The MTC Diaries

Today is Sister Rachel Frandsen’s twenty-fourth day in the MTC, her fourth Friday and, right about now, probably something like her sixty-eighth meal in the cafeteria. Knowing her, I’m guessing she’s at the salad bar. I’ve written her three times since she’s been gone, cute stories about the kids and little updates on my projects, but I’ve struggled to think of any meaningful advice or insight to give her. So instead I’ll serve up some good old-fashioned self-disclosure.

When I was a green missionary in Castelo Branco, Portugal, my trainer and I developed a nightly ritual wherein she would read me her journal entry from the corresponding day of her mission: her second Tuesday, her third Sunday, and so on. I loved it. Her struggles made me feel slightly less incompetent, and the smallness of her triumphs slightly more capable. In that spirit, then, I offer Rachel (since I forward her all my T&S posts) the twenty-fourth day of my mission.

11 April 1996

Just this tonight—that I’m happy and hopeful and grateful and loved.

Nothing in particular, a million tiny things—we practiced the Joseph Smith principle in class today and I felt happy and satisfied with how I did, due in part to compliments from others it’s true, but also from an inner sense of accomplishment and approbation. I tried to let myself love, and felt much happier about my relationships with others—I was positive, complimentary, light-hearted, I hope sincere. I tried to listen. I need to work on this more. Elder Hillan told me that Brother Houston said that my verb conjugations were very good, that I spoke almost perfectly. Don’t laugh—it made a difference to me! Oh—Sister Kemeny came back into our class, and it made a big big difference for me—I don’t know why, exactly, but I felt so relieved and happy to have another woman in there with me. [Note: I was put in an advanced language district during classtime because I already knew some Portuguese, and for several weeks I was actually companions with an elder during those periods.]

I did fall asleep during personal study and ate too much at dinner.

I also got a letter from Gabrielle which was distressing in a vague sort of way… Just to hear about how different her lifestyle is from mine—not that I’m jealous, not that I wish I were anywhere else, not even that I wish she weren’t doing what she is, particularly… I don’t know exactly why I felt upset. I think I’ll write her a letter and bear my testimony—it’s practically the only thing I can give, and certainly the only thing of value. Except for my love and unflagging acceptance and devotion, of course.

But still I’m happy and hopeful and grateful and loved.

So there it is, in all its humiliating earnestness and self-importance. I was sort of fundamentally insecure, obviously, and struggled mightily to strong-arm myself into the kind of person I thought a missionary should be. Some things never change, I guess. I was forever berating myself for slothfulness and resolving to begin anew in the morning. Mercifully, I didn’t have any particularly spiritual experiences that day: I find it almost unbearably excruciating to read journal accounts of spiritual experiences I’ve had, and invariably my personal embarrassment outweighs any spiritual uplift I might draw from them. Church leaders often counsel members to record spiritual experiences for precisely this purpose—for the future spiritual edification of self and posterity—but for me it just doesn’t work that way. At least not yet; maybe I just need more time.

So there’s no profound analysis here. Psychoanalyze my journal entry, if you like, or share your own 24th day at the MTC, or reflect eclectically on MTC life or journals.

60 comments for “The MTC Diaries

  1. Jordan
    June 17, 2005 at 12:39 pm


    I feel the same way when I read my mission journal- excrutiatingly embarrassed and silly. Which is why I keep it hidden and protect it with my life. Kudos on having the courage to share yours.

    I keep thinking I should burn mine but whenever I am about to put it to flame I think of all the time I spent writing in it and hide it away again.

    But that said, maybe when I get home tonight I will share my 24th day, if it’s not too embarrassing.

  2. Wilfried
    June 17, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    Deeply touching to share this, Rosalynde. Thanks so much. Just the other day my wife reminded me how unbelievable, how amazing it is to have our young people, at that age, leave on missions, compared to where other youngsters stand at the same point in their lives. Not that we should brag about ourselves, not that we should point at all the sins and weaknesses of those who have no idea of Mormon life at that age, but it still remains a miracle that 19 to 23 year olds are willing to obey, struggle, grow, and serve in that unique calling.

  3. Nate Oman
    June 17, 2005 at 12:40 pm

    I am jealous. I made the hideous mistake of entrusting my mission journals to the South Korean postal service, and they were never seen again. There is no doubt some very confused ajuma in Chejudo who is still wondering what to do with them.

  4. June 17, 2005 at 12:50 pm

    Very nice, rosalynde. You were probably a very, very good sister missionary (though clearly a bit zealous!!)

  5. June 17, 2005 at 12:53 pm

    Rosalynde– who was your trainer?

    Also, do we get to know Gabrielle’s backstory?

  6. June 17, 2005 at 1:11 pm

    This is a great idea. Unfortunately, I wrote in my mission journal about once a quarter. Thanks for sharing this.

    You may be uncomfortable with the entry’s “humiliating earnestness and self-importance,” but that’s what makes it work as a post for me. I think many missionaries go through the process of trying to reinvent themselves in the received image that they have of the model missionary — I certainly did.

    A minor criticism: You should probably acknowledge that not all missionaries are in the MTC for 24 days (or have things changed in the past decade?).

