Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 27, 2012

Hi Everyone,
 Wow, it has been a crazy nine weeks here. It's hard to believe that
tomorrow morning I'll be flying out!
This morning I had to wake up at 3:15 to see off my two companions.
They are probably crossing the border into Canada as I type this. I
know that they are going to be just fine (well, except for the one
that forgot his ministerial certificate, but we're going to mail that
to him).
I'm sure you all are wondering about how nervous I am to leave the
continent the first time. And all the other stuff associated with that
act too. I'm not going to lie, it's a little intimidating to think
about. I have kind of avoided for a while, because I was able to just
pretend I was going to Provo and not worry about it. The last few days
it has really sunk in though, especially yesterday when all of the
Paris and Lyon missionaries left. I really don't know what Africa is
going to be like. I do know that it is going to be hard. It will
easily be the hardest thing I have ever done.
Despite all of my fears, I know everything is going to work out all
right. I know that this is what I'm supposed to do. As I was in the
temple this morning for the last time, I flipped open the Bible to a
random page and started reading. I had opened to 2nd Chronicles
Chapter 15, which I am honestly not sure if I have ever read before.
Verses 2 and 7 really stuck out to me, I can't quote them exactly
right now but they essentially say 'seek the Lord and he will be
there; wherefore, be firm of hand and not weak.' It was a comforting
reminder that I will not be doing this alone, and I can always have
support if I do what I am supposed to do. I decided to read towards
the end of Isaiah also, and I found more scriptures that seemed to
talk specifically about missionary work in the latter days and were
very comforting to me. I can't give exact references, but I think
chapter 61 had some of those. It was a really powerful scripture study
session, it really strengthened my testimony that our Heavenly Father
really does care about us and will help us with even what appears to
be small problems.
On a more temporal note, mail service is apparently not as bad as I
was first led to believe. My Mom (hi Mom!), says that apparently other
moms of missionaries are getting through flat-rate envelopes right
now. I asked my teacher about mail and he said that almost all mail
would eventually get through to him, although sometimes it took a long
time. So feel free to mail me, I should get it sooner or later. My
teacher even said that some missionaries mailed letters out, although
that was a little more risky and he hadn't done it himself.
Our devotional on last Tuesday was Elder Oaks, which was way cool. He
talked to us about having the Holy Ghost as we teach, and especially
how partaking of the sacrament is essential to that. I was greatly
impressed by the fact that he refused to read through the prayers
during his talk, stating that they were "too sacred." It made me
rethink my attitude during the Sacrament.
Every Sunday before a group leaves the French zone here, all of the
departing missionaries sing a French hymn titled "Souvien-Toi." It is
a very spiritual hymn which I enjoy greatly, and I was pleased that I
was able to contribute my talent to play the piano accompaniment for
it. I was even able to sing along, which is something that I've
struggled with with English hymns, so being able to do it with a hymn
I wasn't familiar with in a different language was definitely a tender
mercy of the Lord for me. I went in to being "branch pianist" with a
little bit of a bad attitude. Not really bad, but I wasn't very
excited about it. I really am glad that I did it though, it made me
practice the piano and improve my skill, and now I have the confidence
to contribute that talent in the branches I'll be serving. It would
not surprise me very much if I have to play this Sunday too.
Just in case you all somehow missed the news, General Conference is
this weekend. For all of you at least. We won't be able to watch
conference until we get a dvd of it, which will be in about a month,
apparently. Even then, I'll probably only get to watch 2 sessions. I
have a challenge for everyone who is reading this blog; in the days
leading up to conference, will you pray to receive answers to you
questions through conference. This isn't a general prayer, will you
prayer for answers to specific questions you need to have answered. I
know that if you do that, and then pay close attention to the
addresses given, you will receive inspiration.
Next letter will come courtesy of Africa!
with love,
Elder Ethan Christensen

