Elder Eric Johnson
1650 R W BERENDS DR SW apt 6
Wyoming, MI 49519

Please send letters or packages by First class or Priority Mail via U.S.P.S. so they can be forwarded to him.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

1/26/17 Fires, Playing the piano (!), Room cleaning

Dear family and friends,

It's crazy to think that in 20 days I'll be on a flight headed to Michigan. This week had a net positive feel to it, but had some hard parts. We don't have enough time in the day to really study Spanish as much as I want, and our teachers are only speaking Spanish now. I have to give my teachers 100% of my attention to be able to get what they are telling us. I often zone out, and it seems every time I do they call on me to answer something, that's not that fun. 
Admiring a Mexican moth

This week was the week of the fires. The CCM is surrounded on three sides by large hills/small mountains. Over the last 7 days there has been 5 wild fires on the mountains. The fires probably don't threaten the homes on the hills very much because they are of concrete construction. Most of the fires were pretty small, but the largest hill north of campus has a fairly large bowl with houses on the bottom and was covered with small dead brush. A fire broke out around lunch when we were in the cafeteria. It seemed to have started at one of the upper houses and spread up. It burned the whole face of the mountain and had a massive smoke cloud. 

This week was also the week of instruction. We are most of the way through week 4 and are finally getting some instructions on what we have to do during some of our designated study/preparation times. Throughout the day we have periods of time for planning, companion study, language study, and personal study. We haven't ever really used these times as they are designed because we were never really told exactly what is meant to fill the time. Everything points to teaching investigators, and we received this instruction after teaching "an especially boring lesson." Everyone was tired that day, and the lesson was the first thing we did after breakfast. We didn't relate why what we were teaching was important and the spirit was not there. Hermana Gonzales sat us down and asked us what we thought about the lesson. 

After we explained what we thought, she told us we need to plan better. Your planning time is used to figure out what each investigator needs to be taught. Personal study turns out you're supposed plan what topics would help the investigator and think about what the investigator needs to hear. During Companionship study you put everything together into a lesson, and during language study you learn the vocabulary for that lesson you need. I feel like we should have been told this a little earlier.... 

Yesterday there was a worldwide broadcast to all missionaries. There was a rule change that affects our schedule. Most rules are tailored to the region, but the main rule change gave more choice to missionaries in their daily activities. We are given an extra hour of sleep if we want it, and our various study times now have ranges of times they should fill instead of exact times. It wasn't as exciting and new as I had hoped. 

Sunday was another good day. Before church we had a branch counsel meeting. Our zone leaders have had some issues between themselves, as in they have very conflicting personalities and struggle with each other, but they gave a really good message on what it takes to have a successful companionship. One thing they shared was that when someone is criticizing you or correcting you in one way or another you should always look for the truth in what they are saying. 

One thing I do, especially when I'm being told off in Spanish, is I tend to ignore what they are saying and have a mind set that they don't know what they are talking about. It takes a little more to understand where they are coming from and apply the basic truths they are trying to help you out with. In the same meeting one of the sister trainer leaders in our district shared a quote from her dad, she said "you should leave your worst companion leaving them thinking they were your favorite." We should strive to treat everyone with love, even if they are really annoying.  

I played the hymns and Hermana Clayton conducted the music. Five people spoke on various topics about the Bible and Book of Mormon. I took the risk and didn't prepare a talk, which was really dumb but still paid off, because I figured if I'm playing the hymns and teaching the priesthood lesson there is no way I'm also giving a talk. My companions prepared a talk on how the Book of Mormon supports the Bible. Our topics this week are on the attributes of Christ. 

After Sacrament meeting, we have a district meeting which is typically good. That day we set goals for the week and reflected on the teachings from our branch presidencies. Priesthood meeting was taught by my companions and me. We taught about the power of the Holy Ghost. The first few minutes were a little awkward because no one was participating, and Elder Eeves was passed out in the back. After those few minutes we led a really good discussion on how as missionaries we can teach with the Holy Ghost and our duty is to always strive to have his companionship. We talked a little on obedience as well. 

Elder Eeves shared an interesting point about the Pharisees and obedience. The Pharisees were some of the most obedient people, but because they lacked the guidance of the Spirit, they missed the whole point. They were obedient but they weren't perfectly obedient. Elder Eeves then asked what is the difference between obedience and perfect obedience. He said perfect obedience is being exactly obedient, but also following the guidance of the spirit in every situation. We have a missionary manual with all our rules as missionaries, but if we had the companionship of the spirit always we wouldn't need the book. We closed our lesson with the message that ultimately as missionaries we can only do our best to teach the lessons. It's the Holy Spirit that really testifies of truth.

