Hi, I'm Jacob Stern! I've chosen to spend two gap years as a missionary.
What is a missionary?
Well, if you've ever seen a pair of guys in white shirts and ties on bikes, chances are it's us. If they start talking with a stranger about a blue book called The Book of Mormon, it's a pretty good guarantee they're a missionary. That's me on the far left.
Why did I go on a mission?
It's pretty simple. It's an expectation that all young men of our faith serve a two-year mission. I prayed to God and felt like it was the right thing to do. Now I'm here, and it's been the best decision I've ever made.
What does a missionary do?
The missionary program is a volunteer, unpaid organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called Mormons). We are assigned to an area with a language, to teach and serve the people in that region for two years. I'm currently in the California San Fernando Mission -- Spanish Speaking!
We are always assigned a companion. In other words, another 18-23 year old guy to work, study... and do everything else with. I'm with Elder Hoyt right now 24-7 until we get transferred. It's good practice learning to get along with people :)
This is a normal missionary schedule:
6:30 Get up, pray, exercise
7:00 Shower, breakfast, prepare for day
8:00 Personal study -- of the scriptures, including The Book of Mormon and the Bible, and other resources
9:00 Companion study -- prepare lesson plans, practice teaching
10:00 Language study -- there's always room for improvement!
12:00 Proselytizing! Teaching lessons, talking to people on the street, inviting people to come to Christ.
9:00 Return to the apartment, plan the next day!
9:30 Prepare for bed, write in journal, pray.
10:30 Hit the hay.
One of the blessings of life as a missionary is that we are often fed by kind strangers and members of the church. It's an unspoken rule that we eat whatever people feed us. Spending most of our time with Central American immigrants, the menu ranges from from delicious "pozole" (soup with chunks of meat in it) to "caldo de siete mares" (seven seas soup), which includes every living thing they can find in the sea. A favorite delicacy is catfish-head soup. Who knew how different culture could be without leaving the country??
One time we were talking to people on the street outside a gas station when a van caught fire on top of it right in front of us. As a missionary we tend to knock a fair number of doors looking for people to teach. But it was a whole new experience rushing up the stairs of the small apartment building that faced the gas station and knocking as many doors as we could yelling at them to get out as fast as possible.
Part of becoming part of the Hispanic culture is learning to like chile peppers with everything. A favorite mantra is "si no lleva chile, no lleva sabor!" Translation: if it doesn't have chile, it has no flavor! After a few unfortunate and embarrassing experiences, I've learned to wash my hands very thoroughly between eating chile and touching my eyes.
One day about 6 months ago we were walking on the street and started a conversation with a teenager named Eddie who had his thumb in a brace from getting in a fight. But he said we could come by and start teaching him and his family. I moved out of the area, but just a few weeks ago they were finally all baptized and started a new chapter of their lives.
I'm currently a zone leader, which means I get to go on 24-hour exchanges with other missionaries a couple of times a week and help good ideas spread around the zone (a group of 16 missionaries). My companion and I also get to put together a "Zone Training Meeting" every month. It can get pretty late and pretty messy (see picture), but it's a blast!
Also, having a new companion every 6-12 weeks, we get to try lots of new things. Combine my love of crepes with Elder Hoyt's creative mind, and we get... pumpkin cheese-crepes and banana-cookies-and-cream crepes!
Para aquellos de ustedes que hablen espanol, tendran que disculparme por lo que me falta del idioma. El que se habla aqui se queda lejos del espanol mas puro de Sudamerica y Espana. Pero ni modo, quiero mucho a la gente de aqui y llevan sus propias experiencias unicas. Si alguien quisiera comunicarse conmigo, mi correo electronico es firstname.lastname@example.org
It's been a great 8 months so far, and I look forward to meeting you all when I get back!