1×10^6 ppm of based

Scenic rainbow

​After I sent my email last week, our quadpanionship engaged in one of our favorite P-day activities: free-scent-sampling at the local Bath and Body Works. Elders Penney and Farr from an adjacent area joined us, so we six elders in white shirts and ties flooded the fragrance shop, carefully labeling and collecting whichever new scents struck our fancy on the cards provided by the store.

For dinner, a member took us to Tugboat Anne’s, where we ate the Barge Burger!

​This 9-inch-diameter monstrosity was the size of a birthday cake. We cut it into quarters, which we plowed through with determination. We then slowly devoured the accompanying mountain of fries. Unwilling to give up even at that point, we also each ordered–and finished–large shakes.

​On Thursday, the entire southern half of our mission went to Zion’s Camp, a local Church-owned recreational property, together! We four drove all the way up to Belfair in a thick fog. The dark silhouettes of tall pines on each side of the road drifted past.

At Zion’s Camp, we all assembled in the main room and divided into groups to do a ropes course. We went about taking part in activities such as a cable walk, spiderweb, wooden wall surmount, and Moses stump game (don’t ask). After each activity, there followed a hackneyed discussion on how it applied to leadership and missionary work. It was very enjoyable, though.

We finally returned to the main room, where we had a big surprise: an early screening of the film Meet the Mormons! We 100 missionaries all sat and watched the 80-minute film while eating popcorn. It was an excellent day.

The rest of the week has been great as well. My comps are all great guys. This is Elder Teuscher’s last few weeks (he returns home on the 15th), Elder Simmons’ 15th month, and Elder Walkenhorst’s 4th month. In addition to our usual knocking on doors, we’ve also been doing a fair amount of street contacting on the Evergreen campus. The students generally won’t make commitments of any kind, but they’ll often be willing to listen to and talk with us.

We have some great investigators as well, including M, who we’ve been trying to help with the Word of Wisdom. He has a problem with vodka ("vodker"), and often makes up "Norwegian" words when intoxicated. He’s a great guy, not least because he gives us ice cream whenever we come over to teach him. He’s been off of the vodker for four weeks now.

The food situation is quite livable. I just eat Colossal Berry Crunch for breakfast and a PB&J sandwich for lunch. We eat dinner with a member almost every day, so that’s where the bulk of our day’s nutritious value comes from.

Also, sorry for the lack of pictures. I turned my camera’s quality back up, hoping to be able to run a compression .exe on this computer, but the library computers won’t allow it. More pictures will come next week.

So far, the only news on the visas is that the paperwork has gone through the San Francisco consulate and is now being processed in Taipei. President Day says that they "are making major strides in getting [the missionaries] here." Let’s hope that all works out. If not, in the words of Elder Teuscher: "Nothing can fix a problem like expired baking soda."

Love,
Elder Elliott

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My Kingdom for a Chicken Fry

dscn0972

Last selfie with this tongban. He’ll always have a special place in my heart.

At the airport.

Monday, 1:30 AM: I awoke in a hazy stupor, frantically re-packed my bags to meet the 50-lb weight limit, ran through the pitch-black night to the shuttle stop, and finally left the MTC on a rickety white bus. I boarded an airplane to San Francisco, dashed through the airport with my bags to make a last-minute connection, and flew to my final destination on a huge Airbus. When I at last stepped into the crowded airport, my head was spinning and I could barely place one foot in front of another.

The companionship of legends: no longer.

​The awkward kangaroo jump: no longer.

Everything about this place is so much different than home. It’s a land of spectacular scenery, a people found nowhere else in the world, and a unique culture that often strikes outsiders as bizarre.

No, it’s not Taiwan. It’s Olympia, Washington!

Olympia.

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A new era begins.

On Thursday the 11th, I opened my temporary call to the Washington Tacoma mission. It was probably the most exciting day for me at the MTC. I was so happy to finally escape the confines of the training center. Our district held a big opening party.

Since that day, everything has been one big Gaussian blur. I’ve gone from being an MTC missionary to a real one. I could try to relate everything that has happened in the past two weeks here, but that would take hours and would be even less coherent than usual. Instead, I’ll cover some key points and interesting experiences.

The departure.

Upon reaching the airport, me and my travel buddy Sister Sorenson (from the other Mandarin-speaking zone in the MTC) met President Blatter and his wife, Sister Blatter, at the baggage claim. They drove us to the Puget Sound, where I saw the Tacoma Narrows bridge in real life! Hopefully this one is more sturdily constructed than the last. We took pictures in front of the Sound. Then, President Blatter drove us to the office, where we met our new companions and learned which areas we were going to.

Left to right: Elders Walkenhorst, Teuscher, and Simmons.