I almost made it through the CCM without getting in trouble. To preface, our room is pretty clean. It is not perfection, but it isn't dirty or unclean. We got a note on Saturday that we failed a cleaning check with some notes on what we need to fix and that we needed to find the CCM President's wife and tell her we fixed those few things. They asked us to put away our suitcases, but they were under a desk because they don't fit in the cupboard, and they asked us to take out the trash, which wasn't full and we don't know where to get more garbage bags. So like idiots we didn't look for her. On Tuesday we got a note saying meet to her at her office at 1 pm. We saw the note at 2:30..... so we walked over and she wasn't there. We left a note apologizing for not being there  and we still haven't seen her...... lol oops. I guess technically we still haven't gotten in trouble. At least now our room is perfection. 

Some things that happened that don't warrant a full paragraph:

-Elder Henriksen slept in the cupboard above our closets for the night for 200 pesos (about $9). He said it was reasonably comfy.

-Elder Wallin tried unsuccessfully to hop a fire hydrant box. At the ccm next to fire hydrants are these red boxes with a glass mirror on the outside that says incase of fire break glass. On this inside is a fire hydrant wrench and 100 feet of fire hose coiled up. Wallin was talking about  how he ran hurdles in high school and could hurdle the box. Well he didn't get nearly enough vertical and broke the glass, luckily he didn't get hurt, but he and his companion ran away. My district was in our TALL classroom and only saw them running.

-For breakfast we had french toast one day but I couldn't find any syrup to put on it. Hermana Petty and Quigley sat down, both with what looked like syrup and I asked where they got it from. Petty turned and pointed to a large plain jar filled with honey and said from there, they realized their mistake and it was pretty funny. They were really disappointed.

Monday, January 23, 2017

1/23/17 Note from CCM President's wife

(This makes a mom very happy!)

Dear Mothers of these three great missionaries,

Rene, I was so happy when Elder Johnson came up and asked if I worked with you on Skype on my Spanish. Thank you for serving as a volunteer for us senior couples who are learning Spanish and allowing us to practice with you by Skype.  You were so kind to me and asked such great questions.  It was so fun to discover your that your son was coming to this MTC.  He radiates goodness and light.

He has two companions Elder Pearson and Elder Hendrickson.  We sat with them in the cafeteria during lunch today and their district.  They are happy doing well.  This is a beautiful campus and very safe.  It is truly an oasis in this city and the spirit is so strong.  We love your sons and love serving with them as they begin their missions.

Thank you to each of you mothers for raising such great young men.  Truly the best MTC is the Mother's Training Center for the first 18 years of their lives.

Con cariƱo,
Hermana Sheri Bennett

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Week 2, January 19, 2017

Family and friends,

Every district is given a service activity for their stay at the ccm. We have the best service activity. My district is in charge of the welcoming committee. Hermana Clayton came in separately from the main group of Americans, so I didn't get to welcome her here. I was still able to catch her as she was waiting for her companion to arrive. New missionaries arrive on Tuesdays, and Tuesday is pizza night. Hermana Clayton is in my branch, and gave a talk last Sunday. Talking with some of the elders that left Tuesday, it turns out that it is possible to go the whole 6 weeks without giving a talk, so let's hope.

The food here is okay. It's nothing special, aside from pizza night. They bring in like 50 Costco pizzas and it's normally pretty great, but because the new missionaries arrive when dinner starts we rarely get warm pizza. For breakfasts here, we normally have a choice between two options ranging from eggs, french toast, some chicken, potatoes, or pancakes. Every meal also has cereal dispensers for those who don't want the main meal. Lunches and dinners tend to have similar choices ranging from lamb steaks, chicken, mystery enchiladas (because the contents are always different), lasagna, chicken strips, and much more.

Everyday we also have gym time. The Hermanas normally do their own thing because most games we can't play against them or with them if it's a game remotely close to a contact sport. Volleyball is the main sport we play. For some reason two days ago we had the full gym to ourselves so we played 2 on 3 volleyball. We are okay as a district in volleyball, but we dominate in ultimate. 

Yesterday we played 5 on 6, my elders plus two vs another district in our zone. One of the kids not in my district and I were the main handlers and were moving the disc around really well. Elder Henriksen and Pearson are super fast. Henriksen played soccer and his team came second in state, and Pearson was a running back on his football team. Our main strategy was moving the disc between handlers and passing to either Henriksen or Pearson when they were open to move the disc up the field. Our zone leader Elder Wallin gets really intense in the games and we were destroying his team. He was getting really heated and his companion Elder Gardner always had to talk him down. We played 4 games. Our team won by a significant margin each time with the exception of the last game when it was 5 vs 8, where we tied.

Today I was talking with the zone leader and one of the elderly missionaries who is so cool. Elder Eeves flew KC135s as the navigator, but I forgot to ask him if he ever was deployed and if he was where he served. 