  7. Ben S.
    June 17, 2005 at 1:12 pm

    “for several weeks I was actually companions with an elder during those periods.”

    In my mission, we called those “JW splits” :)

  8. Rosalynde Welch
    June 17, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    Ryan, Melissa Riding was my trainer, and I couldn’t have ordered up a better one. She was humble and hard-working, didn’t get competitive with me, and we got along fabulously. I wish I had been as good a trainer to my greenies as she was to me. Gabrielle was at Rice University at the time; she’d chosen to go there instead of to BYU, which was sort of a big thing for her personally and for our family (although she ended up transferring to the Y and then getting married before I was even home from my mission!). She wasn’t making any major mistakes, and in a way she was probably living out my own fantasy of going away–really away–to college, but her life didn’t seem to me, judgmental and a little jealous as I was, especially spiritual at that time.

    I was a pretty good missionary, Steve, and intermittently zealous. I did make the mistake of asking my mission president once in an interview how I was doing, and was devastated—really crushed—when he said I was “adequate.” I actually have a long essay about my mission I’ve been thinking of condensing for the blog.

    Nate–a tragedy of Euripedean proportions! A similar thing happened to all my mission pictures—they mysteriously disappeared from the Sav-On where I’d taken them to be developed—but I’d much rather have my mission, all three-hundred-odd typed single spaced pages of it.

    Wilfried, thanks so much for the approbation, and I agree entirely about the missionary program.

    Jordan, by all means, do share your 24th day!

  9. Rosalynde Welch
    June 17, 2005 at 1:20 pm

    Bryce, good point: I was in the MTC for nine weeks, and I believe Rachel will be, too, since she’s going to France. But English speaking missionaries are only in for, what, three weeks?

  10. Kevin Barney
    June 17, 2005 at 1:26 pm

    You were very literate for a young missionary.

    I went to the old Salt Lake mission home for a week in October 1977 before being shipped out to Colorado. Just before I left SLC, I had one last chance to go to Deseret Book, and I made a spontaneous, last minute decision to purchase two things: tapes of the MTC Messiah and a bound journal. That must have been an inspired shopping trip, because both items proved to be therapeutic life savers during the next two years.

    If I think of it, when I get home I’ll see what I wrote on the 24th day of my mission and whether it is postable. But I was brutally frank about a lot of things in my journal, and I too kept it hidden away. I actually knew an elder who kept two journals; one “for show” for snooping Zone Leaders to find and read on his desk, and the real one he kept hidden away in a trunk.

  11. Travis
    June 17, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    I love this post. I, too, sometimes feel embarrased about my missionary journal entries–for the over zealous, prideful, ignorant, super-cheesy missionary that I was at the MTC. Unfortunately, I don’t think I ever got out of that mode as a missionary. Come to think of it, I’m probably still stuck in this mode 11 years later–at least, that’s what my wife keeps telling me. ;)

  12. Mark B.
    June 17, 2005 at 1:35 pm

    I’ll see you and raise you four years, Kevin. But I was shipped off to the LTM in Laie, Hawaii, after five days in the SLC mission home. I’ll have to dig up something from my fourth week–about mid-October 1973. Maybe that was the day that the LTM president soberly announced that Spiro T. Agnew, the Vice President of the United States, had resigned. (I silently shouted “Hallelujah! One crook down, one more to go!” and wondered that any right-thinking person could be sad that Spiro the Magnificent had gone.)

  13. danithew
    June 17, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    Great post.

    The journal for the first half of my mission is either gone for good or sitting in some odd corner of Guatemala. One day I was assigned to tend a missionary who basically had lost his mind. At one point that evening, while we were on a moving bus, this elder decided he no longer wanted any of his earthly possessions. He started to throw his possessions (sleeping bag, etc.) onto the floor of the bus and was emptying his pockets of money and everything else. In my hasty attempt to keep him and his stuff together, I left my journal on that bus … I brought it along thinking that the experiences of the day had to be written down. Instead it was gone gone gone for good.

  14. Jed
    June 17, 2005 at 2:02 pm

    Day 24 of my mission was in Princeton, New Jersey. I had been there for two days. I was already holding my head in grief. I had come to NJ under the mistaken illusion that we would be getting into about one door in four. Of those we taught, I thought perhaps one in two would ask for baptism. No one at home dared burst the bubble of my faith. I thought people who had been on their knees praying for me to come would answer the knock and welcome me with hugs and kisses like the people who welcome Enoch and his city. Instead we had no teaching pool and had tracted two days straight without anyone letting us in. People didn’t care about the Bible; they had outgrown that long ago. The only person who paused to chat was a Nobel laureate. What an eye opener.

    Needless to say, it got better after day 24.

  15. June 17, 2005 at 2:40 pm

    It has been 11 years since I was in the MTC and I have never been able to re-read any of the letters I sent home…oh the humanity!

  16. Jordan
    June 17, 2005 at 2:50 pm

    You know- my letters home are probably even more embarrassing than my diary. My mom put them all in a big binder for me, which I now have somewhere in my house…

  17. Mark N.
    June 17, 2005 at 3:10 pm

    we practiced the Joseph Smith principle in class today

    What’s the “Joseph Smith principle”?

