Sunday, February 23, 2014

Our First Week in the MTC

We have just completed our first week in the MTC here in Provo.  We are one of 42 couples that entered the MTC this week.  What a spiritual experience it has been to rub shoulders with these faithful people who are leaving all behind to serve the Lord.  We have been overwhelmed by the brotherhood and sisterhood that has existed

From this group there are missionary couples going to South Africa, West Africa, France, Russia, Ukraine, Scotland, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Mexico, Slovenia, Canada, Australia, Greece, Marshall Islands, and then of course New Zealand.  There were also locations inside the United States too: Alaska, Ohio, New York, California, Hawaii, Florida, Texas, Kansas, and Georgia.  Then there were 13 couples that had been called on full-time missions that are live-at-home missionaries in what appears to be a pilot program of calling senior missionaries to work exclusively in their stake with the focus on working with the less active.  Most of these senior couples have served prior missions.  For example Elder and Sister Longhurst who is in our District had served a mission in Germany a few years ago.  All of the 42 couples had special assignments as part of the their calls: MLS (member leadership services), Military Relations, Mission Office, CES (Church Education - seminaries & institute), Family History and such.

Now for the training…  We - the senior missionaries from our group of 42 - were in classes all week together.  We were on the MTC campus eating our meals in the cafeteria with all of the young sisters and elders but we were trained separately.  However we were trained by young sisters and elders who had served missions and are now working at the MTC as instructors. Their enthusiasm, experience, and understanding of PREACH MY GOSPEL was truly visionary insofar as opening the eyes of our understanding on how to go about the Lord's work.  The large group, all 42 couples, were together for a session each morning, then for lunch, and to begin each afternoon but the rest of the time we were in small groups of three or four couples (districts) that stayed the same all week.  In these small groups we worked under the tutelage of our trainers who were the same all week. In the morning we had Sister Tholl and Elder Barney who worked together and in the afternoon we had Sister Clark who incidentally served her mission in Auckland New Zealand and her parents are currently serving a mission in Russia as Mission President.  In our small groups we were taught and then we role played with each other and then we would role play with the other couples in our district.  On Tuesday and Wednesday each couple (Debbie and I) had a real live presentation with "real" investigators where we had to follow the Spirit and determine what and how to teach.  These investigators in our two instances were adults from the community here in the Provo area.  Tuesday we taught a husband and wife who were in their 60’s and on Wednesday we taught a single sister who was in her 70’s.

Let me share with you the experience we had on Wednesday with the single sister.  When we met her she was a Tongan sister who had grown up in the Tongan Islands, her grandfather and her father were both Methodist ministers.  She had been around religion all her life but never really understood what it was about, it was very confusing to her.  She had agreed to give us 30 minutes and our MTC directors had told us they would signal when our 30 minutes were up.  Growing up she went to school in Tonga and it was a school run by a church.  This is basically what she told us, “The school atmosphere was very strict and as students we had to take our turn reciting prayers.  We were taught that God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost were the same individual and were all a big spirit.  I had read the Bible many times and that did not make any sense to me.  When I was about seven years old I talked to my father about what I had read in the Bible and what we were being taught in church and school and he could not give me any answer but he loved me and I knew he loved me.  My school minister would say he had gone to school many years to learn about the Bible.  I have been trained for the purpose of teaching religion. That was his answer when I would tell him, ‘in the Bible when Jesus was baptized Jesus' father said this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.  They are two separate people, God would not be talking to himself.  Also when Jesus was crucified he said to his father, Father forgive them for they know not what they do.  Jesus was talking to his father he was not talking to himself.’  The minister did not like my comments and started treating me different.  He started making fun of me.  In school all children had to take their turn reciting prayers.  The prayer was to this God who was the Holy Spirit and who was also Jesus Christ and I just could not do it.  So when it was my turn I would go to the toilet, I would say I was sick and go see the nurse, and after awhile they began to catch on that I was not praying.  I was told that I had to pray the next day and no excuses.  I told my parents that I had hurt my foot and could not walk so did not go to school the next day.  The day after it was not my turn to pray but the minister stood up and said Naati you were not here yesterday so you recite the prayer today.  He made me stand up in front of all the students but I did not speak.  The minister said ‘Naati you pray’.  I could feel someone standing behind me saying, ‘use your voice’.  I still did not say anything but from behind me something said again, ‘use your voice’.  So I spoke up and said: ‘I will not pray.  God is not a spirit he is an individual and his son Jesus is also an individual and they are not just a big spirit!  So I will not say this prayer’. The minister said, ‘you sound like Joseph Smith’.   All of the children started laughing at me and saying you sound like Joseph Smith.  I was embarrassed and I yelled, ‘I do not sound like Joseph Smith, I do not know who Joseph Smith is, I am Naati and I sound like Naati’.  The teacher then said to all of us children, ‘you see these young men walking around the island trying to teach religion, they know nothing, I went to school many years to be trained on how to teach religion, they have not been trained and they try to teach you from a Book of Mormon, not the Bible’.  At recess the students made fun of me calling me Joseph Smith, no one knew who Joseph Smith was but I had been told I sounded like Joseph Smith, but then I heard some of the kids say we had better leave her alone, her grandfather is our minister.”  Years later she came across a Book of Mormon and found out who Joseph Smith was but did not know anything about the church.

