Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I Was Born to Be Hispanic

Hello world!!

So crazy crazy CRAZY week. My last week in the CCM was AMAZING. Seriously, that place is the best. Except the food sucks. But other than that, it's awesome. By the way, before I forget, Hermana Williams (my favorite teacher in the world) knows Alayna!! They used to work together. It's such a small world in Provo.

I am surprised I am super hyper right now because I was up for 20 hours yesterday and got like 7 hours of sleep and have had training all morning. So if this is all over the place I apologize.

My second week in the CCM was so fun/spiritual. West Campus = not as cool as Main Campus, except the beach volleyball court. That was awesome. And let's just say I understand why we aren't allowed to keep score, because my zone might have been slightly ridiculously competitive. Anyway, so we kept teaching our "investigators" and I spoke more and more in the lessons. My teacher Hermano Henderson said my Spanish improved SO much during those two weeks. Word. Let's see....oh yeah! I sang in Sacrament Meeting Sunday. That was fun! Just the first and last verse of Yo Se Que Vive Mi Senor, but it was good. My barrio is all Hispanic, so most people couldn't really sing so everyone was excited about a special music number. Plus it meant they wouldn't call on me to speak, so a double win! Though honestly I speak pretty well now. Speaking English these last couple days has been a little weird...normally I don't speak it this much.
I got one of the biggest compliments from my zone last week. They told me I was born to be Hispanic. Why? Just because I love Spanish and was beginnning to fit in with the latinos. One time I actually forgot I was white. Like for real. Elder Ramos made some joke about white people and like 10 minutes later I was like, "Hey!! I'm white!" and he was like "I was wondering when you were going to realize that..." So basially they accepted me into their culture and hopefully it will be like that in my first area.

Random side note...basically everyone I meet now asks me about my eyes. No one can tell for sure if they're hazel or green and so people always ask. It's kinda weird. Hermana Orantes said that most days they're such a bright green that it almost freaks her out if I hold eye contact for too long. Hahaha she's silly. But really...what is up with my eyes? I swear this isn't normal.

I already miss some of the missionaries from the CCM. There are two Elders from another district in my zone that I got to know really well last week, and they are the best. Super sweet. They're headed to Mexico, but they have my email so hopefully we keep in touch. One of them might be going to BYU post mission, so if he does I'm sure we'll meet up at some point. He's my favorite (shhh!). Totally cute, super mature for an elder, and helpful with my Spanish. My CCM companion leaves tomorrow for San Jose. So crazy!

For coming to Tucson I was assigned as the travel leader, which is funny because I was traveling with 5 elders. It was weird to be with elders without my companion. But they were awesome. We got to Tucson no problem (and my bags weighed 49 and 50 lbs, with my carry on being probably like 35, yikes!) and they said that this is the smallest group of new missionaries they've had in over a year. I guess usually they have 30-35 missionaries, and we had 8. Since I was the only sister, I rode with President and Sister Killpack for most of the driving (we stopped at the Mormon Battalion monument), which is cool because that means I got to spend like an extra hour or so getting to know them. They're awesome. The APs, who have been helping with all the training, are super great too. Elder Hansen, who is a Spanish speaking elder, chatted with me a ton about Spanish and all sorts of stuff, and told me he thinks I'm the most prepared missionary he's ever met. It was like the biggest compliment I've ever gotten.

My companion's name is Hermana Johnson! She is from Virginia, turns 22 on Thursday, and has been on her mission for 10 months. I might speak more Spanish than her, but that's okay. As far as I can tell (from the 5 hours I've known her) she is very sweet and cheery. So we'll probably get along just fine. I'm her second daughter in a row. So she's good with the whole training thing.

Now for the big reveal! My first area will be....drum roll please....RIO RICO!!! It's just north of Nogales. Which yes, means I will be spending plenty of time in Nogales on the border. They're sending me right down to Mexcio-town. My area includes a huge Spanish branch and a small English ward. Apparently the work down there is exploding, so I am stoked. I've been told we live in a member's home too, so that will be interesting. Currently I'm still in Tucson, so I don't have a lot to say about my area since I sort of haven't been there yet...but yeah. I'm pumped! So ready to teach!

Alright I'm about out of time, so here's the new spiritual challenge of the week. (By the way what's the report on the 1 Nefi reading?) Say your personal prayers morning and night, and make the morning one ONLY be a prayer of thanks. I promise if you do, you will have amazing days. It'll make you 65465416514654x happier.

Love you all!

Hermana Blackford



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The CCM is the Happiest Place on Earth...Not Disneyland

Hola Familia!

