Wednesday, January 28, 2009

MTC week 10: My last week in the MTC!

Hola a todos!

Well, I survived my last week in the MTC, and I can already tell how difficult it's going to be to say goodbye to people so many times! I have grown so close to my district my teachers, and my branch, etc. Even though I didn't shed any tears (I hardly ever cry for some reason...), I will miss them all very much. It's so strange to think that tomorrow morning I'll get on a bus and leave this place, and I will never be able to return as a young missionary. However I have made some fabulous memories here and taken some great pictures, and I know that I will always remember my time here and the people that I have come to know and love.

Recently, my companion received a letter from one of her close friends. Enclosed was an excerpt, adapted from a talk given at a missionary farewell given by Shari Richards Turbo in 1994. She read it to me and substituted my name in and I knew that I had to have a copy. I thought it would be fun to share with all of you... especially those who aren't particularly familiar with the work of sister missionaries. This really portrays it well.

"It is exciting for me to see how many wonderful women are choosing to serve missions. I've been blessed to [have been] a sister missionary and I've been blessed to work with many other sisters.

It takes more than a mission call to become a "real" sister missionary.

Not just anybody can do it, but I believe that [Hermana Hollenbaugh] has what it takes, and I wish for her the kind of mission that will show her how to become a "real" sister missionary.[Hermana Hollenbaugh], I hope you feel the powerful spirit of the MTC as you struggle hour after hour to study the gospel and learn the lessons in Spanish.

I hope you feel the frustration of trying to bear your testimony in Spanish but not knowing enough Spanish words to say what's really in your heart.

I hope you feel the Spirit whispering Spanish words to you in an important lesson with a special family.

I hope you feel and appreciate the courage it takes to approach someone on the street, at their house, or on a bus and interrupt their busy lives to ask them about their beliefs and to tell them about yours.

I hope you feel the humble, sweet spirit that comes as your investigators kneel and pray for the first time.

I hope you have a difficult companion who makes you struggle and grow as you try to work together.

I hope you have an "awesome" companion who is like your best friend, who cries with you when you get transferred.

I hope you have days when all you do is knock on one door after another.

I hope you have to walk on muddy roads in your best dress.

I hope you learn what it's like to scream at the wind, rain, and blazing hot sun that just won't quit.

I hope you learn what it's like to stand at the door of [someone who doesn't like mormons] and bear your testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon while they quote scriptures and attack you with things and words you can't understand.

I hope you feel the power of the spirit as people believe you when you testify of the Savior's love for them.

I hope you feel the disappointment of a family you thought was "golden" telling you they don't want you to come anymore.

I hope you experience the joy of the hugs that come from someone wet from the waters of baptism.

I hope you learn what it's like to sit in a Sacrament Meeting and listen to a young woman you taught bear her testimony.

I hope there are times when you feel utterly alone and inadequate as you walk the streets of [Texas].

I hope you feel the unconditional love, strength, and support that come from your family at home--and from your Heavenly home as well.

I hope that in a year and a half you can stand at the pulpit and realize that there are no words to describe what your mission means to you. But you'll know, and that's the important thing.

I hope that you can stand here and feel the great peace that comes from diligently and faithfully serving a mission.

THEN... you'll be a "real sister missionary."

I love this so much. I know I will have many if not all of these experiences at some point over the next 16 months I will spend in Houston, but it is so worth it. After spending 10 weeks here in the MTC, I know without a doubt that there is nowhere else I'd rather be than here. I have felt the Savior's love in my life in a way that I have never felt it before. I KNOW that he loves me, Austin Hollenbaugh, personally. He knows all of my strengths and all of my weaknesses perfectly... better than I know them. Those nights that I have laid in bed worried about my spanish or my ability to share the incredible importance of this message, he has been there with me, and brought great peace and comfort to my heart. And most of all I KNOW that he can do this for all of you. I pray that each of you will recognize this in your life and let the Savior take your burdens and heal you. Because he can and will if you let him.

I love you all!

Hermana Austin Hollenbaugh

ps. think of me tomorrow morning at 6am!