Behold: my companions (all three of them!) I had the privilege of joining Elders Simmons, Teuscher (pronounced “Toosher”), and Walkenhorst to form a quadpanionship! Elders Teuscher and Simmons are the Olympia zone leaders. Our area is the Oly 2nd ward. It’s a forested, mostly suburban area encompassing two peninsulas which protrude into the head of the Puget Sound. It is very lush, especially compared to Provo.

Elders Teuscher and Walkenhorst.

My namesake tanks.

A scenic boat.

Cooking regou. We had the opportunity to do a panel and role-play for the stake’s teacher-age young men. at Camp Nisqually.

There are a ton of hippies here, which is excellent because they’re some of the only people who will actually listen to us. Evergreen State College is in our area, and I think it’s one of the most liberal colleges in the U.S. Many of the people we talk to have been or currently are students there. They have names like Apollo and Moses, grow their own food, and wear clothing the likes of which I have never seen before. We’ve been offered marijuana a fair number of times. At one house Elder Walkenhorst knocked at, a woman came to the door stark naked except for a bikini bottom. He was quite traumatized. To make matters worse, there were several chickens pecking about in the yard. Elder Walkenhorst is terrified of chickens.

Knocking in a typical Olympia suburb. We typically split up into two companionships to knock.

Immediately after I met my companions, we went to the store to buy my food for the week. I was still dazed, and I didn’t really realize that this was all I’d have to eat for the entire week. I bought a huge bag of Cap’n Crunch, a gallon of milk, a jar of Ovaltine, and some jam.

As far as the work goes, it’s relatively slow in our area, although we’re doing everything we can to change that. The main problem is simply the low population density. This, combined with the fact that seemingly everyone is either a free-spirited hippie or a born-again Christian, means that we have few people to teach.

We knock on doors every day from 5:00 to 7:00 PM. Most people reject us politely. Some reject us impolitely. One person remotely set off his or her car alarm without even coming to the door. The ‘greeners are usually pretty cool. We happened upon a group of them sitting by their greenhouse, examining a big chunk of green rock. I recognized it as serpentine.

“Is that serpentine?” I asked them.

“We’re not sure,” one of them responded.

“I think it looks like it,” I said.

We chatted a while and talked about our religion and the Book of Mormon. They nodded along and asked some questions. One of them asked if there was any mention of “gigantic salamanders” in the Book of Mormon; I told him there weren’t, and said that he was probably thinking of the Salamander Letters. He told me that no other missionary had been able to answer that before, which makes me a little bit worried about whichever missionaries were in this area before us.

Anyway, it’s been an amazing two weeks. It’s so much better than the MTC. I’ve met a ton of great people, and I look forward to each day. Also, the chicken fries are back.

#Thuggin

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Right now, I’m in . . .

the MTC!

The exciting new scenery of my area.

Elders Jensen, Heaps, and I did our laundry on Thursday morning. Elder Heaps and I had our hair cut in the MTC barbershop. We packed up our bags. We prepared ourselves for departure. We asked the travel office when we could expect to know whether we were leaving on Friday morning or not. They told us they’d know by 2:00 PM.

Me in the foreground, with Elder Jensen in the background.

2:00 came and went, but nobody had the heart to go ask if our visas had come or if we were delayed. Elder Jensen got his hair cut at 2:30. He came back to our classroom and told us our visas hadn’t arrived. I was a little bit disappointed that I would have to wait in the MTC for an extra week or two, but I wasn’t especially surprised. I had no idea what was soon to come.

4:30 PM: I had just picked up my evening repast in the cafeteria when Elder Huntsman approached me, looking glum.

“Have you heard the bad news?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Our visas haven’t come yet.”

“Not that news,” he said. “We’re getting temporarily reassigned stateside.”

Disbelief. “You’re kidding.”

“No,” he insisted. “I’m dead serious.”

My heart carved a clean path downward through my bowels and landed with a splat on the linoleum floor.

I quickly sat down and attacked my meal. That greasy piece of fried meat didn’t have a second to think before I tore through its filmy skin with my knife and fork. I shoveled food into my mouth like pig iron into a Bessemer converter. It couldn’t be true!

Yet it was. As instructed, our district gathered at precisely 5:05 PM in the travel office. A reluctant representative then gave us the Talk: our visas hadn’t arrived yet; we would be temporarily reassigned to a stateside mission for at least one six-week transfer; we would find our temporary calls in our mailbox this week sometime around Wednesday.

I was quite distraught upon hearing this news. Some sisters I’d never met before walked into the travel office and kept making saccharine interjections during the duration of the Talk–“Oh! How exciting! It’s like getting your call all over again!”–and I was fuming the whole time. Then, I realized that they were just trying to make us feel better. My attitude wasn’t very Christlike, and I felt bad.

Weekly tongbantuan photograph.

