Week 2 – MTC

It’s P-day #3 and I’ve been in the MTC for sixteen days. Some say it flies by but I think it goes by just right. Maybe that will change when I’m about to leave.

With the Kiribati and Malagasy districts departing on Monday, a lot of leadership positions are being switched around. Elder Mahe and I are assigned to be the new zone leaders. Our duties include setting the agenda for sacrament meeting, recording branch council, interviewing district leaders, and carrying around a flip phone that can only receive calls from the front office asking us to find someone in the zone. Right now it’s not so bad but in a week we’re welcoming fifty-nine new Elders and Sisters into the zone. It will be a challenge meeting everyone and learning their names but thankfully Elder Mahe is super friendly and loves talking to new missionaries. We met with the old zone leaders in their dorm and participated in some kind of ritual where you drop a huge rubber-band ball then make your personal addition to the ball and write your name on it. They didn’t know how old it was but judging by the size it had to be at least a decade. They also gave us a bottle of bubble bath soap which we are to never use. The MTC has lots of quirky inside jokes.

The language is coming along great. We walk into lessons now with only the Tongan scriptures and a dictionary in case we can’t remember a word. Usually we can get by just asking each other. It may seem obvious but it’s so much easier to understand what the investigator is saying when you yourself are speaking your own thoughts and not memorized phrases. My main problem is that I listen especially for tense markers and pronouns to help make sense of a sentence, but these are often skipped in casual conversation. There are a few native Tongan Elders in our zone that I’ve tried speaking with and I can barely understand them because of how much slang they use. I imagine it will only get more difficult when I actually arrive in Tonga.

I can’t wait to depart but at the same time I want to hold on to the next four weeks because they’re all I get to prepare myself. I have a feeling I’ll get a big wake-up call when I land in Tonga!

‘Oku ke lava ‘o lau ‘eni? Toki sio!

 

 

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Week 1 – MTC

 

Malo e lelei! It’s been one week and a couple days since I entered the MTC. A lot has happened in such a short time. We attended the Provo Temple, had Elder Bednar talk to us for Sunday devotional, met all of our amazing branch presidency, and played a lot of 4-square, but I feel impressed to go into detail on one specific story:

Since last Friday we have been teaching an investigator named Elisapeti (Tonganized version of Elizabeth). The first lesson was terrible. Elder Mahe was able to make some conversation but I could only read a few scripted lines I took from a book. We gave her a pamphlet and asked her to read it, I think. The next lesson was better, but still very scripted. I asked a couple questions and read some scriptures but couldn’t understand anything Elisapeti replied back with.

We had heard that most of the investigators were just actors, but Elisapeti seemed legit. Elder Mahe said her Tongan was really good and she seemed sincerely interested in our lessons. She must just be a good actor though because we found a Tongan hymnbook in our classroom with pictures of her wearing a missionary name tag. We laughed pretty hard about that. Unfortunately we didn’t take the third lesson so seriously because of that and it was almost as bad as the first.

On Tuesday Elisapeti walked into class and introduced herself as Sister Fotu, our new teacher. She laughed when we told her how we found out she was a fake investigator. Sister Fotu is studying social sciences at BYU to become a high school teacher and it really shows in class. She taught us grammar rules using hand gestures and had us walk outside pointing at people and describing what they were doing. She and Brother Fisher are both great teachers.

On Wednesday Sister Fotu walked in early to class and asked if we were ready to teach her “friend” Elisapeti. Elder Mahe and I had a rough sketch of what to say and ask, but no prepared script to rely on. I felt confident though and decided to bring only some vocabulary and my scriptures. We walked in, said hello and I asked if we could begin with prayer. Elder Mahe prayed and then I asked Elisapeti if she knew about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. She responded with “so-so”, so I explained that God prepared the Atonement because He loves us, and that through Christ we can repent and be made clean. Christ has suffered pains and sorrows so that He can help us overcome our trials and weaknesses. Elder Mahe read Ether 12:27, which talks about bringing our weaknesses to the Lord and turning them into strengths, then asked Elisapeti some questions which I don’t remember. Eventually he asked if she would commit to being baptized, to which she said no. However I invited her to attend church and testified that if she did, her faith and testimony would increase. She agreed. Elder Mahe and I were super happy even just for that. I then closed with a prayer where I thanked God for the Atonement and asked Him for strength and for the Holy Ghost to be with us. That was my first unscripted prayer in Tongan and as I closed, I felt the Spirit burn strongly within me. Even though my Tongan was slow and broken, and Elisapeti isn’t even a real investigator, I was so happy to be able to teach and invite her to church in a language I barely understood, but knew enough to be able to testify and invite the Spirit into our lesson.