New Address in Texas

I'm now out of the MTC and in Houston Texas. Here is my new address to write to me at.

16623 Hafer Road
Houston TX 77090

That is the address for the mission home. I will be assigned an area soon so I will be posting the address for that soon. You can still send my letter to the mission home, but it will take longer to get to me. Keep watching for updates!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Email Address

Anyone who would like to email me can do so at:

MTC Week 9

Dearest Family and Friends,

First off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to two of my favorite girls, Michelle Hadley, and Heather Sabin! I hope you both have a fabulous 22nd year! Write me and let me know how it is! Also, Heather, I need your address. I've been wanting to write you and I don't have it!

Also, can I just say that I've come to dislike national holidays since I've been in the MTC? Because we DON'T GET MAIL on those days! One, we never even know what day it is (so we totally got a new president of the US and I am like, completely oblivious), all the days are exactly the same, and it is rather unfortunate when you think it's been a normal day, and then at the end of a very long, tiring day, you realize that the mail wasn't open. ha. Oh well... I was just walking to our room last night and thinking about how that has come about... chistoso.

Caitlin, could you check my facebook profile and okay anyone who has added me as a friend? One of my MTC teachers did, and a couple others might have... just okay anyone who requested me.

Thank you thank you thank you to One Grandma, Grandpa Hollenbaugh, my little sister Emily and Carol for sending me letters this week! It was so great to hear from all of you, and I will try my best to write you back soon!

This week was great. Last Wednesday, we went to the RC again (we go every week) and I made a call in Spanish for the first time! Our teacher told us we had to try at least one (thanks Hermana Johnson ;)). We were all super nervous, but we each said an individual prayer before, and just went for it! It turned out to be a fabulous experience because compared to all of the English calls that we've made, the Spanish-speakers that we spoke to were so kind and receptive. I called one sister who had ordered a DVD to make sure that she had received it. She said that she had, and that she had LOVED it! I was so so excited and so after taking care of all the required prompts for info on the computer screen, I asked her (in my broken Spanish) which part she liked best, hoping for an opportunity to bear testimony to her, and then she started speaking super fast and I couldn't understand anything she said!!! :( Anyway... I still loved it, and she was super patient with me. I feel so blessed to go out and work with such a hospitable, friendly people. Also, SO weird... The first person from our district to leave for the field left on Monday morning! I can't believe we're actually leaving. I'm getting super nervous! My emotions have been a little roller-coaster-like lately in that one second I'm way psyched to head out, and then the next I can't picture myself walking up to random people on the street and teaching them about the gospel. Wow. If anyone has any tips for a smooth transition let me know... although I'm pretty sure no matter what you do you just have to jump in and do it!! Aaaah!

So funny story:

On Sunday we went up to the temple as a district to take pictures (it was our last Sunday as a full district!) and get a little fresh air. Everytime we go up there, no matter how solid our resolve to get the whole district together for a picture, it always takes at least 15 minutes to get everyone in the same place at once so that we can get the picture taken. Some of the other sisters, a couple elders and I were waiting for the group to get organized. Someone asked if we were ready to take the picture, and Hermana Hepner goes, "I was born ready." And then Elder Bost goes, "Yeah... I was born, and then I was like, 'where's my district? We have to take a picture...". hahaha... maybe it's just that I've been in this little MTC bubble for so long, but it was really quite funny.

I've gotta go, but I hope you all are well, write me, and I'll send you one more email before I get out to TX next week!


Saturday, January 17, 2009

MTC week 8

Dearest Family and Friends!

It is so great to have another opportunity to write you. I can't believe I've been out on my mission for just about 2 months already! Time flies! Anyway, it's been fun to receive updates from a few of you, and I'd love to hear from more! One quick note: while I'm here in the MTC, it doesn't cost a cent for you to send me a note through the website. However after I leave (in TWO weeks!) it is no longer free. I don't know how much it costs, but I don't want anyone to have to pay anything extra to send me letters through the site. I will make sure that I keep my address while I'm out in the field up-to-date, and just send me a letter that way! I don't mind if you type it up and then put it in an envelope and send it, or if you email me. Whatever is easier for you is just fine for me :).