That night, it was easy to feel discouraged. Everyone in our zone was sick by this point, and the bathrooms were full of missionaries hacking their lungs up into toilets and trash cans. Moist, racking coughs echoed up and down the hallways. I felt trapped and frustrated. I wanted to get to Taiwan right away.

With time, though, I realized how trivial these problems really are. I talked to some teachers who had friends go stateside to wait for Taiwanese visas, and they said it was a good experience for them. Our extra six weeks away from Taiwan will be brief compared to the duration of our missions. We’ll be able to teach people in more places and have a wider variety of experiences than we would otherwise. I’m trying to be optimistic.

Several events also helped me feel better about staying in the MTC for longer. First, our zone successfully slammed the cereal challenge on Saturday. The cereal challenge requires a zone to single-handedly drain one of the huge columnar cereal containers in the cafeteria by having everyone in the zone devour bowl after bowl before the cafeteria personnel refill it. In the past, we attempted to deplete the Cocoa Krispies, but our zone was sated and slowed to a standstill before we ate 2/3 of the cereal.

It was the day before Fast Sunday. Our district was the first in the cafeteria, so we had the privilege of choosing the cereal: Cocoa Roos! I deliberately went for a cereal much less dense than the Cocoa Krispies. We got off to a strong start. I brought my tray, filled up numerous bowls with the brown pellets, doused them in skim milk, and hurriedly returned to the table to ladle spoonfuls of the cereal into my mouth. Our zone attacked the tower in a frenzy. I ate seven bowls of the loathsome brown crunchies. Elder Huntsman ate ten. All down our long table, empty bowls piled up in tall stacks as every missionary dug his or her spoon into bowls overflowing with fresh and nutritious, simply delicious chocolatey goodness.

Miraculously, the column gradually sunk, centimeter by centimeter, until it reached its bottom and Elder Wheeler shook the last crumbs from the exit chute into his bowl. Everyone cheered.

Nobody could have predicted what happened next. The first tower having been emptied, we turned our attention to the unsuspecting Crisp Berry Crunch residing next to it. The level of orange, blue, green, and purple fell with unbelievable speed. At last, it too was depleted! Two adjacent towers stood majestically void of their crunchy contents. We rejoiced, for we had not only exceeded our goal, but doubled it.

A difficult photograph to get just right. After three attempts, we finally took one without people walking in front of the camera, only to find that my eyes were at least partly closed. Oh well.

That Saturday night, Elders Jensen, Vaughn, Heaps, and I studied outside, sitting on a grassy slope under some trees. We spent hours practicing our Chinese on that quiet hill, and sat there through our additional study time until well after the sun had set behind the classroom buildings to the west. I felt much better afterwards. The next day, I bore my testimony in sacrament meeting: regardless of where we are going next, I said, we are still doing the Lord’s work. I thought about how the vast majority of people in the world’s history have been much less comfortable and privileged than we are. It’s not so bad.

Elder Vaughn and Sister Fisher on our Sunday temple walk.

Since then, there’s been no more news on what is happening or when it will happen. Elder Vaughn and Sister Lew are leaving for Australia today, so Elder Heaps, Jensen, and I are now a tripanionship. We Taipei-goers have been placed on ASAP reassignment, so we’ll most likely get our temporary calls in two or three days. If all goes according to plan, we should leave by the end of next week and finally all be in Taiwan in 5-7 weeks. In complete honesty, I’m still a little bit stressed out, mostly because I don’t like the uncertainty of the situation. Nevertheless, I’m sure that whatever happens will be for our good.

Elder Vaughn feels the water of the temple fountain for the last time before leaving for Australia.

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The D-word

…delayed.

Part I: Segfault

Last Friday, we were ecstatic to find that we had in-field orientation. In-field orientation is basically a gigantic all-day meeting, the purpose of which is to prepare soon-departing missionaries for the mission field. It serves to get everyone excited for the field and ready to find and teach people and work with members. Fortunately, it’s not as sleep-inducing as most nine-hour meetings, since the hosts are chosen for their ability to keep everyone involved. There are plenty of object lessons, activities, and demonstrations designed to keep everyone’s brain activity above the delta frequency band. I was quite enjoying myself, and was very excited to get into the field and start teaching real people.

Me and Elder Heaps sitting by the fountain at the Provo Temple. If only we’d sat on the left side of the bench, the composition would be so much better…

Then, everything came to a screeching halt.

Following the first half of in-field and lunch, we Taipei missionaries were sitting in the "working with members" section of in-field along with about 100 other soon-departing missionaries when the host made an announcement. He said that everyone going to Taipei should report to the travel office, and that our next opportunity to do so would be at 5:00 PM, in almost five hours. There was no way any of us could stand to wait that long to find out what the news was, so luckily, two other elders from our zone slipped out and ran to the travel office.