  18. Jordan
    June 17, 2005 at 3:11 pm

    You know- that principle in the first discussion? Wasn’t it principle 4?

  19. danithew
    June 17, 2005 at 3:17 pm

    Jordan, my mother did the same thing with the mission letters I sent. They are very embarrassing for all the reasons already specified.

  20. June 17, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    This is fantastic. I love to read over my mission journals, more for a good laugh than for spiritual upliftment (re: none). When I get home I might post my 24th day, I guess the more embarrassing the better, right? And I think my MTC entries were much, much more embarrassing than in the field. Thanks for sharing this.

  21. Jordan
    June 17, 2005 at 3:30 pm

    Oh- you know nothing of embarrassment until you read mine.

  22. A. Greenwood
    June 17, 2005 at 3:35 pm

    “Mercifully, I didn’t have any particularly spiritual experiences that day: I find it almost unbearably excruciating to read journal accounts of spiritual experiences I’ve had, and invariably my personal embarrassment outweighs any spiritual uplift I might draw from them. Church leaders often counsel members to record spiritual experiences for precisely this purpose—for the future spiritual edification of self and posterity—but for me it just doesn’t work that way”

    May I make a suggestion: when recording spiritual experiences, try to be (1) flatly factual and (2) understated. It’s when you try to analyze and draw conclusions from your experience and when you try to use words to convey the emotional quality of your experience that you tend to sound more like Oliver Cowdery and less like Joseph Smith. When you go back and read a barebones account, your own personality on the page doesn’t get in the way of your memories. The result is spiritual uplift.

  23. Jordan
    June 17, 2005 at 3:36 pm

    good suggestion, adam, but unfortunately not one I was aware of as a 19 year old kid.

  24. A. Greenwood
    June 17, 2005 at 3:38 pm

    My other suggestion is empathy with yourself.

  25. June 17, 2005 at 3:44 pm

    That’s it, a contest for the most embarrassing 24th day entry. I haven’t looked in years, but I’m sure I’ve got you all beat.

  26. jimbob
    June 17, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    I remember feeling pretty self-important in the MTC as well. Luckily, that all left me when I arrived in Lisbon and tried to strike up a conversation with a fellow plane passenger (after all, I figured that two months was plenty of time to learn a language in its entirety). He thought I was speaking German, and I was nearly certain he wasn’t speaking Portuguese. Turns out we were both wrong.

  27. Capt Jack
    June 17, 2005 at 6:03 pm

    I wrote my name in the front of my missionary journal and never touched it again. That was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Similarly, after I returned my parents gave me the relatively few letters I wrote home; those quickly met their fate in the Weber grill. I couldn’t bear to read that stuff again.

  28. A. Greenwood
    June 17, 2005 at 6:52 pm

    My dad’s missionary journal is one of my prized possessions.

  29. Jack
    June 17, 2005 at 7:42 pm

    Adam’s comment (# 22) is a great bit of advice.

    I can’t stand reading my journals! I want to burn them! I wish someone would’ve given me that advice twenty years ago–though I probably would have responded with an incredulous looking fish eyed sneer with the words “How dare you intimate that these grand and glorious revelations would one day be counted as filth and dross!” floating over my head in a thought bubble.

  30. June 17, 2005 at 8:19 pm

    I’m putting this out there mostly because I don’t know any of you, so you can’t stop talking to me at church or anything. This is bad. I can’t believe what a moron I was. Ahem:

    Saturday, September 7th, 1996
    Today was awesome. Again with Brother Barlow we had a very spiritual class. We shared references in the BoM that mean a lot to us and I shared from Alma 33 where it talks about Zenos praying and the Lord hearing him, hearing him every time he prayed because of his sincerity. Brother Barlow asked how I felt and why that meant so much to me. I told the class that it was because the Lord will hear us every time we pray if we are sincere and He will have mercy on us “because of the Son”. Then Barlow asked me about sincerity and I told the class that in the past few days I have prayed so much that I can not ever think about Shelley
    [former girlfriend, not future wife] and Ricks [I had a fun year at Ricks before my mission] and focus on the work, and because of those sincere prayers I have seen that I really don’t ever think of her at all anymore and if I do it is because someone else brings up their girlfriends. Then when I think of her I don’t really feel sick anymore, I either quickly take it out of my mind or I replace it with the fun we will have at Ricks ’98 [I ended up going straight to BYU without going back to Ricks] and how there are so many girls out there. If I could choose I’d take Shelley in a heartbeat but she won’t be there [actually, she was]. It also helps that she hasn’t written me a letter for three weeks, so I have no idea what she is currently feeling. ANYWAY, when I was telling the class these feelings I was crying but I totally felt the Spirit. It is so awesome, I feel the Spirit more often. Everything is totally cool with our district, there is such a brotherhood.

    I think everyone in the MTC or on a mission has to hit a point where they have to wake up and realize what they are doing here. I think I’ve gone through that now and I think Elder T. and Elder S. are going through that now. I will probably have to experience this many times throughout the mission. I just don’t want to plateau on the mish, and it scares me that others do.