Also during one of the devotionals he was up at the pulpit taking questions, and for each question he answered with at least one scripture off the top of his head and gave an amazing answer for each question. Anyway, we were talking and it turns out that one of the Apostles is coming to the CCM mid February to give a devotional. I leave the CCM on the 15th, so we will see if I'll be here.

Our new mission president arrived this week, his name is President Bennett, no relation to the late senator Bennett. He seems like a solid guy, I only had a few minutes to talk with him. He has been a mission president a bunch of times, and I'm also glad I didn't speak with him that much because during the devotional on Sunday he called people up to share their testimonies. Turns out he was calling people he had a chance to really talk with when he was visiting with everyone. Elder Hoyt from our zone was called to share his testimony. He gave a powerful testimony, and talked about how it was a miracle that he was able to go on a mission. He is a member of the army and works artillery. The deal with the army is that he can be on the mission, but if his unit gets deployed he has to go. Anyway, about a month ago he got word that his unit was getting deployed. He went into greater detail over what happened, but the main detail is that in the very last minute everything lined up and he was able to go on his mission. His unit leaves in a few weeks I believe. 

The devotional was on families and the spirit was really strong throughout the devotional until about halfway through. This week we had a district leave for their missions. They had their backpacks with them and one of the elders carried the backpack of one of the Hermanas because it was literally +50 lbs and he had it at his feet. Half way through the meeting, (also important to note that he is sitting on the second row directly in front of the new president), he accidentally kicked the bag and set off a "bop it" that was in her bag. The toy, just starts playing the Spanish commands in the middle of the devotional the elder who had the bag was frantically trying to turn it off while fighting back tears of laughter. It was so funny, yet so bad. The president stops, looks straight at Elder Megeladon , and sternly says "what's going on elder?" and just looked ticked. He stopped his message, we sang a hymn to re-invite the spirit to the meeting and after a few minutes, and after Elder Eeves takes the Bop-it, continues with the devotional. Everything was a mis-understanding, and I don't think Elder M explained what happened.  Oh well, love that guy. 

As missionaries we are told to be exactly obedient. Also one thing that we've been told is that "blessings come to those who are obedient, but miracles come to those who are exactly obedient." One rule I don't love is that we aren't supposed to take pictures on non-P days. The rule isn't exactly the most followed rule. On Tuesday we had an amazing moon, that was massive and had a deep orange hue. The moon was low, the trees are tall and Hermana Petty is short, so she was standing on one of the tables in the main courtyard where we study with her camera trying to get a picture. 

Anyway after as she got a picture her companion Hermana Quigley was helping her get down. Inadvertently, she let go of the camera, which was strapped to her wrist. It swung and hit Hermana Quigley in the face at the same time Hermana Petty was stepping on the edge of the table. Hermana Quigley is reacting to getting smacked in the face as Hermana Petty steps on the edge of the table and the table is tipping over. Basically in slow motion Quigley is bracing her face and Petty is falling off the table, hits her butt on the table but still miraculously lands on her feet. It was seriously so funny. The joke is disobedience brings immediate punishment. 

The CCM really is like an oasis in Mexico city. Our house is on the western side of the campus and relatively close to the fence. The fence it pretty well hidden behind bushes, but occasionally you still hear stuff going on the outside. A few nights ago we heard about 4-5 gunshots close to our house, and a few minutes later we heard sirens. Some elders living in the dorms on the other side of campus about a week ago heard some other gunshots, but I can't validate that claim.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

First Week at the Mexico MTC

12 January 2017

Dear family and friends,

Getting to Mexico was pretty easy. I had a layover in Atlanta that was more than enough time to get from gate to gate. The day I left it was raining, so when I was getting ready to board, I was watching the planes take off. I flew first down to Atlanta, so I was also at the front of the long line. 

The two ladies at the front desk were talking their time, so I was able to watch about 6 planes take off before I boarded. I wasn't the first on the plane but I was close. It was really cool watching the planes, because as they'd take off the jet blast out the back of the planes would throw a massive wave of water into the air. Two planes seemed to have been going faster than the others and when they pulled up water condensed out of the air on top of their wings.

On the plane to Mexico I met Elder Conklin and Sister/Hermana Perkins as well as Elder Pearson, my current companion. I was pretty tired and slept nearly the whole way to Mexico. 

I sat next to this kid flying home, he asked me why I was going to Mexico. I told him what I was doing and why and we talked about religion for awhile. At the end of the flight He asked if I had a copy of The Book of Mormon. I was laughing in my head because I can't imagine that giving away a copy of The Book of Mormon will be any easier than it was then. Luckily I had an extra copy and gave it to him.  

