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Guatemala City, Guatemala
We have been called as missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve with the Perpetual Education Fund in the Central America Area. We are living in Guatemala City, Guatemala and we work at the area office. Our assignment is to visit with the Stake PEF Specialists in all seven countries, to train and assist them in this inspired program.

Monday, September 1, 2008

1st Week in the MTC


August 25, 2008…..Monday
It seems like we have waited a long time for this day to come. We had to say goodbye to Sydney, then Madisen and Kourtney as they left for school. Kristen and Jill were our escorts to the MTC. At the front circular drive we were told to drive around to Bldg. 2, the Jacob Hamblin building, and that our room would be #125. Our girls helped us get our luggage out of the car and as we were all pulling suitcases into the building I saw Jim Brink. We first knew Jim and his first wife in Santa Maria II Ward. Two of his daughters were Alison and Kristen’s age. He was Dick’s counselor in Lancaster in the young single adult ward for a year. He and his wife, Lynn, moved to Spokane, WA after teaching two years in China through a BYU program. We knew they had their mission call but we didn’t know when they had to report here. It was even funnier to learn that they would be in room #124, directly across the hall from us. After we got our luggage in our room we went to the lobby of the main building here at the MTC and that is where we had to say the last of our goodbyes. I’m glad Kristen didn’t have to do it alone. Goodbyes are the hardest part of all. There is certainly none of the big meeting like when we brought boys to the MTC. I walked down the hallway teary eyed, but so excited that we are finally here.
It brought back recent memories of being in Arizona and Emily crying but she still had to sing with great joy, “I will go, I will do, the things the Lord commands.” I can shed tears but GO with great joy and anticipation and love of the Lord.
We started by checking in and taking care of the important stuff….like paying for our room and board and receiving our meal card. We slide them through a machine every time we enter the cafeteria. We use them in the laundry room. They can even be used in the number of vending machines here. The first sister to help us was named Myrna. We talked about how rare the name was and I told her I had a 28 year old granddaughter who was named for me. The best part was getting our name tags that say “Elder Graff” and “Sister Graff.” We ordered two more in Spanish. Anyway, when that was all completed we were free for awhile to go have lunch.
We had various training sessions all afternoon. There are 28 senior couples here and 1 senior sister. We met and talked with the Pratts. She is a cousin to my good friend and former counselor in the stake Relief Society, Karen Tolman. After dinner we were free to go to our rooms, unpack, and prepare our assignments for Tuesday.

August 26, 2008…..Tuesday
Up at 6am, breakfast, and to the classroom by 8 am. We began our studying for this first week from Preach My Gospel. I have read the entire book before and much of my Spanish language training is based on the material contained therein. The day progressed with all of us together for some training and then in smaller groups of 8-10 for discussions and lesson planning. We had several breaks, and of course, lunch. In the afternoon we all returned to our own living area and each couple had a Church Service Missionary come to our room to role play. They played the role of a non-member and we taught a 45 minute lesson….”The Restoration.” Then we all gathered again to evaluate the experience. We really enjoyed the experience and of course, Dick and I are team teaching .
After dinner we went to a MTC Devotional. Elder Steven Snow and Sister Snow were our speakers. We especially enjoyed it because we knew him when he was President Snow of the California San Fernando Mission. As stake Relief Society president I had the opportunity to prepare several meals where he was involved. The thing that I loved about him was his kindness to Scott when he returned home from his mission for 2 months for his ankle surgery. President Snow provided opportunity for Scott to participate in an all day conference held at the Lancaster Stake Center. We are not at all surprised that he is in the Presidency of the Seventy.

August 27, 2008…..Wednesday
Our routine continues with classes and big groups. Today we taught another Church Service Volunteer the lesson of “The Plan of Salvation.” It was another good experience. The main comment among the senior missionaries is, “We are so busy!” Yes, we are. This evening we had our Spanish tutoring with Rich Wagner. He has been my tutor over the phone since June. I really like him. He lived in the Mexican colonies until he was a teenager so he is a native speaker. After tutoring we were back in our room, preparing a lesson again for the next day. Spanish study has to be put aside as we try to keep up on our lesson studying and preparations.
Each Wednesday, another group of young missionaries arrive here. Today over 500 of them came. We hear there are 7000 missionaries here right now and there are 16 MTC’s in foreign countries, training many more missionaries. The word is that this MTC will be filled to capacity in 3 months. I love to see the groups of young men and women. We speak to many of them and it is fun to hear them practicing their languages as they pass. There are times during the day that are so quiet with everyone in their classes. You would never know there are so many teenagers here! They hold doors for the “seniors” or take our cafeteria tray to the drop off area when we are through eating. I can picture my boys, including Donovan, walking the same halls and I can see Spencer here in two years. A big highlight for us today was watching the incoming missionaries. One of the young single adult women in our home ward is Joelle Barnard. She was baptized about 5 years ago. She has been deaf since she was 18 months. We taught her the temple preparation lessons when we were in Juniper Ward. She has been called to serve in Portland. As we watched all the new missionaries, we looked for her. Finally, after dinner we had a few minutes before tutoring and we saw her. She was thrilled to see and hug us. Earlier a new missionary came up and hugged Dick. He had been his student in Independent Study earlier this year. We have seen three other Lancaster Stake missionaries here.

