First letter from Alaska - better take a seat, it's a long one!

Monday, September 12, 2016

First of all, I feel like I should just give y'all the heads up that I'm never leaving Alaska- it's freaking amazing here. Second of all, your first week in the mission field is like trying to drink out of a firehose. It's really wet but really awesome.

My alarm going off at 2:15am on Tuesday morning in the MTC was pretty rough to say the least. I felt like a zombie. Sister Richards and I had to drag our giant suitcases from the fourth floor to the first floor which was awful because the MTC doesn't believe in elevators so I'm pretty sure we woke all the sisters up as we went banging down the stairs. PS they had to move a whole building of sisters into our building because theirs was being raided by bats and they all have to stay in the MTC for an extra week of Rabies Testing hahaha #adventuresoftheMTC.

Our travel group to Alaska was five sisters and seven elders (one is Spanish speaking and the other is Tongan speaking) and we all struggled together to figure out how airports work without our parents. Walking through the Salt Lake City airport with your missionary tag on is kinda like being a celebrity. It's awesome.
There are all these grandparents that want to take photos with you and know where you're heading and then there's all these cute parents that want to tell you all about where their son/daughter is serving and how long they've been out.

Elder Hunter and I sat by this random dude on our flight from SLC to Seattle and we decided to test out our newly learned MTC missionary skills on him (poor dude, I think he knew he was done for as soon as we sat down) and started asking him about his life and what he was doing in SLC and all that jazz. Oden -for reals that was his name- was in Utah visiting his girlfriend and they had visited Temple Square a few days ago and he wanted to know more about temples! Well Oden, temples make it so that FAMILIES CAN BE TOGETHER FOREVER AND IT'S THE COOLEST THING EVER!! We talked to him about temples and eternal families and then as soon as the plane took off, Oden put his headphones in and fell asleep in like .02 seconds. Awkward but whatever.

We had to BOOK IT (picture twelve sleep-deprived and super lost missionaries running around the terminals like chickens with their heads cut off in straight panic because that's what we looked like I’m sure) to our flight from Seattle to Anchorage. It was funny to see the difference between how missionaries were treated in the SLC Airport v. the Seattle Airport. People either turn around and walk the other direction or come up to you and ask why everyone is wearing suits and skirts. Yay real world! I was super blessed and got a window seat on our flight to Anchorage and totally started crying as we landed. I’m pretty sure they were tears of joy/panic/exaustedness/holy cow Sister Dunlop what did you sign up for. I think that actually "going on a mission" didn't seem like reality until I was actually in Alaska- the MTC just makes all of it seem like a dream.

When we got off the plane, we walked out (more like stumbled out because all of us are so sleepy/jet lag weird/hungry from only eating two Biscof cookies all day) and met President & Sister Robinson and the STLs & APs. It all seemed so unreal like some dream that I'll wake up from and it will only be my first day in the MTC (I would cry). We took a group photo by this giant stuffed bear. I don't have the picture, but I bet it's floating around on the AAM Facebook somewhere
or some thing like that. Then we loaded all our bags in the car and headed to the Mission Office for lunch. REAL FOOD WAS SO GOOD! Honestly, any food that's not MTC food is amazing. After lunch, we had all this orientation stuff to do and interviews with President Robinson. Then we all went to the mission home (it's super cute and blue on the outside) and took naps until dinner. Missionary life is the life to live, I'm telling y'all! After dinner, we watched "Alaska: For Cheechakos" PowerPoint that the APs made for us. In Alaska, a Cheechako is basically a greenie and the only way to not be Cheechako anymore is to drink water from a glacier and kiss a moose. After that, you become sourdough. We're working on planning the moose-kissing adventure for next week!! Then it was (finally) bedtime. I don't think I've slept that hard in a really long time. It was amazing.

On Wednesday morning, President Robinson had us get up at 6:30am (yay missionary schedule) and then we had breakfast and studies before heading over and getting our trainer and area assignments. It was like having to re-open a mission call all over again. All that we knew was that one of us Cheechakos would be needing to be on a plane in an hour to head up to Fairbanks. It was terrifying & awesome.

