S1E11: Mission Q&A
Our First Interview!
In a way, this is our first interview, even though it’s just another friend of ours answering questions alongside Tracy with Kaylee asking the questions. But hey, we’ll take what we can get.
Our guest this week is Luke Ewles, a Florida native. So Florida, in fact, if you look up ‘Florida Man’ in the dictionary, his face is there with an alligator in one hand and a deer head in the other.
By the way, ladies, he’s single *wink wink*.
But back to the real purpose of this interview: Missions!
We’re answering questions you wrote in, discussing things you wish you had known before serving, and the things you wish you’d known before coming home from your mission. All of this is also done because Kaylee’s brother is about to receive his mission call and we wanted to help him feel a little more prepared than what they teach in Mission Prep.
So, on with the interview!
What exactly is a mission?
Luke: A mission is 2 years for men, 18 months for women, dedicated to serving the Lord through service and proselyting. We feel like it’s a responsibility to share the gospel once you’ve come to know it’s true.
“It’s just like a cookie. If I’ve tried a cookie and I know it tastes good, I want to share it.”
Tracy & Kaylee: We don’t share cookies.
Where did you serve your mission?
Luke: El Salvador from September 2013 to September 2015.
Tracy: The Philippines Angeles Mission from October 2012 to April 2014.
How did you decide to serve a mission?
Luke: My love of the gospel. I’ve always had a strong desire to serve Christ. Even though when I was young, I couldn’t imagine serving a mission. My friend David inspired me to prepare to serve and figure out what he was wanting to do. I went to EFY and then finally decided I wanted to go.
Tracy: I never wanted to serve a mission. I always thought sister missionaries were weird. In my senior year of college, I was getting ready to graduate and make plans for my life which involved becoming the next Tina Fey―moving to Chicago, joining Second City, and eventually screenwriting for SNL. But the Lord had other plans. I was basically commanded like Ammon, struck dumb, and told to serve a mission. I decided not to fight the Lord and go with it.
Luke: The closer it got to the mission, the harder it got to leave. The anxiety, the temptation, etc. It definitely grew, but my desire to serve grew as well.
*Note: They both had to wait 4-5 months after receiving their call to report to the MTC. Neither felt ready when it was time to go to the MTC.*
Luke: For those who don’t know, when you do your mission papers, you put your availability date on them. Usually, your report date is close to the date you choose, but sometimes you end up getting your report date months later like us.
Tracy: I will say, however, that when you do go, it is 100% the MTC district you were supposed to be with. I can testify that I needed to be with my district and we are still close today, some 7 years later.
Was there any place you didn’t want to serve?
Tracy: About a week before I received my call, I had a nightmare I was in France proselytizing right next to the Arc de Triomphe and I couldn’t speak French. I took a semester of French in college and I hated every second of it. I woke up panicking that I would end up serving in France and when I prayed about it, the Lord was just like, “If I call you to France, you’ll go to France.” Then I really panicked. When my mission call came in and said, “Philippines,” I was like, “OH THANK GOODNESS. NOT FRANCE.”
Luke: I had nightmares about serving in the Philippines. I did not want to go there.
Tracy: I also had nightmares that I would end up in like Kansas or Nebraska. I did not want to be teaching or experiencing the plotline of Children of the Corn.
Luke: Everyone has nightmares about serving in their least favorite location. It’s totally normal.
How did you prepare?
Luke: I tried to read the Book of Mormon in Spanish. I went to the temple twice a week and I worked with the missionaries in my ward as often as I could.
Tracy: I couldn’t do anything with Tagalog because no one I knew spoke it, but I did try to go out with the missionaries every now and then on lessons. I had elders so it wasn’t very often. I also went to the temple a lot.
Did you get any advice?
Luke: I had a guy in my ward who served in my same mission like 20 years before me, so he gave me war-stories; crazy third-world country stories. He also gave me practical advice like, “Don’t drink the water.”
Tracy: I got nothing.
What was your first day like at the MTC?
Luke: I went to the Mexico MTC and it was immediate chaos. I got to the MTC, didn’t have a companion or know what I was doing, found a guy to pair up with to navigate everything with until we got actual companions. He ended up being in my MTC district, my mission, and we became really good friends. But the MTC was like a prison. At the end of the day, I had to write to my family to let them know I didn’t die and had made it to the MTC.
Tracy: I was so stressed all day. I was one of the last Tagalog districts in the Provo MTC. I was the first one in my district in my room and I was just dropped off in the room to some dude speaking only Tagalog then taken to a computer room where I continued to be confused. I didn’t meet my companion until that night so I was alone most of the day.
After your first day, what did you do? What was it like?
Tracy: I was confused for a week. I was there for 9 weeks, Japanese speaking missionaries were there for 12 weeks. To be totally honest, the MTC is super shady. They put all the Asian missions in this one old, really janky building for living and one for classes. I didn’t know anything different until 6 weeks in and I became a host for new missionaries.
