This is my journal about my time at what was the Family and Church History Headquarter's Mission, which now was now over two years ago. I'm going to keep it brief because I already have a record of my time there from the weekly letters I sent my parents, so I'll focus more on the emotional aspects here. And hey, it's not like anyone is going to read this anyway. I might also write a memoir about my experience there, tentatively titled "Take the Hit and Smile Away".
The title is a bit melodramatic, so let me explain what it means (but the place did suck in it's own way). On the flight over from Ethiopia, I read the beginning of The Other Side of Heaven, and I was grateful I didn't have to go out to Tonga without support. There the natives watched him bath, while I went out of the way to avoid the MTC just to avoid having to use their showers. Likewise, from other stories I heard other missionaries mentioning I figured many other missions wouldn't be the place for me. That being said, this place definitely wasn't for me either. While many people talked about the trials of other missions, it's not the trials which constitute suffering. The true meaning of hell is not pain, but being trapped, unable to progress, unable to contribute. In that sense, the place was more hell than any far off island in the pacific were miracles happen by the day, which is my ironic because it was right in the capital of Mormondom. It turns out hell is hell, no matter how hot it burns.
At the start of the mission I was rather optimistic, as I had just been reading about John H. Groberg's mission and it sounded like we would actually be doing something there. I wasn't even disappointed, as for someone who grew up in Cleveland, Washington, Brasilia, and Jakarta, Salt Lake City was every bit as exotic as some island in the pacific. I remember when I was first picked up it was on corner of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in the early morning so that the sky was still in the dead of night. Temple Square looked absolutely beautiful. There a met a heavily jowled man was waiting for me, I was the first of new elders to arrive. When some other missionaries arrived, this man said something odd, something about not talking to any girls while on the mission. I thought this was just a standard missionary thing, but later I realized that other missions had young sister missionaries, while this mission was exclusively male by design. Once that sunk in it REALLY started to bother me, but at time I thought nothing of it.
Once enough people arrived, we entered the building. After an opening devotional were I was announced as being from Virginia for some reason despite only living in Falls Church for month before going to Ethiopia for three and I met up with someone I knew from college (the only person in the group handsomer than me), we went to an office with lots of conceptual designs on the white boards relating to object oriented programming for an opening orientation. I hoped this mean our work would included actual programming. Of course, it turned out we did nothing of that sort and it was from something else, our work ended up being the most mundane work imaginable. Our first week was spent putting an excessive amount of time into family search training and utter wastes of time like drivers training even though I lacked a license. When I finally got assigned to a zone in the Church History Department it wasn't any better. The project I was assigned was pretty much the worst fit for me, as not only was incredibly boring, but it required extensive reading of cursive, which I never really learned and am really bad at reading, and was demanding on working memory, so I was pretty much incapable of doing the work either.
And god, I was so lonely. My companion during the first week was literally retarded, and I ignored my feelings towards my own condition as I was absorbed in mothering him. After the transform to my first zone, my companion was an actual sociopath. He was much better for conversation than the first, but certain emotional needs were still left unmet. Being entirely populated by young men and old people, the mission in general didn't do me much good. Men are generally stupid assholes, while old people are much worse. God, I hate old people, I can't wait for most of them to die and stop ruining the world. Of course not all of them suck, but most of them do, and that's why we're stuck with Trump. Anyway, pretty much the only thing I looked forward to each week was writing to friends and family back home. There was a friend in particular I was trying to get a hold of, a woman who I believe I have mentioned in previous journals. I initially tried accessing her by breaking the rules and logging into my old email account and pulling up a drafted letter to her there, but it was gone. Next week after confirming it was legal to contact such friends I prayed and tried to contact her by staying within rules using a bruteforce approach that I learned for looking up records in Family Search. That actually did work, and I was so happy when I heard back from her.