    What’s funny is that two days later (my next entry) I got a couple letters from said Shelley and the whole entry was about her. True sincerity, eh? And I was confessing this all to my district and it was somehow spiritual for me. Ughhhhhhhhh… The sad thing is that I have so many of these stupid entries about how I’ve finally lost my feelings for her and don’t think about her anymore. I think the true marker for when I really stopped thinking about her was when I stopped writing about how I wasn’t thinking of her anymore.

    So, Ned, it’s on! Beat THAT, sucker!

  31. Jack
    June 17, 2005 at 9:24 pm


    I guess one of the benefits of NOT burning your journals is that, if you’ve been a fairly consistent writer, you’ll be able to look over the whole of your like and (hopefully) see some growth.

  32. Mark B.
    June 17, 2005 at 9:28 pm

    Gee, if I ever get a chance to talk in the Park Slope Ward, I’m just gonna have to see how many times I can sneak “Shelley” into the talk.

  33. Kevin Barney
    June 17, 2005 at 11:13 pm

    Well, it took me awhile to find the thing. It was on the top shelf in our family room behind the front row of books. (When I start to get too many books, I start double stacking them.)

    I’m not entirely sure which day is precisely no. 24, so I’ll type in a three-day period (it’s one of these days).

    Nov. 13, 1977


    I forgot to write last night so I thought I would jot down a few lines this morning. We had a good talk with Hiatts last night, and we are hopefully going to show them a movie tonight (and teach a 2nd if possible). We also have to teach their girl separately, since she is staying with her grandmother who has been sick.

    I got some good letters from Becki and Gregg yesterday. Becki is hanging tough for Barry [ed.–Barry was my best friend, then on a mission in Argentina; Becki was his girlfriend. They have long been married and have two kids]. Gregg [ed.–a friend from Deseret Towers freshman year at BYU] left the LTM Nov.__ (I can’t remember what day exactly, but it was in Nov.). He should be in Washington D.C. right about now. I can hardly wait to write them.

    We’re late for church so I’ve got to boogie. Later.


    We didn’t get up until 7:00 a.m. this morning, so we were late for Priesthood. That’s okay, thoiugh, no one really cares when you are a missionary.

    In sacrament meeting, this girl who had just returned from a mission in Japan gave a beautiful talk on her mission and some of the inspiring things that happened to her. It sort of made me feel better, hearing the sacrifices they have to go through.

    We had a good talk with Hiatts tonight. Mr./Bro. Hiatt accepted the preexistince well. He likes film strips (we showed Man’s Search). I’ve got to take off.

    Nov. 14 Evening

    I got a real good letter from Jon [ed.–another friend from BYU] today, which made me feel better about things. Two years seems so long, but Jon has been out 6 months and he said it has just flown by.

    Elder Arnold [ed.–my training companion] is starting to get on my nerves. He has such a negative attitude about things, he sort of depresses me. I was sort of hoping he’d get transferred this month, but he didn’t. At least this way I’ll be able to learn the area a little better.

    I’m really tired, so I’m going to crash. Later.

    Nov. 15 Evening

    It is almost 1:00 in the morning. We just got back from a 6 hour discussion with a Baptist minister and his wife. He had an open mind, and we agreed and disagreed on various points. I think we planted some seeds that may one day be harvested.

    I got a letter from Alan [ed.–another BYU friend] today. He is reopening an area in Northern France (?) that was closed because the old missionaries got kicked out. It should be a challenge for him.

    I’m supposed to pass off the 6th D. tomorrow. I doubt I’ll get up on time, so I don’t know how much studying I’ll get in. Later.

  34. Ben H
    June 17, 2005 at 11:53 pm

    So Rusty, what happened with Shelley?!

  35. Jonathan Green
    June 18, 2005 at 12:05 am

    Rosalynde, does your journal, because of its immediacy to the events it records, contain the truth of your missionary experience? Or is the truth found in the retrospective observations of an older and wiser you? For myself, I don’t know; I’m dissatisfied with either one.

  36. June 18, 2005 at 12:50 am

    Rusty, surely you jest. While I’ll give you the crying in front of your district (!) you can’t touch the self-importance, the disturbing imagery, and basic all-around nonsense of my entry.

    You can read my journal entry here.

  37. June 18, 2005 at 1:51 am

    This is irresistable. I usually read blogs because they allow me to pretend I’m being intellectually stimulated and simultaneously allow me to sit in this comfy chair and vegetate all evening. This thread, though, got me upstairs to retrieve my missionary journal and see what was going on a decade ago. Oh boy…

    February 13, 1997
    This morning was our first experience with the Training Resource Center. We went to a building and knocked on doors where “inactive members” lived. Brother C. told us they were real inactive members, but I had a hard time believing that people who won’t even go to church on Sunday would donate 4 hours on a Thursday afternoon to the missionaries. Anyway, we just went with it. Elder G. and I had a good experience talking to a woman who “left the Church after being gossiped about.” She was responsive, but she was knitting bandages for lepers or something the whole time. It was sort of weird, but the Spirit was present when we bore our testimonies and it was great teaching practice.

