Friday, July 26, 2013

No longer Hermione, I'm now Hagrid!

It used to bother Sydney about capitalization, but since she's limited in time for emailing, she really doesn't care this letter.  I think life at the MTC is getting busier and busier.  I think life in the MTC can make one crazy!

i have two very important items of business with which to begin my letter and they involve two of my very favourite families--the wahlstroms and the whitmores.
wahlstroms--HAPPY BIRTHDAY BISHOP AND ADDIE!!!!!!!! I LOVE YOU SO. MUCH. i wish i could have been there to celebrate both. :)
whitmores--HAPPY WEDDING KENDRA!!!!! i hope everything goes wonderfully and i look forward to LOTS OF PICTURES. also HAPPY END-OF-MISSION COLLIN!!!! WELCOME HOME!!!! i expect you to get a job at the mtc so that i cabn see you before i leave. :)
since i have no real structure or consistency to these letters, this one will simply be a series of lists. i like lists. also, as you can see, i have given up entirely on proper capitalization. i apologize for my informality.
first. a conglomeration of NEWS.
1. they made me sister training leader. i know, right? how did this happen? for those of you who haven't a clue what i'm talking about and for those who have only a vague idea what a sister training leader even is, i shall elucidate. for those who do know, a sister training leader is the equivalent of a zone leader. but for those who don't know, i'll first give some background on the organization of missions in the mtc and beyond. every mission is divided into zones. right now, my zone has about 105 missionaries, all who are learning korean. let me explain that this is UNUSUAL for the mtc. i actually think we have the biggest zone right now. then, those zones are divided up into "don-gees." that's the only word i can think of to describe it. it's a korean word that means the class with whom you graduate, but here in the mtc it means the group of korean-speaking missionaries with whom you enter the mtc. our oldest "don-gee" is leaving on monday and everyone is very UPSET. i don't want to talk about it. anyway, then each "don-gee" is divided into districts. we have three "don-gees" in our zone right now. the oldest one has 6 districts (about 70 missionaries), the second has only one district (10 missionaries) and our "don-gee" has two districts. since we have so many people in our zone, we have two zone leaders and two sister training leaders. i just became the second one.
basically, things are exactly the same as they were before except now i have to attend many tiresome leadership meetings on sunday, continually check up on all the sister missionaries in my zone (you know, making sure they're still alive and not spiraling into a whirlpool of fear and panic), and help welcome the new korean-missionaries when they come into the mtc on wednesday. we essentially just tell them about the mtc and then my fellow sister training leader and i take the new sisters on a tour of the mtc. so, remember when i compared myself to hermione granger? well, now i'm hagrid. just imagine me with a group of new missionaries trailing behind me, calling out, "firs' years! firs' years this way!"
2. we got a new teacher! he's our old investigator from last week, of course (was anyone surprised?) but the cool thing is korean is his first language so he's able to ehlp us A LOT on our pronunciation. the only downfall is he speaks SO FAST. even his english is like one notch shy of warp-speed. i mean, the man speaks faster than i do and that's saying something.
3. i got the bottom bunk. let me repeat. YES, DADDY I GOT THE BOTTOM BUNK. :)
4. i finally saw a friend from pittsburgh!!! brian mccall works at the mtc and he finally found me! he promised me cookies, too. yay, brian!
5. earl count:(She is talking about seeing her uncle in the choir) 2. always exciting, but too far away! can someone talk to the cameramen of the tabernacle choir and tell them earl needs more close-ups? kay, thanks.
6. in our district, we're encouraged to make goals together. so, we have our formal goals--you know, ones like "read all of preach my gospel by the end of the month" and "practice korean together and get better at syl." but, then we have our SECRET goals. the ones that are actually fun to do. the goal we decided upon for our district is that someone has to wear this hideous, paisley tie one of our elders got at the thrift store. every day. for the rest of our nine and a half weeks here. the elders obviously just wear the tie as, well, a tie, but the girls have to be a bit more creative. pappa jameh-nim wore it yesterday at a headband. another sister wore it as a belt. at the end of our stay in the mtc, we're going to give it as a gift to our teacher, forsyth songseng-nim. it's completely ridiculous, but it does encourage district unity. :)
7. i finally figured out what the mtc, and missions in general, remind me of. sorry, of what they remind me. it's like that part in the third harry potter book, when ron is trying to read harry's fortune in divination class. he says, "you're going to suffer, but you're going to be......happy about it." that's it. that's what a mission is like. i'm not going to lie, being a missionary is HARD. there are so many things to do and be and remember, but in the end, it's ALL worth. it brings so much joy and i'm so, SO, happy it's the choice i made.
second. adventures in mealtimes
i must preface this by saying, the mtc cafeteria can make you CRAZY. the longer you stay here, the crazier you get. hence, the stories i shall now tell you.
1. some of the elders we ate lunch with once traded the buns on their hamburgers with DONUTS. laskdjfl;asdfhl;asdghsd. i hope they enjoy having diabetes.
2. there's this game the missionaries in my zone play when they get bored at mealtimes. two people face each other across the table and slide the salt-shaker back and forth. if the salt lands on the edge of the table then the person who the salt is closest to has to shake the salt once into his mouth. and so it goes, back and forth, with the number of shakes going up each round. THEY PLAY TO TEN and clogged arteries abound.
third. adorable native koreans are adorable.
native koreans come into our zone once every two weeks. they're all leaving on monday and, again, SO MUCH SADNESS. but anyway, right now there are six native korean elders in our zone and they just might be my favourite people here. for example...
1. elders yang and kang. they've been here about seven weeks in order to "learn english" because both of them are serving their missions in the us, even though their mission language is korean. i say "learn english" because, i swear, these korean missionaries are SO FLUENT in english. they make me feel sad about me life. anyway, yang and kang have been mine and pappa jameh-nim's buddies since we got here. they always laugh at us and we can never understand why. there was this one time we were complaning about how hard we found calculus and they were both seriously BENT IN TWO, crying with laughter. i still love them though.
2. the other four korean missionaries have to be here for only ten days. they're just learning to be missionaries and then they'll return to korea to serve their missions. they are hilarious. my favorite is when i told them my full name and then the rest of the week they've found me so they can recite my name back to me as fast as they can--"arbanitas sydney elisabeth." it's the best thing in the world. :)\
3. all the korean elders are always hugging...EVERYONE. except the girls, of course. i don't know if this is just a korean thing or if our korean elders are just an affectionate bunch, but it's ADORABLE and i love it.
4. ah! i have more stories, but time is running out! i'll tell them next time. :)
i love you all! i wish i could say more, but for now i must go. till next week.
nitas jameh