Shortly after starting the mission, the optimism was replaced with having a bad feeling about the place, like that I didn't belong. It was more than not belonging, it was like I wasn't supposed to be there at all. My initial thoughts was that I was unworthy, I'll just leave it by saying that if you go through the vast nude folder in my favorites, not all of it really qualifies as artistic nude. I credit the reason for ending up in the place was due to the fact I exaggerated my disability during an assessment in order to get excused from service. However, the mission conference we had was on pornography, and from that two things were clear: I definitely was not addicted to pornography, and my experience before the mission was pretty average. So that definitely was not the problem.
After concluding that the problem wasn't that I was unworthy, I read my patriarchal blessing and of course there was missionary stuff. I found that the missionary stuff described there I found were impossible to be fulfilled on this mission. For example, instead of proselytizing we had these patronizing mock discussions with the senior missionaries (which I never really did out of principle). Since I had already concluded I was only here due to choices I made, I figured I wasn't supposed to be here as I was supposed to be somewhere else. I had a dream where I had to escape this carnival and then I ended up in a van with some Middle Eastern people. I interpreted the carnival as a metaphor for the mission, and the middle eastern the people I needed to teach. As such, I needed to find a way to escape that hell and get where I really needed to be. I wasn't sure I was actually supposed to teach them the gospel, but I needed to help them. At the time, I was aware of the refugee crisis going on, and figured I was supposed to go out and help Syrian refugees. It would have done far more good than what I was doing there, which was just a waste of my time. And when I say a waste of my time, I don't mean that my time could have better used for me, I'm saying my time could have been better utilized, period. I really hated being there. Around Temple Square, food carts would sometimes give us free food on the virtue of being a missionary, but truth is I did absolutely nothing, while there homeless people all around who received nothing, and I was not allowed to assist them. I hated it.
There was also something else on my mind. I've always suspected that friend I mentioned previously is on the autism spectrum, that is why I was drawn to her in the first place. In the very least, practice has shown that she scored significantly higher than me on those stupid online autism tests like the AQ even though I'm the one actually diagnosed with Aspergers. We were also quasi-romantically involved at one point, but I attempted to crush any romantic feelings towards her later due to the impossibility of pursuing a relationship. Anyway, at the mission the majority of the younger elders where on the spectrum, so the topic of autism came up frequently when I was talking with my companion. Eventually I mentioned this friend to him, and he managed to sniff out my feelings towards her that I was trying to bury. Being a sociopath who considered peoples to be tools to be manipulated, he considered it to be possible change her mind so that she would marry me, and then declared that all the material barriers to such a relationship didn't matter. And because I deep down I wished that was true, I believed him. I believed all the ridiculous stories he told because when you're living in hell, you'll believe in anything to make your life a bit more interesting. So now that seed of false hope was planted in my mind, and it distorted all my interactions with this friend. As I suspected, I learned she wasn't doing well where she was either. Contrary to conventional wisdom (which has never made sense to me), I've found that being in place of self-loathing and suffering makes me more inclined to reach out to assist others, as it not only makes me feel valued, but it takes my mind off of myself. The newly revived ulterior motives interfered with any ability to actually be a useful emotional support, and I started fantasizing about running away to the other side of the nation to go comfort her in person. Man, I was out of my mind during that time.
My companion noticed how utterly depressed I was about everything, and told me he could arrange for me to see a psychologist. I told him to go do that, though the real reason I had for doing so was as an opportunity to find a way out of this place. The psychologist I met with was missing two fingers on one of his hands and I never learned the story of how he lost them, but I did learn he is a fan of hard rock like Led Zeppelin. Much to my chagrin, he was focused on trying to get me to be happy there rather than getting me out, but the meetings still became one of the few things I looked forward to each week.
Eventually, I got transferred out of the church history library and into the family history library with assisting patrons. This was much better, as now I would be working with people so it would be somewhat less lonely, and unlike the previous project I'd be doing work I could actually do. My new companion was friends with my previous, so I already knew him well and things were about as good as they could be. In practice though, no one really needed help with genealogy. The main thing they wanted us for was assisting the old people with computer problems. I need to stress this, that while my major is computer science, I am NOT an IT guy. It's computers in general that I understand, not your specific one. I have no clue how to fix your computer, all I really know how to do is use google. And even then, we only got asked for help around once a day, so I was hardly being utilized there either. While there, I tried to find someway where I could actually contribute something.