    In the afternoon I went on splits with Elder H. to his dentist, right across the street from the Provo High seminary building, so the shuttle driver told me to go into the seminary building and talk to the kids about being a missionary while I waited. When we got back there was a flurry around the mail room. I think Valentine’s Day is going to shut that place down.

    The rest of the evening was terrible. First, Brother W. pulled away our Tagalog discussions and made us translate from English to emphasize that we weren’t trying hard enough. I hated him, but after being very humbled I prayed for forgiveness and covenanted with the Lord to obey all the MTC rules and SYL.

    President H. [branch president] came by this evening and confiscated our Nerf basketball hoop. Elder M. got in his face about it and President H. threatened to send him home. It will be a miracle if Elder M. even makes it to the Philippines.

    [he did, and even made it through the whole two years, a fact that was equally astonishing to him, but that’s another story].

  38. Shelley
    June 18, 2005 at 2:23 am

    If you think Rusty’s journal entry is bad, wait till I show you what he wrote in one of the letters I got from him when he was on his mission.

  39. June 18, 2005 at 9:08 am

    I can’t find my mission journals; I guess they must be at my dad’s house. As it happens, I’ll be there for the first time in about 10 years in a couple weeks, giving me a chance to look for them.

    I do remember that much of them turned out to be a waste. It was the heyday of “read the Book of Mormon 30 minutes a day;” President Benson gave his “flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon” talk while I was in the MTC. President Ed J. Pinegar counseled us at the beginning of our sojourn in the MTC to record a meaningful passage from the Book of Mormon in our journal every day (presumably with commentary and reasons for selection). Ever a stickler for executing the program with exactness, I followed this counsel with zeal, with the result that a large portion of my journal for the entire two years consists of quotations from the Book of Mormon. Hell, if all copies of the Book of Mormon should ever be destroyed, future generations might be able to reconstruct the damn thing from my journals alone.

  40. Wilfried
    June 18, 2005 at 10:11 am

    In some comments on past journal entries I read embarrassment, irritation, even shame. I guess understandable. But I don’t think maturation needs to look with contempt at who we were. We outgrow phases in our lives, but the phases are part of the process. And could it not be that, sometimes, somewhere, in those past pages there is to be found what we might have lost?

  41. Kevin Barney
    June 18, 2005 at 10:20 am

    When I found my journal last night, in the front there were a half-dozen loose pages in the front. I had quite forgotten that I had prepared an index of spiritual experiences and stories for ready reference to use in talks and lessons. But I can only think of one time, in a talk shortly after my mission, that I made much use of a missionary experience in a talk.

    I thought this journal would be like personal scripture for my later life, but it hasn’t turned out that way. But maybe my descendants will get more use out of it than I have.

  42. Naomi Frandsen
    June 18, 2005 at 10:23 am

    I think I’ve lost my first mission journal, Rosalynde. But if my letters home are representative, that’s no great tragedy. I liked reading your journal entry, but I’m glad you didn’t send any to me on my mission–I was probably too impressionable to not try to change my experience to be more like yours.
    Christian, it strikes me that the process of handing scripture down from generation to generation might strongly resemble what you did with your journal–our canon is in good hands.

  43. Julie in Austin
    June 18, 2005 at 10:33 am

    Re #35–

    I don’t know if this was your intention, but I couldn’t help reading your comment about distance and truth and wondering about the writing of the scriptures, especially the dating of the gospels.

  44. Jonathan Green
    June 18, 2005 at 12:20 pm

    Julie: No, not my intention, but that’s an interesting extension of my question.

  45. Jack
    June 18, 2005 at 1:13 pm

    I wonder how a record of the First Vision written by JS when he was 14 yrs old would read. Would tend to be more “spiritualized” than those we do have, or did JS always posses that certain sobriety we sense when we read his words? (not to say that he’s void of humor, he can be hilarious)

  46. Greg Call
    June 18, 2005 at 1:18 pm

    How fun. I’ll have to dig my journals out of deep storage. In the meantime though, I can give you a shortened version of what I’m sure it will say: “Today was AWESOME!!!” Lots of exclamation points.

  47. Rosalynde Welch
    June 18, 2005 at 4:46 pm

    Guys, these are some AWESOME responses!!! (And I don’t use that word, those caps, or those exclamations points lightly, believe me.)

    Jed (#14): Aww, I just want to give your poor discouraged nineteen-year-old self a big hug! Buck up, little Elder Camper!

    Adam (#22): Those are some excellent suggestions. Am I the only one, though, for whom, if I take out the emotion and the heightening, there might not be all that much left to record? In the MTC, at least, all of my spiritual experiences consisted precisely of heightened emotional states. (And like you I greatly value my progenitors’ journals; in gently mocking my own missionary self, I certainly don’t want to denigrate the value of personal writing and record-keeping.)

    Jimbob (#26): I know exactly what you mean, and it certainly doesn’t help the Portugal-bound missionaries to be taught by Brazilian teachers! Although I spoke really quite well when I arrived in the country, it took me weeks before I could understand anything more than an isolated word from a native Portuguese. I took it as a great compliment when people finally stopped asking me if I were from Germany and instead assumed I was from Brazil–although don’t ask me why, since I didn’t have anything like a Brazilian accent.

