The District and missionary training

The District and missionary training

I am enjoying (re)watching the District on BYU TV. For those who don’t know, this is a ‘reality tv show’ that was filmed in San Diego, California following around a district of missionaries. These videos are currently being used as training videos watched as part of the Twelve Week Training program. As a missionary, these videos became somewhat of an inside joke as we would quote parts of these videos to each other all the time. They were one of the few sources of ‘approved’ media for us and we used them to practice, role play and learn essential missionary skills.

The BYU TV version of these videos are if anything more entertaining than the ones given to missionaries. It seems that here they filmed a lot of footage of the families and church leaders of the missionaries to make a production that is equally focused on the missionaries and the investigators. Its really great to see that every single missionary is completely unique and led to serve for different reasons.

There’s a certain sense of voyeurism that comes from watching these sacred moments of teaching, conversion and baptism portrayed on screen. Yet, it is undeniable that the spirit that the missionaries bring remains even on film.

The baptism scenes are a treasure for anyone that wants to try to help friends experience a baptismal service without requiring it in person. There is nothing quite like the spirit that comes from a baptismal service!

I really enjoyed using these videos in missionary training as they are very effective at illustrating certain teaching principles. I love how the missionaries here pray and prepare to teach these people. I can really feel their love for the most part. I also love that failures are often focused on and not just successes. Missionary work is challenging and there are more days without success than days when one sees miracles. Yet, looking back all I can really remember are the miracles and the great days. A mission really is an incredible time and I hope this show helps more people get a feel for that!

There have been three parts aired so far and I am going to do a bit of a synopsis of the people that are taught and maybe some thoughts about the missionaries

Time to Shine

In this episode there is the introduction for each of the missionaries Elder Murray is shown opening his mission call, which is really cool. His family is from San Diego. They were all pretty shocked that he was called there. He and his companion Elder Tuitui have been having a very hard time finding people to teach and are struggling. It really goes to show you that every missionary no matter how great has times when things do not work out and periods where they must show faith and continue to work despite trials. Elder Christiansen is a musician and used to play guitar in a heavy metal/hardcore band. He is from Florida. He was Salutatorian of his class. Its really cool to see him playing the guitar and listen to some of the music! He struggled to decide whether or not he should serve. His parents prayed and fasted for him and eventually he decided that he had to go serve. He leaves the band once he gets an answer to his prayer and then the band explodes and gets a record deal. It was a pretty big sacrifice, but I am really glad that he chose to go on a mission. He is one of my favorites. He is very sincere and a great teacher. Sister Zaldivar talks about how Sister Boyles “Came pre-trained” that’s another one of those lines we would often quote. Leslie and Terry- They ask the missionaries all of their question and stereotypes they have heard about the church. They ask about polygamy and whether or not we keep holidays. They like that the missionaries are quite sincere. They are interested in learning more. (this clip was not in the original DVD so its new to me) They teach them the restoration of the Gospel using the scripture in Amos about Lord speaking through Prophets. Leslie does not really get the concept of a living prophet. She has a lot of questions about the idea of a living prophet and isn’t really ready to listen with an open heart. They try to encourage her to read and pray about the Book of Mormon. They both commit to do so. They then teach them about the Plan of Salvation.. Coleen a member that is present on the lesson is a really great help! The plan of salvation really helps her open up and bit and feel the spirit. Brother Rodriguez- Part member family. The mother asks the missionaries to begin to teach her husband. He has been taught in the past but not very effectively or thoroughly. His family is Catholic and so he believes he should continue to be a Catholic. Robles Family- Part member family with the husband a member and the wife not a member. They are the best family ever. They bring their daughter to church to be blessed and that begins their being taught. The missionaries and the family get along really well! They are such a wonderful family! Amor ( the wife) finally begins to accept the gospel for herself. Alejandra- A long time investigator that can not make the step to be baptized. She is baptized in a different church already. They show her only for a couple of seconds. Amusing clip at the end of Elder Christensen talking about getting a bad haircut because he could not speak Spanish very well Brothers and Sisters

Brothers and Sisters

The missionary story line is focused on Sister Boyles who has her brother die while she is on her mission. It is a pretty big tragedy for her, but she keeps going despite it. I really admire her courage. I always wondered what I would do on my mission if my father died, and I am so happy that I never had to deal with that particular challenge. Sister Boyles is a really great example of faith as she puts all of her trust in the Lord despite the tragedy that has happened. Towards the end of the episode she bears really powerful testimony of the afterlife and her knowledge that she will see her brother again!

