Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More Language Training at the MTC

Beverly started her MTC training this week. Her tutor is Katie, a young BYU coed who served her mission in Texas (Spanish speaking). Beverly is learning Spanish pronunciation and how to read in Spanish. She's also developing a basic vocabulary. I don't think she's started conjugating verbs yet, but that will come.

For dinner the other night, Beverly gave a blessing on the food. Before giving the prayer, she said, "I hope God won't mind if I read the prayer." So she started the prayer. All went okay until she started flipping pages in her "Spanish task book" so that she could use a variety of phrases. I did all I could to keep from laughing. My response afterwards was, "I think God forgave you for reading the prayer, but I'm not sure He forgave you for flipping pages!" The prayer was great. Beverly is making excellent progress.

Earlier in the week, I gave the first half of the first discussion in Spanish. Rodrigo said I did an fine job with good Spanish grammar and vocabulary. But then today, he "modeled" part of a discussion--as a way of teaching me how it should be done--without actually telling me what I had done wrong. Reading between the lines, I knew what he was saying: "Elder, make your discussion more relaxed, more personal." After watching his model, I could see that I was too formal and tried too hard to follow the lesson plan from Preaching My Gospel. I need to relax and carry on a conversation, more in my own words. Now I just need to develop more of "my own words" in Spanish.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Started Language Training at the MTC

Today (Thursday, April 24) was my first day of language training at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah. I live only 10 minutes away, so I met in person with my tutor, Rodrigo from Mexico City. (Senior missionaries who don't live near the MTC get tutoring via telephone.) Rodrigo is a returned missionary and a BYU student currently studying business, but he has the goal of getting into the BYU accounting program. He works part time teaching Spanish at the MTC.

We speak only Spanish during our lessons. Today we chatted for a few minutes to get to know each other, and then we started our lesson. He gave a spiritual thought and offered a prayer. Then we went over my goals and assignments, which include the following:

  • Learn the five lessons. My homework assignment is to learn the first half of the first missionary lesson. As I understand it, he will present the lesson to me and then I will present it to him at our next class.
  • Speak only Spanish. Our hymn, spiritual thought, prayer, and lesson are all in Spanish.
  • Improve my Spanish vocabulary. We're doing a variety of activities to accomplish this goal, including assigned "tasks" (prepared lessons for a variety of different situations, such as interviews, introductions, and personal experiences), reading newspaper articles from Peru and other Spanish-speaking countries (which will force me to expand my vocabulary beyond the normal religious words), and studying the textbook on Spanish grammar.
  • Improve my pronunciation. Rodrigo will help me with pronunciation when I have a problem, and will assign me "shadow listening tasks," which are written texts with an accompanying CD of native speakers' readings of the texts.

I gave the closing prayer and then asked another teacher to take our picture. We parted with a traditional "abrazo" (hug) and the normal exchange of pleasantries.

I couldn't have asked for a better tutor than Rodrigo. He's bright and friendly, speaks educated Spanish, has clear enunciation (even in casual conversation), has good experience in tutoring Spanish, and takes a spiritual approach to our lessons.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Studying Like Mad

Ever since the last day of Winter 2008 classes at BYU (April 15) and during the finals period, I've been putting in 3-5 hours per day on Spanish and gospel study. I'm studying Predicad Mi Evangelio (Preach My Gospel, the "Guide to Missionary Service") as a means of preparing to preach the gospel in Spanish. I encounter an unknown Spanish vocabulary word about every 4-5 pages. I look it up either online or in my hardcopy dictionary, type it into my Vocabulario document, give its meaning, and write a Spanish sentence that uses the word. Each day, I go through my list of new vocabulary words and try to use them in a new sentence.

My main goal in my pre-MTC study is to be prepared to give all five missionary lessons by the time I arrive in Peru.