    Rusty (#30): That was priceless. I love the endearing way you were sort of lying to yourself—in all sincerity, I believe—about overcoming your feelings for Shelley, just like I was lying to myself about not being jealous of Gabrielle’s freedom and worldliness. We think of journals as the textual site of the self, but perhaps they’re more accurately the textual site of what we wish we were. Still, there’s a sort of human (if sometimes humiliating) greatness even in the struggle to resemble what one thinks one should be.

    Kevin (#33): I love it! In yours, though, unlike mine, I could actually take a little *more* emotion: you keep on making reference to things that made you “feel better,” but what was going on? Why were you depressed?

  48. Rosalynde Welch
    June 18, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    Jonathan (#35): It’s a tough question. I went though almost my entire mission journal last year in preparation for an essay I wrote about my mission experience, and I was shocked and really quite bereft to find how much I had forgotten about my time in Portugal. I don’t remember the events of my life well under normal circumstances, but you’d think that the intensity of the mission milieu would seal mission memories a little tighter; if anything, though, my memory of my mission is even more faulty. There were investigators, members, major traumas, even COMPANIONS of whom I had lost all memory. In some ways, then, I think my understanding of the experience has deteriorated with time (it’s been a little less than years now since I went into the MTC). I kept an obsessively detailed diary, but as you can see in the entry above (when I exhort my future self not to laugh at my pathetic puppy-dog’s need for praise and attention) I did so with a modicum of self knowledge, and when things got really hairy with a disturbed companion, I think I even showed real maturity both in my behavior and in my reflection.

    On the other hand, I think I have a better understanding now of how the mission experience changed me (it didn’t, really, except perhaps to give me more confidence in my ability to handle horror).

    So I’m not sure, either.

  49. June 18, 2005 at 5:33 pm

    Ben H,
    Shelley was there when I got back, but she had a boyfriend (which I was fine with, I wanted to date a lot of girls). I eventually convinced her to break up with him (he was not good to her at all), but we still didn’t date. We remained good friends but I knew that the moment I made a move, it would be a HUGE move towards marriage, which I wasn’t interested in at that point. She evetually got married to a nice guy and now they have a little girl. I married my greeny’s little sister (much cooler for mission stories).

    You’re right. Now I don’t feel like such an tool. Thanks.

    Yours is good, but I don’t know if it beats crying because you don’t think about your girlfriend anymore.

    Hey, how are you doing? Long time no talk. Too bad you didn’t marry me, huh?

    You’re right, I was lying to myself. After reading through a bunch of entries I realized that I did that a lot. Oh well, like Wilfried said, maybe I just needed that to grow and mature into the brilliant, spiritual giant that I am today :)

  50. Kevin Barney
    June 18, 2005 at 10:23 pm

    Rosalynde, I’m not sure I would have even had the capacity to articulate why I was depressed at the time, but in retropsect I think I can.

    There was never any question of my going on a mission. I’m fifth generation Mormon, and of course I was going to go. All of my friends were also going, so not going was never even a thought.

    But in a way, a mission was a huge sacrifice for me. I had been a pretty geeky kid in high school. I loved–and still love–sports, but I’m not naturally athletic, and even though I’m decent at basketball (mainly because I’m tall), I wasn’t good enough to play varsity basketball. In my high school, if you’re not an athlete, you’re pond scum. And being naturally intelligent was *not* a positive. I enjoyed high school and had lots of friends, but I was not Mr. Popular, and girls didn’t sit by their phones waiting for me to call.

    Then I go to BYU for my freshman year, and the scales fell from my eyes. I’m a kid from Illinois in a sea of LDS kids. It was like youth conference, only for nine solid months. Not being a great athlete no longer mattered, since very few were going to be varsity football players or whatever. Girls were actually interested in me. I loved to dance, and there were dances every week. I made a whole bunch of terrific friends in the dorm. Freshman year at BYU was like the highlight of my life.

    And just when I had experienced all of that nirvana, I give it up to go on a mission. I really, reallly wanted to go back to school. Two years seemed like it would be forever to me. I went more out of expectation and convention than any sort of passion. (That’s one reason I’ve always been a fan of sister missionaries; if they’re out there, you know they want to be.)

    My mission was hard on me. And yet, in many important ways, my mission made me. (You know the old saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”) I am a partner at a large law firm in a big city, and I can almost guarantee I would not have had the capacity to succeed academically and professionally the way I have had I not gone on my mission, for a lot of reasons.

    So yes, it was hard, and yes, I was a little bit depressed about what I had given up, especially at first. But *not* going would have been a mistake of epic proportions (to quote David Stern in his negotiations with the NBA Player’s Association).

  51. Adam Greenwood
    June 19, 2005 at 4:41 pm

    In the immediacy of an experience there are things that later you forget. On the other hand, you can’t really understand the meaning of an experience until you can see the end from the beginning. So i’m hoping that the true perspective, the eternal perspective, understands the experience as both present and past. There’s my own particular version of Mormon mysticism for you.