So guess what!! I'm a missionary!! For realz. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, OH MY GOSH do I love the CCM (MTC)!!!!!!! It's the weirdest experience because it's kinda stressful since there is so much to do, but at the same time the Spirit is so strong here that it's okay. I want to cry, laugh, and scream all at the same time. Mostly I just laugh though. I haven't cried yet, which is good. Definitely 0% of me wants to go home. The people who can't handle it here take things too seriously. Relax. We're learning. No one will be angry if you mess up. It's a place full of the Spirit and love of God.

Advice to sisters coming to the CCM (like Shannon and Sidney and McKenzie) is that close enough is not okay. Skirts need to COMPLETELY cover your knee when you sit (so glad mine all are good). Close enough doesn't fly. You'll feel super awkward. Also, DO NOT dress casual. Skirt does not equal dressy. Again, so grateful for the clothes I brought. The better you look, the better you'll feel, and more people will take you seriously.

My companion is Hermana Arias. I seriously love her. We're different, but we help each other so much and get along really well. I push her to be on time and to be organized, she helps me with Spanish and pushes me to be more serious and focused. (But come on, me distracted? Haha never.) She was born in Guatemala and moved to Rhode Island when she was 8. She's knows more English than Spanish, but still is like 97% fluent. I'm at like 70% fluent. Haha.
I have the best district and zone in the entire world. I LOVE them all. We're seriously like a family. We do everything together - even the things we don't have to. We eat together, pray together, study together, sing together (well mostly me singing), went to the temple together, and just are best friends. So much love for these people.
So super hilarious, not only am I the only gringa in my district, but I'm the only white person AND the only person who didn't grow up in a bilingual home in my entire ZONE. Since I'm the only one who doesn't have a Spanish last name, everyone knows my name and who I am. My first day here everyone kept asking me how I learned Spanish and my teachers looked shocked the first time they saw me, a gringa, in class. But everyone says I speak really well, especially for never really speaking it outside of 3 months in Spain. I don't talk a lot in class (we speak English often at meals and such) because for the first time in my life, I am totally insecure about my Spanish. Which is silly, but it's hard when I'm with people that are all Hispanic and speak faster and don't have American accents.
Okay let me give you the low down on my district. We have:
Hermana Blackford - that's my name (Arizona Tucson)
Hermana Arias - mi companera (California San Jose)
Hermana Orantes - SUPER awesome, is almost done at BYU, is a great leader. She's from Texas but she's mitad mitad mexicana y salvadoranian (California Oakland)
Hermana Sosa - So cute! She's from La Republica Dominicana and she talks SO FAST and at first I couldn't keep up but I'm okay now. (Salt Lake Central)
Elder Lopez - Convert of 3 years, born in Mexico and grew up in Nueva York. Really quiet, but is so amazingly spiritual when he talks. (California Bakersfield)
Elder Ruiz - Also born in Mexico but raised in Vegas. He's a bro. Super chill. (California Bakersfield)
Elder Carranco - Born in Ecuador, raised mostly in Utah. He is also quiet, but seriously says hilarious things if you listen closely. He's really sweet and I wish I knew him better. He's also our district leader. (California San Jose)
Elder Ramos - Oh man...where to start. SO many stories about this elder. He was born and raised in Honduras, and moved to Virginia at age 14. He speaks English really well (had ESL in high school). Better English than my Spanish actually. He's crazy. He jokes around all the time and reminds me of what Braden was probably like in the CCM. So the first few days he kept laughing when I would speak Spanish, especially when one time I went to say 137 and I couldn't remember how to say numbers. I was sort of offended and this is probably where some of my insecurity stems from, but finally on Saturday I was like "Why do you laugh!? I'm trying so hard and I know I speak slowly but at least I know another language unlike most Americans!!" And he basically didn't realize that it was hurting my feelings a little and was like "I laugh because it's so cute!" Which then he was like "We aren't supposed to say stuff like that so I never said anything, but I'm not laughing at you, you speak really well!" So then I felt better. He and I joke around all the time. Seriously he's a lot like Braden. I'm super grateful, because as much as we want to strangle him and make him focus sometimes, the humor is much needed and we all love him anyway.
So yesterday my district decided that I need to speak more in Spanish, and when I try to talk to them in English for things that I could say in Spanish, they pretend they can't hear me or that they don't speak English. Super frustrating, but very helpful.
We also learned yesterday that I am Hispanic at heart. I think my zone often forgets I'm white, because they make so many jokes about white people, and when I'm like "Hey!" they tell me I don't count. It's super weird being a minority. Haha but I love it.
So...I'm moving!!! I leave for West Campus in like an hour. They're creating basically a mini Mexico CCM over there and putting all the Spanish speakers there. My zone jokes that they just want to get the Hispanics out of Main Campus. My address is the same for letters (they'll forward it).
I have three of the most amazing teachers in the world. Hermana Williams is my favorite. She's like a General Authority and everything she says is like revelation. Hermano Ackerson and Henderson are great too, and have taught me so much. I LOVE being a missionary, I LOVE the gospel, and I LOVE the CCM. I can't believe I'm halfway through with my time here. I have so realized though that the Lord really knew that this was the exact time I needed to be here. My district is so great and I couldn't ask for a better companion. I just feel so much love for everyone. Everyone loves having the hyper peppy gringa around too, so I feel very loved and accepted. The worst thing is that I can't hug everybody. I seriously want to hug people, but can only hug sisters so...yeah. Elder Carranco was sharing his testimony yesterday at a district teaching appointment yesterday and I was practically crying and wanted to just hug him. Instead I just told him I wanted to hug him.
I wish I could make everyone in the whole world feel the Spirit. It CHANGES LIVES. Every day. There is no way you can deny the truthfulness of the gospel. It's the best thing in the entire world.
Love you all! Make sure to pray morning and night!