President Robinson handed us a fishing pole (after explaining how we are now going to be "fishers of men" (Matthew 4) on our missions) and then told us to go and point on the map of Alaska & Yukon where we thought we were going. EXCUSE ME SIR ALASKA IS GINORMOUS PLEASE EXPLAIN TO ME HOW I'M SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE?!

So I just guessed Wasilla haha. Then he was like, "Sister McGee, why don't you show Sister Dunlop (I'm still working on helping people pronounce my name right, it's a daily struggle) where you two will be serving??". Basically, there was a lot of screaming.

We're serving in Oceanview! And yes, we do see the ocean every day. Alaska is super weird because it has ocean on one side of the road and then pine trees on the other. Weird but awesome. Sister McGee is an STL and this is the last transfer of her mission and so I didn't think she would be training (but deep in my heart when I met her at the airport I was like, "please, please, please,") but PSYCH she’s training me!! SO PUMPED. Minus the fact that she's leaving me in six
weeks and it takes twelve weeks to be trained so we are just going to get done in six weeks what takes most twelve. Woo. This is where the "drinking out of a firehose" part of my mission life started. Because we only have half the time to train as the other trainees and because my companion is an STL (there's three of them- Sister McGee is over all of the sisters in Anchorage and then there's a sister over all of the sisters in Fairbanks and then there's a sister over all the other sisters who aren't serving in either of those areas), I start exchanges with her next week and will have to drive all over Alaska in our super soccer mom Chevy Equinox car named Ronda and all this other crazy stuff. Scared but stoked. I think Heavenly Father and President Robinson must trust redheads.

The Relief Society fed us all lunch (I think there was moose meat in the soup, but no one could tell for sure) and then we walked across the parking lot to the Anchorage Alaska temple! It's super tiny and so, so, so pretty. I honestly think it's like the same size as our house haha. PS it's been cold and rainy ever since the temple so don’t get your hopes up and yes, I'm already wearing my SmartWool tights.

After the temple, we went out to dinner with the bishop and his wife at this steak house and then ran errands with Sister Martinez (trainer who's been here for 4 months, like what) and Sister Jewel (trainee who flew in with me) who are pinkwashing Huffman. Then we had to help them find their apartment because elders gave horrible directions and then we had to help them clean their apartment because elders are horrible at cleaning too. I was dying inside a little bit because of how nasty their apartment was and then we went to ours in Oceanview and it has a dishwasher, a garage, laundry, two bathrooms, a study, and this super retro (but terrifying) microwave. The Oceanview apartment is life.

Side note: Sister McGee and I are the same human. Seriously doppelgängers. We both went to USU (she's an Alpha Chi), love pizza (we went to Moose's Tooth on Saturday and it was AMAZING) and brownies, eat straight peanut butter, and we've even had all the same dental surgeries! It's insane. We laugh more than we breathe. I adore her.

Thursday was my first day of real missionary work and it was AMAZING.
To sum it all up (sorry this email is seven million years long, I promise to chill out next time), we went to Fred Meyer for groceries (PS: if you scan the barcode on your Book of Mormon at the checkout there, you get 10% off!!) and then got some Qdoba to go and set up our iPads at the church before we got to go and teach. Other part of drinking out of a firehose: Sister McGee was in Oceanview last transfer so she already knows all of our investigators which is super
awesome but I have to play a ton of catch-up with her to figure out where everyone is. I'm getting there!

We met with Randi, who's this super cute mom that wants to be baptized (she pretty much told us she wanted to be a missionary too so she could share the happy news of the gospel with others) but she's not married to her husband so they have to get married before she can be baptized. But they're a "Snow Bird Family", which means they only live in Alaska to come and work in the summer, and they're heading back down to Arizona in a few weeks so we have to hurry if she wants to be baptized here!

Then we had a little while before our next appointment and so we were heading to do a potty stop at the church and then Sister McGee was like, "Do you trust me? We're about to do something crazy...".