Back home, I learned my parents back in Ethiopia were called to assist with family history work there. They had been running into problems though due to a lack of accessible records, so it was difficult to get past their grandparents. It turned out that Ethiopian records did exist as my father was given access to them while doing an investigation on visa fraud relating to forged school information, but their condition is dismal. Putting a need and means together, I figured it would be possible for the church to get involved and help preserve their records, while also increasing access to them for the purposes of genealogy works. At this time I began thinking maybe I actually was here for a reason. I knew whatever mundane non-work they had for me couldn't be the meaningful reason for what I could contribute to the mission, and this appeared to be an opportunity. Maybe I could act as the link between the Family History department and Ethiopia which could get things started. I was also fantasizing that maybe I could learn Amharic in order to assist with the work as I didn't have the opportunity to learn a language for the mission (what one person said is the most valuable thing to get out of a mission), and it's not like I was doing anything better. Of course, no one cared, as they didn't actually want me to to contribute anything.
One thing that I had learned by then is that there used to be young sisters on the mission as well as elders, but the change was made to stop sending them at some point. I got access to the mission portal while in this zone, and it a power point explaining the mission's history. The mission was originally an informal thing organized by service missionaries, but then the church swooped in and made it "official". In the process, they removed disabled people from self-direction and over time enforced progressively more draconian rules, and eventually kicked all the young sisters out of an opportunity they used to have. And the treated that like progress! Well, one thing that I had figured out was that change was made before the age change was made for sister missionaries which greatly increased their participation in general. As a result, I figured the decision about whether or not to include sister missionaries was based on conditions that no longer applied. I knew there now was demand, as I had overheard one of the senior sisters talking about how their was no service opportunities for her daughter(?) despite being perfectly competent due to the fact she was autistic and a woman. I thought that maybe my purpose here was to be the messenger to send the message that maybe it was time to let them come back.
That conclusion might sound a bit out of the blue, so let me provide some context. I believe I mentioned this in a previous jounral, but before serving on the mission, I had volunteered as an assistant in a social skills program for adolescents on the spectrum. I learned that by design it was male-only, due to the fact there was only a couple girls in the spectrum in their jurisdiction (who they worked with individually) and because they were concerned that the presence of girls would be too much of a distraction. I really don't understand this bizarre Utahn notion that apparently autistic males are sex obsessed as it goes against everything I know about the disorder, but apparently it's a thing here. Well, they ended up rethinking their policy while I was there, and on the very last that I was volunteering there they started to let girls attend. That may have been the result of my prying, questioning the long held beliefs of a sex obsessed culture. I figured that if bringing it up worked once, it might work a second time, and I was in a unique position to actually challenge it. Of course, the truth is it went nowhere.
After much struggle with trying to advocate for women, I came to realize I wish I was a female. It's not the first time I felt that way, for example I had written "Beautiful
" which is principally about gender dysphoria, but I had never felt it with such conviction before. I can't say I feel more female than male, as I don't really feel like either, but I would rather be female. Really what I feel like is an autistic female, but I feel an autistic entity is inherently androgynous, definitely not hyper masculine like Borat's cousin suggests. More ever, I came to realize that the man this place was trying to turn me into was not the man I wanted to be. They were trying to shape into cold breadwinner, where I would be absolutely miserable. Deep down, I wanted autistic female missionaries to have the same opportunities as me in order to justify my own presence more than any sense of altruism.