August 28. 2008…..Thursday
Our daily schedule remains the same with large groups and small study groups. Today was the day to role play, using the materials we studied last night. We were assigned to work with another missionary couple for thirty minutes. We role played the missionary role and they were a less active couple. That was the easy part. Then we were assigned to another couple and we played the less active couple. That was much more difficult for me. It was a combination of fact and fiction. They asked if our grandchildren had married in the temple and we said yes. Then they asked if we were there when they were married and we said “no” because we were not presently participating in the Church. I started to cry. I truly felt what it must feel like to not be able to participate in such wonderful events because we weren’t “active” in Church. After lunch we repeated the experience with each couple. It was supposed to be an appointment several weeks later. We read excerpts from the Book of Mormon together. I learned and felt far more from playing the less active role.
Later in the afternoon we all went to the Referral Center. That was a real experience! Scott and Mark both had that experience at the MTC. For an hour we answered phones from people wanting a Book of Mormon, Bible, or one of the Church DVD’s. There were probably 12 of us in the small room with earphones on, taking phone calls……and there are many rooms of missionaries doing this every day.
The phone calls were sporadic in the beginning. Then all at once all of the phones started ringing. Our trainer said that is because a commercial about the Church has run somewhere. I took 3 phone calls…. one from Louisiana, one from Alabama, and one from Virginia. The first two asked for a Bible. The one from VA asked for the DVD “Lamb of God.” We get their name, address and phone number. We ask them what prompted them to call and the answer each time was, “I saw a commercial.” The one from VA, Deborah Taylor, added, “God prompted me to call.” She asked for representatives of the Church to visit her also. I was very touched by her response. Her deceased uncle was a member and she is going through a hard time. I think she will be grateful to hear of the Plan of Salvation. I am not a big fan of the phone but I am greatly touched to have had the opportunity in the Referral Center, and especially, by her response.
After dinner we went to Spanish tutoring and then back to our room to study for the next day.

August 29, 2008…..Friday
This was our last day of general missionary training. We followed the same routine of all senior missionaries together and smaller groups during the day. In mid-morning we came back to our room for an appointment with another Church Service Volunteer who played the role of a new member. We taught her “The Gospel of Jesus Christ” and Temple and Family History Work. It was a very interactive lesson to review the gospel with new members. She was blind and had her beautiful guide dog with her. The afternoon was focused on working with ward and stake leaders and working with councils.
After dinner was more Spanish tutoring. At 7:30 pm all of us learning a new language met for a devotional and testimony meeting. I was able to bear my testimony in Spanish. I think the language tutoring for seniors is an exceptional program.
Some of our group departed tonight. Those doing Church Education, Perpetual Education (we are assigned to both), Mission Office, and Military Relations have more training next week. It is so interesting to find out where people are from and where they are going. There are several couples who are on their third mission.

August 30. 2008…..Saturday
Today was our P Day (preparation day). We had no routine except getting up and eating breakfast. The meals at the MTC are excellent. No one goes hungry, especially some of the young elders. They can really put the food away! I have had some delicious salads and soups for lunch. Dick seems to gravitate to the meat. Anyway, after breakfast we walked up to the Provo Temple and did a session. That was our first time in the Provo Temple. It was wonderful to be in another temple of the Lord. The weather was beautiful but warmed up considerably during the day. We got back to the MTC about noon. Dick had struggled with his temple slippers. All he has worn in the temple for the last 15 years is his white sturdy shoes. We didn’t want to pack them since we are only allowed 50 pounds per suitcase. So, we packed the slippers instead, He hadn’t worn them in 15 years and they were slipping off his feet all the time. We asked at the front desk of the MTC about going to the distribution center and they called a shuttle for us. Three young elders rode with us because one had suffered a mild concussion (MTC sports!!) and needed to pick up a prescription. One of them was from Fontana and Bobby McCook, or should I say, Robert L. McCook the IV was his bishop. (SM…..small world). They were taken to Rite Aid and then we were taken to BYU. Our driver returned from his mission a year ago. He went to OUR mission so it was fun to hear about Guatemala from him. As we were entering the bookstore we encountered three of our former young single adult ward members, Jeremy Lloyd, Grant Lloyd, and Robert Dunn. We enjoyed about fifteen minutes talking with them. After we bought Dick’s slippers we saw a friend from the old Pomona Ward days, Virginia Ellis. It has totally amazed me at all the people we encounter that we know. Since it was too late to get back while the cafeteria was open, we had ice cream at BYU Cougareat. Alison must have eaten there a time or two while she was a student there.
We came back to the MTC to enjoy our personal time by going to the Laundromat. It costs 25 cents to wash and 10 cents to dry. I took our computer and was able to respond to some e-mails. Then we came back to our room and I got to iron white shirts and then I cleaned the bathroom. It seems that there are some jobs that just have to go with us wherever we go. We are very good about being in bed before 10:30 pm. After being a “night owl” since I was a teenager, it is strange to go to bed so early. The good part is that we have a very comfortable bed. We found out after entering the MTC that we can leave the premises on Saturday and Sunday. Some couples went to visit family. Some live in the area and either sleep there every night or go home for the weekend. Several couples are like us…..we have already said goodbye once and we are not going to do it again. It is too hard!

