Day 1, Part 1: Bob Hope Burbank Airport
The Delta flight from Salt Lake City arrives around 12:15 p.m. El Presidente and the Assistants and I are there waiting. Burbank is a small airport, which we are very grateful for, and we stand out from the regular flying public. Ken gets asked a lot of questions about the airport since he looks so official. We spend the wait time reviewing the hows and wheres and whats of the logistics of getting 25 people and luggage sorted and picked up. We wish that Burbank would consider installing chairs to wait in (it is a small airport).
Finally the plane lands and people begin to come out through security. The missionaries will be last--they always are last. Partly because they are polite and let the others off first, partly because someone will need to use the bathroom so they will all wait, but mainly because they are terrified and once they walk through that gate they are really here. Often other passengers will let us know they are coming. "There's a whole bunch of people in nametags on their way." If there are members on the flight they always let us know that the new group looks good.
We greet them, shake hands/hug as appropriate and begin to gather the luggage. Since they have stalled as long as possible getting out, the luggage comes quite quickly. Elder C, half of the amazing Elder and Sister C team, meets us at the curb with the king-cab pickup and a trailer for the luggage. Other senior missionaries (as necessary) are there for transport and we get everyone in a seatbelt and head off to the North Hollywood Stake Center.
At this point the new missionaries are still nervously chattering with each other, some trying to ask questions, some in awe of the weather and palm trees and some are really, really quiet. I think I would be one of the quiet ones. (Rita, stop laughing)
Part 2: North Hollywood Stake Center
The stake center is only about 10 minutes from the airport. Waiting for us there are the awesome Elder and Sister J and awesome Sister C. They have come with food. Pizza and pudding cups! There are some administrative things that simply must be done on day 1 and so while eating their pizza they watch a safety video, turn in/fill out/lose paperwork all while looking like deer in the headlights. I always feel so nervous for them because no matter who you are or how prepared you start, this is nerve-wracking.
After lunch? Miracles. Seriously. It's on the schedule. We schedule miracles and the Lord, in His infinite mercy, blesses those new missionaries with miracles. Meeting us at the stake center are some of our very best Elders and Sisters and for an hour and a half, our brand new missionaries will have a temporary companion and they go out into North Hollywood and find people to teach. And they do! They are scared and don't know what to say and don't really speak Spanish yet, but they find people to teach!
And that changes everything.
The hardest part of missionary work is starting. It is opening your mouth that first time and asking a complete stranger if they would like to learn of Jesus Christ. It is learning that you can do this.
Part 3: Mission Home
Between finding and paperwork/training, President is interviewing each new missionary. He needs to briefly get to know them and receive inspriration on who their training companion should be. This is getting trickier since the groups are getting larger. Sometimes the interviews go through and after dinner. He has already reviewed their application and knows a bit about them, but it is nice to meet them in person.
I leave North Hollywood before any of the real action takes place--I have to get kids from school and make sure I haven't burned down the mission home cooking dinner for a billion people. One nice thing about cooking for new missionaries is that they have just come from the MTC and so they think I'm an amazing cook. I'm really not. It's just Mexican pulled pork and Suzanne Paylor's super salsa. But it is food and there are actual couches to sit on and so life is good.
There is a difference in their faces from lunch to dinner. There didn't used to be. We just started the proselyting in the first hours of landing a few transfers ago. Before it was all administrative and there was only tiredness. Now, they are missionaries--still nervous but not terrified. It is a miracle.
We send them off to their temporary beds (no one stays here--we have a teenage boy so no sisters can stay and a teenage girl so no elders). They are exhausted. Utah to California isn't a long flight, but emotionally it is a long day.
Day 2: Transfer Day
This is the great a dreadful day. Great because you finally meet your companion. That's why it is dreadful, too. It is a scary thing to be assigned to some stranger to live with 24/7. You don't even live with your family 24/7. Now you will always be within sight and hearing of this person. You will be a part of every conversation, every phone call, every text message. There is no escape except the bathroom. It is a hard adjustment.
President Hall meets with the trainers for 90 minutes before the Transfer Meeting. The Assistants and I meet with the New Missionaries. By the way, they are New Missionaries, not Greenies. President Eyring personally instructed us when he extended the call that we were never to call a new missionary a greenie (also it is in the handbook under not using slang). So we don't. In fact, when you come to visit us we will ask you not to do it either. I think one reason Presdient Eyring mentioned that to us is because these new missionaries have the same power and authority to teach--they just are new, and we need to respect that.
I have no idea what the trainers learn besides Follow the 12 Week Program. The Assistants teach about companionship study and I teach about being Anxiously Engaged (anxiety).
Finally, finally! It is time for the Transfer Meeting.
Everyone who is getting a new companion comes to the transfer meeting. Some will be training, but most are part of a companionship where one, or both, are being transferred (no, we don't say whitewashed, either). It is often over half of the mission. As the new missionaries come in, everyone is standing and singing Called to Serve. It is really a good welcome to the mission. The new missionaries briefly introduce themselves (I'm Sister Smith from Palmyra, New York) (No, we don't have a Sister Smith from Palmyra, but wouldn't that be awesome?!)
President Hall then starts in with the actual business of transferring. "In the Canoga Park Zone, Elder A will be transferring out and Elder B will be transferring in, etc." It takes a while to go through it all but it is fascinating to watch. Hope, joy, sadness and terror--all in one meeting!
The unspoken odd thing is the names that don't get called, but rather get said good-bye to. Those who have finished their missions are now sitting, companionless but together. It always makes me sad and happy to see them as they say goodbye to not only their companions, but to the mission. They will have going-home-training, dinner and testimony meeting with us later in the day, but for now they have the bittersweet task of helping others on their way.
After the meeting everyone heads out. Well, the new missionaries and their trainers have to get yet another picture taken to mark the historic day. But then they all grab their two suitcases and one backpack and off they go with a new companion and/or a new area to good deeds (note to mothers everywhere, your missionary really is limited in what they can haul around--keep that in mind before sending the giant packages).
We'll see the new missionaries and their trainers in a week for some training they might actually remember and to see how they are doing. By that time they will look even more different. And by the six-week follow-up they will be indistinguishable from the trainers--they all will look like what they are: Missionaries.