  52. Hanna Tycc
    June 19, 2005 at 5:55 pm

    I haven’t served a mission, but when I read my old college-days journals, I feel a sort of self-conciousness for the funny, lovelorn, homesick, girl that wrote them. In many ways, I am still that girl. The situations change, but the eternal personality is intact, for better or worse! My later, married years, entries are mostly recording the frustratons of my life at that time. In fact, I stopped writing because I thought that if my posterity ever read them, they would never want to get married ! So, really, why do you think we are counseled to keep a journal as it seems the spiritual events often seem trite and naive, the despair non-redemptive and all else mundane?

  53. Daniel
    June 20, 2005 at 11:20 am

    Adam (#51): great comment. I remember a talk from a couple when we were living in Maryland that counseled us not to call things trials that we believed were trials too quickly — often, in retrospect we would see that what we perceived as a trial was really a blessing and vice versa.

    My mission journals are full of self-doubt and anxiety that I wasn’t doing enough. It was a perpetually harrowing struggle to know that I was forever falling short of the consecration I covenanted to give. It taught me many valuable lessons for being happy in life and knowing how to deal with others, though. Most importantly, though, it taught me the Atonement.

    I think Hanna Tycc’s questions are interesting. I am reminded of a quote I heard (which may be apocryphal, though my Dad is certain he’s seen it in print) stating that when the adversary is released again following the Millennium, our posterity will use our journals to know how to deal with an adversary they’ve never deal with before. Probably a faith-promoting rumor, but it is interesting to think about.

  54. alamojag
    June 20, 2005 at 11:51 am

    Hanna (#52),

    I stopped writing in my missionary journal for the same reason you stopped writing your “married” journal–I did not want to remember my time with one of my companions. Unfortunately, I never really got back into the habit, and there are many things I missed and cannot really recapture. At least my mother saved all my letters home, so I still have that.

  55. roughrider
    June 21, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    What an amazing blog entry. I have had my mission journals on my mind for a year now, and also the unmitigated masochistic desire to TYPE THE ENTIRE THING out. I saved my MTC part until last, primarily because I KNEW it would be embarassingly idiotic. I was right! I’ve found that, as a previous post says, I also had a lot of self doubt and odd “spiritual” notes in there. I am still typing the thing, but I am longing for the entries later in the mission when it was just a travelogue, not filled with the “deep” thoughts of an extremely inexperienced 19-year-old!

    Here is my entry for what its worth:

    Sunday, December 03, 1995

    So much happy stuff has happened. I’ve worked a lot on my goal of sharing with others and giving. I guess it’s been noticed, because I’ve become a lot closer to the district. I love them all. I will tell about [that] in a bit. I wanted to write down some experiences I had.

    Last Friday, we went to a TRC, training resource center, where all the rooms were set up to look like living rooms and got to practice media referrals. We saw that they wanted like a Book of Mormon or such and got to give the Book of Mormon to them and explain what it was about. The first guy was kind of fun and really funny. When we knocked, he all opens the door an inch and says, “You’re not selling anything are you?” It kind of scared me, but we got in and began to teach. He had a lot of weird questions, like about the Indians and beliefs that the nature of Christ and stuff, we came out so stoked! The second one was basically the same and we got him to pray with us. These would have been golden investigators.

    The next thing [that happened is] that we finally got to teach the entire first palestra to some other missionaries. It was a great experience to work as a companionship. Normally we just teach one on one to each other. When teaching with each other, you realize that you’re on the same team, it’s not just me and him or them and us, we’re all together on this. I really love this work and know it is the most important thing I’ve ever done.

  56. From the genealogy library
    June 21, 2005 at 8:54 pm

    I volunteered at the genealogy library tonight. Nobody’s here, and the only reading I brought was The Varieties of Religious Experience, which I’m rereading, but not in the mood to crack open tonight. Aside from a few funny stories, I’ve never spoken seriously about my experience as a missionary before (it’s not terribly personal; I just don’t tell many serious stories). So here, tucked away in this old post, is my debut recollection for the benefit of the bloggernacle:

    One thing that struck me about Rosalynde’s diary entry is how much she sounded like the missionaries in my district in the MTC (aside from the references to being a sister missionary, of course). I was a few years older then the other missionaries in my district, and (as with most things in my life) I didn’t take many things about the MTC very seriously. Unfortunately (and as with most things in my life), the things that I did take seriously were all the wrong things, and I found most other missionaries insufferable because of their emotionalism, their enthusiasm, their I-wish-I-could-hug-the-world mentality. Viewed as a place of learning, the MTC was quite easy. I did not feel the spirit, but I was told I gave a powerful testimony (it’s probable that everyone was). But the MTC was altogether and by far the most miserable and profoundly negative experience of my life. From beginning to end, the routine, the approach, the spoon feeding, the lessons, the teachers, the repitition, the meetings–everything about it–all of it made me feel manipulated and beat up and kicked around and (in the end) humiliated. I kept all of this hidden, because we’re not supposed to feel this way about the MTC. For years I felt an immense amount of hostility toward the church because of these feelings. I guess it takes all types.

