I have a lot to catch up on, I think I finished my last e-mail on Monday night before we left the MTC, so I'll pick up there and try to answer all your questions along the way.
The coolest thing about Monday night was giving a blessing to a sister in my district. I don't think I explained this, but she is going to be put on some new medication, and they have to make sure she's alright for 6 weeks, so she actually stayed at the MTC and is now an Hermana instead of a Sister. She is really excited because her brother arrives in 2 weeks and she will get to see him now, and her dad speaks Spanish too. Anyway, that night, before we left, she asked for a blessing, which was something I'd been thinking about earlier in the day. As I started the blessing, the most amazing feeling came over me, and it continued all throughout. I knew that what I was saying was right, and what she needed to hear. I blessed her with help and with a capacity to learn, as well as comfort through a hard time and to feel loved in her new district. I'm going to miss Sister Pitman, but she'll be here soon enough and we seem to see other Elders and Sisters quite often. Priesthood is something I'd never really had the opportunity to exercise before though and it is an experience like nothing I've ever had before. I can definitely see why it is such a cool thing. One thing my branch president in the MTC said is that "The greatest disuse of the priesthood is misuse", and I definitely believe that, so as I'm on my mission I will look for opportunities to use it as often as possible, both for blessings and baptisms hopefully.
The rest of that Monday night was just talking and goodbyes. The next morning, some elders in our branch leaving at 2 AM stopped by to say hi, and then we woke up at 630. We went to the cafeteria and ate together as a district and snapped a few final pictures together. The next 3 or 4 hours was so boring, just sitting around waiting for the time to go to the travel office. Finally the time came, and we showed up and met all the other Elders and Sisters going to Riverside.
Traveling on public transportation was definitely an experience. Rather than bus us to the airport, they bused the 16 of us to the train station where we had to load and unload like 40 suitcases and 16 people not once, but twice, because we had to switch rails. Everything turned out alright though and it was not as stressful as I thought. At first someone said we'd have 40 seconds to get on and off and I thought there was no way it was going to work, but turns out we had a little more time. Once we arrived at the airport there were plenty of people willing to say hi and point us in the right direction. We got there and checked in and my bags were alright and then we got to our gate. At that point I volunteered to watch the bags because I knew there were a lot of elders more homesick and anxious to talk to their families than I was. Eventually it was my turn to call and I called you guys as you know. After I hung up, I thought we were about to board, but things did not go so smoothly. Our plane had a mechanical failure, so they delayed that indefinitely, and after an hour they switched us to another plane. But that plane was smaller, so we had to talk to people and make sure that all the Elders and Sisters were guaranteed seats on the plane. In the end everything worked out alright, and I really enjoyed flying. I mean I wouldn't want to do it every day but it was pretty cool to watch as the plane went up and down, and if you imagine the plane is on a rail it's just like a ride at Disney World. We ended up being delayed by like an hour or two in the end, and when we arrived there were various office Elders and vehicles to take us to the mission home. At the mission home we met the 5 Hermanas from the Mexico MTC as well as President and Sister Mullen. We had dinner and I had my first experience with food I wasn't too excited about. It had pineapple in it, but in the end it was actually pretty good, and I think I'll be able to handle anything people throw at me.
That night we had a fireside before we headed to various houses with other missionaries to spend our first night. I stayed with Elder Smith from the MTC, and Elder Hale and Gigier from Riverside. Elder Gigier is also from Oklahoma, a town called Briar near Tulsa. He's a huge Sooner fan apparently, every time people hear I'm from Oklahoma they ask if I've met Gigier. Anyway, we talked about the mission and stuff before heading to bed.
The next morning we headed to the mission office where I had an interview with President Mullen. He showed us his board that organizes the missionaries, it's all color coded and organized with stickers and stuff. I'm sure you'd love it as an accountant, I thought it was pretty cool myself. Later we had a bunch of training on things like housing and medical and cars and such, just the practical parts of life, before we had lunch and mingled with the trainers. After that we had a short get to know/testimony meeting and the assignments were made. And let me tell you, as if I hadn't had enough experiences already, but prayer works. The night before Elder Gigier had talked about his companions and he mentioned one named Elder Camper who he loved and got a lot done with, and overall he sounded really cool. So that night before I went to bed, I said my prayers, and asked for Elder Camper to be my trainer, because I'd heard a lot of good things about him, and he worked hard and was successful, and they had only good things to say about him. Lo and behold, he and I got put together in Prado View.
Elder Camper is from Maryland, he has an older brother whose 23, and he's like 21 I think? He did a year of college, or maybe 2, at a community college in Maryland, but he's planning on going to live with his Dad in Texas when he goes home. He knows a lot of stuff and is really nice and charismatic and sort of a class clown type personality but everybody likes him. And he did mention his brother being in Santa Rosa, I was going to ask but it sounds like Nathan has already told you about his Elder Camper.
As for our area, the areas here are super small because of how many people there are in Riverside. We've got 6 elders and 2 sisters living in our same apartment complex and we all are in cars because the areas are so close. Our apartment has 2 bedrooms and bathrooms and 4 elders in it, we're with 2 spanish elders who are super cool. It has a small kitchen, it's own washer and dryer and plenty of room. Elder Frost, one of my ZLs in the MTC, and his companion live a couple buildings over, and the sister's live pretty close too. Elder Frost and I get to hang out and do exchanges every once in a while but not too often right now because we're greenies still. It's nice to have a familiar face around and he's a good kid.