My secondary goal in my pre-MTC study is to improve my Spanish grammar and vocabulary. To achieve that goal, I'm studying The Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice by Gordon and Stillman. It's the recommended study guide for returned missions to help them brush up on (and improve) their Spanish. It's a great book. Even though I've been studying Spanish on and off over the past 10 years, I still need to shore up a few finer points of Spanish grammar.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Accepting the Call and Applying for a Visa

Besides meeting with the language training people at the MTC, we did the following this past week:
  • On Thursday (April 10, 2008), we wrote our acceptance message to the First Presidency, signed our acceptance sheet, had our bishop sign it, and mailed it off. I guess that means that we are officially going!
  • On Friday (April 11, 2008), we mailed off our visa application (for a permit to live in Peru, not to get another credit card!). The application goes through the Missionary Department and then onto the Peruvian consulate. We had to buy an ink pad to put our thumbprint on the application, round up our passports to send along with the application, and attach photos that we had taken earlier at the MTC.
  • Tonight (April 13, 2008), I got a call from Rodrigo, my MTC language tutor. He and I will start to meet three times per week starting on Wednesday, April 23.

In sacrament meeting today, the bishop invited me to the stand to announce to the ward about our mission call. Everyone is happy for us--although some seem to be more aware than others of the challenges of living and working in Peru.

On my way home from church today, I was listening to the Travel Show on KSL radio. Coincidentally, the topic was Peru. The travel agents said that Peru is the major tourist destination in South America--and not just because of Machu Picchu. They said that most tourists end up wishing they had spent more time in Lima and other parts of the country because of the many fabulous attractions outside of the Cusco-Machu Picchu area. I agree.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Our Pre-Mission Spanish Training at the MTC

We met yesterday (April 10, 2008) with the woman (Maria Johnson from the Dominican Republic) in charge of language training for couple missionaries at the Provo Missionary Training Center. Wow! Was I impressed. Here's the story:
  1. The MTC has wonderful materials to help train couples before they enter the MTC for their missions: books, handouts, CDs (for listening to native Spanish speakers), and computer tutorials.
  2. The MTC also has a one-on-one tutor program. My wife's tutor is Katie and mine is Rodrigo, neither of whom we have met yet. For couples who can't go to the MTC for face-to-face tutoring, the MTC has a telephone tutoring program.
  3. Before we met with Maria, I assumed that only my wife, who doesn't speak Spanish, would take the classes with a tutor but that I wouldn't, because I speak Spanish already. Not so. I too get a tutor, who will help me review vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, but will also tutor me in Spanish conversation and gospel lessons.
  4. We will meet with our tutors for one hour per week, stay another hour (usually) to do computer tutorials, and have homework of about two hours per day. I figure that by the time we are done, we will have had the equivalent of a 2-semester-hour college course in Spanish conversation.

I'm really excited about all this and am eager to improve my Spanish.

By the way, while we were at the MTC, we went to the travel office to get our visa pictures taken. At the MTC travel office, we had a great chat with a woman named Sharon, who was supervisor of our daughter Melissa when Melissa worked at the MTC while attending BYU. Sharon raved on and on about how competent and hard working Melissa was. In fact, after Melissa had worked there for a while, Sharon assigned Melissa to train all the new employees. It warmed our heart to hear someone else say wonderful things about our wonderful daughter.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Why Some Couples Say 'No' to a Mission