The strength of the witness I received then reminded me of when I got home from school this last semester and emailed my stake president telling him I now desired to serve a mission. Although I had decided to serve a couple months previous, I didn’t receive a really strong witness that it was the right thing to do until I actually resumed the process of preparing my mission papers. I have learned a significant lesson from these experiences. Until you exercise faith and act, whether that be praying or submitting your mission papers, you will receive no witness that what you are doing is right. Testimony only comes from sincere, faithful action.

Hope everything is good out in the real world. Exactly one month until I leave for Tonga!

First P-Day

Today’s my first P-Day (preparation day) and we’re only supposed to email once a week so I’ll just quickly summarize my first couple days in the MTC.

The first day was really fast-paced having to get a bunch of books and going to a lot of meetings but I’m pretty well adjusted to the schedule now. The days feel long but I feel like I’ve progressed a lot in the language already and the pace at which I learn should only quicken. I’m in a room with four other elders, all serving in Tonga. My district includes that group plus two sisters. There’s another Tongan district of about the same size, and then we’re all in a zone that includes Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, some other Polynesian islands and ASL. Some of the elders and sisters are actually from Polynesia or Australia, and about half are of Polynesian descent. My companion Elder Mahe is from Utah but his parents moved from Tonga. He can understand the language fairly well but has trouble speaking it himself, which seems to be common among the Polynesian elders. We had a zone meeting last night just to introduce ourselves to everyone and interview with the branch president. He was surprised when I said I had no previous connection to Tonga. Not sure if that’s good or bad.

There’s a lot of work to do but other than learning the language it seems pretty easy. The hardest thing will probably be focusing in class after dinner. There isn’t much free time so by the end of the day we’re mentally exhausted. It’s been a while since I’ve learned a language and never for 9+ hours a day so it feels like I have to rewire my brain to something completely different from what I’m used to. Hopefully I don’t have the opposite challenge coming back.

My roommates and I took a picture last night, which I’ll try posting to the blog when I get a chance.

The Journey Begins

My dad took one final picture as my brother Greg and I get ready to board the plane for the Missionary Training Center.  We’ll arrive in Salt Lake City around 7pm and stay with my sister Katie and her husband Bridger.  Trying to decide which free meal we are going to enjoy tomorrow before reporting in to the MTC.  Lots of great restaurants in SLC/Provo that feed new missionaries for free on the day they report. Excited to arrive at the MTC and meet many new friends!

PG at Airport_sized

Farewell Talk

     Hello brothers and sisters, my name is about to be Elder Watts and I’ve been called to serve in the Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission for 24 months. Almost everyone I tell has no idea where that is so I’ll give you a little background. When I received my call letter, it included a map of the area I’d be serving in. Strangely enough it looks like Utah, except the land is flipped with the water, so my mission is about 95% ocean. The other 5% is the main island Tongatapu and various other islands, all of which is located in the South Pacific Islands, a bit east of Fiji and a bit south of Samoa. The church has had an official presence in Tonga since 1891, and now the country has the highest number of Mormons per capita in the world. One of the best schools in Tonga, the Liahona High School, was opened by the Church in 1952 and the Nuku’alofa Temple was dedicated in 1983.

     The assigned topic for my talk today is “why the Lord calls us to serve missions”. Recently my family visited various Church restoration sites in New York and Pennsylvania, and when I received my topic I thought back on this trip and how the early Saints must have asked the same question: “Why does the Lord call us to serve missions?” I did some research on the first missionaries of the latter days and found an article by Ryan Carr in the September 2004 edition of the New Era, which I’ll paraphrase:

     At the age of 22, Samuel Smith was called by his older brother Joseph Smith to be the first official missionary. Just two months after the church was organized, Samuel left home with only a knapsack full of copies of the Book of Mormon. Sometime that year he met a Methodist preacher named Phineas Young. Samuel bore his testimony of the Book of Mormon and of his brother’s calling as a prophet. Phineas promised to read the book, and in two weeks he read it twice. He was so convinced of its truthfulness that when his congregation asked for his opinion of the book, he defended it for ten minutes, then was filled with the Spirit so strongly he continued preaching its importance and closed by telling the congregation he believed all of it. Phineas Young shared the book with his family including his brother Brigham and another family, the Kimballs. Samuel Smith baptized no one and shared only a few copies of the Book of Mormon, but his work led to the conversion of the prophet Brigham Young and the Apostle Heber C. Kimball, both instrumental in the foundation of the church.