I took this girl to the English/Stateside building and saw how beautiful the MTC could be. I told her she needs to pray every day and thank God for putting her in MTC paradise while I was in MTC prison. She was so blessed. Clearly, it was preparation for being in a third-world country. But yeah, you do personal/companion study in the morning, language instruction for an absurd amount of time, then gospel teaching training. You’d get gym/outdoor time for freedom, come back, and do practice teaching for the evening with *spoiler alert* your MTC teachers that you don’t find out about until laterrrrr.
Luke: Wait, what?
Tracy: Basically, we had one teacher with us for a week and after a week we had an “investigator” we taught for a week and at the end of the week, he was revealed as our second teacher. It was traumatizing and my teacher was a really good actor who broke our hearts and made all of us cry after the final lesson. (shoutout to Jericho Lopez for your acting skills) It was meant to prepare us for the real world, but dang. He did us dirty.
Luke: They had actual investigators for us to teach in the MTC. Everything was scheduled. It truly felt like being in prison. The schedule was truly annoying. I couldn’t wait to get out, but then when I was in the field I was like, “Send me back!”
How did you get to your mission?
Tracy: We got a “trunky letter” which is a letter from the mission headquarters that has your travel itinerary. I don’t know why it’s called that, we just did. When we got to the Philippines, it was like a nightmare situation. Our entire zone, so 3-4 districts that we’d been with for 9 weeks all going to different missions, got off the plane together and met 4 random guys at the bottom of the escalator with signs that had the church’s name on them.
One of them would call out a mission name and say, “Come this way!” and start leaving while we all were panicking going, “But we haven’t said goodbye yet! We need to say goodbye!” as they were just walking away through a crowded airport. So we slowly all were separated, crying the whole way to the van, and just completely a mess.
We got into this little janky van, drove 3 hours to our mission home, got there exhausted and jet-lagged at 6 pm, desperate to sleep, and our mission president and his wife were like, “You gotta make it to 9 pm. You can do it!” They fed us, had us send a video message to our families, and then we did a little orientation. The next day we met our trainers and dispersed into the wild.
Luke: I remember getting off the plane and being hit with humidity. Humidity is nothing in FL compared to El Salvador. I was not prepared for it. The heat is probably something you can only feel in hell, I’m sure. All the missionaries were outside the airport, completely clueless because they were late picking us up. Our APs picked us up, took us to the temple, had orientation, and sent another video to our family to let them know we made it. I don’t remember much from that day, but the next day, we met our trainers and went to our areas.
I had a 2.5-hour bus ride in an old 1980s bus without AC, with all my luggage, then had to transfer to a smaller bus where I felt like a giant towering over everyone, passing nothing but sugar cane fields and clay huts thinking, “Am I ready to die for this work? Well, I’m gonna die eventually, I guess it’s probably not a bad way to die...straight-shot into heaven.”
Were there any language issues? Slang?
Tracy: I was fluent within 9 months. I was comfortable with Gospel Tagalog after 3 months, but conversationally I was a mess. There are 99 different dialects in the Philippines. I served in areas that spoke Tagalog, Ilocano, and Kapampangan. My first area was a Kapampangan area so I learned Kapampangan words and thought they were Tagalog. When I got transferred to another area, I realized the words I was using in conversations were not Tagalog.
Luke: I was fluent/comfortable in Spanish within 6 months, could speak well in 4 but could understand in 1 month. El Salvador uses Redneck/Trucker Spanish so the accent, slang, and everything made it feel like I was learning Spanish all over again.
Did you serve in leadership positions? Does everyone?
Tracy: I trained once and then was a Sister Training Leader for three transfers. I apologize to my anak (trainee) if she listens to this because our time together training was difficult. She was very emotional, cried every day, and I am not an emotional person. We had a lot of issues, but ultimately loved each other very much and are close still now. But being an STL was so much fun because we were over 3 zones of missionaries.
We had about 24 sisters in our STL area and then there were 3 other STL companionships for the mission. We did 2-3 exchanges per week where I would go to the other areas and follow them for the day. I loved it. Sister missionaries are the best, BUT I will say there are a few they sent us to specifically peep if they’re being obedient or not. I was sent to those areas specifically because I am a no-nonsense person and can smell the bullshit from a mile away. I would have big chats, come-to-Jesus moments, and then keep it moving.
Luke: I trained, was a district leader (over a few companionships), and a zone leader, but enjoyed training the most. I could’ve trained my whole mission. I loved it. The more responsibility, the suckier the job. Drama, disobedient missionaries, exchanges, doing number reporting, etc., make leadership positions crappy.
What was it like having companions all the time?
