The Real Elder Price
The "Real" Elder Price, Part 1: The Missionary Training Center
Some missionaries have agonized over the choice to serve—two years far from home, and at their own expense. One, older than most in the MTC, reflected on his decision in these words:
It was at the invitation of a friend to pray and fast about it that I really began to explore the possibility of going on a mission. I remember having dinner prepared and leaving it on the table to go up to my loft to pray. The Lord had chastened me. He had taken away the things that I was hanging onto, and when there was nothing left (or so I felt) I was in that oh-so-familiar place: kneeling next to my bed, saturating my comforter and sheets with my tears and pleas to Heavenly Father. The direction became clear.
I talked with my Bishop. I went through heart-wrenching moments, acknowledging and sharing everything. I remember the difficulty and the love. I remember the anxiety and the peace. And the day I knew a mission was a real possibility, I made a decision. I did not do it for my mom or dad; I did it because I knew it was right for me, that I had to make sacrifices; that if I did not do it, my life and ideals would amount to mere words. I had been given the opportunity to truly contribute to the welfare of the world by serving Heavenly Father's children one by one.
Most of the MTC elders are still in their teens, so such introspection is not the norm, and childish antics are not uncommon. Elder Price wrote in his journal: "I do get a little frustrated some days with the immature high school-ness of some people, but that's okay and normal, I guess. The MTC really isn't that horrible."
|Elder Price in MTV|
Though they will still behave like the teenagers they are, most of the missionaries find themselves praying with new intensity as they begin this mission they've been planning for so many years. Elder Price's companion had simple counsel for him: "Lighten up." Indeed, Elder Lee, with a gift of humor, would always honor serious things as a missionary, but would be able to crack a joke when the tension got too much.
Tension could get particularly thick during language classes.
|Sleeping missionary in language class|
Our missionaries were all learning French, and were expected to develop at least some fluency within the two months of their MTC stay. Toward the end of his two months, Elder Price wrote to his family: "I've been freaking out about forgetting all my French, but apparently I'm doing something right, because the other night, one of our new roommates told me that I was talking in my sleep in French. So something's getting down into my brain somewhere."
Elder Henry Lisowski (who arrived three months after Elder Price) wrote to me about how hard the language had been for him in those classes. "You've probably heard of the struggles I had with French," he said. Yes, he thought his ineptitude was legendary.
My husband and I got to spend two months with our missionaries before sending them to their various mission fields. We welcomed, supported, and then said good-bye to them. Those farewells were often emotional, as I described in this note:
|Elder Price with district in language class|
On Sunday, our MTC Branch President will ask the departing district to stand. He will say, "These missionaries will be leaving tomorrow. We want to thank them for their service in our branch and we certainly wish them well on our missions."
They are such good kids—so pure and full of hope. Some have done very well with their French; others are still struggling. And just wait until they hear how it's really spoken! They have no idea how difficult and how precious the next twenty-two months will be for them.
And then they were gone to the countries they had been called to. Elders Price, Wigginton, Lee, Lisowski, Coburn, Parsons, and Kesler were all headed to the same mission in Africa.
Margaret Blair Young is the president of the Association for Mormon Letters and has published eight books—six novels and two short story collections. Three of the novels were co-authored with Darius Gray and give the history (documented) of Black Latter-day Saints. She and Gray made the documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, which is currently under contract with the Documentary Channel and showing nationally. She has written six encyclopedia articles and other scholarly papers on Blacks in the western United States, and particularly Black Mormons. She teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University.