Dear Family and Friends,
I caught the 3:10 to Yuma!more on that in a bit, though.
Two things: I don't speak Spanish and it is really hot.
Elder Paul Johnson
1600 W 12th Street
Yuma, AZ 85365
What a crazy few days it has been! Left the MTC at 5am, plane left at 8, and landed at 10. On the plane, I fell asleep for the first ~20 or so minutes then woke up to find Elder Jacobsen talking to the guy next to him. I was in the aisle. The guy, named Mark, was a grad student at ASU studying communications. I butted into the conversation and we had a great discussion about communication, our plans for the future, and what missions are. It was a very relaxed conversation and flowed well.
Once we landed, we were quickly scurried up by the mission presidents, assistants, and his wife. We all somehow squished into two MAVs (Mormon Assault Vehicles - long vans) and went on our way towards the mission home. Luckily, it was only a 20 minute drive. Once there, we unpacked some things and threw it into a room in the Church. We had a short brunch where we got to meet people and talked for a bit. They split us up into two groups: one that went and OYM'd (Open Your Mouth, contacting random people on the street) and one that was interviewed and did a short orientation. We were in that second group. Interviews were nice and short. After that, Elder Myler and I were dropped in a random trailer park and told to go pass out some copies of the Book of Mormon and talk to people -- in Spanish. We were still companions because we had not received our companions for the field yet. We walked around and talked to some people. Our first contact...words cannot describe how bad it was. We walked up to a woman cutting Cactus for dinner and tried to talk. Words didn't really come out. She just sat there laughing. It was way too awkward. We opened to a scripture, gave her the book, and just left. After that, they slowly got better.
The rest of the day were meetings with the staff and whatnot. We had dinner at a members house, taco salad, and then we dispersed to spend the night with a member. We all stayed in the Tempe area. The one who Elders Jacobsen, Myler, and I stayed at were awesome and very welcoming. We talked a bit and then fell asleep at 8. It had been a long day. Since they did not tell us where we were going or who our new companions were, we were all dying that night. The next day was the day!
We woke up at 5:45 to get ready and then left to the church to have the transfer meeting at 7:15. Once there, we talked a bit with the misison president and his wife about things I can't remember but were doubtlessly important. You could sense the excitement in the room. They moved us into the chapel after 2 hours of meetings to meet our trainers and learn where we were going. When we walked in, all the trainers (companions that help introduce new missionaries to the area) were sitting on the far left side of the room. We were told to sit on the far right. One by one, President Howes, the mission president, read off a name of the trainer, a name of the trainee (us), and the area they would be serving. Lets see if I can remember: Elder Jacobsen is in Skyline, Elder Myler is in Chandler, and... I can't remember where the Hermanas are. Woops. They read everyone's name off and eventually I was sitting by myself on the right. They had saved me for last. I was dying, but, naturally kept a cool face, yo. I heard my name, my trainers name (Elder Sawyer, 16 months in, form Meridian, ID), and then Yuma! I had been saying that if there was one place I wanted to serve, it was in Yuma. Yuma is the border zone. Then they said we were whitewashing into Yuma.
Whitewashing means that they take both the missionaries who were there out and put two new ones in. They do it to put a breath of fresh air into the area if it is struggling a bit. Whitewashing and training means that both he and I have no idea what we are doing here haha. The first couple days we spent ~6 hours planning and looking through the Area Books. It was hard. Furthermore, when we walked into our apartment, it was a mess. They had had a "party" the night before. Lots of things were on the ground, there were burnt papers (?!), and more. Mom, if you thought MY room was bad... We spent 3 hours a couple days ago cleaning out one room and found 3 garbage bags full worth of trash. We have a lot to do today. There are also cockroaches and bed bugs have come back. I haven't seen any bed bugs yet...Mmhmmmmm
Our apartment is nice, size wise. We have a sweet view (I forgot my camera in our room...I'll have pictures next week..) of a trailer park and then the desert right after it followed by some grande mountains. Ooh, and a small canal/stream/river!
Yuma is hot. Hot. Hot. If you leave a water bottle on the ground it melts. If you leave a CD case on the dashboard, it melts. It is dry, too. Luckily, we've had two days of showers and awesomeeeeeeee thunder storms. Thunder that shakes houses, lightning that is everywhere. Anyway, they give missionaries a car down here (we drive a swagger wagon. Dodge van, can't remember name) a car and give 1000 miles a week. We bike once a week (picked up bike, by the way. thanks!). They say being sent to Yuma is like banishment. We don't get to go to a temple even though we're close to San Diego, we don't get Dear Elders often, we don't get to go to mission meetings, it's really really really hot. It doesn't really feel like the US here. Lots and lots of trailer parks and Mexicans. The city isn't tall and the landscape is quite literally a desert. There are stray dogs, chickens and roosters running around the streets. The poverty is unbelievable yet the people are so welcoming. More on that in a bit... Just real quick, Yuma is large geographically but few people. There are only 4 companionships here, one of which are the Zone Leaders (ZLs).