*Note: We wish you could see the facial expressions happening the entire time*
Luke: It’s hit or miss. I had some of the best companions ever but I also had some of the absolute worst companions ever.
Tracy: When I was set apart as a missionary, my Stake President asked me what I was the most worried about. I said, “Having a companion and potentially killing her because I won’t have my normal coping mechanisms for roommates. I need you to bless me with an added capacity to love my companions, whoever they are, and be able to deal with them.” My trainer gave me the best advice ever for missionaries and said, “Before every transfer, I pray that I will feel the love of the Savior for my companion before I meet them and that I’ll remember that love throughout our time together.” That honestly helped me survive.
Luke: There were a couple I definitely threatened they would be eating through a straw if they tested me again, but yeah...
Tracy: There are some that you meet and you instantly click with. You know you’ll work well together, be amazing, and are best friends by the end of the transfer.
Luke: In general, it’s hard to be with someone 24/7 and when you’re a missionary, you’re supposed to be with someone 24/7. It is difficult.
You mentioned coping mechanisms so, how did you adjust? Did you find new ones?
Tracy: We had pouch mail that you could send between missions so I would send pouch letters to my MTC district mates fairly frequently to update one another and commiserate together. I also wrote in my mission journal a lot to channel my feelings and not blow up on my companion. We also had companionship inventory weekly that helped us work things out.
Luke: Ugh, those would make me cringe. I hated companionship inventory. For me, personal study helped. The best coping mechanism for me was working my butt off. Work was the best medicine for me, dedicating my time to the Savior was the best thing for me. We could listen to Christmas music so I got my family to send me some country Christmas music and that helped. Exercise helped a lot too. Writing in my journal every day and I wrote my family a little every day because I was the first one in my family to go on a mission so by the end of the week, I had a 4-5 page letter for them.
Did you ever use the email system?
Tracy: Mid-way through my mission they told us we could start emailing friends back home so that was an exciting change!
Luke: We were allowed to email whoever we wanted as long as it was appropriate.
How did you deal with not being able to talk frequently with family?
Tracy: I was fine with it. Which sounds awful, but I was totally fine. I knew going into it that I would have 2-3 people outside of my family emailing me and it was exactly that when I was there. I’m cool only talking to my family once a week; I already kind of do that.
Luke: Family, it was fine––but I lost a lot of friends, actually.
How do your days go on the mission?
Luke: Get up, exercise, eat, personal and companion study. In some areas, I had to be back by 6 pm so we would do a reverse schedule where we got up, exercised, ate, and then go to work knowing we’d do our studies in the evening. Really, it was free-game. You could make your own schedule.
Tracy: We did our studies from 8-10am, worked until lunchtime, had language study for an hour, and then worked until 8:30pm. Wait, what were your companion study sessions like? I want to know how yours differed from ours.
Luke: Why don’t you tell me how yours were and we’ll see if I remember…
Tracy: No, I asked you first. Tell me!
Luke: We would go over lessons, how to teach, working on being in sync because being on the same page was critical. If we had questions from previous lessons that we needed to find the answers to, we went over that as well.
Tracy: OK, it’s pretty similar. We would go over what we studied in personal study for the first 10ish minutes and then we’d go over the random/out of left field questions from our investigators and try to find answers.
Luke: Just so everyone going on a mission knows: it’s ok not knowing the answer. It took me a long time to figure that out.
Did you eat any weird foods?
Luke: I specifically tried to avoid the weird stuff. We had cooks that we paid who came every day and I would tell them, “Don’t give me no weird stuff. I’m not gonna eat it.”
Tracy: THEY HAD COOKS IN THEIR MISSION?!
Luke: We paid members to cook lunch for us every day or we hit street vendors for food.
Tracy: Can you describe the shock that’s on my face right now? I feel so betrayed right now.
Kaylee: I can’t. I’ve never heard of any missionaries doing that.
Tracy: OK weird foods. I tried balut (baby duck inside an egg). Basically it’s a hard-boiled egg. You crack it open, drink the broth, pour in some spiced vinegar and then eat it. It’s surprisingly good. I also had dinuguan (blood soup from pig’s blood and intestines). I tried it in every area because I wanted to be SURE I didn’t like it, and I do not. We were advised to not eat a lot of these things but I did it anyway. I also had BBQed chicken intestines and chicken feet; chicken intestines were delicious.
Luke: We had pigs feet (really chewy, worse than chicken feet). I stayed away from most of it. The way they prepared meat was disgusting so I tried to avoid it. We had a sister who sold food at the local market and there was a meat market right next to it with flies everywhere. Picture the worst and it’s twice as bad as that.
Tracy: I walked face-first into a pig once hanging at the meat market. It was traumatizing.
Why does everyone say it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do?