At this point I need to bring up a certain senior sister, as her presence was the only thing keeping me crowded. While I say senior sister, it's clear she was much younger than most of them. She gave a talk on the first Sunday I was there about her moving to New Zealand on a whim after surviving cancer and how her car caught on fire, and how right now she was apparently technically homeless. Needless to say she came across as quite an interesting women. There was more to it though. Her voice was very soft, like a real version of Fluttershy, and her mannerisms caught my eye, she struck me as maybe being on the spectrum. Later, I learned she apparently is "bros with all the elders" after she ended up going to the Cheesecake Factory with a group of us, and it seemed she fundamentally connected with them more than she did with the senior elder sisters. Well, as long as she there, she kept me grounded. Her presence made me feel not completely out of place, and that my quest wasn't entirely futile. I never knew her that well, but she represented a light in the darkness.
At this point I've lost track of the timeline, I'm just trying to get things out. For a period of time, the most infuriating elder lived in our apartment, who shall be known as "The Flower". His voice was extremely whiny, he was extremely messy to the point he singlehandedly caused our apartment to fail all our clean checks, he constantly picked fights with his companion (once he was chasing him around with a spray bottle and I had to confiscate it, leading to my former companion intervening), and he was just really annoying and selfish. Nobody liked him. To demonstrate the extent to which he was hated, I'll confess two anecdotes where I was definitely in the wrong, but the entire apartment still conspired to take my side. Once I had a bloody nose in the morning, and he was just yelling and yelling at me for some reason. In my half-conscious state, I ended up throwing part of my bloody kleenex onto his white shirt so he would shut up. Those learned about it cheered me as a hero. Another time, he left his dirty plate from breakfast on the armchair of the couch before leaving, and this was after being consoled about needing to eat in the kitchen rather than living room numerous times. After sitting on the couch and finding my arm had hit it, I threw it against the floor and it shattered. I hated that plate because I always ended up having to his dishes for him, and that plate was quite heavy. My companion was a witness, but the story he told was just that it fell of the couch and shattered, placing the blame on The Flower's sloppiness. The Flower didn't believe the story when we tried to teach him a lesson as he figured the impact looked more like it was thrown against the floor, it seems he's only smart when it serves his own laziness.
Well, one day tensions between him and his companion reached a boiling point, and an emergency companion exchange was inacted in order to prevent his companion from cutting himself. For awhile, it was just me and him in the room, and I believe I was making dinner for myself while the audio history of the church played. We said no words, but there was a heavy tension in the air. At one point the person he had companioned exchanged with or the district leader, zone leader, whatever started to talking with him, and he cried as he expressed that he felt like he didn't belong there. For a fleeting moment, I empathized with him, and in that moment, I realized that I loved him. It's funny how that works, I don't think it's possible to truly know someone and not love them. Not long after that, he was transferred out of our apartment to a new companion who actually imposed discipline on him. Unlike many of those who were far greater than him, he actually managed to to finish all two years of the mission, a feat few accomplished.
Over time, I did more research on girls on the mission after discovering a link in the missionary portal to old publications from the mission. Part of that included a list of all new missionaries each month. From that, I was able to track down exactly when the last young sister missionaries came, and I figured out that that they ended up getting transferred to the Temple Square Mission after something happened. However, I was unable to figure out what happened. I heard rumors that an elder had sex with a sister after they did a proxy sealing together, but I could find no evidence that such an outrageous event ever occurred. I did discover that Discovery Center had actual service missionaries, including young sisters. I learned that one of them, who happened to share my last name, used to serve in the same mission as my companion before he got transferred her, and he was certain she was autistic. Both were transferred here for the same reason, but in a completely different way. The only reason the Mission President knew about this place was because he previously transferred a missionary there, and she was lucky there was a spot for her in the other place. As far as I'm aware, this opportunity no longer exists due to changes that were made in the discovery center.
