Last Saturday morning, the MTC youth gathered together downtown for a walking tour of important church history sites in Lower Manhattan. Brent served as our very knowledgeable tour guide, sharing the stories and experiences of several church members in Manhattan in the early years of the church. We made stops at the location where Martin Harris showed transcriptions of the plates to Professor Charles Anthon, on Park Row near where Parley P. Pratt published the weekly newspaper The Prophet, on the site of the boarding house where Joseph Smith and Newel K. Whitney stayed in 1832, at the residence of Elijah Fordham, a prominent church member and the sculptor of the baptismal oxen in the Nauvoo Temple, at the machine shop of Wandle Mace, one of the first converts in New York City, and elsewhere. It was fascinating to learn about the trials and the miracles these early church members experienced, and it certainly brought a new level of perspective and appreciation for the strength of the church that we enjoy in New York today. How lucky we are to be a part of this same great work taking place here in the city both then and now!
Our second activity in March brought the MTC youth together to learn a variety of practical skills that will serve them well as they move on to the next stage in their life, whether that be a mission, college, employment, or something else. We started off with a fun and informative workshop on budgeting, where we learned about the importance of prioritizing our planned expenses, being prepared in the event of unplanned expenses, and ensuring that we are making financially savvy decisions and keeping within our means. Next, we worked on interpersonal and communication skills that are important for job interviews, friend/dating relationships, and of course for teaching effectively as a missionary. Finally, we had mini-workshops on skills for basic upkeep and appearance, including laundry, ironing, quick-fix sewing, and shoe shining. Our amazing youth already had a lot of these skills down, but we all walked away having learned something new and feeling that much more confident in ourselves.
For our first activity in March, we got together with several full-time missionaries serving in Manhattan to gain an insider's look into daily life as a missionary by participating with them in one of their nightly planning sessions. The missionaries started out by teaching us about the importance of planning. We all have dreams and goals, but without concrete plans, there is very little chance we can meet those goals. That's why it is so important to take the time to plan thoroughly. And for missionaries, whose goals focus on serving others and helping to spread the Gospel, it is especially important to plan under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. We then split up into small groups with individual companionships to plan their coming days with them. We enjoyed the opportunity to make specific plans to better serve and teach investigators, find new people who are interested in learning more, and strengthen and support members of the Manhattan Stake. We were also very impressed with the fancy new iPads and planning apps that the missionaries use for their daily and weekly planning! Finally, we had a chance to hold a question-and-answer session with the missionary panel, where we discussed everything from how to use your unique talents for finding new investigators to how to get through the trying times of homesickness and discouragement. We are so grateful that the missionaries were able to spend their evening with us!
Saturday morning, the MTC group headed down to Chinatown to visit the Mahayana Buddhist Temple on Canal Street. A staff member gave us a brief tour of the temple, answering questions about Buddhist customs, Siddartha Gautama (Buddha), the prayer practices we observed of entering guests, and even the little things like the meaning of the oranges seen on offering plates all around the temple.
Separately, we discussed similarities between the lives of Siddhartha and Christ. For instance, they both began their ministries in their 30's, both received a great prophecy at their birth, and both would be found fasting and meditating. We also discussed the differences in their lives, such as the fact that one was born of great wealth and the other not, and doctrines, such as resurrection versus rebirth.
Afterwards, we walked a couple blocks to order dumplings from Prosperity Dumplings. It was an authentic but small establishment--so small that only one of us could fit inside to order. But it was worth the effort--at 5 dumplings for a dollar, we feasted on well over 100 dumplings as a group! The weather was cold but the dumplings were just hot enough that we could all enjoy each other's company, laugh, and appreciate a great way to kick off our Saturday.
The MTC youth met recently for a wonderful discussion session at Ryan & Linda Todd's lovely apartment. First we heard from Henry Goldschmidt, director of education programs at the Interfaith Center of New York, and our key contact to the synagogue and mosque we visited last year. He invited the youth to apply for a new youth fellowship at the Interfaith Center, in which 10-15 high school students from diverse religious backgrounds meet and discuss the role of religion in New York schools. The program looks exciting and informative, & we hope some of the youth apply and participate! You can learn more about the Interfaith Center here.
