Hola familia, amigos, y todos…
So, hello. For the first time in eight or so emails, I am not writing to you from the Provo MTC in Provo, Utah (yeah, I just kind of wanted that to sound like a game show: “From Sony Pictures Studios…this…is…Jeopardy!”), but from somewhere else in the United States…Overland Park, Kansas. “Kansas?!?,” you say? “I thought he was going to Missouri!” (OK, I doubt any of you are saying it like that, but still…) It turns out, the Independence Mission actually covers a big chunk of Kansas, as well as Missouri. (For those of you playing along at home, I believe it’s pretty much the east half of Kansas, and a bit of the west half of Missouri.) So, the likelihood was pretty sizable that I’d be assigned to an area in Kansas, and here I am, in the Indian Creek Ward of the Lenexa Kansas Stake. (Our ward actually isn’t too much in Lenexa…it covers mainly parts of Overland Park and Olathe, but our stake center is in Lenexa.) Johnson County, whose library computer I’m using right now, is apparently one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S., mostly because there are a bunch of corporate headquarters here. (Mom, we’ve driven by the North American Headquarters for Husqvarna. I don’t seem to remember you owning any Husqvarna products, come to think of it, but I see them all the time at Jo-Ann’s, so I thought you might be interested in that little tidbit.) I went to my first sacrament meeting here yesterday, and the ward is terrific. But first, let me back up a bit…let’s go back to the MTC for a spell. And yep, I’m breaking out the bullets. (I have much more time on this computer than I officially did on the MTC ones, but I have a heck of a lot to cover. And you know how all over the place my emails tend to be.)
- So, the last days at the MTC…they were definitely exciting. The day after I sent my last email, on Friday, we had In-Field Orientation all day. It was a really cool experience…we had a lot of breakout sessions and interactive activities that kind of got us prepared for heading out to the field. You all probably haven’t heard too much about the “District” videos, but they’re a series of documentary-style videos that go with “Preach My Gospel,” following 2 different mission districts (one in San Antonio, one a few years later in San Diego) as they went about being missionaries. (If they made a reality show about missionary work, this is what it would be…it was actual missionaries, doing actual missionary work.) Anyways, a few people that were in those videos taught us at the orientation, so that was pretty cool. It was a long day, but I felt like I learned a lot, so it was definitely worth it.
- We got released as Zone Leaders the Sunday before we left, and our replacements are more than capable of taking over. (They had to hit the ground running, though…our whole time as Zone Leaders, we had absolutely no real issues to deal with, but no sooner than the day after they were assigned, two or three different concerns in one of the districts came up.) This past Sunday was Fast Sunday, so we had one more Mission Conference (where the entire MTC comes together, and a district president and his wife speak, along with one of the MTC presidency counselors and their wife, along with President Brown, the MTC president, and his wife), making an unexpected total of three. It was a great 2 hours. Later that night, we had the Departure Devotional (this was my second time going to one, since I had sung at one about 6 weeks earlier, when our first 3 district members were leaving…this time, I was actually departing), which was very good, and then that night, we had an amazing fireside by Brother Ted Gibbons…yeah, I hadn’t heard of him either. It wasn’t actually a talk…if you’ve seen or heard of Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain one-man play thing, that’s kind of the format it was. He was chronicling the life of Willard Richards (one of the people who was in Carthage Jail when Joseph & Hyrum were martyred), basically telling the story of the Restoration through his eyes. (And much like Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, Brother Gibbons was talking as if he was Willard Richards.) It was an incredible way to learn more about the life of Joseph Smith and the early Saints, and pretty much every single missionary in that gym was riveted. At the end, our closing hymn was “Praise To The Man,” and a few people started standing up, which spread to the entire audience, and before the first verse was over everyone was standing and singing. The Spirit was incredibly strong, and it was an experience I won’t soon forget.
- Tuesday (the night before we left), we had a devotional by…Dad, I was totally going to tell you about this when I called, and I forgot…Yoshihiko Kikuchi, who’s actually an Emeritus Seventy, so it was a real treat to get to see him speak. (As far as I know, they don’t have Emeritus members of the Seventy speak too often.) His English was a bit broken, but his talk was full of power and conviction, and I absolutely loved it.
- That night, we packed like madmen (we had already been packing most of that day whenever we could, but seriously, it’s stressful beyond all reason…airline baggage limits are a harsh mistress), and why no, we weren’t running on an hour or so of sleep at all…ahem. Anyways, I was able to get my bags mostly under 50. (One of them, the big one [Mom, do you remember how we had no room in the small one, but it was underweight, and the big one, we had more room, but it was already heavy enough? Yeah, that totally happened again…ugh], I just bit the bullet and it was about 56 lbs., but miraculously, they didn’t charge me any extra at the airport, which was awesome. The same happened with Elder Armijo.) At the airport in Salt Lake, there were a few people who asked us where we were heading (those Mormons, always curious about the missionaries… :)), told us where they went, and one person actually knew President Keyes (my mission president), and had him as a stake president years ago. Our flight to Phoenix was nice (they had extra seats in the back and a very kind flight attendant said we could move there if we wanted, so we could have more space…she also gave us each a little breakfast bar in case we were hungry. She told me her niece, I believe, had her farewell that coming Sunday), and our flight to Kansas City was a little more crowded, but overall it wasn’t too bad of a trip. I got a bit of sleep, we didn’t have any crazy turbulence, etc.