The Missionary Training Center is really pretty. It sits on a 90 acre lot in Mexico city, which is a little insane. It's basically an oasis from the craziness of Mexico City.  Ten foot concrete walls with another 8-10 feet of barbed wire fence surround the campus, so we are completely isolated from the city. Wednesday it seemed like something was going on, but we were never told what was going on until the afternoon. Supposedly there were some "security issues" on the other side of the fence. We were later told there was rioting in the city. So if someone could email me some information on the riots that would be great.

Palm trees and this other tree, which I don't know the name of, are scattered all over the campus and like I said before, it's super pretty.

The weather is also super pleasant. It's around 55-65 degrees all day and night, also it is slightly more dry than I was anticipating. We are at about 7000 feet, or so I've been told, but the air doesn't feel as thin as I would've expected. Parakeets fly and nest all over the MTC. They're bright green and super loud sometimes. 

Spanish is kind of interesting. Every single Spanish teacher I've had before now was absolutely horrible. Some were mean but taught way too fast, and others were nice and never taught. We have two sets of teachers, one for language study and one for teaching lessons. Our language teacher is really awesome. Hermana Gonzales served a mission in the San Antonio Texas mission Spanish speaking and was born and raised in Mexico City. The teacher who teaches us how to teach is named Hermano Velallobos. He is about 5 foot 8, slim build and the deepest voice I have ever heard. It's slightly hilarious. 

My companion and my other two roommates are great. It's funny, everyone warned me about bad roommates at BYU-I and bad companions on the mission but so far everyone has been awesome. Two prayed to have dreams in Spanish one night. Elder Forsburg said he had a dream Hermana Gonzales was getting mad at him and talking in reeaally fast Spanish, while Elder Henrikson said he didn't remember any dreams from that night. The only dream I've had so far had to do with flying a float plane and some weird art, but beyond that I couldn't remember much.

The first week here everyone was extra nice. At each meal time, the missionaries that have been here for a longer amount of time come and talk with the guys who just got here. Everyone said if you can make it to Sunday, you're set. The first week is the hardest, but once you get through it you can rely on Sundays, Costco pizza day, and P day to get through the week comfortably. Your first week you don't get a P(reparation day) so it's long and harder than all the others. 
Sunday, as expected, was an awesome day. Sacrament meeting was 75% in Spanish. Before the prayer the person presiding calls on a few missionaries to speak. Everyone gets speaking topics on Thursday so it wasn't horrible. At the very beginning  I was called to say the opening prayer. I heard Johnson, but didn't understand anything else. The Elder behind said I had the prayer. I was way nervous, I had never given a prayer in Spanish without reading, but when it was time I got up and said the prayer in Spanish. It was really short, but I said it all without reading. 

Everyday feels shorter and shorter than the last. Each 15 minute segment is planned out for the whole day, everyday. Never has my life been so organized. The first few days were a little rough. We had no idea what we were doing, or what books to take to each class. We have 12 pounds of materials, from about 20 different books in both Spanish and English, so we didn't really want to take everything everywhere. We later learned we only had one major classroom we used, and we could leave everything there. That was day 3.

We had a devotional our first night and one of the area authorities asked if anyone felt stressed over the past week. About 3/4 of the 300 missionaries here raised there hands. He said that while we are here there is no reason to be stressed. He told us that while we are here we will never have to run 5 miles so fast that we vomit at the end or we go home. Never will we have to take a single test that if we fail we will be sent home.  And never will we have to deal with any situation that if we fail we will be sent home, so there is no reason to stress if we do our best everyday. After the devotional my roommates and I read a chapter from the Book of Mormon. The chapter we read was about the sons of Mosiah and their mission. They preached the word of God to the Lamanites for 14 years, a group of people that would try to kill every Nephite they saw. Missions are around two years long, not 14 years, and we are not preaching to people who want to kill us.

Today we are going to the temple visitor center for a few hours. I'm not sure what we will be doing, because the Mexico temple is currently closed for the next two hours. When I got here I received a tablet, so there might be pictures coming later this afternoon, but no promises. 
Lastly I was able to see my cousin Ben Johnson before he left. I have a picture with us two but I don't know if I will be able to get it off the camera. I also saw him Sunday and was able to give him a goodby hug after we talked for a little bit.

Sorry for any typos, Mexican keyboards have slightly different key locations and the spell check is on Spanish, so I have a wall of red lines.

Questions I can't answer
Why is Christmas pronounced chris-mass and not christ-mas?
My first few days I had some free time to draft this email, so the next few might not be as long.

- my district is 16A for mail. Don't send packages from the United states they get stuck in customs often. There is a service that sends stuff from Mexico, but I don't know what it's called.

A campus view at the MTC

MTC Campus

Who knows the name of this tree?