Luke: Just 18 months to 2 years away from everything alone is hard. You’re dedicating your whole life to something that has no gain (school credit, money, etc.), the heartache and blood/sweat/tears you put in is hard. But it’s laying such a good foundation for the rest of your life. If I never served a mission, I’d probably be dead right now, to be honest. It’s the hardest thing, but it’s also the best thing. You’re becoming who the Lord wants you to become and going through the refiner’s fire.
Tracy: The whole thing is one big challenge after another. That first big challenge of figuring out how to be a missionary, reconciling your style of teaching and your personality with what your idea of a missionary is.
Figuring out how to teach in another language, match the culture, forget about your pains and focus on someone besides you. Not just focusing on the people you teach but your companion and serving them because that helps the Spirit grow in your companionship. It’s just one hard thing after another but it does lay a perfect foundation for the rest of your life. You know of a surety that your testimony is of the Gospel because you’ve seen it change people in front of you.
Would you do it again?
Luke & Tracy: Absolutely.
What’s your favorite memory?
Tracy: I got to go to the temple with a couple on my mission. They had been members for 30 years, inactive for like 25, and we got to help them come back to church. We got special permission to go with them to get their endowments and see their sealing. It was the best. The same day, a recently converted family from that same area was getting sealed so my companion and I got to go to that sealing too. We got to help wrangle the babies outside the sealing room before going in. It was a really nice reunion and sweet spirit together.
Luke: My favorite was meeting someone who really needed us. Hermana Anna really needed us. She was going through the grieving process because her daughter passed. Just the pure joy and emotion we had in the lesson about eternal families was so sweet. Moments like that were such clear indicators that the Spirit was testifying to them through us and it was incredible.
Question from soon-to-be Elder Petersen: How will I know that I’m good enough?
Luke: That’s a natural feeling. You’re never going to feel good enough until you come back.
Tracy: And even then, you’re still going to question it.
Luke: Then again, my advice would be to just work as hard as you can. Don’t let numbers discourage you. If you know you did everything you could that day, you’ll be able to sleep well and the Lord will be pleased with you.
Tracy: I got this advice from someone in the MTC. My companion and I had a lot of self-doubt and self-confidence issues because we felt so inadequate all the time. The guy in the MTC read about our divine call as a missionary, how our faces and calls were seen by apostles, how our calls are truly divine and the prophet basically said, “You’re good enough,” so we shouldn’t doubt that call.
Luke: You never know what phase of the harvest you’re going to be a part of. You could be planting seeds, you could be nurturing them, or you could be reaping and baptizing. Either way, you’re specifically called to the true in heart and ready to hear it.
Tracy: You’re divinely called by God to be a missionary. The time you have as a missionary is so short but it’s so precious. Because you’ve been called by God, the Lord is truly providing you with everything you need to succeed. He called you to a specific mission, mission president, area, companions, and people. You might not be the one who baptizes them, but your testimony can help you get them one step closer which is the most important thing. Satan will make you feel like you’re not good enough, but it’s critical to remember that you were called for a reason. It’s up to you to figure out what that reason is.
For anyone else preparing, do you have any final advice?
Luke: Work your butt off.
Tracy: Take naps when you can.
Luke: You could take naps?!
Tracy: Sorry, President, sometimes I would nap through language study. I also got really good at napping on the jeepney (public transit).
For people coming home, what should they know about post-mission life?
Luke & Tracy: It sucks. It’s awful. Stay on your mission as long as you can!
Tracy: When I came home, I was so overwhelmed and overstimulated by technology and everything that I sobbed on the washing machine because I didn’t know how to use it anymore, I couldn’t speak English, I was weird. It was so hard.
Luke: Stick to the same schedule as your mission! Get up, exercise, and study the scriptures. You want to keep that spiritual high as long as you can because the world sucks.
Tracy: Moral of the story, just stay as long as you can. Don’t come home. But if you have to come home, just pray that you won’t be weird, even though you’ll be weird.
Kaylee: Don’t date anyone right away, no matter what your mission president says. Just don’t.
Time to Wrap it Up!
A big shout-out and thank you to our dear friend, Luke. It was really fun doing this interview with you! We promise not to cut everything you said out in post-production.
*Note from the future: We apologize for the sound issues we had in this episode. The random buzzing problem was diagnosed but unable to be removed. We promise, the sound quality improves as the season progresses.*
Luke and Tracy were both the first person to serve missions in their families so they truly went into the experience blind. This episode was made to, hopefully, help shed some light on the mysteries that surround missions to people who are preparing to serve and don’t know anything other than you’ll be teaching. And unfortunately, the MTC doesn’t look like a bunch of doors that you practice speed-knocking on. But… Tracy and her companion sang the “Hello” song from Book of Mormon Musical on their first night of practice teaching, so there’s hope!
If you have any stories from your mission, but especially returning from your mission and being aware of your singleness, we would love to hear them! You know how to reach us, so spill that tea, elders and sisters!