One day, I was finally getting fed with stuff. I had long been an advocate for autistic rights, and this place was doing everything wrong. Aside from the utter lack of autonomy and extreme sexism, there was one other thing that was bothering me a lot. At one mission conference, the theme was basically that the secret to being happy is choosing to be happy. Not only is that attitude blatantly illogical (otherwise we'd all be happy) and poorly founded (they used a blatantly incorrect interpretation of Viktor Frankl's theories, which I knew as I had studied them before as a part of AP Psychology, and I had recently been refreshed by them after visiting Dachau), but in the context of the mission such an attitude was particularly destructive. Pretty much everyone there suffered from mental illness, including depression for many people, and that's the absolute worst way you can handle depression. But there was also something more sinister going on. One thing this mission put a particular focus on making people smile all the time. If you've read my works, you should be familiar with my opinion on faking smiles: SMILE
. However, there was something that made it so much worse here than in another context. One thing I was familiar with from my previous experience with autistic rights advocacy was that certain institutions used behaviorist techniques in order to enforce smiling. Because the smiling isn't real, the parents of those children think their children are happy with their therapy, when they are actually being tortured. Insisting on people smiling is good way to cover up systematic abuse. As such, this place REALLY rubbed me the wrong way.
Another thing that bothered me was the unequal treatment between young elders and senior missionaries. The senior missionaries systematically got privileges that young missionaries globally didn't on the virtue of being old and feeble, but the young elders were given no accommodations for being disabled, which was particularly ironic considered that's the only reason there were in this hell hole rather than a real mission were they could actually do something. For example, there were mandatory prayer meetings at 9 in the morning which I rarely made due to sleep problems, and these meetings do not even exist in a typical mission. I was constantly berated for not making those meetings, including by the seniors the few times I did manage to show up who were just mocking us because they're assholes, as well as in the monthly interviews with the president's wife where it was interpreted as disobedience, and I was punished as a result. The ultimately irony is there is a good chance my sleep problems were the real reason I was deemed unable to serve a mission, not my Aspergers diagnosis, though the whole process was fucked up. Meanwhile, the seniors were breaking rules all the time like discussing politics (they were mainly Trump worshippers being the hypocritical morons that they are), but they were disciplined. The ultimate rub was that the young elders weren't allowed to RootsCon, while the seniors were, which is where all our work built up to. The end result was just discrimination without accommodation.
Well, it got to the point after I was fed up with one senior missionary's abuse, and I decide I should take action. Our mission had tickets to the priesthood session of general conference. There, I was planning to interrupt and state my objections. I was so upset. Then something happened to brighten up my day. I was alerted to the fact that Indonesian President Joko Widodo was currently in the discovery center. This was of particular interest to me for two reasons. First, I lived in Indonesia during his campaign session, and he was essentially running against the Indonesian version of Trump, who is an actual war criminal, so it was great seeing him win. Also, Jokowi is a known metalhead, and being a big fan of heavy metal myself I found that super cool. My companion noticed how down I was, so together we snuck out of zone to go to the discovery center. It was currently closed off due to the visit, but we could still sneak in due to being missionaries, and sure enough, I spotted him, his look is pretty distinctive. Now that I was in a better mood, I decided to call of drastic action, which was good because I actually ended up enjoying conference, though I enjoyed just hanging out on Temple Square more than actually sitting in the front during Priesthood session.
It wasn't all bad though, and for a moment it looked like there was hope that things might change. This relates primary to the Harmons saga. As a result of failing all our cleaning checks, we were "punished" by no getting rides to Walmart, and instead we had to shop at Harmons, where the food is supposedly more expensive. This was actually a blessing though, for many reasons. First and most directly, it turned out we actually ended up spending LESS money at Harmons once we figured out the good stuff to buy. Not only were we eating cheaper, but we eating better too, both in terms of health and taste. Second, not having the "privilege" of going to Walmart meant we didn't have to go, and otherwise we did because my companion was one of the drivers, and that was hard on me because it was so early. Now I was free from that. The best part though was the people we met on the way. There was one small moment when we were having a trouble carrying our bags, and a women helped us carry them back. She was in from California attending a conference related to her work, which was electrical systems IIRC. It's the little moments like that which make your life when you're living in hell. The other person we meant was from their marketing department, and that's what really started the saga.