After Henry's presentation, Adrienne and Mike led us in discussing some of the recent MTC activities and what we have learned from them. These activities include the sign language night with the ASL missionaries, serving food at a local soup kitchen, & visiting with residents at a nursing home in Harlem. They all have a common thread in the MTC theme we have had for the past two months: "The worth of souls is great in the sight of God." We talked about how serving and connecting with others, especially those who might be different than us, helps us to remember that God loves everyone, and everyone is important to Him. Even more importantly, it helps us to see and love others as God loves them, giving us a chance to grow closer to God in the process.
We loved hearing the youth share their insightful thoughts and experiences, and we all left feeling edified and uplifted. These discussion sessions are great opportunities for the youth to open up about their thoughts and questions regarding the Church in a comfortable, faithful setting, and we all benefit from the chance to strengthen our testimonies together.
What a privilege it was at our previous MTC activity to volunteer at the Bowery Mission helping prepare and serve dinner to over 400 hungry New Yorkers. It was a cold day in New York, and the people from the Lower East Side and Harlem had come for a warm, nutritious meal made possible by the consistent volunteers and donors who put faith into action at the Bowery Mission. We saw first hand how this organization gives people hope and a fighting chance at life with the programs and meal services every day.
We started by organizing and cleaning the pantry. So many organizations from the area donate food and supplies. Then some of us prepared and organized the dinner options (cutting bread, mixing the salad, and arranging dessert) onto the serving trays then set up the food line. And in preparation for the next day’s meal, we even cut enough potatoes to fill a cauldron! It was ginormous! They run a very efficient kitchen – they have to in order to feed anywhere from 200 to 350 people three warm meals every day!
We then served dinner to each individual who came. These humble New Yorkers were so appreciative to have a nice hot meal to fill them up. We all felt an incredible amount of love for our brothers and sisters who were suffering and felt it a privilege to be part of a program that helps bring a bit of comfort in difficult times. Thanks Bowery Mission for making a difference in so many people’s lives – including our own.
Last week's MTC activity found us downtown in the Union Square building, where we met with the American Sign Language missionaries serving in the Union Square 2nd Branch. We had a wonderful time hearing about the missionaries' experiences in the deaf branch and learning from them how to introduce ourselves and bear a simple testimony in ASL. It was inspiring to learn about the faith and dedication of the members of the deaf branch, many of whom overcome significant challenges to come to church each week.
We also learned a lot of interesting information about the language itself. Did you know that there are over 200 types of sign language throughout the world, and many people have their own unique style of signing? This means that it often requires a significant investment of time and effort to learn each individual's personal language and get to know them. It reminded us of how Christ has invested time and effort into each one of us in his infinite love for us. And did you know that when you learn sign language and become a part of the deaf community, a deaf person gives you a special name sign just for you? This reminded us of how we take a special name--the name of Christ--when we join the family of Christ through baptism.
Finally, we loved learning how to sign the alphabet, introduce ourselves, and share our testimony in ASL. The next time you see any of the MTC youth, be sure to ask them to share their newfound ASL skills with you!
For our most recent activity, the MTC youth visited the Greater Harlem Nursing Home to spread some holiday cheer. We first broke into smaller groups and made room-to-room visits to individual residents of the home. It was both enlightening and entertaining to speak with these wonderful elderly people and come to know them a little bit. They shared parts of their life stories with us, spoke about their children and grandchildren, offered advice to the young people, and listened with gratitude as we sang Christmas songs to them. We then got together to sing to the larger groups of residents gathered together in the social areas throughout the nursing home. We had so much fun singing Christmas carols to them, and many of them even joined in with us. As with all service activities, we came to the activity with the intent of bringing joy and happiness to others, but we left feeling as though we were the ones most blessed by the experience. We hope to continue sharing these feelings of love and good will throughout the Christmas season!
For our most recent MTC activity, we gathered at the apartment of one of our zone leaders, Brent Thurgood, for a discussion session to follow up on our earlier activities. Building off of the Brooklyn Bridge activity where we learned about developing testimonies, we began by discussing the elements that make up a strong testimony, along with the question of whether it is possible to "have a testimony" even while having some uncertainties. The youth and leaders shared some wonderful thoughts and experiences, including the importance of basing a testimony on the fundamentals like the love Christ and our Heavenly Parents have for us, being patient and trusting that our questions will be answered at some point, and recording and remembering the spiritual experiences we have. The youth also talked about how they can be strong in their commitments to the commandments and be a positive, loving influence in the lives of their friends, both inside the church and out. It was wonderful to feel the Spirit fill the room as we talked about these things in such an open and comfortable setting. To top it all off, we enjoyed delicious hot chocolate, hot cider, and donuts to keep us warm despite the cold weather.
