Below is Matt's account of his first week in the MTC. He's taking to heart his brother Eric's mission advice: If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right.
"hadouken" -- a Japanese cultural art!
Last Saturday was our first trip to the Provo Temple. It was a great experience going through together. Couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day, but it wouldn't have hurt to turn the heat down a bit. Hot weather + suitcoats = very wet armpits.
chorotachi [group of elders] at the Provo Temple
Last Sunday was probably my first real day of discouragement. Elder Brown and I were still recovering from our second lesson with Kojima-san, which didn't go too well. Our Japanese was (and is still) pretty rough, and we just didn't feel like we got our message through at all. We tried to teach about prayer and the importance of being able to communicate with our Father in Heaven. He was still uncomfortable about praying in front of us, so we asked him to go home and pray about our message and then we left. We felt pretty bad afterwards, especially after hearing about how well everybody else's lessons went.
We were aware at this point that Kojima-san was not an actual investigator, but we still treat each lesson exactly as if he is, and the whole thing feels very real. I found myself sitting in church not really being very focused. I was starting to realize just how difficult the language was, and a whole bunch of other negative thoughts crept into my head when I should have been focused on the Savior. Instead, I was wrapped up in myself, feeling like I didn't know anything and feeling unworthy to be here. Basically the worst and most selfish things I could think of.
Luckily for me, the speaker that night, Robert Swenson, was inspired to say exactly what I (and probably many other missionaries) needed to hear. He gave a motivating talk about missionary work and how it's spreading so fast and how we are endowed with power as God's servants. We watched a talk by Elder Bednar entitled "The Character of Christ." It made me realize how selfish I was in feeling sorry for myself, whereas a person with the "character of Christ" would turn OUTWARD rather than INWARD during times of trial or adversity. I realized that I should be focused more and building up those around me rather than turning to my own feelings and just sulking on the inside.
We had three more lessons with Kojima-san this week. Our third, fourth, and fifth lessons were fantastic. In the third lesson, we taught about the Atonement. He gave the opening prayer and we started to talk to him about Christ. Though he was a little confused at first, we had him read DC 45:3-5 in the Japanese and he just sat there and pondered for almost a whole minute after reading it aloud. Then we discussed how Christ loves each one of us individually and knows us personally, and his face just lit up. He was so surprised and happy at that kind of news. The Spirit manifested itself strongly in that moment, and right then I truly realized what missionary work is all about. In our fourth lesson the next day, we committed him to baptism. What a cool feeling to see his face when he started to understand what we were teaching.
This week went by quickly. We're really picking up the language, but still have MILES to go. It's really a very simple language though. I'm just having a hard time remembering words. I can read and write hiragana now, but I haven't started learning katakana yet, and I'm not even gonna touch kanji until I have to. Though it was daunting at first when I first started learning to read Japanese characters, I've now realized just how simple it is. I really like it.
My district is growing incredibly close, like a family. On Tuesday night, all of the elders in my district (8 of us) gathered in my room to give a blessing to our district leader, who was getting sick. After the blessing, we stood around in a circle and talked for a little while, and eventually the evening turned into a full-fledged testimony meeting for more than an hour. We poured our hearts out to each other about how much we love missionary work, how much we love each other, and how much we love the Lord. Needless to say there were some wet eyes in the room, including my own. More than anything else, I am learning how to love others here. I walk around the campus and I just feel love. Everyone treats each other with respect and dignity. It's an amazing atmosphere.
I hope all is well up there in Idaho-land and elsewhere. I am happy and blessed to be here. Stay classy folks.
P.S. I have seen several friends here. I see my friend Kyle Ward, I also ran into Tyler Day yesterday, who reported in just this past Wednesday. It was so great to see him again. We haven't seen each other for two and a half years since he moved. WHAT a great guy.