Leslie- The missionaries never really connect with her in this episode and are quite impatient. Not one of their best teaching moments, She is a protestant and does not like the focus on Joseph Smith. An interview with her that is not in the training dvd has her explain that the missionaries found her in a rough time in her life and helped her get back on the path to God. This shows something that I learned as a missionary. Not every person that we meet is ready to make the step and be baptized right away, but we can help each and every person draw closer to Jesus Christ. That is truly our goal as ambassadors of the Lord!

Alydia- She is a golden investigator who is absolutely amazing. She reminds me of one of the first people I taught in Russia! She is living with members and really sensitive to the spirit. She has concerns about rushing into baptism because she has a member boyfriend and wants to make sure its for the right reasons. She is afraid of ‘the b-word’ She is just such a cool person that I could see myself being friends with!

Brother and Sister Rodriguez- This is a wonderful part member family! Brother Rodriguez is a Catholic but supports his family in the church. He has a deep faith and in this episode shares an experience where he prayed for help to catch a bus and felt that he was blessed.

The Robles Family- Best family ever! The husband starts out as a less active member and his wife is not a member at all. They have the cutest children. The gospel really touches their family and helps them. (Eventually they all get baptized and prepare for the temple!) Sister Boyles and Zaldivar are really personal with this family and they develop a really great relationship. This relationship is a model for the relationship that missionaries should have with investigators. Its really powerful to see the father baptizing his wife and children. There is such joy on the wife’s face as she is baptized and as they sit together at church.

The clip at the very end shows the Robles family after they all join the church. They are such a sweet incredible family! They are sealed and that is so beautiful. Watching them brings tears to my eyes every time! This is what the gospel and missionary work is all about.

Shout out to Sister Zaldivar who is a 1L with me at BYU Law School and is just as awesome as she comes across on screen!

Number One

Elder Mureno- This video focuses a bit on Elder Mureno. Elder Mureno was a bit of a troublemaker. He was a soccer player and gives up a professional career for a mission. He talks about how he did not have a testimony as a teen and was bored by church. He helped his friend Ronnie cope with the death of a relative. He then prayed to gain a real testimony of the gospel. His friend was baptized and he was able to help the missionaries teach him which I can imagine was an incredible experience. I love that Elder Mureno is a ‘typical Utah Mormon’ and yet the video shows that his life is not cookie cutter. Everyone no matter where they are form has unique experiences and trials.

Herman- Another amazing golden investigator. He has Mormon ancestors but does not know much about the church. The missionaries meet him on the street and almost do not talk to him ( shows how important it is to truly talk to everyone!). He commits to baptism on the first lesson and he agrees to quit smoking and really changes his life around.

The law of chastity lesson with Herman shows how things can go wrong if missionaries do not teach carefully. My fellow missionaries would laugh and joke around about this clip quite a bit. They do not clearly explain what is forbidden under the Law of Chastity and a few days later find out that Herman is not asking people out on dates because he thinks that goes against the law.

Herman’s family members are present at the baptism and bear their testimony/talk about how much the event means to them. This wasn’t in the original DVD and it’s a really nice addition. Right at the end they have a clip 10 months later. Herman’s mother speaks about the peace she has felt since his baptism. He is shown baptizing his mother! That’s so amazing. I haven’t seen that clip before and its wonderful.

Dennis- His wife is a member and he has been investigating on and off for 30 years. He has a Word of Wisdom challenge. His wife talks about taking a step of faith, which is pretty powerful stuff. In a later lesson they do a great job teaching about the importance of proper authority. Dennis isn’t ready to commit to baptism. He really isn’t making any progress. It seems like they ‘drop’ him by the end of the episode but he is still reading the Book of Mormon with his wife.

Brother and Sister Rodriguez- The missionaries go in without a clear plan about what to teach, but when they come in the wife shares a really great personal story about someone she helped lead back to the church. The missionaries decide to have a testimony meeting and the children really bear powerful testimony. Brother Rodriguez admits that he has yet to pray about the Book of Mormon.

Humility, certainty and judging righteous judgments!

Humility, certainty and judging righteous judgments!