So all four of us from our apartment were shopping at Harmons when the man approached us. He told us who he was and asked who we were, and took us all to one of Harmon's back rooms. There he talked about a bunch of stuff, the implication being he wanted the missionaries to shop at Harmons more often, and maybe make some special deals for the missionaries as we presented our own concerns like a need to teach cooking to the Elders, and he gave us a TON of stuff to buy our loyalty. He showed us some drinkable vinegar that wasn't on sale yet and gave us a few bottles, which are like $15 each. He then bought a bunch of groceries for us, mainly really good vegetables like some sort of Chinese cabbage as well as some good meat cuts, and that totaled to like $75. The biggest thing he gave us though was give us a free spot in the cooking lessons, which would normally be around $100 a head. I convinced my companion to arrange for the Indian cooking night, and we managed to get excused from our evening zones for that. The night was just magical. I don't remember all the details, but the presentation and equipment there was incredible. And then of course there was the food. We ended up making naan, mango lassi, and some sort of butter chicken curry. I've made butter chicken curry before and had managed to impress people with it, but this was something else. Then there was also the fact we were just throwing around expensive ingredients like saffron, grapeseed oil, and flake salt like they were nothing. The last thing was that there was there another customer there, a woman, who I swore I knew, she was so familiar. The whole thing like like a dream, but it was real. Of course, nothing actually lead to anything, though sometime after I left they DID stop using Walmart, but then they just started going to Smith's rather than Harmons.
Now begins the end. First it begins with the friend I mentioned earlier who I had found by email. She was diagnosed with both dysthymia and major depression, and I had the impression that she was not doing alright at the time. So I asked how she was doing, and she confirmed that she was not doing well. Well then I started spouting unsolicited advice about dealing with depression, including spiritual stuff because that was the mindset I was currently in. Eventually she stopped replying, and I started losing my mind. I started talking to my companion about it, and in our moronic echo chamber we concluded it was possible that she committed suicide, so I went off the deep end. I just wanted to get off the mission so I could check Facebook if she was okay, but it was just the tip of the iceberg. We had monthly meetings with the Mission President, and he basically told me to fake a smile. I would NEVER tell this friend to do such a thing, and that is the point where I became convinced that I was going to have to leave as I was morally opposed to staying there.
The next twist was thrown in with my weekly visits with the psychologist. He wanted me to be happy there, and I ended up blurting out that I didn't WANT to be happy there, I wanted to be happy somewhere else. I revealed that I had intentionally avoided the MTC and that's why I considered that I had ended up in this place, and that I absolutely did not belong. After he questioned why I explained that avoided the MTC due to the bathrooms, but he did not understand the reason why. He hypothesized that my concern was either because I was gay or because of pornography, which was not the case. I just wanted private bathrooms because I'm a gymnophobe. I did decide to convince my pornography viewing at that point because what the hell. At that point I realized my situation wasn't actually what he was looking for, but I went along with it anyway. From there we eventually scheduled an appointment with the Stake President, and I figured I had to get that done before I left. I was planning on sticking out until after the Ensign Peak hike, but that other stuff ended up coming up and that ended up pretty much being the end.
The tipping point came one Sunday when that one Senior Sister missionary I mentioned previously was absent. She was one of the Sunday School teachers, and just the week before she had two of the elders assist her with teaching the lesson after praying about it and feeling a prompting from the spirit. Well she wasn't there that week, and instead we were sent to the legacy theater, where we were subjected to a vastly inferior teacher. We were told today that a general authority in priesthood, but I know this was no honor, it was a "la plancha": a grilling. It was not a righteous grilling though, with the man giving it proving to be the most wicked man I met on the mission. I've censored all the other names here, but I'll let you know who this bastard is - C. Scott Grow. He presided above the mission president as the true overseer of the mission, and he is probably the architect of hell, being the authoritarian freak that he is. He gave a talk on obedience which was the worst I ever heard in my life, worse than any impromptu talk I've heard from crazy old people rambling at testimony meeting. It was irrelevant, poorly argued, and just bad advice, but most of all, it was just insulting. I don't remember all the horrible slanderous things he said, but the one I remember the best was him basically implying that everyone on the mission was disabled just so that they would be his peons. Of course, it went over most the missionaries heads because they are simply idiots who are now worshipping Trump as they conform to the culture around them, but those who understood shared my anger. He was shaking people's hands afterwards, but of course I refused and just walked out on him. I heard he's now running for state senator as conservatives bastards are inclined to do. I only hope he's not longer presiding over the place.