Let's begin with a funny story. The night of January 6th, Hna. Blanco and I were back in our room, getting ready for bed. In fact, our whole building was full of sister missionaries getting ready for bed (there's probably 300+ sister missionaries here right now). Sisters were brushing their teeth, taking showers, putting their pajamas on... etc. All of a sudden, a shreiking beeping sound pierced our evening activities. My first thought was that it was the fire alarm, which I quickly told myself it wasn't... because why in the world would they do that to us at that hour of the night? It was almost bed time for goodness sakes, and heaven forbid that the missionaries get in bed after 10:30pm right? Well, to my dismay, and Hna. Blanco's as well, it was the fire alarm, we quickly threw on our big coats over our pajamas put the first shoes we found on, and ran out the door and down the stairs. Out of the doorways for each floor came a river of sisters some with toothbrushes in their mouths, some with towels in their hair, all wearing completely mismatched coats and pajama pants... etc. Luckily, someone in charge opened the gym for us (which is right across the courtyard from our building) and we were able to keep warm while we waited for the verdict on exactly what had happened. After about 10 minutes, they let us back in, and as we were climbing back up the stairs we heard shouts of, "it was BURNT POPCORN". haha... The whole situation was quite a sight... and I wish all of you could've been there to see. We were glad that there wasn't any real fire, and that it hadn't taken long to get things in order so we could go to bed. A little discomfort is worth a great memory... right? :)

Another fun thing that happened this week, is that Hna. Blanco and I got a letter from a sister that went to Houston, spanish-speaking last transfer, just before Christmas. We told her to write us and tell us how things are down there, and she did! She was so energetic and happy! Some of my favorite quotes from the letter:

"If you didn't think that this is the most amazing place in the world before, BELIEVE IT! Today is pday, and it's the first chance I've had to write anyone a letter but I wanted to tell you how amazing and fun this work is! I'm in the area of Katy, southmost part of the mission... and it IS the land of milk and honey!... We teach LOTS because we have like 20 investigators... Opening your mouth is not as hard one would think."

I'd like to close with my testimony, which I wrote in my journal on the fourth of January: "I feel so touched by the words of the scriptures, and the lives of the prophets. I want to be steadfast in the work as they were, and know the scriptures as they did, and be able to teach anyone about the gospel and just to be able to be friendly. I love the Book of Mormon and the Bible and all scripture. It's so eloquent and beautiful and comforting. These scriptures bring such peace and joy into my heart every time I read them. As always, I feel so privileged to be here, even though it's difficult, everyday I know that it's worth it."I hope you all know how much I love this work, and how much the gospel can change your life.

Love,Hermana Hollenbaugh

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Happy 2009!

Dear friends and family,I hope all of you are well. I am in my 7th week at the MTC, and I'm finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My companion and I were adding it up and it looks as though we're going to end up being here for TEN and a half weeks. The transfer doesn't occur until the 28th, and we decided that we should've come in the day before Thanksgiving... but since no new missionaries came that day, they just had double come the week before. So lucky us... we get 2.5 extra weeks of MTC time. At first we were a little disappointed, but it'll be nice to have some extra practice and time to prep before we leave. I'm sure we'll need it.

Since I didn't have time last week to write about what Elder Holland talked about, I wanted to spend some time and talk about it this week. He was so inspiring.

He opened by having the grandchildren that had been able to come with him get up and sing a few primary songs (Away in a Manger, and I Am A Child of God). He called them "The Holland Family Singers". It was so cute because they ranged in age from probably 3 or 4 to about 10 or 11 and it was so fun to see they're faces as they sang. There was a little boy who was all dressed up with a fancy vest on and he had the biggest smile as he sang. After they sang, Elder Holland's wife got up and told us that the main reason that they had brought their grandkids was because they wanted us to have some little ones around to remind us of our own families. It was such a sweet gesture, and very appreciated, because we hardly EVER get to see little kids, and it's always fun when we do. Then, she said that SHE wanted to be here on Christmas morning to represent our mothers. She told us that if they were here, they'd tell us how proud they are of us, and how much they love us. She went on to talk about how we are all children of God, and as such, her grandchildren, in a way, could be seen as our little brothers and sisters. She told us that they look up to us, and thanked us for setting such a wonderful example for her grandchildren. I was so touched by her wish to sort of "simulate" our families being here, and then to make that connection for us.