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March 20, 2012

Wow, can you guys believe that I only have a week left on this continent? I sure can't!
I do have my travel plans now, I'll be taking the flight I was expecting before I came in. Salt Lake to JFK, on to Paris, and then into Benin. Guess when I get into the Charles de Gaulle airport? That's right, 6 AM. I get to overnight across the Atlantic. There go my plans for reading Jesus the Christ. oh well. Also, I'm leaving on the 28, not the 27 like was estimated. The Benin bound Elders are the last ones to leave, the France Elders leave on Monday and the Canada Elders leave Tuesday (they have to pack out at 4 in the morning, so much fun!).
This last week we've decided to do our best as departing Elders and Sisters to do a whole week in French. Obviously we aren't perfect about it, but it has been going pretty well for the most part. It has been a little harder today because on P-day you just interact more with people who don't speak French. I feel pretty good about where I am in my French skills.
During the Fireside on Sunday there was an interesting musical number. This group of Elders sang "Praise to the Man" with the original music. It was very cool. I was a little disappointed that they didn't use the original words though.
Also on Sunday there was another interesting musical number. It was a medley of O My Father and Come Thou Fount. It wasn't quite as well performed (some people weren't warmed up enough to hit the highest note), but the Spirit was there pretty strongly. Oh, and we did it while singing in French. I was really glad to have the chance to do that, for my first experience singing in a small group, it went very well. This Sunday, all of the departing missionaries in our zone will be singing Souviens-toi (It's only in the French hymnal, but it's really very good). On Thursday, we threw "birthday parties" for our teachers because neither of them had birthdays while we have been here. We scrounged up some white elephant-type gifts, like bubble wrap and tiny plastic Christmas trees. It was really fun, it was nice to do something totally different for once.
On Wednesday we had the opportunity to host the missionaries coming in. It is a very different experience to be on the other side of that curb, and to remember what it was like when that person was you. I got to host two Elders going to the South Salt Lake mission, pretty much as far away from my mission as possible. It was cool to just see how different people handled everything was thrown at them (and in one case, realize he still had library books in his backpack).
When we came back from hosting, we found out that they finally restocked on French bibles! It only took 50 days to get them. I think the last group that headed out never got any. The KJV was never translated into French I guess, and so we have this different version that sometimes doesn't totally match up to what you expect it to say. It's usually pretty close though.
I took in my suit yesterday to the dry cleaners. The girl behind the counter turned out to be a MESA major taking Arabic 102 right now. We talked a little bit about the program and stuff. We said a few pleasantries in Arabic, but it was clear to me that that was about all I could say, so we didn't try to really have a conversation. French mode has just overwhelmed all of that for now. Hopefully it will come back after the mission, but we'll just have to wait and see.
This week has been huge for learning about myself, teaching, and others. Every time that I feel like I'm getting to where I need to be, something else comes up and I realize that I'm nowhere close to perfect. In some ways, I feel farther from being perfect than when I first came here. That's probably not actually true, but I didn't self-evaluate back then as much as I do now. I am always finding out that I'm too prideful about something, or not serving enough, or slacking off too much. A big one that came yesterday is that I need to be more alert about how what I do affects my companions. I found out that several of the things I had done throughout the day had fairly seriously upset my companion, and I had been oblivious. I had known that he was upset, but not that I was the cause of it. So I am trying to be more alert about things like that from now on.
Oh yes, thank you for the Bacon pie!! It was very delicious! I was not expecting it at all. Everyone agreed that I had the best package that day.
Here is my challenge for you all. I have one week left before I arrive in the field. In that time, send me either a personal story about a doctrine or principle. An analogy would also be fantastic. I believe that analogies will probably be the driving force for learning words that don't have to do directly with the gospel. Also, analogies and personal stories are double-handedly the most effective way I know of to make a lesson interesting. When we finally began using them in lessons, that changed the whole pace of everything.
Lots of love,
Elder Ethan Christensen

Benin Missionaries

Elder Christensen, Sister Christensen, Elder Christensen & Elder Christensen

 Snow, how I will miss you for the next 2 years!