Friday, July 19, 2013

Sundays are the Best and "Garlic" Father!

Sydney started her letter with thanking us for the packages we sent.  I guess between Steve and I, we loaded her up with fruit snacks.  Ha ha!   She is still loving the MTC and her district.  The pictures are 1) her name tag 2) Sydney and her companion at the Provo Temple 3) Some of the Elders pointing to where they are going. One is going to Vancouver  4 &5)  Sydney and her companion showing where they are going. 6)  Pointing to Egypt because someone thought their name tags looked Egyptian (Sydney wrote, face palm, after explaining this picture) 7)  Her companion is an art major and drew cartoons of their district. 

I’m back!

Thank you all SO much for all of your lovely letters! You guys are the best. I promise I’m working on replying to them all. It’s just that writing letters by hand takes long and p-day is short. :) But, I’ll get to work, I promise! First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY SARAH!!!!!! I love you so much! I meant to wish you a happy day in my last email, but I sat down at the computer and saw the clock ticking down and literally forgot EVERYTHING I needed to say. Also, YAYAYAYAYAY FOR EMILY IN THE MTC!!!! Lastly, THANK YOU SISTER YOUNG!!!! I got your adorable box of yummy treats a couple of days ago and it seriously MADE. MY. DAY.  Thank you everyone for all the love and the support. You guys make me so happy. :)

Firstly, I must say that Sundays are the best days at the MTC. First of all, it's the one morning of the week when we actually do get to wake up at6:30. Whoever said missionaries wake up at 6:30 every morning was lying because we definitely wake up at 6:10 every day in order to be in our classrooms by 7:00 each day.  Then, on p-days, my district has to wake up at  FIVE THIRTY to be ready for our service/cleaning assignment at six. It’s pretty much the saddest thing in the world, having to wake up extra early on p-day (p-day eves are completely wasted for us), but I guess it just makes waking up at 6:15 the next morning feel like sleeping in. So, that's good.

Anyway, Sundays are the best.   After we wake up and go to breakfast, we have some time for personal scripture study etc. and then all the sisters in the MTC meet together to watch Music and The Spoken Word (This is the weekly broadcast of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, in which they have songs, stories and uplifting words. and have relief society (Relief Society is the women’s organization at our church.   It’s the oldest women’s organization around). Music and The Spoken  Word  was AMAZING. I don't know if it was so amazing because I hadn't listened to music in a few days or because I’m a missionary now, so everything is amazing, but it was SUCH a great way to start my first Sunday at the MTC. Also, I definitely saw Uncle Earl  THREE TIMES. YAYAYAYAYAY!   It was comforting to see a familiar face. :) (My brother-in-law sings in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  We play the game “Where’s Whitmore?”  when we watch the choir.  His last name is Whitmore. )

After Music and The Spoken Word, we had Relief Society. Since there are so many sisters, we can't really have small relief society meetings so we just have a special guest speaker every week. This week it was Carole Mikita from KSL news. (This is a local news station.) She told this amazing story about how one by one, over the course of like twenty-five years, her whole family listened to the missionaries and joined the church. she said that as a little girl, she saw and listened to the missionaries teach her mother and that it was an experience that she remembered and carried with her, her entire life until she finally accepted the gospel as well. I suppose you had to be there, but it was incredible. many joyful tears were shed.