- When we got to Kansas City, we spotted President Keyes and his wife pretty quickly (it was nice not to have to wander around the airport), and then found the other 13 missionaries that were arriving on a different flight. That day, the President and his wife took us to see the new Kansas City Temple (we took a picture in front of it…it’s on my camera right now, which by the way I’ll probably be able to print pictures from sooner or later, since I’m in the U.S. and all), we had lunch on the way to visit Liberty Jail (the Church has a nice little visitors’ center built around the reconstructed jail), and then we went to the Independence Visitors’ Center and went through the “God’s Plan For Families” exhibit. (It’s pretty much the same one they have at the Mesa Visitors’ Center.) I never knew this, but apparently the RLDS/Community of Christ headquarters (the one with the big ‘temple’ that looks like a snail shell) are right across the street from the Visitors’ Center and the mission office. Interesting. We headed back to the mission home, got settled, had a very delicious dinner (like I’ve said, the MTC food was good [aside from their paltry breakfasts], but it was SO nice to have home cooking again), had a meeting with President, his wife, and all the great mission office staff, and then President Keyes took us each in to be interviewed. (I was last out of the 15 of us…he finally got to me at about 10:15 at night. :)) During his interview, he asked me about my family and a few other things…and then he asked how my driving was. I told him how I didn’t have a license and couldn’t drive, and he said that might be a problem…the area I was assigned to, over by Wichita, Kansas, was a car area, but the companion I was assigned to had his driving privileges suspended, so I would have to drive…but I couldn’t. He decided to switch me with Elder Armijo (who was going here, to Lenexa), and that solved the problem. I didn’t think much of it that night.
- I found out the next morning, though, when we were at the mission office (after I had met my new companion), something very interesting…President Keyes told us that he almost never asks missionaries about their driving. He told us that he had felt a prompting to ask me that question, for some reason. That really floored me…and it’s really a witness of how mission presidents truly are called to guide missionaries. I know without a doubt Heavenly Father wanted me to serve in this area (and Elder Armijo to serve in the other one), and wanted President Keyes to be able to fix the driving situation before it became a real problem, and I’m incredibly grateful that he was listening to the Spirit that night, so both those things could happen. It was just a little thing, him asking me about my driving, but it was still very powerful all the same.
- So…not to bury the lead, but I already have a baptism! It’s a new mission record. OK, I’m kidding about that last part…but seriously, I already got to participate in a baptism. My companion, Elder Leighton (he’s from Southern California, is Hispanic too but doesn’t speak much Spanish, and has been out for 18 months, and in this area for about 4…you’ll see pictures of him soon enough), and his outgoing companion, Elder Ahn (he was born in Korea, but moved to Utah when he was 10), who got permission to stay with us until Sunday afternoon because of the baptism/confirmation, had been teaching a woman named Denise Atagi, whose husband was a member but hadn’t gone to church for years. Apparently they referred themselves a few months ago, and as it turned out, my first Saturday here was when her baptism was scheduled. We’re actually staying with her and her husband Tui (he’s from Samoa) for a month or so until they find an apartment for us (Elder Leighton & Elder Ahn were double-covering this ward and the neighboring Lenexa Ward, but they decided to give each ward a pair of missionaries full-time, so the people moving into the Lenexa Ward got the apartment Elder Leighton & Elder Ahn had, and we’re staying with the Atagis for now), so it’s kind of a unique situation. I got to play piano at the baptism, as well as act as a witness and give the closing prayer, and it was a wonderful experience. Hopefully I’ll get to be part of many more of them here in Kansas, and in Peru later on. Her confirmation the next day at sacrament meeting was also great…Elder Ahn confirmed her. (Speaking of sacrament meeting, they had me go up and introduce myself and bear my testimony, and I think it went pretty well. At least they weren’t throwing tomatoes at me or anything by the end. I made a joke or two…when talking about my mission call to Peru, I mentioned, “My mom’s from Ecuador, I have a stepdad from Guatemala, and my dad’s from the exotic land of Utah & Washington state…”) I’ve only known Tui & Denise for a few days now, but they’re really great, very kind, and I’m very grateful I got to be a part of Denise coming into the Church, however small that part may have been.