Our companionship has been thriving off this "YOMO" (You Only Mission Once) fire where Sister McGee is finishing up her mission and I just got to Alaska, so we've been doing some boldly insane things so far- I love it.

And then I was like, "heck yes I trust you!!", and so we whipped a U-turn and pulled next to this super cute house and Sister McGee told me this whole story about how this family was family-friends with her family at home and they had taught them a few weeks ago but were asked to drop them because they felt like they were already on the right path with this other church they were active in but Sister McGee felt prompted that we should stop by and play the "Potty Break" card on them today and see if it worked. It did. AND we got Krispie Kreme doughnuts out of it! The mom of this family, Jen, would seriously be the Primary President if she was a member. The homeschool room in their house is a library themed like Beauty and the Beast- it’s insanely accurate and adorable. We ended up staying there for almost an hour just talking to her and then before we left Sister McGee asked if Jen would think about letting us come and teach her and her family again. Jen said she would pray about it and then let us know! Woo.

The next house we went to was a less-active family who's "dog” is literally a polar bear. Yay Alaska! We committed them to coming to church with us on Sunday and they came! It was the first time they’ve been at church in years! Yayayay!

Then we had a dinner appointment with this cute newlywed couple that Sister McGee and her old companion had tracted into and done some service for a week or so ago. They had wanted to make us dinner to thank us and then wanted to hear more about the gospel. WE WERE THERE FOR TWO HOURS talking to them about the Restoration of the Church and about eternal families and the Book of Mormon and they were so intrigued the whole time. It was so cool! They said they would read and pray about the Book of Mormon and that we could come back next week some time and keep teaching them! Two new investigators on my first day #TheRedsareonfire (the Mission Office staff call us “The Reds").

One of Sister McGee and I's goals for this transfer is to make everyday a "Disneyland Day". You know how when you're at Disneyland you play super hard all day and then come back to the hotel and fall dead asleep each night? That's what we've been doing here and it's so awesome. You only have 18 months to be a missionary so don't you dare waste a single day!

On Friday, I learned everything about everyone and we basically planned out the rest of our transfer. We went through the Area Book (PS it's an app now combined with our Planner (which I hated using in the MTC because it's so tiny) so that's AMAZING) and talked about each person and where they're at and the needs they have. If you ever want to love complete strangers, go on a mission. You can feel just a taste of how much Heavenly Father loves each of these people and His concern for them and their needs- it's such a cool experience.

The only reason we left our apartment Friday morning was to take a planning break and get 60¢ ice cream cones from McDonald's down the street (I FOUND A DQ! CHURCH IS TRUE!) and then went right back to finish planning. We had to plan lessons for the upcoming week, exchanges, Zone Training on Wednesday that I'm teaching at (lol my firehose drinking life), and get everything scheduled for the Bush Branch that we're over for Sunday. Bush Branch church is super cool because it's all over the phone, I'll tell you more in a sec.

We had a dinner appointment at the Flint family's and ate salmon! I knew it was going to happen sooner or later (especially after already eating moose (maybe) and lamb in the first 72 hours here), but it was super yummy and I think the next weird Alaskan food I'll eat will be muktuk or porcupine...yay. One of their family-friends brought her new boyfriend over to meet us and he was seriously so strange. His name is Sam and he spent like twenty minutes trying to sell us a baday -I don't know how to spell it but they're those toilet spray bum cleaners or whatever- and it was so awkward. He's from Lehi, UT and he and his girlfriend met on (oh no) and told us all about how he bought a plane ticket to Alaska as soon as they were "official” and how they speak the same love language and the first present he ever sent her was a baday. Hahaha Sister McGee and I were DYING. But Sam was dead serious about all this hahaha.

Then we went to help at this "Grandparents Day" dinner at the senior center with a bunch of other missionaries from our Zone and when we walked in, there were flashing disco lights and some grandpa was jamming out on the keyboard and there was a magician there. Alaska knows how to celebrate! We cleared plates for a few hours while everyone sang karaoke and then the DJ started playing songs like “The Cupid Shuffle" and "Cha Cha Slide" and "Wobble" so this cute little old lady dragged Sister McGee and me onto the dance floor with her to show her how "do all the moves" haha dying.