Then Elder Holland got up. He is SO funny. The first thing he said when he got up was that the meeting had been so enriching up to that point that he didn't even need to speak. We had just had another musical number, a beautiful version of "Oh Holy Night" sung and accompanied by one of the missionaries. He mentioned how he couldn't sing, but he said, "I CAN pray... should I pray? We can close this up right now and go home." And then he realized what he'd just said to a bunch of missionaries, and said, "Well, not you... you can't go home. You're not going anywhere." He said it in such a joking tone... it was hilarious. Then he said, "There's nowhere on the face of the earth I'd rather be, than right here with you." I had written in my journal how I hoped that he knew how much we loved and appreciated him for being willing to be with us on Christmas, and when he said that I knew he did. He went on to discuss how "we get to count this as one of our little tokens of sacrifice" (being without our families on Christmas). "Think of those wimps sitting at home, around the fire, opening presents, being fed by their mothers." And with his fist in the air he said, "Way to sacrifice!". Haha... it was so so funny. Then he got a little more spiritual and began sort of painting with words the picture of the manger scene, before anyone else arrived. He talked about how important it was to remember that Christ was born without ANY material things... and this was likely so that he could relate to us. He talked about Joseph the carpenter and how he is one of the least known, most underappreciated people in scripture. Finally, he talked about 12 roles of the Savior. He gave us an assignment to do the same with the 12 days following Christmas... to choose one role that the Savior plays for each of those days and to study it.

UGH. I'm out of time. Again I hope you all are well, and to hear from you soon!

Love,Hermana Austin Hollenbaugh

ps. Melanie Monroe, I want your address!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Excerpts from my Journal

Hey There Everyone:

This week, I figured I'd just send all of you an excerpt from my journal since what most of you are probably curious about is Christmas and what it was like here. I wrote in detail (almost like a story) what Christmas was like here, and thought you all might enjoy it.

12-24-08"Tonight was probably the most amazing Christmas Eve I've ever had the opportunity to experience. Everything was pretty normal up until the Christmas Eve Devotional we had at 7pm. We got there about an hour early to make sure we got good seats (my district and I) and then we waited. About 15 minutes before each devotional begins, we sing prelude hymns (all the missionaries) together to get us in the mood to listen and appreciate what is said. During the singing of our final prelude hymn, Pres. Boone and his wife walked in, and suddenly the whole audience shot to their feet. I felt the spirit wash over me and completely envelop me, and I saw Elder Bednar's face briefly before some other missionaries could stand up and block my view. The whole meeting was so full of the spirit, and he felt so incredibly personal! He told us that there was no place he'd rather be then here at the MTC with his family on Christmas EVE. I so wish I could box up exactly what and how I felt, so that every time I open to this page in my journal, it could all come rushing back to me.

"Anyway, some of his family members got up and spoke briefly in their very friendly manner, and it felt just like he said he wanted it to... like a Christmas Eve Family Home Evening. He had missionaries read some scriptures for him while he talked about three traditional Christmas symbols (trees, lights, shepherds) and had us flipping through our scriptures non-stop. My pen was flying trying to record all the fabulous connections he made regarding the symbols, and I loved every single, solitary second of it. I honestly wished that he would keep going on into the night.

As a closing hymn, we sang "Silent Night" and in that moment, I decided that there was no place I'd rather be, than sitting at the feet of an apostle, singing Christmas carols with 2000 other missionaries. The only thing better would have been to have my family there. Then, as if things could've gotten any better, President Boone came to the pulpit and announced that we would all have the privilege of shaking Elder Bednar's hand! I don't think I could've received a better Christmas gift. He looked me right in the eyes, and I could feel, without a doubt, that Elder Bednar is called of God. It was a fabulous evening, full of the spirit.

