I finally made it to the big leagues and am out of the MTC and in the field! The area that I have been assigned to is in Stockton, California, about an hour south of Sacramento. There are a lot of Latinos and other cultures here so this is where a lot of the Spanish-speaking missionaries are. I have heard that Stockton is the 2nd most dangerous city in America 2nd to Detroit. I'm not sure if I believe it but it's definitely up there. The other Elders serving down here with me have said that there has been at least one murder here every week for at least the past year. I haven't seen too much of the dangerous part but it definitely seems like a shady place. Elder Torres (one of the 4 elders living in our apartment) said he saw a dead person where there had just been a murder before the police got there. Two nights ago my companion (Elder Guzman) also called the police because there was a huge, violent argument going on outside of our apartment. The area I'm in is called Delta South, and the other 2 elders in our apartment are in Delta East and apparently we have the 2 most dangerous areas in the whole mission. So that's cool! I have loved it here so far. It's really green here and also a warmer climate, it's been pretty nice.
So my companion's name is Elder Guzman. He is a native Spanish speaker. He was born in southern Mexico and lived there for 10 years and has lived in Los Angeles the past 10 years. He's 21 right now and has been serving for 10 months and this is his first time being a trainer. It is really helpful to have a native speaker as my trainer because he does a lot of the talking to people in Spanish when I'm overwhelmed and don't know what's going on. He's a really good Elder and I'm glad to have him training me. He is also a pretty good soccer player and so it has been fun to play with him. We play soccer every Thursday night for about 2 hours with members of the ward and investigators and that is a lot of fun. The other two Elders in my apartment are Elder Torres and Elder Pickner. They are both awesome as well and I love them. Elder Torres was born in Mexico and is also a native but has lived in LA most of his life. Elder Pickner is from Idaho and is a big guy who wrestled and played rugby before his mission. I like them both a lot.
When we got to Sacramento we were picked up by the 3 Assistants to the President and the mission president and his wife. They are all awesome and I like them a lot. The first day we went back to the mission president's house and received a lot of training and then had dinner. We spent the night at the AP's houses and then got up early the next morning to do some more training and then found out who our companions were and where we would be serving. There were 12 people that arrived at once on April 3rd and there were only 2 of us speaking Spanish. The other Elder's name is Elder Branchini and he was raised in Argentina so he already knows Spanish and lives in LA now and didn't go to the MTC, just drove up to Sacramento the day he reported. We also got to go to the Sacramento temple. It's really pretty and looks a lot like the Bountiful temple.
Our first week in Stockton we have tried to visit a lot of the investigators so I can get to know them and also do some tracting. I have already got the tracting down in English since most the people we have talked to speak English but I need a lot more work in Spanish. I cannot understand the Latinos here. Americans annunciate every word and syllable so I could understand all my teachers in the MTC perfectly but Latinos talk a lot faster, a lot quieter, and slur words together so it's hard to hear what they're saying. I can communicate (myself) in Spanish really well and people understand me buy I have a hard time understanding the native speakers. I still have plenty of work to do in Spanish. But I love all of our investigators; they are really nice and really cool people. Elder Guzman told me there hasn't been a baptism in our area in about a year and a half so we have some work to do but we are definitely going to get more than one in the next 12 weeks that we're here.
We do a lot of studying since we speak a different language and I am in training but when we're not we go tracting, visit investigators, and also less active families. One of the biggest problems here is inactivity and the members just don't go to church. Yesterday in church there were hardly any people there. The chapel is a lot smaller and it was very sparsely populated. In priesthood meeting there were 6 missionaries, 1 teacher, and 5 members present. We do a lot of work trying to activate the less active families. I don't have a lot of time today but I will talk more about the investigators and people we are meeting next week when I have more time and don't have to send all the background information, and also when I get to know them better.
All the Spanish areas have cars since they are a lot bigger than the English areas and I am driving everywhere because Elder Guzman can't drive. I'm not sure why, I just know he either isn't allowed or doesn't have a license. We drive pretty nice cars. The one I drive is a Chevy Malibu, probably a 2008 model. I would still trade it for my Civic just because I prefer stick but this is a pretty nice car.
I have already been with 3 different companions tracting because we do this thing called a "blitz" every Saturday and Sunday it's kind of the equivalent of what Dad has his sales people do at work in a way. All 7 companionships in our zone come together and go tracting in 1 companionship’s area and get lots of contacts and returns and books placed to help out the people in that area. Last night I got to go with Elder Call who is one of the zone leaders and it was really cool. All the zone leaders and the missionaries down here keep telling me that I look like the ideal missionary and that I'm going to be in all the leadership positions in the mission after a few transfers. Elder Call told me I was really good and he was really impressed with how I taught. Other missionaries also have told me that they think I was born a missionary at the age of 0. I apparently my haircut looks like Jeffrey R Holland’s so they equate me to him a lot. I'm not sure how much of this they say to all the new missionaries to make them feel good but it really boosts my self-confidence and makes me want to be a better missionary.
The two hardest parts so far have been sleep and working out. We get usually about 7.5 hours of sleep every night but I am always so tired throughout the day because I barely got any sleep my last few nights at the MTC and the first day here we had 16 missionaries that had to use 2 showers at the AP's house so we had to get up really early. We also have 1 bathroom for 4 missionaries in our apartment so it makes getting ready in the morning pretty difficult. We also only get 30 minutes in the morning to work out and that is barely any time at all. If we try to go running we usually only have enough time to run about a mile. My biggest worry about my mission is not all the hard things I will have to do but getting fat. All the missionaries here have showed me pictures of them when they got here, how much they weighed, and then how much weight they've gained in 5 months, 10 months, or 15 months. I'm very scared about it. I think that will probably be the hardest part about my mission for me.
Mom asked me to decide which kind of mail I prefer and real mail in the form of letters probably is the best. I don't know exactly how all the mail works but we get an hour on the computers every week to email everyone and look up anything else we need for our investigators and other things for the whole week so it's better to be able to read it beforehand and not have to read it all and then write emails all in the same hour period.
I can't think of anything else off the top of my head so I will be sure to write anything else I think of next week!
Elder John Gaskill