Tuesday, April 17, 2012
I'm not sure why this has even been on my mind lately, but recently I was thinking about my time in the Missionary Training Center when I was a missionary.
I actually quite enjoyed the MTC, although I did get a little stir crazy towards the end. I was there for 2 months, and although I found much of it very spiritual, I did start to feel like a caged rat by the end.
It helped that I really wanted to serve a mission at the time that I went. I knew why I was there and wanted to be there and felt like I was soaking everything up that the MTC had to offer, so that was nice.
One thing I remember about the MTC was so how calm and peaceful it felt at times. I think a reverent attitude is kind of cultivated at the MTC. Yeah, you have many instances of "boys will be boys" letting off steam and fooling around, but I just remember a very calm, quiet spirit at the MTC. I remember walking from our dorm, for example, to the building that housed our classroom, and I remember especially in the evening it just felt very still and calming. There was definitely a spirit there that was pleasant to me.
I remember all the classes and lectures and training we attended, and many times it was very rewarding spiritually. I remember one time, in particular, when an Elder was asked to take on the persona of Joseph Smith, and the other missionaries in my district of 10 could ask him questions, and he would answer as he believed Joseph Smith would answer. I remember it distinctly because this Elder was not always the most well-behaved, reverent individual (although he was a good guy and turned out to be a good missionary), but in that exercise he became very serious and it almost felt like Joseph Smith had somehow rested his mantle on that Elder for those few minutes. And I remember the spirit I felt, and I remember just believing so strongly that what Joseph claimed he saw and did was true.
I remember when our teachers would be merciful and let us leave the classroom for a bit and take a chaperoned walk around the MTC campus. That was so wonderful, especially during those times when we were feeling like caged animals.
I remember a great lesson a Sister taught us about looking for Christ in everything around us, and we went outside and tried to find testimonies of Christ in nature, in architecture, in people, etc., and it was something that really stuck with me and something I try to experiment with even to this day.
I remember a particular P-Day when all the other elders were playing football or Frisbee or something on the lawn across from the MTC, and I was sitting on the lawn feeling the cool breeze, and I had my earphones on, and the primary song "My Heavenly Father Loves Me (Whenever I Hear the Song of a Bird)" was being sung by a child, and I just felt so close to heaven in that moment.
I remember being terrified after having spent weeks speaking French and finally feeling like I was understanding it well and then watching a French-dubbed version of Together Forever , and I couldn't understand a word. It freaked me out.
I remember being so excited when it came close to our time to depart (as I'd been excited when I arrived and later said goodbye to my family). Scared, too, but more excited than anything. After all the training, we'd finally get a chance to put it to good use.
I remember liking the very rare times I actually got to leave the MTC. One time was to leave to take care of some passport issues, and another time was when my companion had to have his eyes checked, I think. The mall never looked so welcome.
I remember one other spiritual experience I had at the MTC that has really stuck with me (and which was echoed a few years later when my younger sister went through the temple in preparation for her own mission). Marvin J. Ashton, who was an apostle at the time I served my mission, came to speak to us and was the highest-ranking general authority who spoke to us while I was at the MTC. I do not remember anything he said (though I probably have it written in my journal), but what I do remember is this: when Elder Ashton entered the room, my back was to him. There was no audible sound from the missionaries behind me when he entered the room, but I felt a strong spiritual presence and knew somebody filled with the Spirit had entered the room before my conscious mind knew it.
I might think it was some sort of fluke if the exact same thing hadn't happened when my sister went through the Salt Lake Temple. Elder Richard G. Scott joined our session and entered from behind me, and I felt that same spiritual rush before being consciously aware that he was in the room. No matter what I may sometimes think of the Church and some of its policies, I can't deny that I felt something unique and spiritual when I encountered those two apostles. They were full of a spiritual energy that I can't quite describe, and I felt it.
On the other hand, I once made a malt for Thomas S. Monson when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and I worked at a local ice cream parlor in Salt Lake. While I found Elder Monson and his wife both pleasant and kind, I did not feel that same energy. Of course, I was also not in a very receptive place in my life at the time, and maybe that feeling only comes to me when I'm in a more spiritual environment.
Anyway, those are some positives I remember from my time in the MTC. There were things I didn't like about the MTC, too.
I didn't enjoy the conformity of the MTC and of mission-life in general. I found that neckties seemed to be one way I could express my individuality in an environment that did not always encourage it. I remember a particular Elder in my district criticizing my tie because he thought it was too flashy and flamboyant for a missionary to wear. Always being a non-conformist and finding the Elder a bit self-righteous, I was angered by his words and in a fit of rebellion tried to wear my most outlandish ties just to annoy him.
I remember that even though I enjoyed the food at the MTC, it didn't always enjoy me. It made for a lot of bloating and gas, as I'm sure other returned missionaries would attest.
I hated getting up early. Still do. In my entire two years as a missionary I never got used to getting up so early.
I found all the rules and the strict environment necessary, but no less annoying. I kind of like to play by my own rulebook sometimes, so that was challenging, but I tried to be obedient.
I was not a fan of the MTC showers. Being body self-conscious and not wanting to be tempted to look at things I shouldn't look at were not made easy by the MTC showers. I was lucky in a way. Our showers looked like this:
No doors or curtains to hide behind, but at least they were stalls and were private enough to not feel so self-conscious or feed the temptation to sneak a peek at another naked elder. When I would do Celestial Service (read: free labor) in other dorms, I was so thankful I hadn't been assigned to a floor with the more common showers: communal showers which looked more like this:
While my homosexual attractions were more "in check" at that time, the last thing this gay boy needed was to be showering with a bunch of other naked boys. I'm sure the MTC probably designed these showers because they are easier to clean, possibly save more water, and deter masturbation, but to me they just seemed like a breeding ground for inappropriate thoughts. I was glad I had my stall and that I could put my towel on the overhanging towel bar and create a sort of "door" that would shield others from me and me from others. In the long run, I think it was more healthy for me at the time.
I remember not taking much of a shine to the Missionary Guide. I tried to use it faithfully, but I had problems with it. Role-plays are the ideal, but real life isn't always so neat and tidy.
The routine of the MTC also was difficult for me. I do not like to get stuck in routines and get bored very easily and need to be constantly challenged. I did not find the MTC conducive to that.
But in spite of any drawbacks, I really enjoyed my time at the MTC and found it a good place for training me to do what was required as a missionary and it also instilled a lot of growth and spirituality in me. I have few complaints.