- General odds and ends (I’m probably forgetting a lot, but I’ll have to cover more in letters home…this library computer has a time limit, I have about 13 minutes left, and this time I can’t go over…): It’s so pretty here. I miss the mountains a lot (I’ve lived in a valley of some sort for about the past 15 years), but the rolling hills and all that make up for it. It’s apparently their hottest summer on record (literally), and it’s much more humid here than you could ever dream of in Arizona or Utah, but it’s cooling down a bit today, so I’m learning to deal. (Ask anybody here how you get used to the humidity, and they’ll answer: “You don’t.” :)) Like I said, the ward here is great…our ward mission leader and bishop, especially, are really on their game. (Dad, you’d get along very well with our ward mission leader, Brother Palmer. Your personalities are really similar…he loves to joke around.) I haven’t got around to much teaching yet, but we’ve made a few visits around the ward, and we’ve had dinner appointments every night. So about that…every single meal so far has been great. If you’re not sitting down right now, you’re going to want to, because on Friday night, a couple from the ward took us out to a Chinese restaurant in Olathe, and I liked it. (I really hope I didn’t cause any injuries just now. I did warn you.) I had some Kun Poing Shrimp, which was basically shrimp with a garlic vinegar sauce, over some rice, with vegetables on it (yeah, I didn’t touch those…). I also had dumplings, onion pancake, a few egg tarts, a peach red bean dessert thingy, and I used chopsticks. And yes, I am still Elder Brandon Randall, and have not been replaced by an alien. 🙂 But anyways, yeah…so far I haven’t had too many curveballs on the food side beyond that. P.S., the barbecue food here…oh my gosh. I thought I loved barbecue before, but I think I fell in love with it again. We had some AMAZING brisket Sunday afternoon at the Atagis. Kansas City BBQ…oh baby, that’s where it’s at.
- Hey, I get 15 extra minutes! Anyways, I still better hurry. So the Atagis have 2 Boston terriers, named Milo and Bosco. They are both extremely awesome, and it’s nice to have dogs around again, since I miss Lilo & Stitch a lot. Thursday night, Milo was in my bed, and Denise told me the next morning he always sleeps there, so you know what that means…I have a sleeping buddy. 🙂 Milo is kind of mellow, and Bosco is kind of a drama queen/bully, but he has a heart of gold. And yes, I just kind of analyzed the personalities of two dogs. Don’t judge.
- Important mailing info…so I have my address. What they’ve told us to do is to have you guys send things to the mission office. If it’s a letter or a Priority Mail package, it gets forwarded to us the same day, and we get it pretty quickly. If it’s UPS or FedEx, they hold it at the mission office until we can come pick it up, so try not to send anything that way (I doubt you would have anyway, but just in case). Their address is: 517 W Walnut St, Independence, MO 64050. I emailed the person that was in charge of sending my stuff home, btw, and I don’t know if he already sent it off yet, but I told him if he hadn’t to just send it on here, so I’ll let you know if you still need to send it or not. By the way, can you send my patriarchal blessing as soon as you get it? That would be lovely.
- I actually didn’t want to keep up Visa Watch, but I did find out one thing: one of the APs said that how they do it now is that if I get my visa before this transfer is over, I wouldn’t be leaving until they have transfers over in Arequipa. (He said they should be about the same timeframe as ours here in Missouri/Kansas.) I’m excited to go to Peru, but I’m kind of glad about that, because I love it here too, and I wouldn’t want to be yanked out of the area after a few days. (President Keyes told me he’s had visa waiters, btw, from anywhere from 8 days to 6 months. So, as usual, I have no idea when I’ll get my visa. :D) So, it will come when it will come. I got an email, btw, from the Missionary Department, that I’ll forward on to you guys. There’s no new info about my visa, really, but it just talks about how it’s a blessing to be reassigned (which it most certainly is), and a few things about not calling the consulate or anything, as it might slow my visa process down.
- So Ariel, I’ve gotten your last two letters, and like I said on the phone, I absolutely love them. I’ll write you back soon. Mom and Geo and Dad and Tania and all the crew, I’ll also get letters out to you all ASAP. P.S., as you may be able to tell, my P-days here are on Mondays, so take note of that. Granny, whenever you can, I’d love to get Auntie Sandra’s and Auntie Katie’s addresses, so I can send that letter to you. It was so nice to be able to talk to you at the airport…make sure to not be a stranger, because I love hearing from you. 🙂 Ariel, I have a few more addresses to ask you for (sorry that I keep making you my address monkey…I really should have written them all down/tracked them all down before I left), and I’ll shoot you a quick email in a second. And…yeah, I feel like I’m forgetting tons of things, and I have about 7 minutes left. Hmmm.
I love you all so much, and I wanted you guys to know that I’m so happy to be here. It’s a great place to be serving, and however long I’m here, I know it will be a great experience. (And I can tell already, as much as I want to go to Peru, it’s going to be dang hard to leave. Heck, it was hard saying goodbye to Elder Ahn yesterday, and I’d only been with him for a few days.) I know this Church is true, I know my Savior lives, and I’m eternally grateful for the sacrifice He made for me. I know I’m called of God, and I want to be the best missionary I can be to further his work. I love this Gospel, I love being a missionary, and there are lots of uncertain things that lie ahead…but with His help, I’m ready. I hope I can learn as much as I can here, so I’ll be prepared for what awaits in Peru. Thank you all for all you’ve done to help support me and get me to this point…like I’ve said probably many times before, it means the world to me.
Con todo mi amor,