As bad as his talk and he was, he wasn't the real reason I was upset though. The real reason was the sign that this sister missionary was kicked off the mission for essentially associating too closely with the elder. Regardless of whether my cause was justice, that sent the message that pushing it in this climate was utterly futile. They cared not for spiritual promptings, just for sexist regiment. More over, if she wasn't welcome, then I wasn't welcome either. It's hard to express how upset I was. On the way home, I tried cutting my hand by grinding it against the sandstone walls of temple square while briskly walking past it. I also walked straight into traffic, and in retrospect I'm glad I survived. That night, I cut the back of my wrists with a steak knife. I was disappointed how little it bleed. If people learned I had done that, it probably would have been enough to get me sent home, but the scars were covered by my sleeves.
Of course, that was no enough, and early that week I was hit by a second fatal strike. It was transfers week, and while I got a moving notice, my companion did not. That means we were going to be split up, and I could not see that ending well. The companion I ended up with was an old apartment mate who I got along with well, but he just doesn't talk much and I just couldn't talk with him like my previous two companions. When you have no one to talk to and lots to deal with, it really gets to you before long. Worse than that though was the assignment - back to the Church History Library, only now I was in collections rather than special projects. The CHL is actual Hell. In terms of the pure mechanics of the labor, there is nothing I'd want to do less than the work they had us do there as it was a bunch of super repetitive work that was highly demanding on short term memory so I couldn't even entertain myself with my own thoughts, and no music to make the task bearable. To add insult to injury, the task they were having us do could have been completely automated if they actually had a competent programmer, the only reason we were doing it is because their database was based around the most poorly designed application I ever seen in my life. Programming is an area were my talents could actually utilized, not this crap. The worst part was that the zone leaders there were condescending dirtbags. The man kept digging his hands into my shoulders, doing these deep rubs that made me very uncomfortable. The woman spoke to me like I was a child and didn't believe that I both lived in Jakarta and that my brother was serving his mission there, instead insisting that I was obsessed with the city (why the hell would anyone be obsessed with Jakarta of all places? Fuck Jakarta.) because apparently they didn't understand how foreign missions work where people frequently get called to their home country as it's just logistically easier. Then there was this weird thing were they asked us what are "thing" was, as apparently I must be obsessed with something otherwise I wouldn't be there (I ended up going with music when they kept insisting), and then they printed a clipart representing that to post on my cubicle. The gesture could have been nice if they weren't treating us like retarded children, there is pretty much nothing you can do to piss me off more.
The final contributing factor was a certain missionary who proved to be an immature bully after he formed a grudge against me. This guy brought a freaking fart piano sound book with him, that's immature he was, but his grudge didn't start until later. It started when I was chosen to help train the new people, and he was one of the people I was assigned to help train. One thing you need to understand about this mission is that we had legends that were passed down about the damnation of elder's long past. One of them is the curse of a particular last name. There were four prior elders who had this last name, and were all sent home early. It so happened that this little shit here at the same last name, and when I told him about the curse he took it as a personal attack. As a result, he was desperate to get evening, which meant making my life miserable without end whenever I was his presence, as nothing is enough for shitheads. I'm guessing the other thing I did which pissed him off is I roleplayed when he was practicing teaching, and he was too much of a little bitch to deal with valuable roleplaying rather than inoffensive sounding boards. Anyway, he started consistently bullying me once he got assigned to the same evening zone as me, and it was really stupid petty shit like calling me "kitty boy" because he noticed one of the pieces of art I made was based on a picture of a cat, but it didn't matter what he did, he became unbearable before long, especially with everything else going on. I hadn't had to deal with bullies like that since middle school. I ultimately got the last laugh though, because I learned he too succumb to the curse and was sent home, it just took way longer than it should have.
