand them. In return we help them with their English, but they really help us a lot with our French.

Until next week,

Elder Wilson

September 05, 2012

The Flavor of the MTC - Week 2

Well, I'm famous ... Okay, not really, but almost. Let me explain. 

Have you ever seen the Mormon Message called "Lessons I Learned as a Boy" narrated by Gordon B. Hinckley? Of course you have. Everyone has seen that one. If not, go look it up right now.

Done? Okay, good.

The Mormon Message is about two boys who put coins in a farmer's shoe. They go away and hide, and watch the farmer find the coins. Then the farmer prays and cries and everyone is happy. But that's not the important part. The important part is the older boy in the video with the little hat on. That's my companion, Elder Barr. So I'm kind of famous by association, right? You can call me the companion to that guy in the Mormon Message. Okay, you don't have to give me that. But apparently Elder Barr's family has been in a lot of Mormon Messages. I guess his parents and siblings are in one called "The Christmas Spirit." And his sister has a band, and his parents are bodybuilders or something like that. 

But enough about him.

Before I go on, I'll rewind two weeks to the second day in the MTC. You know that feeling when you're asleep and you feel like you're falling when you wake up? Well, so do I. Sometime during the night two Thursdays ago, I decided to roll off my bed to get a drink. The problem was, I had forgotten that I sleep on the top of a bunk bed now, so I couldn't exactly do that. I think I woke up sometime in between the beginning of falling and falling on my shoulder. I kind of laid on the floor in pain for a few minutes, then decided to get in bed and lay awake the rest of the night. But it really wasn't THAT bad. I was wondering why the other Elders in the room didn't say anything. I figured they either slept through it, didn't really care, or just laughed to themselves and went back to sleep. But when I got out of the shower the next morning, Elder Price said something along the lines of, "Elder Wilson, did you ... fall out of bed last night?" I guess they all woke up when I hit the floor. We thought it was funny afterwards though. Needless to say, I try to sleep on the other side of the bed now.

I think there's two black guys in the entire MTC, and they're both in my district. They're named Elder Wallace and Elder Louis from California and Boston. They add the flavor to the district. It's like the pepper to our salt. Anyway, they beat box and sing all day, so they're like our radio. Sometimes they beat box and sing Journey while we walk through the MTC campus and by the time we get to the other side, I think we have everyone in the MTC singing the same song. That's why we add the flavor to the MTC. Somehow, Elder Wallace and Elder Louis get everyone in the showers to harmonize together to a Disney song. The MTC does weird things to you I suppose.

Every night when we come home, our whole residence hall smells like Hot Pockets. They sell them in the vending machines, and for some twisted reason, everyone in here feels like they need to have one every night. Hopefully that tradition stops sometime soon.

It's funny that we all think Fast Sunday is a break. It's nice to have a day that we ONLY have church, a two hour mission conference, a fireside, scripture study, and where we don't eat any food until 6. What a relaxing day. But that's what happens when you spend 12 hours in a 10 x 10 classroom every other day of the week except P-Day.

Elder Barr and I committed our investigator to baptism during the fourth lesson. We have two new investigators now, named Marie and Jean-Michael. 

Laundry is the most awful part of the MTC. Try throwing 200 missionaries in a room with 75 washers, crank up the heat to 85 degrees or so, and then tell the missionaries that the only thing standing between them and their one source of communication with their family is doing the laundry. It's kind of like dropping a few hundred dollar bills in the middle of Disneyland. Everyone fights for the machines. People start coming at 4:45 in the morning to do laundry. Party.

Underneath all the MTC desks, Elders write their names, missions and dates of service. It's like a whole MTC history on the bottom of every desk. The Elder before me went to the France Lyon mission.

Keep the flavor and stay chouette.

Elder Wilson

My MTC district: l-r, Elder Oliverson, Elder Price, Me, Elder Barr, Elder Louis and Elder Wallace. Front, Sister Hill and Sister Rhondeau

The obligatory map pointing photo!

All of my study materials.

Two of my good friends. Elder McDonald (l), my roommate at BYU who is going to Armenia and Elder Bryant (r), my friend from BYU, going to Italy.

September 02, 2012

Same Week ... Second Letter!

Two letters in one week. We feel lucky and blessed! This one was through snail mail and included some personal letters to Leanne and Blake. 

Mom and Dad,

Sorry I didn't send any pictures on Tuesday. They don't have a way to do it here because the computers are so restricted. I'll have to send the SD card home.

I had a lot more I wanted to say in the email too, but 30 minutes isn't enough time. Thanks for the box of cookies! It's fun to get anything while we're here.

Like I said ... everyone in the MTC gives 1/2 hour long discussions starting on the Friday after they get here. They don't baby us around. They call us out of the congregation on Sundays to give talks on the spot ... in French. 

The food here is good and we usually eat pretty healthy. Although I do allow myself one glass of chocolate milk everyday. Half chocolate milk, half regular milk of course! It's just too good. I run a mile every day and lift weights at the gym. The days are long, but it's fun being with my district! We click really well. 

I feel like I've gotten used to the prayers ... just not so used to French prayers. It took me a few days to be able to say everything I want to in my French prayers. It comes easy now though. 

Like you, I've been pleasantly surprised at the amount of positive coverage the church has been given. Maybe we aren't so weird after all.

Also ... we're going to San Francisco on September 5th to sign our Visas. Yay! AND, my estimated departure date is October 22nd. 

Love you guys!

Elder Wilson