Here are more details about the MTC that I didn't put in my email.
1. First and foremost, everyone here is just people too. I don't quite know why this is so worth saying; it is just so true. We all have our back stories and reasons for serving a mission. In my gym group I have met an Elder in a wheelchair, an Elder who I'm 99% sure is flamboyantly gay, and a girl who has to take about a zillion prescriptions a day. You don't think of them when you think about missionaries for the Church, yet here they are, and they're doing beautifully. I'm sure they don't have it easy, but they've inspired at least one fledgling Hermana (me).
2. Your time is strictly managed to the point where it feels selfish to spend 25 minutes getting ready for bed instead of 20. (Do not ask where or how I am writing this letter.)
3. I still strongly dislike wearing a skirt every day.
4. I offhandedly made the comment that the MTC is sort of like Alcatraz (not that it is like prison...but that we're so close to "normal life," yet so far away in our own contained little universe). "Doesn't that make BYU San Francisco?" someone asked. I was mortified. [note from Allison's parents: We think BYU is still on the island. :-)]
5. We do a lot of role plays here to learn how to teach. In the first one I went to on my first day here, it was still unclear whether the investigators were actors. Surely (and it's true) they wouldn't bring a real investigator to teach, but this lady was a really good actress. I stopped asking myself altogether and just got into it, and then I got way into it. The other new trainees were trying to teach her and they were floundering. There was a lot of "Jesus loves you" going around, but she kept saying "You've all been answering the same question for 20 minutes. You haven't actually said anything about your church. What do you want to say?" I frowned. None of what they were spouting was unique to Mormonism. Gradually, and then all at once, I felt that flaming heat on my tongue and in my heart. Before I could get the microphone passed to me and say We're God's children. He sent his Son, but the Church he established eventually crumbled. In the early 1800's, Joseph Smith saw a vision and restored the Church, along with Christ's priesthood, and we believe that our prophet holds that priesthood and speaks for God today, time ran out. As I thought about it that night, I felt a little bit messed with, having been a total sucker for something that was clearly staged. But I also knew that what I felt in there was vital and real, and that situation could very well have been real--it will be in a number of days. And then I faced what I've never been that willing to face: that I cannot preach this gospel without having a testimony of the priesthood. All my life I've had a complicated, stormy relationship with the implications of something like men holding God's power on earth. Yet I can't skirt around it, and now that I'm signed up to bring people to this church, I see so clearly that the whole Church hinges upon whether Joseph Smith restored the priesthood to the earth and truly was a prophet. So...learning. I've got my eyes wide open. (Addendum: Separating doctrine from social/cultural mishaps is extremely important. The doctrine has always made a lot of sense to me, just the people usually don't make sense.)
6. The room directly next to ours is currently inhabited by 2 American and 4 African Sisters who are headed to the Philippines and speaking Cebuano, the language of the island of Cebu. I think Larry the Cucumber sang about this place. Anyway, those Sisters--are wild! We all love them dearly.
7. I have been learning a lot at the MTC. I have found it refreshing to "cast personal affairs aside" as the handbook says. I love the amount of focus here. We sing a lot of hymns. The reason we've become estranged from the sun is that even when we're walking outside, the buildings are close together and the walkways are covered (so they won't need to plow if it snows?). In the end, we are getting very generic preparation which will be at least a start for what is waiting for us "out there."
8. Every time I wish I had a nicer this, or a cooler that, I think of the way people must live in Chaco and immediately feel like I have way too much stuff and it's all embarrasingly nice.
9. The food here is like a mixture of BYU catering and a 24-hour greasy-spoon diner. Except you only have 30 minutes 3x a day. I have found the best, most sauceless options and sometimes snuck into the "special diet" room for kids with real allergies. I tried to get put on the list but they denied me. I should have faked celiac. I still slip into there from time to time and make it out with something heavenly. But all in all, so-so is the best you can do here. Without a BlendTech, raw apple cider vinegar, and real, actual food, Jeremiah 4:19 is indeed applicable.