[Pics: The top image is my companion, a Salt Lake City-ite who considered himself a "gangstah". It was an interesting experience, because almost all my negative experiences in school were connected to people who acted like he did, so we got off to...a rough start. We're good friends, now, and just about as soon as we left the MTC, we loved seeing each other and serving together. Interesting, how serving together allowed me to see all his strengths.
The bottom image is of the two sisters also going to Latvia. I felt a stronger connection to the māsas (sisters) at first, because our personalities connected pretty quickly, and they were both older than either my companion or myself, so they also brought (no offense to my MTC comp) more maturity and experience to the table, which helped me get grounded.
I grew quite attached to all three of these people throughout the 9 weeks at the Missionary Training Center, and was strengthened and build by them immensely. As a missionary, it's very important to see and grow from the good of others, especially from other missionaries, because they have so much good. And where you're with these people all day, it's also a matter of sanity to focus on their positives, and let the negatives either roll off or be able to talk about them without anger and offense.]
Yeah. Title. Anyway, I wanted to share how Christmas went for me:
First off, we had a devotional by Elder L. Tom Perry. That was interesting. He invited his family to come up and share things, and he had his grandchildren read scripture passages. The main point of his message was the Christmas centers around Christ, and you can always learn more about Christ by prayerfully studying the accounts of his birth in the Bible.
After, we all received a package on the way out. This package had an 8-color scripture-marking pencil, candy, a MoTab (Mormon Tabernacle Choir) CD, some sticky notes, and a few other things. After the following meeting (to be better explained in a minute) we got sack lunches, a CD (in 8 languages), a Christmas card from a family in Utah to the missionaries in the MTC (thanks to them for that), a Christmas card from the first presidency, and a few more treats. Finally, in the last meeting, they popped kettle corn for all the 2100+ missionaries (everything else was also for this same number of missionaries) while we watched Mr. Kreuger's Christmas (an older film about the love that abounds during Christmastime). They let us know that the packages came from donated funds of several thousand people, usually with a heartfelt card or note saying something like, "Thank you for letting us show our appreciation for the missionaries!" Some things were donated by Deseret Book, as well. The kettle corn was purchased with these donated funds. One seminary class of 19 raised $1,200 by themselves--all of which really made me feel loved.
The second fireside was by far the best. No contest. That one started with a message on how to mark scriptures (using the 8-color pencil). After, though, we sang many, many songs. For anybody who knows me, they would know my favorite medium of communication is music. For those who don't know me...you know now. Anyway, we sang continuously, bringing to me immense joy and the Spirit of God so strongly that I felt almost like I had to swim through a tangible substance comprised of Spirit when I left. The song list included: "What Child is This?", "The Holly and the Ivey", "O Come O Come Emanuel", "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day", "O Little Town of Bethelehem", "Far, Far away on Judea's Plains", and others. Afterwords, I went home (to my residence hall) and prayed a good while in thanks. The MTC, I have noticed, focuses a good deal on music, which is the way the spirit communicates to me the strongest, so I like that.
Finally, for the last meeting, we came in and found chimes under our seats. Remember, there are over 2100 missionaries in these meetings. They had 59 sets of chimes, totaling over 1100 pipes, covering two octaves. These actually had them divided in two ways: red and black strings on the pipes, and then they were all numbered 1 to 20. The way the songs would go is they had a strip of numbers projected on the screen with a bouncing Christmas ornament marking where we were. When the ornament fell on the number, you whacked the pipe with the butter knife we had as strikers. We did "White Christmas" and "Chestnuts Roasting" for the first two in unison. Then we split: red did harmony, black did melody. We played "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," "Joy to the World", "Away in Manger", "Hark the Harald Angels Sing", "The First Noel", "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," "Silent Night," "What Child is This?", "I heard the Bells of Christmas Day", "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Silver Bells," and "Oh Holy Night." We then had a playing of "We Wish you A Merry Chirstmas" from our MTC presidency, and finished with a chime rendition of "Called to Serve." It was super fantastic!!!!
I thought that the scripture marking thing was kinda funny, because I read the book that all that info came from right before comming out here, so it made me chuckle [chuckle because I had just been talking to the other missionaries about it, and sharing the ideas from that book, and now, here was a guy who was telling them the same thing. It was just ironic]. I also made a Christmas tree out of hangers, taping some green paper at angles on it and putting our presents underneath. I will send a picture of this a little later (I dont have time to upload it right now...transfer speeds are unknown). It has been requested of me to talk more about the language, so here goes.
The language uses an "s" after words that are masculine singular. The "i" is used for masculine plural. "A" for femenine singular, "as" for plural. There are six cases, including a Locative (for "in Latvia") and a vocative case, used for attracting attention. The alphabet is basically romainized, with a few goofy letters. AAAAA!! I only have 30 seconds left. Uh...love you all! This work is good, and the Lord Jesus Christ Lives!! Never fear to write me!!!!
[So, a few corrections about the language: there are actually 6 declinations, 3 masculine, 3 feminine. There is no neuter. Masculine endings are -s or š, -is, -us, and feminine endings are -a, -e, -s. That last one is a pain sometimes. In case-based languages like Latvian, the end of the word will change to match it's purpose in the sentence. There are actually 7 cases in Latvian (note that I will simplify things a lot here, but just so you can get a taste of the complexity, I go into some detail): Nominative (the subject), genitive (possession or in the place of "of", like a table of wood or the Book of Mormon), dative (to sometime or for something--for example, the dative of you is tev, meaning to you or for you. This is perhaps the most complicated case in Latvian. It has so many different uses, that it is crazy! Often used for the indirect object, like I gave the ball to you), accusative (used for the direct object, like I sold the car), instrumental (meaning basically "by the means of", like "I write the the means of a pencil." Also kinda tricky for English speakers, but instrumental is used with a preposition, so any time you can use the preposition "with" in English you use the instrumental prep. in Latvian), locative (meaning in, or at, like a location), vocative (used for addressing living things). You usually only find 6 listed anywhere, because vocative is a very small change to the end of the word, and instrumental acts the same as an accusative preposition, so usually one or the other is left out (poor things).
Also, every preposition commands a certain case, so the noun used in the prepositional phrase is in that case. For example, "we talked about you", the you would be in accusative, because about is an acc. prep. Anyway, that's probably enough about the language for now. Just know that the declination was by far the hardest part of learning Latvian for me. Start memorizing the charts now if you are going to try to learn it! Check out the Wikipedia page about it, or this page in Latvian, but you'll have to do some translating for the latter to be super helpful, but I really like knowing how Latvians think about their own grammar. They love when you ask about grammar using their own words for it.]