Saturday, February 22, 2014

Interview with Prepare to Serve

This is a short clip from an interview I did recently with a small organisation called Prepare to Serve. Their goal is to help youth to prepare to serve full-time missions. The link below the video goes directly to the playlist with the rest of the videos. Most of my interview focused on the cultural and physical elements of the mission, as they have only had a handful of African missionaries so far. I may not have gotten every detail right (I'm sure some Elders would correct me on my Fon pronunciation), but I hope that it will be helpful to future Elders in the mission!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Post-mission life

Well, I've been home for a little over 6 weeks now. The first post-mission transfer is over. I figure that I should probably give some sort of closure post (since so few people were able to attend my homecoming). I think I'll work to keep a blog going, but I haven't decided if that will be here or if I will create a new one.

First things first: coming home

Coming home was about as much of an adventure as I anticipated. Which means that I was very tired for almost the entire trip. My flight left Cotonou at 1:15 AM, and obviously I did not sleep before the flight. On all my flights I didn't sleep much. Something about economy class...

The five of us coming home split up in Brussels, and me and Elder Gundersen continued to New York. One of the only eventful moments of that flight was looking out the window and seeing Greenland. 

Seeing North America for the first time since 2012 was a moving sight. Cheers sprung from our lips. We were out of the plane as fast as possible. From there it was a mad dash to customs. Customs and immigration wasn't hard, mostly just waiting through lines. At this point I said goodbye to Elder Gundersen and stepped outside. Next thing I new, I was in a taxi on my way into the city. As the above photo illustrates, Elder Christensen paid a visit to Elder Christensen. The whole side trip was incredible, down to the "pork" dumplings he bought me. Two and and half hours later (of which 20 we were looking for a taxi), and I was on my way back into the airport. Elder Gundersen was suitably impressed that I made it back in time. A nice member family bought us pizza, and we were on the plane to come home!

not pictured: my body odor from three days in that suit

One of the most common questions I've been asked is how am I adjusting? That question is actually pretty tricky to answer. Coming home was not a terribly surreal experience. When I left for Africa, I was pretty scared because I had no context of what it would be like. Coming home though, I knew what things would be like. I knew what my room would look like, I knew what kinds of food I would eat, I knew what order everyone would wake up in. The things that created the most dissonance were the small changes in my behavior that had become habitual. Brushing my teeth with regular tap water instead of filtered water in my bottle. Not constantly wearing flip-flops in the house. Paying for things in US dollars. You can't really predict what will set off that dissonant chord and what won't until it happens. 

Obviously, things get easier over time. Those little moments pass, and you longer until you run into another one - I haven't had corn on the cob yet, I'm hoping that will be the last one. You make return milestones. Leaving the house alone for the first time. Going to the movie theater. Getting on Facebook. I love the phrase about getting back in the swing of things. The first step is to get on the swing. Next you have to start moving your legs in a rhythm until you pick up momentum. Currently I feel that I'm in that mid-level range where I'm moving back and forth, but I haven't completely maxed my momentum. Every now and then little stumbling blocks come up. I can't come up with quite the right word. I catch a whiff of a girl's lotion. I have the occasional vivid flashback. I don't get the pop-culture reference. Overall, things are improving. I still haven't had a real haircut since I've been back though (if you remember, I went bald at the end of November. It had to grow back a lot). 

One of the tricky things about adjusting to the post-mission life is, well, that your life isn't the same anymore. You aren't the same person, and you have different responsibilities and expectations. One example of this is going on dates. I've been on a few dates since I came home (intriguingly, this was not as challenging as I assumed it would be), and there is a slightly different flavor to how a date rolls out. I'm not really trying to get myself married anytime soon, but you could say there's a sense of empowerment knowing that it's an option now. Either that, or cinnamon. Generally, there's a larger sense of responsibility than there was before the mission. While I don't report key indicators anymore, I still feel like people are counting on me to do my job right. But I'm not anxious about it. How could I be? I have a microwave and hot water. I can wash my clothes in a washing machine. Heavenly Father is at my side and has my back. I got through Africa, I can get through whatever will come my way this week. 

One of the other common questions people ask me is "how have you changed?" There are so many possible answers to that question. Some days I feel like a completely different person, and other days I wonder if I did actually change. I will not lie, not all of my changes were for the better. There is one change that I think stands out beyond the others. I have suffered from mild indecisiveness for most of my life. I've always been worried about making sure I make the "best choice." Serving a mission helped me on the path to learning that, honestly, most decisions don't make much of a difference. Restaurant menus? You might not even remember what you ordered the next time you come in. Don't stress the little decisions, but recognize the truly important decisions in life and focus on them. Don't get me wrong, I'm still far from perfect on this. It's doubtful I'll completely master this skill during my lifetime. But where a plethora of choices used to halter my progression, I'm starting to see it as a sign of liberty. The act of choosing is often just as important as the choice made.  

I hope I was able to convey some of my feelings about coming home. If you have any comments to share or questions to ask, feel free to do so (digitally or in person). I'm considering making a goal to write a blog post every Sunday. If I know that people will read it, I'll make that a higher priority.