In February, the vision of my next two years was perfectly laid out. I would serve in the Chile Rancagua Mission using the Spanish I would learn in the Mexico Missionary Training Center.
But then, all of that changed. In March, I was studying for my college religion class with a friend when the Church made an announcement about a new virtual Missionary Training Center experience. She, too, had a mission call, but to the Barcelona Spain Mission. We were surprised, we had many questions, and frankly, we were worried about our original assignments.
But as I’m wrapping up my six-week MTC experience from my home in California, even though it has been different from what missionaries are accustomed to, I have learned how to care for others without meeting them in person and how to adjust to abrupt changes.
Separate but Connected
We may not all be on the MTC campus, but I feel like I know my fellow Elders and Sisters. All virtual MTC missionaries are invited to join a Facebook group where they can post their experiences, spiritual insights, teaching tips, and get to know other missionaries going to their original and temporary assignments around the world. This has become one of my favorite parts of being a part of the virtual MTC. Some of the posts I have seen include questions from future missionaries starting virtual MTC soon, inspirational videos, screenshots and group pictures of districts that finished their training, and of course temporary reassignments where missionaries can connect with those going to the same mission.
When I had time on P-days, I could use this page to keep myself feeling connected to missionary life and the idea that there are many others going through a similar experience. Weekly, I hear about reassignments to Africa, South America, Mexico, Canada, the United States, Asia, and other locations. I have received a temporary reassignment to the Arkansas Bentonville Mission. It is comforting to know that missionary work is continuing all around the world, and it is such a blessing to know that I can serve the people in my own country, especially during these times of sadness and chaos that create a more urgent need for the blessings of the gospel.
Apart from the Facebook group, missionaries have found other ways to bond. One day I got to know my district and companion more during an after-class Zoom call meant for socializing. We played “Two Truths and a Lie” and laughed over the funny stories related to some of the truths. We even continued to joke about them later on. I also created some Zoom polls to find out peoples’ favorite chip flavors, cereal, or other random facts. And we aren’t limited to communicating through Zoom, thankfully. We have group chats on Google Hangouts with our teachers going over homework assignments to do before class.
One of the best parts of these group chats and Zoom calls are all the funny technological issues that come up, like videos freezing, sound quality problems, and all the wholesome pranks you can pull over Zoom, like changing your background, changing your screen name—things like that. One time during a break an Elder in my district created a makeshift green screen using a notebook. From a viewer’s perspective, when he held up the notebook his camera would suddenly change to a picture of our teacher. He would time these moments perfectly with the class dialogue. I have so many screenshots of hilarious scenarios like this one and most of us laughing so hard we are crying. This happens a lot actually—almost every day, now that I think about it. That’s one really unique part of this virtual MTC experience—all the photos I include in my weekly email to family and friends are Zoom screenshots.
My district also usually tries to do more group calls, which help us connect and feel like we are with each other during our MTC experience. For example, each Tuesday we have time on our own to watch the weekly missionary devotional—which is yet another blessing from technology. A few times we were able to get together on Zoom and share our testimonies and feelings afterward. I know that this has brought us closer and taught us how the gospel truly can unite us.
One day that was very unique in the virtual MTC experience was June 23, the day a 7.4-magnitude earthquake happened in Oaxaca, Mexico. Mid-lesson, our two morning teachers told us they were having an earthquake then muted themselves and turned off their videos. All 16 missionaries in the district sat there in shock. After a quick Google search showed us the magnitude of the earthquake, we said a prayer for our teachers’ safety and the safety of the people of Mexico.
We continued to study Preach My Gospel, and after 5 or 10 minutes, one of our teachers came back on, told us they were fine, and thanked us for the prayer. That moment of uncertainty mirrors other moments of uncertainty we have all faced since COVID-19. But despite the many shakes and changes that the world has faced, I consider it a blessing to still have an MTC experience at all. It is evidence to me that the Lord is in charge and directs His Church.
The Home Training Center
I am the youngest of five kids in my family, so it is just my mom and dad with me at home. I don’t spend a lot of time during the week with them since I’m on Zoom and studying most of the day, but at night we do Come, Follow Me together and I spend all of Sunday with them. I have realized the personal blessings that come from family. There are spiritual insights to the scriptures that have come about because of family discussions. When I have a question about something I learned in class, it is easy to bring it up during family scripture study or at the dinner table. As a missionary, you teach that the gospel blesses families, and I feel blessed to be able to have my family with me while being taught how to help others understand and appreciate the gospel.
I also feel like I’m connecting with my family in new ways. If I go on a run before class, my parents will switch off being my companion and will ride a bike alongside me. I can also call my siblings on P-day or on Sunday when they join in for our at-home sacrament meeting and Come, Follow Me study. I think my family looks forward to hearing about the things I am doing and learning, which has given me an even greater appreciation for each member of my family.
Insights on Isolation
After developing a habit and rhythm with my companion by studying the scriptures, sharing our thoughts and some of our spiritual experiences, and all the other worthy things you do as a missionary, I started to think I was isolated since I really only had my district, my weekly email list, and Facebook as my connection to the outside world. Some may consider this quite a lot of connection, but after learning, memorizing, and internalizing the purpose of a missionary, you want to apply and fulfill it. You want to be with people and invite them to come unto Christ.
And as I’ve reflected on my unique virtual MTC experience, I think I’ve realized that God has been the one inviting me to come unto Christ. He has taught me that I won’t ever be truly isolated because the Savior is there for me individually. I just have to realize the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Even though the virtual MTC has been a unique experience, I truly feel it has shed some light on the miracles and blessings the Lord is eager to give, even in the midst of a pandemic.
Images: Courtesy of Elder Brayden Christensen
Editor’s note: Elder Brayden Christensen is the brother of LDS Living staff member Haley Lundberg.