I don't know all the reasons that LDS couples have for not serving a mission in their retired years, but here are a few of them, along with my comments.
  1. "I can't leave my children and grandchildren." Sometimes children and grandchildren have special needs that prevent couples from leaving on a mission, but more often than not, couples just want to stay involved in the lives of their families. I can't blame them. But I feel that our going on a mission sets a strong example and gives a clear message to our children and grandchildren of the importance of the gospel. Some couples report that they get closer to their family by answering the call to serve a mission.
  2. "I can't afford to serve." This is generally not a legitimate reason for refusing to serve. Most wards and stakes have members who are willing to sponsor couple missionaries. In fact, in the mission application papers, you can even specify how much you can afford to spend on a mission, and (from what I read on the church website) couples don't get called to missions that they can't afford.
  3. "I don't want to knock on doors and live mission rules." Well, I personally do want to knock on doors, but most couple missionaries don't have to knock on doors or don't even have the time. There are lots of different kinds of missions, but even a proselyting mission (like ours) is not like being a 20-year-old missionary. The rules are much more flexible.
  4. "I don't have good enough health." This is a legitimate reason for not serving a full-time, foreign mission. But first, most of us who are retired aren't in the best of health anyway, and that shouldn't keep us from serving. In my case, I have atrial fibrillation (which was mostly controlled by an ablation procedure), asthma (controlled by medications), high blood pressure (controlled by medicine and exercise), and sleep apnea (treated with a CPAP machine). Second, there are certain types of missions--even live-at-home missions--that don't require good health.
  5. "I have to take care of an aged parent." This too is a legitimate reason for not serving. My dear mother is not thrilled about my leaving, but she has plenty of family around her to help while I'm gone. (Besides, I don't feel that I can do that much, compared with some others in the family, to help her.)
  6. "I can't handle the food." Frankly, I don't know how my wife will respond to Peruvian cuisine, but she's willing go to Peru and see what happens. She's brave. We'll just have to be careful in what we eat. (I pray that we won't have to offend anyone by not eating food that's offered, but I'm not willing to jeopardize our health by eating questionable food.)
  7. "There are too many places in the world where I don't want to go." I totally understand this sentiment. I really wanted to go on a Spanish-speaking mission, and not to Russia, Ukraine, Mongolia, or Africa. I solved that problem by requesting a Spanish-speaking mission and by noting on my recommendation form that I would prefer not to learn a new language (beyond Spanish).
  8. "A mission just doesn't sound fun." Can't argue there. Missions are hard. Many things about missions are far from being fun. But the joy of service far exceeds any lack of fun. (I'm realistic enough to know that some missions aren't fun and aren't fulfilling, but to a large degree, the feeling of fulfillment is a matter of attitude.)
  9. "I can't leave my house for that long." My wife and I just built and moved into our dream home in Orem, and we own a home in St. George. I'm sure we'll have to do some extra cleaning, painting, and repairing when we get back from our mission, but so what? Homes are just fleeting material goods, not nearly as important as fulfilling our covenants to consecrate everything to the Lord.

The approach that my wife and I took was, "We want to serve. We need to serve. Now let's resolve any problems that might keep us from serving." So away we go!

My Feelings about Going Back to Peru on a Mission

Here are my feelings:
  • The words I would use to describe my feelings include: thrilled, ecstatic, joyous, and thankful.
  • My wife has some deep concerns, of course, including: our living conditions there, Peruvian food, our health, and her (current) inability to speak Spanish.
  • I asked my wife to forgive me for being giddy about our call to Peru. I do empathize with her reservations about serving in Peru, but I can't contain my own enthusiasm.
  • I feel that my emphasis on studying and using Spanish over the past 10 years will pay huge dividends. I feel totally fluent in preaching the gospel and in most common activities. (I'm not so fluent in everyday Spanish conversation, because of a limited vocabulary.) Visits to Peru, Argentina, and Mexico (6 times) over the past decade have really helped, along with my study of grammar and vocabulary.
  • I feel that my service over the past five months as a temple ordinance worker (Timpanogos Utah Temple) has really helped me prepare, by increasing my testimony, improving my ability to memorize things, encouraging me to practice the piano (I am the accompanist in the men's prayer meeting), and putting me in the spirit of spiritual service.
  • I have a deep desire within my soul to bear testimony, through the Spirit and with priesthood authority, of the divinity of our Savior.