Friday, March 16, 2012

March 13, 2012

Hi Everyone, 
I took notes again on what I wanted to write, so it's going to be a doozy!
So I've gotten some questions from friends about whether or not I've started teaching/how much I teach. I don't have time to explain the whole process, but let's just say I teach a lot. So much that when I only taught one lesson yesterday, it really weird-ed me out. Tomorrow I'm teaching three lessons for a grand total of almost an hour and a half. It's really good preparation. I would guess that I've taught somewhere in the range of 55-60 lessons since I've been here. In fact, one of our "investigators" got "baptized" on Saturday! And our other one is getting "baptized" this Saturday! I'm not really sure who we'll be teaching now. Should be interesting. Another cool thing is that I've been able to use both my priesthood lineage and genealogy chart in lessons. I don't know if that will happen in the field or not (I seem to recall that Wes never really used his) but it was cool to use. Teaching has also changed recently because of a change in my companionship. I think I mentioned something about this last time, but the Elder Christensen, that isn't me, is now only sometimes in my companionship. The rest of the time he is with Elder Maryott, who was supposed to leave with the last group of Tahiti-bound Elders but couldn't due to physical therapy. So Elder Bangerter and I have had to go this last week teaching as just the two of us. I can honestly say that that has been one of the best things for my teaching skills. There is something about teaching in a pair that just isn't there when there are three people. When your companion stops talking, you know that it has to be you who starts, because there isn't anyone else who will do it. 
Also, I can't find the "m" key on the keyboard anymore. When you type using a french keyboard, it gets moved to the ";" key for some weird reason. My English typing has suffered as a result. 
On Sunday we got to watch the Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration movie in French. It was really nice, because now I've gotten to see both the new and old version (by the way, did you know that the new version can be streamed off of lds.org?). It showed me how much I still need to go in French. I understood the parts that talked about the gospel, but a lot of the rest of the movie was.... well, less understandable. French overall is going really well though, I do understand a lot and I am increasing my speaking speed. The only bad news is that I seem to have misplaced my French scriptures somewhere. Which is weird, because I only take them out of the classroom during a teaching appointment. I'm sure they'll turn up though.
I got to see Sis. Anderson on Sunday, just the night before she left for Norway. We got a picture on her camera, so ask her parents about that in the next few weeks.
Well, you officially know that you've been at the MTC for a long time when you realize that you've already heard the fireside speaker before. I'm really glad I didn't decide to tune it out though, because it was a really good talk. It was all about how the key indicators we report are "perhaps goals." He talked about how in the allegory of the vineyard (Jacob 5) everything was done that "perhaps the trees might bring forth good fruit." I thought that was really good to keep in mind, because I've always been a little bothered about setting goals that rely on the agency of our investigators, it seemed weird. 
We have new French missionaries! There are about 5 going to Benin, and another 5 going to Congo. Then 1 Montreal, and a bunch of France. I was talking with one of the new France-bound sisters, and she told me my French was better than hers, and she did 2 years in high school and 2 more in college. She did say that she didn't try very hard in class, but I'm totally pinning it on the gift of tongues. Also, there's a new Elder Christensen, which means out of a zone of ~60 people, 3 are named Elder Christensen.
We get our travel plans on Thursday, that's so weird to me. Also, we're hosting incoming missionaries on Wednesday. That will be interesting. I don't even remember too much about those first few moments, it was all kind of a whirlwind.
One morning this last week we were locked out of our bedroom during showers. That was awkward. We had to wait 20 minutes while another companionship went and got my key, which thankfully was in our classroom. Somehow we still managed to get to breakfast before other people in our zone. 
We had a fire alarm go off again, this time in our classroom building. Elders Montross and Shearer were teaching a lesson, talk about a rude interruption!
I only have two weeks left! If you want me to write you back before I leave for Africa, better write now!
Elder Ethan Christensen

Saturday, March 10, 2012

March 6, 2012

Wow, it's hard to believe that three weeks from now I'll be on a plane leaving the country!

Well, as usual, a lot happens in just a week around here, so here we go!

On Wednesday I got my Doxycyclyne Hyclate pills. Basically, if I take them and I'm careful, I won't get malaria. I don't know why they gave them to us so early, we don't have to start taking them until the 25th. A plus side is that apparently the medicine is actually an anti-biotic, which means that it helps with acne too. I asked one of our teachers about it and he said that with all the sweating you do, you need it. Oh boy. Should be interesting!

On Sunday evening we had a fireside like usual. This week was a little different experience though. The "speaker" was Alex Boyè! For those who don't know who that is, he's one of the only black men in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and he has a solo career as well. He's also a part of the "I'm a Mormon" campaign. It was a really cool experience. He shared his conversion story with us and sang some songs. He's a really funny guy. Afterwards we did that 'whole MTC choir' thing where we all sing Called to Serve, Wes probably knows what I'm talking about. So now I can say that I've sung with Alex Boyè and Donny Osmond. Sort of.