Hermana Blackford
P.S. Read 1 Nephi chapter 1. My challenge. Because if you think about it, there's a reason why it's the first chapter, the chapter everyone reads dozens of times. It took my district like 15 minutes to discuss the first three verses. So if you take less than 3 minutes per verse, you're missing something.
P.S. (again) Elder Carranco just gave me some sour gummy worms!! Told you I have the best district in the world. Haha we're all in the laundry room right now. Like I said...We do literally everything together.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Deciding to Serve

           In June of this year, I received my call to preach the gospel in the Arizona Tucson mission. And while this wasn't a surprise to many of my friends and members of my home ward, I've still had many people ask me why on earth I would “give up” a year and a half of my life, when I could be at college, having fun, dating, and enjoying having few obligations and responsibilities, to walk around in the hot desert and try to teach people about Jesus Christ. At first I wasn’t even sure how to respond to this question, not because I didn’t know, but because it is almost impossible for me to put my feelings into words. When my bishop asked me to share my experience on deciding to serve a mission as part of my farewell talk, I knew that I finally had to sit down and find a way to express this burning desire I have within me.
I grew up in the LDS or "Mormon" church. From the outside, I seem like the stereotypical Mormon girl. I was baptized at age eight, attended Primary, Young Women's, seminary, mutual, and attended BYU before serving a mission. I did well in school, was (mostly) obedient to my parents, and dressed modestly. So of course it seemed natural that someone like me would want to serve a mission. Some people thought my parents expected me to. Others thought I got caught up in the hype of the missionary age requirements being lowered and so many young men and women leaving. A few people even dared to suggest that I was going because the young man I had been dating left on his mission. All of those reasons are absolutely false. The question of why I chose to serve a mission goes back much farther and is much deeper than that. And the answer begins with how I gained a testimony of my Savior, Jesus Christ, and His restored gospel that is found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I never had an “Ah-ha!” experience where I suddenly knew this was the true church or the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I never had a vision. I never saw an angel. I never had a moment that I can trace the beginning of my testimony to. It just didn’t happen like that. My testimony grew with small moments and seeing the blessings that came into my life when I obeyed the commandments of God. I found that the best way to know if what I learned at church and from my parents was true was to try it for myself. And I did. I prayed, read my scriptures, paid my tithing and remained chaste.  Then, I looked at my life to see if these things made a difference. My findings were this: I was happy. I might be one of the happiest people alive - just ask anyone who knows me. And I don’t say that to brag, but because I honestly just feel happy 99% of the time. People frequently ask me how I am so happy so often. And I testify that I can directly trace my happiness to my efforts to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Once I realized that the gospel is what makes me happy, everything else began to fall into place.
 I think I started saying I was going to serve a mission when I was about 11 or 12 years old. Around that same time, I began having my first real missionary experiences. I remember talking to my friends in 7th and 8th grade, who were Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and atheist, about our different beliefs, and being excited when we found things that we had in common. I invited friends to my home, to church, mutual activities, stake dances, and basically any sort of church activity. I saw my older brother do the same with his friends. Each year, I saw my desire to share the gospel grow as my testimony grew. Why? Because I was happy! The gospel makes me so happy, and I want everyone else to be as happy as I am. This desire for others to be happy is what drives me to serve a mission. I didn’t just wake up one day and know that I wanted to serve. I woke up day after day feeling so happy and blessed and then I slowly realized that I can bring this joy to other people. And that is exactly what I want to do.
I chose to serve a full-time mission, to dedicate 18 months of my life because I believe. I believe that there is a God, who is our loving Heavenly Father. I believe we are His children. I believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior. I believe that The Book of Mormon and The Bible are the word of God. I believe that there are living prophets on the earth today. I believe that families can live together throughout time and all eternity. And I believe that I can share this message with others and change their lives for the better.