 

(3 Nephi 11:28 And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.

29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.)

 

 

We are in a very interesting position as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As bearers of a testimony, we can possess a great degree of certainty about certain topics and issues. Often, this may even involve very controversial issues such as moral and social issues that are widely debated in society at large.

 

I blogged a few weeks ago about Elder Holland’s CES devotional about finding the balance between standing strong for our beliefs, but since then I have realized again and again how elusive and difficult that balance truly is.

 

As disciples of Christ we have covenanted to everywhere and at all times be witnesses of him. Yet, there is also a mandate to love others, to not judge and to treat others as we would ourselves wish to be treated. We covenant to be Christlike not just in our beliefs, but also in our actions

 

Elder Holland spoke for the savior with this incredible summation of how we are called to find the right balance by first  becoming and then declaring.

 

“If we do right and talk right and reach out generously with our words and our deeds, then when the Savior cuts short His work in righteousness, says time is no more in this last, great dispensation and then comes in His glory, He will find us—you and me and all of us—doing our best, trying to live the gospel, trying to improve our lives and our Church and our society the best way we can. When He comes, I so want to be caught living the gospel. I want to be surprised right in the act of spreading the faith and doing something good. I want the Savior to say to me: “Jeffrey”—because He knows all of our names—“I recognize you not by your title but by your life, the way you are trying to live and the standards you are trying to defend. I see the integrity of your heart. I know you have tried to make things better first and foremost by being better yourself, and then by declaring my word and defending my gospel to others in the most compassionate way you could.”

 

I would be the first to admit that at times since I’ve come home from my mission, my zeal to testify of what I feel to be true. I have managed at times to hurt people with my harshness or my lack of compassion. I am deeply sorry for anyone that I may have hurt and offended. I am very ready to admit that I have fallen short of this ideal. Yet, I hope that I can always strive to become more and more like Jesus Christ.

 

A month or so ago, I wrote a rather angry political article articulating my change in political affiliation. Luckily, I had someone dear to me read it over and she helped me realize that it wasn’t something that reflected my love and charity, but rather it was focused in anger. I scrapped it and am glad that I did Over the past few weeks, as I have watched the political debate in this country unfold, I have been struck by how uncharitable and unchristlike it is. I am struck by Elder Uchtdorf’s plea for civility made more than two years ago

 

“Brethren, unfortunately we see today too often the same kind of attitude and behavior spill over into the public discourse of politics, ethnicity, and religion.

My dear brethren of the priesthood, my beloved fellow disciples of the gentle Christ, should we not hold ourselves to a higher standard? As priesthood bearers, we must realize that all of God’s children wear the same jersey. Our team is the brotherhood of man. This mortal life is our playing field. Our goal is to learn to love God and to extend that same love toward our fellowman. We are here to live according to His law and establish the kingdom of God. We are here to build, uplift, treat fairly, and encourage all of Heavenly Father’s children.”

 

Thankfully, even as the debates have intensified, I have felt myself drawn away from it. I watch with a sense of bemusement and interest, but I try to avoid getting too emotional about one candidate or another. I try to remember that both of these men are fundamentally decent and good family men with merely a different understanding of the world. I have seen an increase of charity as I have tried to remember that fundamental similarity rather than focus on the things that divide us.

 

Its harder however at times to be neutral on the moral issues that have come to be most important to me. Yet, I know that people that hold different views on Gay Marriage, Abortion or any number of other social issues are equally sincere and equally energized about these issues. I know their righteous indignation at the viewpoints I hold, because I once viewed the issue from the other side. Those liberals that support gay marriage do it with the absolute best motives and purest intentions. They really believe that they are fighting our days equivalent of the civil rights movement. It is so critical to never doubt the sincerity of others. To never belittle or put down. To never think less of others because they do not hold the same view.

 

Elder Holland hints at how we navigate this difficult balance.

 

“In short, we try to be at our best in this situation in a desire to help (others) be at (their) best. We keep praying silently: What is the right thing to do here? And what is the right thing to say? What ultimately will make this situation…better? Asking these questions and really trying to do what the Savior would do is what I think He meant when He said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”15

In short, I know that I have not been as effective at this as I would like. I apologize to those that I have offended and declare that I respect and love you especially for the places where we differ! I hope that I can continue to become more christ like as I attempt to share the gospel truths that I hold dear!