Corona is a nice area, it's got a little bit of everything from well off to struggling a bit, though Elder Camper says we're in the best area. The people here aren't too rich to listen to us, they're just humble and willing enough and there are nice people everywhere. We are in a car area, but to save on miles we'll probably bike once or twice a week. I love my bike, it's super cool, but it is really weird to have a bike that is the right size. I got on it the first time and practically fell over because it felt so weird and was so easy to pedal, and also it was in the lowest gear so there was no resistance. Anyway, we haven't ridden them out yet but I'm excited.
The ward here is great, a lot of families and older people, but mostly families. They have a really nice building. We meet at 9, and another ward meets at 1130. There are plenty of youth to come out and do splits with us, and our dinner calendar is always full as far as I've seen. The food so far has been good, and the place we were at last night when I sent the picture reminded me of home, it's probably just what it will be like when you and dad have the missionaries over when no one else is at home. They were a cool family though, and so many people here have kids who served missions, it's amazing. He actually had a son who had heard of Jeff, or rather Elder Sorenson from the OTM mission. You'll have to ask Jeff if he knows an Elder Blaisdell. They never served together but he'd heard of him apparently.
One thing I think is kind of funny is that you said I wouldn't need a rain jacket, but it has already rained twice here. I guess I brought it with me. I found an unclaimed jacket in my closet though so Elder Camper says it's mine if I want it, so don't worry about getting me one. I've been switching between my shoes and both pairs are comfortable, though we haven't done a whole lot of walking yet anyway.
We haven't done much walking because missionaries here do planning and meetings galore. Part of it is because of transfers and everything that messed it up, but we had weekly planning, which takes like 3 hours, plus a couple of zone and district meetings, as well as planning every night and we had a stake missionary meeting on Sunday. It does help though, when we wake up in the morning we just know exactly who we need to visit and it takes like 30 seconds to finalize our plans for the day.
I haven't had a whole lot of teaching experiences yet either, though Elder Camper is helping me to start making some short dinner messages I can share. He says it's nice to just build up a repertoire to pull from after you've been out for a while. Other than that, we have just been introducing me to a lot of less actives and investigators in order to set up regular meetings, so this week we should have a lot more actual lessons that are by the book.
An interesting thing about our mission though is that we don't do any door-to-door tracting. Apparently that was pretty unsuccessful so we do CONTACTS, it's an acronym for steps you do, but basically it is that you walk around outside and talk to people. If they're already outside, they're more willing to talk to you is the idea, so we'll see how that goes.
Our ward mission leader is very no nonsense, he doesn't like meetings and wasting time, so we mostly just talk to him about baptisms or things we need his help on, and we have a ward missionary who is super cool. We go over there on Sunday nights for a little bit to talk about our week and relax on "P-Day Eve" as Elder Camper calls it. There are also plenty of young men we can call for splits and team-ups.
We also had a service project this past week that was pretty fun, we were digging/picking out some dirt and rock in the back of someone's yard to make it level so that they can extend their patio. It was for an investigator and we had like 10 missionaries from our zone going at it, and I think it made his family a little more receptive to us, so maybe they'll start sitting in on the lessons too or something.
P-days so far are pretty fun. We have the whole zone get together for volleyball or basketball or Frisbee. Probably next week we'll play Frisbee if we find a field or somewhere to do it. Elder Barton really likes Frisbee as well so he'll help me push it to make it happen. After that we go to lunch and go shopping at a Walmart nearby, before we come to the family history center to e-mail. Afterward we'll go shower up and clean up the apartment and relax for a little.
We're having a ward party this weekend, I'm pretty excited for it, there will be baseball or Frisbee or something fun to do and it will be a good way to network with the ward and meet people and their families.
As for how the work is progressing, we have 2 baptisms this week. One is a guy names Mitch who is really cool. He's 55, and he hit a rough patch, he had a stroke and was going through a divorce and such, and he referred himself after seeing a Mormon Message. I haven't taught him much, but I might be in the font to help baptize him, because half his body is paralyzed pretty much so it will take more than one. The other baptism is a granddaughter of a member, but because she is 9 she is technically a convert and not a child-of-record, so it is under the mission's jurisdiction. Previous missionaries have already taught her everything, so I don't have much of a hand in it. Elder Camper says that it will be good to get in the font and get wet though so that I'll know what it's like and want it more.
I sent out some letters from the MTC and from here so hopefully they get to those people soon and they write back. The mail lady said that letters can take 7-10 days so I'll try to be patient, but definitely still write me please. I'd love to get mail from friends from college and church back home, so don't be shy, especially to those of you I've already written to! Don't leave me hanging! And family members, e-mail me too, I have enough time to e-mail you guys back.
It's hard to believe I've only been here like 5 days, it both seems shorter and longer, but I'm enjoying it here and adapting well. I hope I didn't miss anything from the past few days, and I hope this week I'll have more contacting and teaching experiences to talk about after a full week.
"Get on your knees and pray, then get on your feet and work." - Gordon B. Hinckley