Saturday morning we had to finish up planning and then went to Moose’s Tooth for lunch with the other Sisters in our District. Moose's Tooth has pizza nationally ranked for it's yummy amazingness and it was so good. PIZZA IS A BLESSING!

Then we headed over to Beach Lake to meet with the other STL and then Skype up to the STL in Fairbanks and talked about our plans for Zone Training. While we were there, I saw Sister Richards (who's serving in Beach Lake) for the first time since we got our new companions. I don't remember if I told you this while I was in the MTC but, Sister Richards is a vegetarian and so I was asking her about what she's been eating here and what people have fed her. SHE ATE MOOSE. MOOSE ARE HER FAVORITE ANIMAL. Hahaha I was dying, poor thing. She looked so scared. She'll be fine haha.

As the Oceanview missionaries, we are over both the Oceanview ward and the Bush Branch stake. We have eight hours of church on Sunday's (5 of Bush Branch and 3 in the Oceanview ward) and had to sneak candy into our bags to make it through haha. Now I know why missionaries carry such big bags around haha. We had SIX investigators at church on Sunday which was super awesome #TheRedsareonfire.

So here's how the Bush Branch works: everyone (like all 40 of them) calls in and it's like a big huge conference call. The Bush Branch is all the people that live in literally the "middle of nowhere” Alaska and don't live close enough to a church so they call in. We met with Branch President Anderson and the senior missionary couple, the Mayhue's, in Branch President's office for the call but other than that, everyone else just calls in from home. First they do announcements like, "make sure everyone has all their firewood for the winter" and "remember to keep your food storage stocked" and stuff like that. Then we sing the opening hymn and Sister Mayhue presses "play" on the CD player and we all sing along. It's like bad karaoke haha. Then Branch President talks about callings or whatever (there are 6 youth in the Bush Branch and they have 1 missionary out from there!) and then they have Roll Call where they do attendance to check in on everyone and see who's there. After that, we sing the sacrament hymn. Elder Mayhue prepares, blesses, and passes the sacrament to us in the room and if there is a priesthood holder in the family that's calling in, they can prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament to their families which is really cool. However, there's a ton of people in the Bush Branch that don't have priesthood holders in their homes BUT they’ve been promised by the First Presidency of the Church, that they can STILL receive the same blessings! Isn't that so cool?! After the sacrament, a family is assigned to speak on a topic and so they all speak, we sing the closing hymn, someone says the closing prayer and bam that's Bush Branch! Then they have priesthood/YM on one line and then Relief Society/YW on another. It's so cool.

Then we went to Oceanview ward which is a cute little family ward and got to have normal not on the phone church. Yay! It rained all day and made the mountains so lush and green and pretty! Alaska is amazing. PS Sister McGee and I are trying a take a selfie every day so you’re probably just going to be getting selfies from me for the next six weeks haha.

Sunday was 9/11 and so a bunch of churches got together to have this American themed choir concert and guess who was there??
Abe Lincoln (see photo for evidence).
Alaska takes America very seriously.

And now it's PDay!! This morning we went out to the army base and watched them test fly all these military planes. Because if you have a squad of billion dollar airplanes, you should fly them every chance you get. They were SO LOUD & HUGE.

Other random things about Alaska from Sister Dunlop:
- There are a ton of roundabouts here (which I hate) and all of them are
DOUBLE LANES so that's awful and so scary.
- The water here isn't that yummy. Maybe it's just an Anchorage problem.
- I saw one of the last-standing Blockbuster Video the other day, it's huge.
- No two days are the same here which is awesome.
- It was so windy and rainy last night, we thought there was going to
be a hurricane
- This email is as long as a ENG 2010 essay, so sorry.

Anyways, missions are just one big and amazing adventure and I'm in
love with Alaska.
Go forth and be awesome!
Love, Sister Dunlop

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