This week we started teaching our first investigator, Kim Gyong Won, IN KOREAN. We met him on Saturday with a short lesson prepared about eternal families.  Not knowing at all what to expect, the lesson went okay. Our Korean was dismal of course, but I think we got him to understand some of what we were trying to convey. Our second lesson, however, was AWESOME. It was the lesson in which I had my first language mix-up and my first missionary miracle! We were talking to him about how God is our Father and that we are all His children. He wasn't really getting it and he kept writing "7 billion people" on the board and shrugging his shoulders (ha. also, teaching lessons in Korean is one part language and one part Pictionary :)). Since he wasn't getting it, I tried to explain to him that god was our heavenly father, unlike our mortal fathers here on earth. Since I couldn't form a complete sentence in Korean, I just kept saying "heavenly" over and over again. Well, what I thought was "heavenly." as I kept saying it, the poor man was looking more and more confused, so I quickly realized I was doing something wrong. Yeah, remember how the fruits and vegetables vocab was pretty much the ONLY vocab I solidly memorized before I left for my mission? Well, the word for heavenly is "haneul”, but I was saying "maneul" which is the word for....garlic. Whoops.

In that same lesson, though, directly after my little language mix-up, I had my first teaching miracle as well. We were then explaining to Kim Gyong Won how when we pray to our heavenly(not garlic) father we can feel the holy spirit.  Again, he wasn't really understanding and we kind of explained things by putting our hands over our hearts and saying, "happiness" over and over again.  That made things a little better and we decided to plow on with the lesson anyway.  We went to give him a scripture to read about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon (ha. now that I think about it, this lesson covered a LOT of material), but he accidentally flipped to the wrong scripture I had marked in my Korean scriptures.  At first, I was horrified, but then after he read the scripture, he looked as if he understood what we had been talking about before.  It turns out the scripture he turned to was D&C 8:2, the scripture I had actually marked earlier that week, about the feeling of the holy spirit.  It reads "Yea, behold, I will tell you in you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.”.   How cool is that! It was exactly what Kim Gyong Won needed and it wasn't even on purpose! A MISSIONARY MIRACLE!

We had two other lessons with Kim Gyong Won later in the week. The third one was a struggle. There was more confusion and drawing on the board and shrugging of the shoulders than is probably good. But our fourth and last lesson went awesome. Because guess what, Kim Gyong Won agreed to be baptized!!!! (Ha. i should probably mention that Kim Gyong Won isn't an actual investigator.  Most of the lessons taught in the MTC are just taught to members that turn out to be your teachers later. But never doubt that it was still SO EXCITING.) Our last lesson was on the characteristics of Christ and how since Christ is such an example to us of how we should be as people, we should likewise follow His example of baptism. At the end of the lesson, Sister P…. and I both bore our testimonies (did I mention that I can both pray and bear testimony in Korean now? because I CAN :)) and as Sister P…. bore her testimony, followed by Kim Gyong Won giving the prayer, I could feel the Spirit. Even in a language that I hardly understand, the Spirit was there. I felt it, in both my mind and in my heart and I was able to understand that it doesn't matter if my Korean is poor and my understanding of the language is small. The Holy Spirit is something that transcends language and culture. It is something that can be felt by everyone.

We truly are all God's children. I know that He loves us, ALL of us, with an infinite love. He wants all of us to hear the message of the Gospel and to live with Him again and I know that He's not going to let my rudimentary Korean skills get in the way of the progression of His work.

I love you all so much.
I pray for you every day.

알바니타스 자매님

(Sister Arvanitas) 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Here's to not throwing up!

To all family and friends,

Steve was able to go out to Utah and drop Sydney off at the MTC on Weds July 10th.  They were able to go to the temple and take pictures beforehand.  Thanks to our friend, Kristi for being the photographer.  You're the best! Steve said he gave her a hug and asked if she was ready.  She replied, " I was born ready"  and bounded into the MTC.   We were a little stunned to receive a letter so soon but, it sounds like she is doing great!  