I made it through the entire MTC without ironing once. On our first day, I started ironing but Elder Sawyer told me that there's a dryer on our balcony. Never ironing my shirt again!
I've joked about how it rains when I leave or go places. It rained for 3 days before we left the MTC, it rained when I got here! Move over Schumacher,there's a new rain master in town. [Schumacher is an F-1 car racer who must have the rain follow him too.]
Food. We eat at a members home 6 nights a week. We've had Pizza, Beans, Shrimp/Cervichi and ALMOST Menudo. I think I'm going to die in Yuma. I eat it but every time it almost comes up. Of everything we've eaten, I'd say Pizza is the best but I wouldn't go out of my way to eat it still. Cervichi is the devil. Bane of my existence. It's like shrimp and..other stuff, I don't even know what. We ate at this one members' house. It was a trailer without a table and a tiny couch and two chairs. The Sisters in the area eat with us so we stuffed in. There was room for the two sisters and Elder Sawyer and me sitting near each other, no more. She fed us cold Cervichi. I ate about half and while the host stepped out to grab something, Elder Sawyer, like a boss, switched plates with me. He ended up eating mine, a Sisters, and his own. Como un jefe [like the boss]. Did I mention it was cold? Straight out of the fridge. They didn't have power in their trailer. Their willingness to help out was humbling though. Menudo is what I'm most scared to eat. It is the stomach lining of cow in a soup.
But first, let me explain the last two days. We have given five blessings in 1.5 days. For some reason everyone has been asking recently. Two have been in English, three in Spanish. Elder Sawyer takes those ones. They take a lot of time out of our day since three were at the Hospital (2 year old girl had top lip bitten off by Dog, needs surgery, older less active woman asked, and third was a woman who wanted one also) Let me preface the story with this: I've been praying a lot for my taste buds to just die for 2 years. On the way out to our dinner apt I was saying a prayer in my heart that the food would be spaghetti or something. As we are driving out, a huge storm comes in. We're talking 40+ mph winds, rain, LOTS of lightning, and sand! (There are lots of dust storms here, like hundreds of feet tall walls of dust coming at you. Waiting to get a picture of one...). Anyway, we're driving there and then we see power go out everywhere. Since the desert is flat, you can see everything. We pull up to the house and they said since the power went out, they couldn't cook the Menudo and instead had to order Pizza. I've never been so happy to eat Pizza in my life. Little blessings like that keep you going. I doubt that will work for two years, but we'll see. I think between my prayers and the willingness to give so many blessings, we got a little one in return.
While we were in the hospital, a nurse asked us to go visit a woman who just got transferred in. As we were walking in, a Border Patrol dude/agent/guy stopped us and said, "Who are you and what are you doing with my convict?" He was pretty intense about it. we told him our business and he let us go. Inside we learned (Or Elder Sawyer did. Remember, I can't speak Spanish) that she had been in a group coming across the border illegally and the coyote left her behind in the desert to die. US Border Patrol found her and saved her. I can't imagine knowing that I am about to die and being alone in 110 degree weather. It's kind of crazy how close we are to all the action. Unfortunately we're not ON the border (That's the San Luis district, we're in Yuma, ~15 miles north) but we see everyone coming through the Yuma hospital.
We cover three wards for our mission area. An English, a Spanish Branch, and a Young Singles Adult. Not sure why that last one since they usually send ZLs [Zone Leaders] there but we have it. The English branch is pretty large, the YSA [Young Single Adults] has about 25 and the Spanish branch has about 40. It seems dead. I leaned over to Sawyer and mentioned that and he said, "We're here to save it."
In the 6 days we've been here, we've taught 3 lessons, 2 of which were yesterday. Everyone listens but no one follows up. Must be a cultural thing. Most people are really nice.
But some aren't. We were walking around this one trailer park and went up to these guys. Lots of tats, cigarettes. They were angry with us and told us that we were in their gang zone. We mentioned what we were doing and they lightened up. Intense stuff. One group had a shotgun pulled on them. I love Yuma!
Selective poverty is also clear. Nice cars, nice phones, but living in a tiny powerless trailer. Sad.
Lots of homes have solar cells. Makes sense. It's so bright... I'ma need to find me some shades.
For one of our investigators, we're teaching him to read. That officially starts tomorrow. Never taught anyone to read before...especially in a language I barely speak.
I should clarify a bit. I understand about 25% of what people say but since they mumble and talk so quick I can barely get that. I can usually speak relatively well for being so 'young.'
That's all I have time for, expect some sweet pictures of a dust tornado thing, rain storms, a gross spider, desert landscape, and more.
Thanks Tori, Natalia, and Doug for letters and brownies! Quick note on Dear Elders: since I'm in Yuma, I get Dear Elders once every 3-4 weeks. We're 3.5 hours from the mission home which is where they go.
What causes time to slow near a blackhole? Can someone look up the etymology of Apostle and Apostasy and tell me why the words are so similar?
"It's so hot up in dis club that I ain't got no shoes on"