Honestly, all of Sunday was amazing. I decided I was going to fast for a better understanding/testimony of the Atonement. During Mission Conference, President Brown (President of the MTC) got up and his whole talk was about the Atonement! The rest of the speakers were really good too, I learned a lot. Way more than I did during the first Mission Conference.

Guess what! We get new Frenchies tomorrow! There's a batch of 34 coming, going pretty much everywhere. France,Tahiti, Benin, Montreal, Congo. There's 5-6 Benin missionaries coming in, that's going to be way exciting.

In other news, my companionship might be changing again. One of the Elders from the last group going to Tahiti had to go home for a week or two for a shoulder surgery, and wasn't able to leave with all the others. He's been with the Fiji/New Caledonia Elders this last week, but they left today. So what our Branch President wants to happen is have the other Elder Christensen in my tripanionship become his companion, which would leave me with Elder Bangerter. Scheduling, however, has apparently been planning on just sticking him with the new Tahiti Elders coming in (by the way, all Elders going to Tahiti have to learn both Tahitian and French. 12 weeks. Glad it's not me). So we aren't really sure what is going to happen right now. It should be resolved in the next day or so though. If it does happen, I'm not too worried, my French skills have come a long way. I found out yesterday that we have covered more French grammer in my district than in some other districts, so that's cool I guess. On the other hand, they may have a better grasp on what they do know. I do know that we have been teaching way more than any other district. We had 12 scheduled lessons last week (us Benin Elders missed one because of our malaria meeting), and some of the other districts are teaching maybe 3-4 lessons a week. We just have more time because there have only been 2 companionships instead of 4-5. It's good practice, but it makes it really hard to prepare. Which is bad because I have found that I have to be prepared. On Thursday I had a bad day and just couldn't find anything to say during our lessons. I've recovered pretty well from that, but it's something I really don't want to experienct in the field.
Thank you so much for the package! I honestly had no idea it was coming, it was a very welcome surprise. Hummus can always make my day better. I'm actually wearing one of the ties right now.

In other news, I've officially started to lose weight. I'm still up from when I entered the MTC, but it's a welcome change. I clocked myself at a 7:20 mile yesterday, so apparently I misjudged how long it took after my first week. Also, when I went to the temple today I used size 30 waist pants and they fit! comfortably! For those who arent' aware, the pants at the temple are notorious for being smaller-waisted than advertised. I'm not sure if I just got a normal sized set of pants or what, I'm going to reference against my pants I'll be wearing in Africa.

Hmmm, what else.....
Non-family favorite people this week are Katie Kearl and Alexis Cooper, who thus far were the only ones to send letters. If you did send a letter and it just hasn't gotten to me yet, consider yourself on the list too. Seriously people, I only have 2-3 weeks left to actually respond to your letters, after that it's Africa! So feel free to write!

I don't really feel like I've written as much this week, but I'm out of time!

Elder Ethan Christensen (or as I've been abbrieviated here, E.E. Christe)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