From that beginning we started to teach her.  I told her that I had served a mission in New Zealand fifty years ago and some of my dearest experiences in New Zealand were with many Tongan families and I even had a large Tapa cloth in my home that a Tongan family had given me.  Debbie then asked her if we could start our visit with a word of prayer, we then taught her about Joseph Smith and the first vision letting her know that as Joseph had found out that indeed God the Father and Jesus Christ are two distinct and separate individuals.  Debbie then taught her about a loving Heavenly Father who loves us each and every one of us. We taught her about Prophets - which was not very hard because she had read the Bible.  Debbie taught her about Jesus establishing his church, the apostasy, and the restoration.  Naati and Debbie made a real connection.  Debbie committed her to read a pamphlet on the restoration and to read the title page and the introduction to the Book of Mormon.  Debbie asked her if she would offer a prayer to close our discussion.  She said “I don't know how to pray as you prayed all I know is prayers that I am told to recite.”  We taught her the basics of a simple prayer and then asked her if she would offer a prayer, she reluctantly accepted then added “If I make a mistake will you correct me.”  I reassured her that God loves us and we never make a mistake when we offer a prayer to God, He listens to them all.”  We then bowed our heads and after a long silence she began a prayer that became a powerful prayer, one where she even asked for a blessing on Sister and Elder Perron.  We asked if we could visit with her again tomorrow.  She said yes!  When we ended Naati had tears running down her face, Debbie had tears running down her face, and I had tears in my eyes.  Debbie asked Naati if it would be okay to give her a hug.   They gave each other a big embrace.  We left and Debbie turned to me and said that was a very spiritual experience, are all Polynesian people like that?  With tears still in my eyes I said, Yes - welcome to New Zealand.

Our MTC director was very spiritually moved as he observed what was happening from a far off corner.  Of course Naati was a member of the church who volunteers her time every week to come to the MTC and live the real life story of her conversion - staying very much in character as an investigator.  We asked our director if everyone has such a spiritual experience with her.  He said quite the contrary, she frustrates many because they cannot get her to stop talking about Tonga and her experiences growing up.   Before long their 30 minutes is up.  When our MTC director had a private meeting with Naati to get input on where we could improve she said, "Just tell Sister and Elder Perron to keep doing what they are doing.”

Debbie's sweet testimony and spirit moves everyone!  We shared our best experience of the week.  We have found we need to do a lot better in virtually everything.  We will be here in the MTC Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of the coming week focusing on CES training and then we fly to New Zealand next Thursday.

We love you!

Bill and Debbie

Elder Perron at the Matthew Cowley Building. 
Matthew Cowley was a great missionary to New Zealand

Our MTC District
Sister Tholl (morning team trainer), Elder and Sister Perron, Elder and Sister Longhurst, Sister and Elder Bench, and Brother Barney (morning team trainer)

Elder Perron, Sister Clark, Sister Perron
Sister Clark is our afternoon trainer and served her mission in Auckland, New Zealand

 Elder and Sister Crossman
They are going to Lisbon Portugal where Duke served his mission.
We called Duke, and he and Elder Crossman talked on the phone in Portuguese.   How cool is that?!
Our group of 42 Senior Couples at the MTC

1 comment:

  1. I hope all of your meetings with the people in new Zealand are as wonderful as with the sister you practiced with there! Keep up the great work and learning:) love you both!