Other Observations about the Peru Lima East Mission

Here are some more observations about the Peru Lima East Mission:
  • The area of our mission covers approximately the same area over which I was a zone leader back in 1965 while a young missionary serving in the Andes Mission.
  • When I arrived in Peru in May 1964, missionaries were in none of the cities (except for Lima) currently inside the boundaries of the Peru Lima East Mission.
  • After I had been in Peru for a while, one of the first mountain town to be opened to missionary work was Huancayo (altitude 10,600 ft), in the Region called Junín. When I was zone leader over Huancayo, it had no branch of the church, but just 6 missionaries. In September of 1965, the first branch of the church was organized there. Now (2008) there are 15 wards and two stakes there.
  • The Peru Lima East Mission includes the following stakes: Cerro de Pasco, Huánuco (2 stakes), Huancayo (2 stakes), Lima Bayóvar, Lima La Molina, Lima Las Flores, Lima Rimac, Lima Campoy, Lima Vitarte, Lima Chosica, Lima Canto Grande. That's 8 stakes in Lima and five stakes in the provinces--in regions outside of Lima. The mission also includes two member districts--Tarma and Huancavelica.
  • Cerro de Pasco is the highest city in the world, at an altitude of 14,200 feet above sea level, and hence it is the highest stake of Zion in the church. I've been through Cerro de Pasco six times in my travels between Lima and Huancayo.

Monday, April 7, 2008

About the Peru Lima East Mission

The Peru Lima East Mission:

  • Is about 50,000 square miles in size. That is about the same size as Alabama or Louisiana. Utah is 85,000 square miles in size. The map of the mission is shown below.
  • Has 15 stakes: 10 in Lima, 2 in Huanuco (which had one little branch when I left Peru 42 years ago), 2 in Huancayo (over which I was zone leader before it even had a branch), and 1 in Cerro de Pasco.
  • Includes the Cerro de Pasco Stake, which is the highest Stake of Zion in the world, at 14,200 feet above sea level! I didn't specifically read that it was the highest stake, but I did read that Cerro de Pasco is the highest city in the world. I couldn't confirm the latter. Some online sites say that Potosi, Bolivia, is the highest city, but Cerro de Pasco is 1000 feet higher than Potosi. (BTW, there is a Bolivia Potosi Stake, which a friend of mine says has its headquarters upon on a high plateau over 1000 feet above the city center, making Potosi the highest stake in the world. Whatever.)

  • Covers an area of Peru in which the rate of poverty is about 60%. I'm not sure what constitutes poverty in Peru, but I'm guessing it's lower than the poverty level in the US. And I can't even guess what the rate of poverty is among members of the church there, but I'm guessing that among active members of the church, the poverty rate is low. (I'm not saying this as a positive thing. I'm guessing that poverty-striken members don't stay active.)

  • Includes all eight natural regions of Peru. the major ones of which are the coast (including Lima), la sierra (the high Andes mountainous area), the high jungle, and the low junge or rain forrest of the Amazon basin.

  • Includes (on its border) the mountain Yerupajá (locally called El Carnicero, which means butcher, and refers to the sharp-edged knife shape of the mountain), which is the second-highest point in Peru, at 21,758 feet above sea level. (The highest point in Peru is El Huascarán, at 22,204 feet, but it is not in our mission.)

  • Got a new mission president in July 2008. Surf around this blog for information on Pres. and Sister Leyva.

Map of Peru, with the area of the Peru Lima East Mission marked in red. Each area on the map is a Region (analogous to a state) of Peru, of which there are 25 regions. Our mission includes the regions of Huánuco, Pasco, Junín, and Huancavelica, as well as a piece of the Lima region and the city of Lima.

Receiving our Call

Our four children who live in Utah and their kids all came to the house on April 2, 2008, and we put the other three children (who live in North Carolina, Georgia, and Montana) on the phone, and we opened our letter together.

Here I am on the phone with my son in North Carolina while my wife opens the big white envelope.
We then all enjoyed a pizza party together.
It was a wonderful day.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Timeline for Getting our Mission Call