Family and Friends!
I made it to the MTC! It's so crazy here, but I love it. I thought I would be so nervous the day I came in, but I was seriously fine. Just really excited, actually. I DIDN'T EVEN THROW UP. A rousing (sp?) success on all accounts. I also now know why no one talks about what happens right after one enters the MTC. It's because everything happens SO FAST. Basically a host or hostess (a missionary who has been in the MTC for a long time) picks you up and the curb and helps you with your bags. My hostess was Sister B.... She's going to Taiwan and SHE'S KOREAN. It was so awesome to have the first person I met in the MTC be Korean. She was super nice, but it seriously felt like we were running from place to place, picking up my badge and books and finding my room. Then, straight after we dropped my stuff off, she took me to my class where I slowly met the rest of my district as they trickled in one by one. The whole time our teacher, Forsyth Songsengnim (teacher) was teaching us the alphabet. But I already knew the alphabet so I kind of became the hesitant Hermione Granger of the class. No one else in my district knew the alphabet yet and at first I was like, "Really, guys? That should of been Preparing to Serve a Mission in Korea: Step One." But now it's really cool because I get to help the rest of my district learn the alphabet so we can all be awesome Korean-speaking missionaries together!
The MTC is such a cool place. It's weird to be in a place as familiar as Provo, but still feel like I'm in a completely different country. Every one walking around in companionships is a strange sight. It's like Noah's Ark, only on a bigger scale and with people.
My companion's name is Sister P..... She's from Harryman, Utah,(I'm sure Syd means Herriman, ha ha) but it's really cool because she grew up on the east coast in New York! Also she spent a college semester in Japan, so we're pretty much twins. We get along very well. Seriously, by the end of the first day, I felt like I had known her for years. I guess being with a someone 24/7 will do that to you. There are also two others sisters in our district, Sister H and Sister K. They're both from Hawai'i and actually were childhood friends, until Sister H moved to Utah with her family. But now they get to be companions and are best friends all over again. It's adorable. Also, it's like mine and Soeur Johnson's missions are mixing together! Again!
The boys in our district are super cool too. There are six of them, which makes ten of us in all. Two of our elders--Elder A and Elder B--have become our special favorites, our little brothers/buddies of the MTC. Elder B is half-Korean, but knows not a word of the language. The first day, he looked a little shell-shocked. Elder A is...adorable. He's like a wee babe. My companion and I just want to take care of him and be his...moms. :) Anyway, the rest of the first day is kind of a blur. We went to some sort of orientation and then we had our first teaching experience that night. It wasn't scary though because it was in English and as a group of like forty people. It's kind of hard to explain, but it was good.
The next day--yesterday--we met with our district and had our personal scripture study. Then we went to breakfast and came back to our district. We were supposed to have another sort of orientation. I think it was just supposed to be for our district and the other Korean district that came into the MTC the day before, but allegedly the man who was supposed to teach us...quit. Or something. Anyway, we were pretty much on our own for the whole first half of the day. We just kind of hung out in our classroom and helped each other learn the alphabet. It was a good time.
Later in the afternoon, we had Korean class. Forsyth Songsengnim was back to teach us and it was super nice to have someone to give us some sort of direction. We learned how to say a prayer and bear a short testimony in Korean. Just the bear minimum, really, like, "Dear Heavenly Father. I'm thankful for my family. I'm thankful for my companion. Please bless my family. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen." Anyway, I hope what little we do know goes far because we're teaching our first pretend investigator tomorrow. In Korean. So that's terrifying. However, at the same time I know it will be all right, because as long as we have the Spirit with us, we'll be fine. Our district had a cool experience yesterday while we were practicing our prayers. We had just learned what to say and had had a little time to practice and then our teacher and our little district knelt in a circle in the middle of our classroom to say a prayer. One of the elders was the unlucky soul to get called on to give the prayer and as he stumbled through, blatantly butchering the Korean language, I could still feel the Spirit. I knew that Heavenly Father was pleased with our little group of missionaries as we earnestly tried to learn our language so that we could spread His gospel and proclaim his word, even if our Korean wasn't very good yet.
I think my favorite thing about being a missionary thus far is how much my love for complete strangers has increased. My companion and I haven't even known each other a week, but already I love her as though I've known her my whole life. Her example has already taught me so much and strengthened my testimony. The love I have for all the other missionaries in my district, and here in the MTC even, has increased. I just want to run around, yelling, "Saranghe-yo!" to everyone I meet. I know that this increased capacity to love is a gift that the Lord gives to us. This is truly a Gospel of love and the message we share as missionaries all centers around the idea that we have a Heavenly Father and a Savior, Jesus Christ who love us more than we can ever imagine. I feel that love here in the MTC and I feel it working through me as I encounter the many, many people here.
I love you all!
Sister Arvanitas (Nitas Chameh! I shortened my name because it's too long and sounds cuter this way. Also, chameh means "sister.")

Me: Really? How was it?
Grandpa Arvanitas: ..........I'll never eat kimchi again.