Some of our zone outside of our classroom building.

When they returned, I knew something was wrong, because they were practically ashen-faced. A minute later, one turned toward me and Elder Heaps and loudly whispered toward our table the dreaded words: "Our visas haven’t come. We’re not leaving on Friday." In the minutes to follow, many crumpled pieces of paper flew through the air between different tables in the meeting hall. I watched some of the other Taipei elders’ faces fall as they smoothed out the torn scraps and read the words written on them.

The second the meeting ground to a halt, twenty-nine agitated missionaries leapt to their feet and ran out the door. We walked anxiously to the travel office, where we were told exactly what the early messengers had said: yes, our visas had not yet come; no, we would not be leaving on Friday; no, the travel office was not willing to give any further information or answer any questions. We all left feeling quite frustrated. The rest of in-field orientation was torture.

In-field finally concluded at 6:15, and we trudged downheartedly back to our last class with Brother Walter (Wu Laoshi). Both of our old teachers were reassigned, and we had to say goodbye to them. Sister Tanner’s last class with us was on Thursday. It was hard to bid our teachers farewell after spending six hours every day with them for almost all of our time in the MTC. We took some group pictures. Our teachers gave us their emails and Facebook accounts for after our missions. Elder Heaps and I realized we had yet to write our weekly letters to the branch president, so we ran off and rushed through them really fast. When we returned, Wu Laoshi was gone.

Last picture with Tan Laoshi (Thursday).

​Last picture with Wu Laoshi (Friday).

​25A Elders with Elder Christensen from The District (documentary).

Part II: The Oath of Methuselah

In our Tuesday devotional, Elder Martino told us to "put names with our goals." I’m fairly sure he meant to associate our goals and numbers with the people we are teaching, but I decided to take it a different way as well. We set a lot of goals as missionaries. In order to better remember my goals, I have begun to assign each a biblical name I concoct myself. Hence, my "effective time use" goal became the Oath of Methuselah. My "Chinese grammar use" goal became Absalom’s Ebenezer. When I asked Wu Laoshi how to say "Oath of Methuselah" in Chinese, he confusedly replied: "I don’t know. I never had to teach investigators about that."

On Thursday morning, Elders Heaps, Jensen, and Vaughn completely trashed our room. Notice that my own name was not mentioned in that list. I’m innocent, I swear. (Don’t worry; our room has since been restored to its pristine condition, and no property was damaged). Essentially, the events transpired as such: Elders Jensen and Heaps hid Elder Vaughn’s chair under the sheets. Elder Vaughn didn’t even notice it until after gym that morning. When he did, he reclaimed his chair and then threw Elder Heaps’ mattress off of his bed in retaliation. Elders Jensen and I walked in and saw the mattress lying askew between two upper bunks. Elder Heaps walked in, but didn’t notice at first. When he did, he and Elder Jensen retaliated by pulling the two mattresses off of Elder Vaughn’s bunk and hurling them to the floor. Elder Heaps then hid in the closet. Although the MTC is all well and good, I’m fairly sure it is slowly driving us all insane.

The aftermath.

Part III: Three Integrals

Elder Martino in the Tuesday devotional referenced an oft-quoted saying of President Monson: "When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates." I decided to look at this statement mathematically.

Rate of improvement is the first derivative of success, or performance. The rate of improvement accelerates as we measure and report performance. This means that the second derivative of the rate of improvement is some positive constant k. So, if S(t) is the differentiable function of success versus time, S^I(t) is rate of improvement versus time, and S^III(t) is the acceleration of the rate of improvement versus time, equal to k. If we integrate thrice, we get that S(t) is equal to k/6 x^3 + c_1/2 x^2 + c_2x + c_3. k is the initial value of acceleration of rate of improvement, c1 is the initial value of change over time of rate of improvement, c_2 is the initial value of rate of improvement, and c_3 is the initial value of performance. The point being, even if these constants are quite close to or even equal to zero, our performance will still increase very quickly as we assign a positive value to k by measuring and reporting performance.

This is my journal lying on top of my notebook.

Part IV: Hope

All that we can do now is wait for our visas to come. I’m fairly confident we won’t have to wait long, because Taiwan is generally punctual but last-minute with its visas. I would hazard a guess that our visas are delayed because the time when they would usually be completed and sent coincided with Labor Day weekend, but I have no idea.

Some missionaries I have talked to said that they know of times when the travel office has told missionaries that they are delayed, only to have their visas arrive within a few days and leave on schedule. Others have said that sometimes missionaries will be given less than an hour’s notice to prepare to leave at an unexpected time. Still others have heard of missionaries waiting two or three extra weeks at the MTC. We must watch therefore, for we know neither the day nor the hour wherein our visas will arrive and we will depart.

That’s all I know right now. Brethren, adieu.

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