Here's a timeline of key events in our mission:
  • 1967. In the year that we were married, my wife and I decided we wanted to serve a mission together. That desire has never wavered in the 41 intervening years.
  • December 2000-January 2001. My wife and I, and two of our daughters, served a humanitarian expedition to Peru. I considered this part of the preparation for our upcoming mission to Peru.
  • February 1, 2008. I'm not sure about this date, but some time around here, we started filling out the LDS church's online recommendation forms, with information about almost every aspect of our lives--past church service, education, special skills (music, computers, etc.), language abilities, and medical history.
  • February 15, 2008. We started to get our physical and dental checkups. We needed some shots, and we both needed dental work.
  • March 7, 2008. We finished all our medical and dental checkups.
  • March 9, 2008. We held our final interview with our bishop in the morning and with our stake president in the afternoon. They both completed their part of the recommendation, and turned over the recommendation process to the assistant stake clerk. We received notice, however, that our physician had left off a couple of items that I needed to obtain from him.
  • March 10, 2008. In the morning, I got the needed information from our physician, sent them to our ward clerk, and he submitted the final recommendation.
  • Monday, March 10, 2008, 4:00. Our papers were officially submitted, and we received the official notice of "Recommendation Papers Received."
  • Thursday, March 13, 2008. We got the official notice that our recommendation had been upgraded to "Ready for Assignment." I was surprised that things went that fast, because my medical profile wasn't the best, because of my history with atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries and atrial fibrillation. But because I recently had extensive tests that showed my heart was in good shape, and because I had recently run a half marathon, I guess the medical staff at church headquarters didn't have any issues with my medical condition.
  • Friday, March 28, 2008. We got the official notice that our recommendation has been upgraded to "Call letter sent," which means we'd get on official call in the mail the next Wednesday.
  • Wednesday, April 2, 2008. We received our mission call letter. We had been to our weekly service as ordinance workers at the Timpanogos Temple, and stopped by on our way to work at BYU to see if the mail had come. As we pulled into our cul-de-sac, our postwoman was pulling out. We stopped her and asked if our call had come. She said yes, that she had knocked on our door to hand deliver it, but we weren't at home. We didn't open the letter at that point, but waited until our kids who live in Utah could be there with us to open the letter. We got the kids who don't live in Utah on the phone, and opened our letter at 6:30 pm Utah time. I was thrilled by the call: Peru Lima East Mission. My wife wasn't quite so thrilled because she doesn't speak Spanish, but she knows that the call comes from God.

So from the time from when we started the online recommendation form and began our physical and dental checkups to the time that we got our call in the mail was only six weeks.

Why We Decided To Serve A Mission

Ever since returning from a mission in my youth (1964-1966 in Peru), I've dreamed of returning to Latin America to serve another mission there with my wife. At the same time, even before my wife married me, she had a goal to serve a mission. Her patriarchal blessing (a special recorded, personal priesthood blessing) spoke of her serving as a missionary abroad. She had planned to go on a mission in her youth, but I convinced her to marry me instead. (She has since forgiven me, I hope.) So the question of whether or not my wife and I would go on a mission was never considered. The only question was when. About a year ago, as I was having some heart problems, we decided that now was the time to retire and go on a mission. We notified our respective department chairs and the administration at Brigham Young University, where we were both professors, that we were going to retire early--I at age 63½ and she at age 63--on July 1, 2008. We talked a lot about the kind of mission that we wanted to serve, and we soon narrowed our choices to a temple mission (where we would be full-time temple workers) or a proselyting mission (where we would preach and teach the gospel). We finally decided to request to serve a Spanish-speaking proselyting mission. My wife was apprehensive of this type of mission, because she doesn't yet speak Spanish, but she supported me in this request. After making that decision, we just needed to get the ball rolling to start the missionary recommendation process. I'll talk about that process in the next post on this blog.

Why I Started This Blog

As a senior couple missionary (starting July 2008), I want to share my experiences and feelings about my mission. My audience includes family, friends, fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), those thinking about serving an LDS mission in their youth or in their senior years, and all people interested in learning more about the Mormon Church and its missionary program. My wife and I will become missionaries on Monday, July 14, 2008, as we enter the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah. After a time in Provo, learning more about missionary work, we will serve as full-time missionaries in the Peru Lima East Mission. The headquarters of the mission is in Lima, but most of the mission is in the high Andes of central Peru. This is an area where I served as a young missionary 42 years ago, 1964 to 1966, in what was then called the Andes Mission. Am I excited about returning to Peru? More than you can imagine. I hope over the course of developing this blog, you will feel that enthusiasm and understand why I am overjoyed to return to Peru to share the gospel.