  57. SeptimusH
    June 22, 2005 at 11:42 am

    I couldn’t find anything from the 24th day, but this is from a couple days later


    I like that you can get chocolate milk here. At breakfast some Elder said they put some chemical in the orange juice to curb your sex drive or something. I wonder if that’s true. Wouldn’t surprise me. But they should probably put more in if it is. I kinda like Hermana Cutler and she’s not even that good looking. Hah. She hates me because I keep guessing what her first name is. She’s pretty spiritual.

    In class today we did a charla and Elder Morgan kept saying “Como se siento? Como se siento? Como se siento?” like twice every principle. That’s not even right. Now it’s stuck in my head. I’m going to get to Uruguay and ask myself how I feel about the gospel all day.

    I’m trying to be positive I really am. I keep praying that if I can just make it out of here things will get better. It’s so crowded here it almost makes it hard to breathe. I just keep reading and reading and reading the Book of Mormon. It calms me down. It’s great to feel peace like that and know it’s the spirit.

    I just wish Elder Pratt would stop trying on my shoes in the middle of the night.

  58. roughrider
    June 22, 2005 at 12:05 pm

    OMIGOSH! SeptimusH, that was by far the most honest entry that I’ve read so far! I’m laughing my head off. I know when I was in the MTC, ALL I could think about was hot hermanas and food too! Your entry about summed up my whole MTC experience. (That and guilt for not being “spiritual” enough).

    Hey “From the genealogy library”. Yah, the MTC experience is definitely not all it was made out to be. I always look at it like Boot Camp for missionaries. They couldn’t have made it worse, even if they had locked in unair-conditioned dorm rooms and blasted Christina Aguilera 24/7! I can’t blame the church leaders too much, because most of the feelings come from the other missionaries, who were probably feeling the same as me about the whole thing!

  59. Julie
    June 22, 2005 at 3:19 pm

    Thank you guys for making my missionary journal entries better than I thought they were!! I picked them up a couple of weeks ago (I have THREE official “Missionary Journals”) and hoped that no one would ever read them OR that I could take a black permanent marker and take out the “stupid” stuff. Never fall in “lust” on a mission! But, it gives me a good laugh and helps me to realize I’ve come a long way . . . for the better!!!

  60. Rosalynde Welch
    June 25, 2005 at 4:46 pm

    So I know this thread has gone the way of all good threads–into the great archive in the sky–but I can’t let it go without thanking everybody who contributed journal entries and comments; I left on a camping trip while the thread was live, and wasn’t able to follow up thoroughly.

    Ned (#36): You would have despised me in the MTC for my earnestness, and I would have written you off for your attitude, but if we could have overcome our mutual pride and prejudices I really think we could have made a cozy little MTC writing group for missionaries struggling to overcome a precious style. I was lucky that my 24th day was fairly low key, but when I got worked up things got pretty dramatic in my journal. Witness, for example, “This morning I sat in class, legs crossed, my head cocked toward the teacher but my eyes on the window. Windows. The bits of negative space in our world of outlines and surfaces. Transparency that gives way to more transparency–air–and more beyond that–sky. They were moving, rapidly changing color and position like wave on the ovean, almost, except these waves never rolled back down the sand. I kept my eyes on the window until my perspective shifted, my frame of reference reversed: now it seemed that the clouds were still, stable, stationary, while the classroom and all the little lives in it pitched and rolled in the wind. Meanwhile the teacher’s voice droned on.” Oh my. I think Sister Frandsen and Elder Flanders actually would have enjoyed sharing some Cap’n Crunch across the table at the MTC.

    Shelby (#37): You have the distinction of crafting my favorite sentence in this whole thread: “but after being very humbled I prayed for forgiveness and covenanted with the Lord to obey all the MTC rules and SYL.” There is something sublime about a missionary covenanting to obey SYL; I love it, actually, and I think it’s genuinely inspiring in its earnest banality.

    Naomi (#42): Naomi, what a tragedy! I hope you find your journal. And I’m also glad I didn’t send you excepts, then, since you were a much better missionary as Sora Frandsen than you would have been as Irma Frandsen. I’m still trying to figure out whether we would have made good companions, though.

    Roughrider (#55): There’s nothing like the TRC to get a missionary good and stoked, is there? I usually came out feeling partly exhilarated and partly sick to my stomach, since it was almost always a bad experience for my companion, and I knew that an icy evening was to follow.

    Genealogy library (#56): You should know that in a lot of ways the 24th day of my mission was an exception to the rule, and I mentioned that I was happy, hopeful, et al, because so often I wasn’t. Although my experience in the MTC wasn’t as dire as yours sounds, it was still by far the most difficult part of a mission that included some pretty rough water. Like you, I responded very poorly to many of the training techniques and to much of the general atmosphere, and I spend many hours chafing against how things were (and then repenting for that chafing). Things got a lot better for me once I was out of the MTC, and I hope they did for you, too. I’ve made an effort to tell my younger siblings that the MTC isn’t a wholly positive experience for everyone, and that if they are having difficulty, they should write to me because I’ll definitely understand. If it weren’t so depressing, I’d post some of the difficult days, too.

    SeptimusH: Hey, I think Hermana Cutler was in my district! When were you in the MTC?

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