At our last activity, the MTC youth met at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. This church is the official seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and is the largest Christian church in the U.S. (4th largest in the world!). It is built in the Gothic and Romanesque styles of Medieval cathedrals, laid one stone at a time with no steel frames or any other modern shortcuts. And it is actually still under construction—122 years and counting! Finished or not, this is a beautiful and impressive church and we had a great time exploring it together.
We stopped at several places in and around the cathedral to learn more about its history and construction, in addition to learning about the Reformation and various Protestant denominations in general. Among our stops were the large Rose Window with a beautiful depiction of Christ, the massive bronze doors illustrating various Bible stories, the baptistery with a layout similar to those found in our temples, and the altar, the equivalent of our sacrament table and full of rich symbolism of Christ’s Atonement. We appreciated the welcoming spirit of the cathedral and the opportunity to learn so much in this beautiful setting.
We had a great experience at the Brooklyn Bridge last week! The MTC youth gathered on the Manhattan side of the bridge and walked across together, stopping along the way to discuss its history and architecture while drawing Gospel analogies about building a strong testimony.
The weight of the Brooklyn Bridge is supported by two towers, which we likened to two of the most important components of the Atonement: redemption and resurrection. We can think of one tower as representing redemption, or salvation from sin, while the other tower represents resurrection, or salvation from death. Together, redemption and resurrection allow us to overcome the challenges of mortality. Faith in the Atonement is the core of a strong testimony and the structure upon which everything else depends, just as the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge are the strongest points upon which the rest of the bridge hangs.
The bridge is held up and stabilized by three separate support systems: a cable suspension system, a secondary system of diagonal cables, and an underlying web truss. These three systems can be likened to personal revelation, scripture study, and the words of modern-day leaders -- the sources of information, comfort, and strength to support our faith in Christ and His Atonement. Finally, the entire bridge is anchored in the deep bedrock below the East River, which is as constant and unshakable as God's love for us.
With the glow of the city lights in the distance, it was wonderful to discuss these gospel principles on the magnificent structure of the Brooklyn Bridge, which has a unique history of its own. We've included a few interesting facts about the bridge at the bottom of this post.
We finished up the activity eating Grimaldi's pizza at the other side of the bridge, in Brooklyn. Our stomachs and our souls were equally filled!
FUN FACTS (& SOME SAD ONES) ABOUT THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE:
- At the time it opened, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, & the tallest structure in the Western hemisphere.
- The initial designer, John Augustus Roebling, had his foot crushed while working one day on the site. After his toes were amputated, he developed tetanus from the procedure & died.
- His son, Washington Roebling, took over the project, only to be afflicted by decompression sickness when he came up too fast from the depths of the construction site while working on the bridge. Washington was sadly bedridden for the remainder of the construction of the bridge, but managed the project from his apartment window.
- Washington’s wife, Emily Warren Roebling, took over on-site supervision & acted as a liaison between her husband & the construction workers. She studied higher mathematics, details of cable construction, bridge specifications, & more to assist in the 11-year project.
- Emily Warren Roebling was the first person to cross the completed bridge.
- The original toll for crossing the bridge was one penny.
- To squash rumors that the bridge was weak and would soon collapse (and to advertise for his circus), P.T. Barnum sent 21 elephants, led by the famous Jumbo, all the way across.
- 120,000 cars, 4,000 pedestrians, and 2,600 cyclists cross the bridge each day.
The MTC is back in session! We are thrilled to be together again for the second year of the Manhattan Training Center, where we learn to be better followers of Christ while embarking on adventures in New York City. We had a great kickoff event last week, and we can tell from the energy and enthusiasm of the youth that we have an exciting year in store for us. To help us get ready for this year's activities, MTC veterans Elise and James shared some of their thoughts and experiences from last year, and zone leader Mike Matthews showed a video with highlights from last year and a preview of this year. Check it out below!
The MTC Youth then got right down to work with the "Seven-Minute Service Challenge": seven minutes to go outside and find some way to share God's love with their brothers and sisters, using nothing but the Spirit and their own creativity. They did a great job! Working together as zones, they were able to help and comfort a homeless woman, thank a pair of police officers for their service, take pictures of people in front of the Lincoln Center (so much better than a selfie!), share a message of God's love for families with an expectant woman and her husband, and brighten the days of everyone they passed on the sidewalk with their smiles and kind words. It's going to be a great year!