"12-25-08"I don't think I could've asked for a better Christmas! Honestly, I was expecting them to not really do much special for us... in the spirit of sacrifice and serving. But the devotional last night was so unbelievably marvelous and then this morning they fed us breakfast, which was surprising because I thought they might just give us cereal so they didn't have to have people work on Christmas morning. After we ate, my district and I (and a few others) decided to go into the kitchen and sing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" to the cafeteria workers, who I always feel like are rather under-appreciated. That was probably one of the highlights of my morning. They were so excited and grateful to be appreciated. After breakfast, we went to our classroom, where one of our district members, Hermana Torres, had left us each a little gift of a bracelet, a picture of Christ, and a little candy. I was so touched that she had taken time on her p-day to hand-make these bracelets for us. Then, while we were admiring our gifts and talking about how excited we were to be in the MTC for Christmas, the zone leaders came in and brought us gifts the MTC presidency had sent for us! We each got a little Christmas sack filled with candy, a Mormon Tabernacle Choir CD, a fancy scripture marker with all different colors of lead inside, and a beautiful little sack with a drawstring. Inside of it was a gorgeous pearl necklace! I was actually just wishing this morning that I had a pretty necklace to wear, and it was the perfect gift. I love it so much.

"This is such a fabulous holiday, and I feel so loved and encouraged and appreciated and supported. I've been sitting here waiting to see who would be here for our 10am Christmas morning devotional, and Elder Holland just walked in. I hope most of all, that he knows how much we appreciate and love him for being willing to share his Christmas with us.

""After Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke to us today, he stood up, blew us a kiss, wished us a Merry Christmas, and walked towards the door. We were a little disappointed I think, because we were all hoping he might shake our hands like Elder Bednar had, but we all got up anyway and began walking out. We went out the side door of the gym, and fluffy, white snowflakes were falling. I saw a little group of about 20 missionaries waiting and watching where Elder Holland would come out of the building to see if they could see him again, and I decided to join them. After a few minutes, sure enough, the door opened and out came Elder Holland and his wife and family who had come to be with him at the devotional. I peered around the edge of the group of elders, stepping into 6 inch deep snow in the process. He yelled over to us, in a joking tone, something about how we were 'crazy for standing out in the snow like that.' The truth was, I couldn't have cared less! We watched someone hold an umbrella over his wife to keep her dry while she walked around to the passenger side of a light blue sedan and got in. Elder Holland got into the driver's seat and he slowly pulled out and began inching up the road, rolling past all the missionaries hanging from the curb. He had his window down and his arm out, waving to each one of us as he passed. When he got to me, the car kept moving, but we made eye contact for a moment. As strange as it sounds, I felt as if he could see into the very depth of my being... as if he knew me for exactly who I was. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than for him to pull the car over and offer to stay with us for lunch, and then after lunch, tell us that he couldn't bear to leave us, and stay with us a little longer. I felt so much like a little child... with only that pure, simple, wish. All I could do as he ever so briefly saw me, was smile, wave, and wish him a 'Merry Christmas' before his eyes moved onto the next person and the car continued to roll forward up the road. It was such a magical moment.

"I hope you all had a magical Merry Christmas as well.

Hermana Austin Hollenbaugh

Editor's note:
Austin asked me to add an "editor's note" to explain anything confusing in her letter this time. I thought I might just define some of the words/phrases she used first and :

devotional--speakers come and give a talk that is gospel related.
district--the other missionaries that are going to Houston with her
prelude hymn--religious songs that are played or sung BEFORE the actual meeting
Elder Bednar--one of the twelve apostles
President Boone--MTC president
Elder Holland--one of the twelve apostles
"full of the spirit"--she felt the warm feeling of God and Christ letting her know that the things she heard were true
p-day--personal day (the day of the week that the missionaries get to do a few things for themselves like send e-mail and have some personal time.)

Additionally, Austin describes how excited she was to see Elder Bednar and Elder Holland. Members of the church are discouraged from treating the general authorities of the church (prophet and apostles) as celebrities. However, they are apostles of the Lord and seeing and interacting with an apostle of God is exciting and I'm sure a very moving experience. I believe this feeling of closeness to the Lord is what Austin is trying to convey.
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