February 28, 2012

Hi Everyone,
I'm not even very sure how long I've been here anymore, it's all just kind of meshing together. It doesn't help that my attention span is effectively 6 hours. If it didn't happen in the last hour, or won't happen in the next 5, I don't really think about it too much. That's probably the wrong way to live in the moment, but it's been getting me through the days. Although I do know that I leave 4 weeks from today!
Alright, I took some notes this morning on what I wanted to say. Ready? Get ready for a whirlwind.
So, the first news is that I am now district leader. It was super funny when they announced it in Sacrament meeting because they had to use our first names to distinguish us (my companion, Elder Justin Christensen, was District Leader before I was). It's not terribly exciting, but I feel super responsible for stuff now. So now I'm trying to obey every rule I possibly can, because I really need the blessings. I'm glad I wasn't made District Leader at the beginning, I don't think I was ready for it back then. I think with the Lord's help I can do it now though, I've grown a lot in the last few weeks. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention in my last email that I got to bless the sacrament in French, that was an interesting experience. I must have done a good job, because they didn't make me do it again.
During Priesthood Meeting on Sunday a fire alarm went off, it was funny because we didn't even figure out what the noise was for about 3 minutes. We think there was a grease fire in the kitchen or something, because we didn't even make it outside before the alarm turned off.
We got to watch the new Joseph Smith movie on Sunday, which was really cool. They've changed it around quite a bit, it's now told from the perspective of Lucy Mack Smith. It was really cool, the church is soooooo good at making movies!
Also, when the Fiji elders leave in a week I'll be the only Elder in the zone who can play the piano, so I'll get to use those talents sooner than I thought!
We realized this last week that we are teaching more lessons than every other district in our zone. Most people here are teaching maybe a lesson a day. Because we only have 2 companionships in our district, though, we're teaching at least 2. We will have taught 12 lessons by the end of this week. Good practice for the mission field, but also very stressful. It's hard to prepare for each lesson with so little time. For example, on Thursday night we teach one investigator at the end of the day, and then we teach her again first thing after breakfast. So that's challenging, but it really makes you rely on the Spirit.
I have new favorite people as of yesterday. Alexis Cooper and David Sorensen sent me cupcakes last night. Unfortunately I haven't gotten to eat them yet, but I will be doing that as soon as I am done with this email. I have found that the Melatonin pills I've been taking to help me sleep don't work if my blood-sugar is high. Or even moderately high. Basically, I can't eat anything at all after dinner, and I can't really have any dinner desserts. So that has been a huge test of my self-control. For those of you who want to be my favorite, take notes. I welcome such attempts. As always, feel free to write. I think I may have scared some people from writing me, because I haven't received any Dear Elder letters in I think 2 weeks now. I have nothing against Dear Elder letters, I'd much rather get them than nothing at all. So please, write!
Tomorrow me, Elder Montross and Elder Shearer have a meeting at the health clinic for our malaria pills and such. Our Portuguese-speaking roommates went through that a few weeks ago, so we already have the gist of what will be said, but it will still be interesting. Basically, all of the medication possibilities for us have some interesting side effects. Deoxycyclyn (or something like that, I'm not really sure how to spell it) is apparently the most common medication for missionaries. You know how commercials for medication have that fast voice that lists off the side effects? Yeah, it's a pretty big list. I'll keep you more updated on that, but it sounds like hallucinatory dreams is possible. Also, you have to remain standing for an hour.
So in one of our lessons on Tithing this week, I used an object lesson! One that I learned from a Home Teaching lesson! The Church is true! I gave our investigator 10 "Francs" and asked for one back. Then I talked about how God gave us everything and how Tithing is really an example of our faith. It seemed to work, although I almost didn't get my money back, haha.
I got a pass-down gift the other day from an Elder leaving for Tahiti. It's a bottle of J-Dawgs sauce. It's even better because they took it out of the original bottle and put it in a bottle shaped like a lion. The only problem is I don't know how far the sauce has been passed down, so I don't really know how old it is. You don't have to refrigerate the sauce though, so I'm going to try it the next time there is hot-dogs for dinner.
Our teachers organized for us to do some full day companionship exchanges on Saturday. We lost Elder Bangerter and gained Elder Shearer. That was an interesting experience. We learned a lot about planning and relying on the Spirit from that one.
Something else we've learned is that sometimes just saying the English word with a French accent is not the best idea. Sometimes it is the right word, and sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it is a word in French, but it's actually something totally different. You may find out after the lesson that when you were trying to talk about why we don't drink wine now, you used a word related more to the law of chastity. oops. For the record, that wasn't me that did that, it was just in our lesson. It was pretty hilarious after the fact.
I did make an inspired mistake in our last lesson. We don't really have many French supplies (we still don't have French bibles, for example), so sometimes we just pretend that something is what we need. We had a Liahona about temples, and I decided to give it to our investigator as a General Conference edition of the Ensign. He didn't' get what I was trying to do though, so he read it as the temple edition. It turned out to be really good though, he was fascinated. We'd been struggling to get him motivated, so I think we have our method now. Score 1 for the Spirit.
I've been trying to memorize Moroni 10:3-5 in French. It's not working very well, because every time I start, I try to say it like Moroni from the Hill Cumorah Pageant, and I can't do that voice in French.
I'm out of time, and I didn't say everything! I'll write a letter during laundry.
Love you all,
Elder Ethan Christensen