August 31, 2008…..Sunday
While I watch the senior couples, so often I think of Mother and Daddy being here 29 years ago. There must have been much fewer senior couples then. There will be another group coming in tomorrow and that is repeated every Monday of the year. I am so grateful for Mother and Daddy’s example, for I knew way back then that we would also serve a mission someday.
Today we arose and attended Sacrament Meeting at our assigned chapel here at the MTC at 8 am. Then we went to hear the broadcast of “The Spoken Word.” The men left and all the women had a wonderful Relief Society meeting. Sister Beverly Thomas spoke about the influence of music in our lives and its ability to bring the feelings of the spirit. She had invited Hilary Weeks to come sing to us and that was beautiful as she sang her arrangement of “I Am a Child of God.” My feelings for Bailey and Josh are always so strong when I hear or sing that song. She also had invited Janice Kapp Perry to speak for a few minutes. Then we all sang with her a medley of the Primary songs she has written. I have fond memories of Sister Perry and her husband coming to Santa Maria for a Young Woman conference when I was stake YW president. Her music has had a profound effect on the YW of the Church and on me. As I watched the front row of the congregation, there was Joelle amongst the deaf and those learning to sign for the deaf. How many times in the last 5 years I have seen her in various meetings, learning the gospel without any hearing ability. She has such strength of testimony. She will be a wonderful missionary.
After the RS meeting there was a meeting for sisters who came in during the week. It was about dressing properly. There is a class for women entitled “Enhancement.” It is to give young sisters help with makeup and hair. They can even skip their regular mission class to go to the enhancement class. Our young elders dress professionally in their suits, or white shirts and ties. The sister missionaries need to dress more “professional” so they are recognizable as missionaries. We were told, “we are the message as well as the messenger.” I have been concerned about our young women in our wards. It seems the young men attend Church and do their priesthood responsibilities dressed appropriately. We do a good job of teaching them. Too often I have seen young women dressing too casual for Sunday observance.
This evening, after an early dinner, we met in a Departure Devotional for those leaving before next Sunday. There are 356 of us leaving. We were told that as concerning politics around the world and all the unrest, we as missionaries have strict neutrality. Our only words should be, “We are representatives of Jesus Christ. We teach His gospel of peace and goodwill.” Our MTC Mission President is Joseph F. Boone and his wife Alison. He said, “The Lord won’t make you obey but he will make you wish you had.” Great quote.
Following that was a Fireside. It was excellent. Our speaker was Robert P. Swensen, Director of Missionary Services in the Missionary Department. He was entertaining and had such a great message about teaching our brothers and sisters around the world. A great quote from him was, “Is this a sacrifice? No, it is the best investment we have ever made.” We heard a half dozen musical numbers this evening in our new meetings, all performed by missionaries. The talent in this group is astounding.
We came back to our room so I could finish my journal for the week and e-mail it to our family. Our room is very much like a college dorm. We do have a queen size bed, though. We have a good sized desk and two chairs and ample closet and drawer space. We have to go down the hallway to the senior lounge for me to get a wireless internet connection. There is always others there with their computers. Our room provides all the basics and we are doing very well here.
As we were walking to our Fireside tonight it started to sprinkle. As soon as we were in the building the heavens let loose and it poured. As we left the building an hour later it was dry and the sun had set. Twilight showed the clouds hovering over my favorite mountain, Mt. Loafer, which rises to the south of our home site in Salem. I love Utah! Next Sunday we will be attending Church in Guatemala!

Some scriptures from the week of special meaning to me:
Doctrine and Covenants 88:118-119
3 Nephi 11:31-39 (in fact all of chapter 11)
3 Nephi 9:22
Mark 10:15
I Nephi 13:39
Doctrine and Covenants 31 and 100
(Elder Holland’s favorite missionary scriptures)

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