     This story is evidence that missionary work is the key to building up the Church. Converts to the Church become parents, triggering generations of faithful members to come; they become ward and stake leaders, helping others strengthen their faith in the gospel; they even become missionaries, offering a special conversion story that can touch the lives of those in a familiar circumstance. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is built on conversion; without it the gospel would not spread to the four corners of the Earth. Speaking on the sons of Mosiah who had previously persecuted the Church, Mosiah 27: 35-37 reads:

 35 And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.

 36 And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.

 37 And how blessed are they! For they did publish peace; they did publish good tidings of good; and they did declare unto the people that the Lord reigneth.

     From these verses we learn that God uses us as His instruments to bring others the knowledge of the truth. That is why we are called on missions, to give all people around the world the opportunity to hear the gospel, feel the Spirit and come unto Christ.

     I always knew why we are called to serve missions, but for a long time I myself did not want to go. Before I left for school last semester, I met with the stake president to talk about my progress, and we both decided I wasn’t ready. President Harding didn’t lose hope though; among other counsel he challenged me to read the scriptures daily while I was at school. He even told me he knew that ultimately I would decide to serve. At the time my heart was completely against it, and it seemed very unlikely. However, I decided if I would ever know if I should serve, this would be the best time to find out, so I followed his challenge. As I progressed in my scripture study, I didn’t really pay attention to how I felt about serving a mission, but very gradually I grew less opposed to the idea. Since I returned to school halfway through the year, almost all of the roommates on my hall were RM’s, and they definitely had a huge influence on me as well. I don’t even remember making a clear decision to serve, but at some point my fears and doubts disappeared and I just knew I would serve a mission.

    Given how I feel now about it, sometimes I regret having put it off for another year, but I’ve realized my journey to deciding to serve a mission is an important stage of my conversion. Not everyone is ready to go right when they turn 18. I believe my story will help some young man in my mission who is still struggling with the decision to serve. Had I gone after my first year of school it would have been mostly to avoid feeling left out after all of my friends left on their missions and to avoid disappointing my family and church leaders. But now, those pressures aren’t even present when I think about why I’ve decided to serve. Now I am going out of a sense of duty to the Church, my future descendants, and God; I’m going to foster spiritual development in myself and a stronger conversion to the gospel; and most of all I’m going because I already feel a sense of love for the Tongan people and want to help bring them closer to Christ. I am absolutely sure I will be more effective because my motivations are more righteous than they were a year ago, when I would have gone out of fear. The question of how old you are is unimportant compared to the question of why you want to serve.

     That explains why I chose to serve a mission, but my talk is on why the Lord calls us to serve missions. But the great thing is, if you align yourself with Christ, there is no difference. He wants you to serve for the same reasons you want to serve. The missionary purpose given in Preach My Gospel is to invite other to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel. This should be not only our purpose, but our reason for serving. We should serve missions because we want to invite others to come unto Christ. When we align our will with Christ’s and obey His commandments, we gain a stronger connection with the Holy Ghost and more personal revelation, therefore becoming better teachers.

     There is a significant difference between simply obeying the commandments and submitting to the Lord’s will. There’s a story in Luke that exemplifies this. It reads:

    18 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

 19 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.

 20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commitadultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.

 21 And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.

 22 Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.

 23 And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.

 24 And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

     The rich man followed all the commandments likely because they are all good rules to adhere to if you want to be successful. Likewise, following the mission rules will keep you disciplined, safe, and presentable, even if you don’t like them. But then Jesus challenged the rich man’s will to follow Him by instructing him to sell everything he had. There is no commandment that you must be poor, but Jesus proved that the man valued riches more than his salvation. Similarly, missionary service is a Priesthood duty for men, but not a commandment required for salvation. But leaving your family, education or career for two years requires sacrifice, commitment, and humility. I imagine Jesus telling all young men, “Yet lackest thou one thing: leave your family, your school, your work and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me and serve a mission.” Matthew 18:3-4 says:

   And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

     Serving a mission is a test of our child-like humility and obedience to God. We put aside 18 or 24 months of our lives to dedicate ourselves to God’s will. On the law of sacrifice, Joseph Smith said:

“Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; … it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do his will, he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not, nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.”

     From the Prophet Joseph Smith’s words we learn that sacrifice leads directly to an increase in knowledge and faith. I believe the Lord calls us on missions specifically so we can experience this connection of sacrifice and faith for ourselves.

     I am extremely excited to serve the people of Tonga and the Lord for two years, and I’m thankful for my parents, friends, leaders and everyone in the ward for helping me reach this point. I would like to close my talk by bearing my testimony.