Friday, May 20, 2011

Junior and Senior companions (But mostly Senior)

I heard this song recently and it brought back several memories from my mission.  I thought I'd share the song and some funny mission stories.

You and Me (But Mostly Me)

Given that this song occurs before arriving in Uganda, the song shows Elder Kevin Price's hubris. I could forgive some of the hubris had he been in Uganda for over a year longer than his companion. While this level of hubris is rare among missionaries (it's at least 5% less ;) ), the dynamic between the two in the companionship struck a chord. Based on my experiences and observations from my mission, the relationship between the "junior" and "senior" companions could often use this song as a soundtrack.

Each mission president is given a decent amount of autonomy when it comes to mission rules and protocols for his jurisdiction. A mission president in my mission once said that "your mission doesn't really start until you're a senior companion." This was largely due to the difficulties in mastering the Russian language. In most missions every 6 weeks "transfers" take place and missionaries are moved to different areas and usually with new companions. In my mission these took place every 2 months. Basically you were a junior companion until about a year into your mission at which point on one of the transfers you became a senior companion. Most junior companions landed somewhere on the scale from not understanding anything in Russian to basic-low-level fluency. As a result, most of them could only "stand next you and watch," and "stay out of your way." There were exceptions to this: some junior companions were close to becoming senior companions and had a decent grasp on the language.

When the junior companion tried to contribute, it was at times a frustrating process and occasionally produced hilarious results. I'll share one of each.

If any of you have lived in a country where you only had a loose grasp on the language, you'll know that a large part of communication is visual. You can get away with limited vocabulary if you're expressive and good with gestures. My first senior companion wasn't known for his language skills and he used the phrase это самое (that thing) with some accompanying gesture more than everyone else I knew combined. The phone kills that large aid in communication. As fate would have it, I had a junior companion who really wanted to answer the phone. Usually he'd last about 30 seconds before handing the phone to me. One day the call lasted for quite a while and he just kept saying 'da' over and over without handing it to me. He got off the phone and said that a retired couple who were serving a humanitarian mission for the church were presenting some big donation to a university and they wanted to have "a missionary presence" there the next day. So we arranged to be there and upon arrival I was told "Good, you're finally here. You'll give your speech after the Dean."
Yeah, that's right. He didn't understand the call and turns out I needed to give a speech in front of the entire university. Let's just say I didn't let him answer the phone for a while.

I love this next story. This companionship was visiting a man they'd been teaching and he was going through a really rough time in his life. His pay had just been slashed, his parents had just gotten severely ill, and he was depressed. At very least that's what the junior companion had been able to piece together while sitting there for an hour listening to the conversation between the man and the senior companion. So the junior thought, 'hey, that's just like what happened to Job in the bible.' So in an attempt to contribute he thought he'd point out how similar this was to Job. Now he knew that the 'j' sound was pretty unique to English and he knew that in the bible Joseph was pronounced Yoseph, so he knew the 'j' would be a 'y' sound. He did not know (or at least remember) that often 'b's become 'v's (in Hebrew the difference between b and v is a dot). So out of nowhere he interjects saying simply "Yob." He was surprised with both the senior companion and the man stared at him in disbelief. After what seemed to him was an eternity the senior companion asked him, slowly, "What were you trying to say? Just tell me in English what you were trying to say." Why the confusion? Well, after sitting silently for almost an hour, the one word he decided to contribute was the F-bomb. In Russian there are several variations of the English F-word. The one the junior companion used was the F-bomb verb, and he'd used it in command form.

An additional memory this song evoked (specifically the line about God saying "you've done an awesome job Kevin!") was of a particular district meeting on my mission. A "district" in LDS mission vocabulary is a group of a few missionary companionships which live in the same general area. Districts meet weekly to discuss how they're doing, what help they need, instruction is given, and (at least in my mission) a language lesson is also given. This particular meeting the district leader was trying to motivate us. This is the highlight of his speech (as well as I can recall)
We really need to give it our all on our missions.
I mean, when we die we don't want it to be like:
"Hi Jesus, I'm ready to go to heaven."
"Sorry, you didn't make the cut"
"But.... but I served a mission!"
"Yeah, and you sucked at it."
Ah, the mission. I have a million memories.