Being reminded of middle school reminds me of something else that happened much earlier in the mission, but is a relevant part of the story. There is one missionary on the mission who came from such a sheltered background that he aggressively took offense to anything tangentially related to the reproductive process, eg. once he took offense to the word ultrasound when I wasn't even referring to pregnancy. About halfway through my mission I remember I was with him while my companion was giving a personal interview or something and I said something that triggered him and he got super aggressive and everyone was looking at me and then I just had a panic attack and run outside into the snow. I hadn't had an attack like that since Middle School. It was at that point that I realized that I wasn't invincible, and I very well might come home early.
When the end is coming, you can feel it, and I got my affairs in order. I had meetings with the mission president, which I'll cover later as I don't remember exactly what happened in which meeting. That Monday during district meeting I bore my testimony for the first time, a testimony of the atonement. I never understood the atonement before, but now I did. I guess one needs to see hell before they can understand how they can be saved from it. I remember when I was sitting in the waiting room for my final meeting with the psychologist, there was a sister missionary from another mission also waiting there. I overheard from a conversation she was having with another missionary that she on a two-transfer mission as a result of a condition she had as a child. She came across to me as noticeably autistic, and I'm guessing that it was more severe as a child and that's what she was referring to. Aside from curiosity, what I felt was envy. I was supposed to go on a two-transfer mission, not to this hellhole, but I was never given the chance as my papers were never even sent to Salt Lake. If I had gone that way, I would have avoided the MTC just the same, but also I would at least know for sure if I was suited for an actual mission rather than being subjected to the opinions of people who never knew me. The irony is she had less options that I did, but because she didn't have the option to be sent to this hellhole, so she wasn't railroaded into it. Considering that my main objective was to give them the same opportunity, it begs the question, was I really seeking to aid them, or just cause them to suffer the same fury as me? I think that place could be not terrible, if some changes were not made, or at least, if I was someone else.
The final straw was when I was given a notice not to do genealogy work. The entire purpose of the mission was to do genealogy work, but they only wanted us to do their slave labor which no one would do even if they were actually being paid. At that point I was completely over it, but I didn't know exactly how it would unfold until the next day. That morning, I just had a massive panic attack, and I stayed in the bathroom in the dark, refusing to go to zone. An emergency companion switch was authorized. Afterwards, I ended up cleaning the apartment, then I took a nap. When I awoke, I read the talk's from the women's session of general conference, and then I decided that I needed make a decision and commit myself to it, I'd been wishy-washing about leaving for far too long. At that point I decided to destroy my security card for getting into the CHL, as that would ensure that they could not send me there, as I couldn't take another day there. So that's what I did. I used a thumb tack to punch holes in it in order to make a line that I could take it along. I more ended up tearing it open then in half, but I was able to pull out the electronic components and damage them beyond repair. With that the deal was sealed.
I worked for one final time in the FHL were I actually helped people as they couldn't send me to the CHL, and the next day was my final meeting with the Mission President. I noticed that when I had first met his hair was red, and now it was grey. While I had disagreements with that man, I have no grudge against him, he was as much of prisoner there as I was, if not more so for the responsibility he had to bear, while I could just walk away. This is spread over multiple meetings, but I'll treat it as if it was all here. I talked with him about the sisters, where he explained there was no housing for them here, but there were service missionary opportunities, which it sounds like I would have preferred. I was on the mission for exactly 6 months, the length of a service mission, only I was working full-time, so I decided I was done now. The pornography stuff was brought up, for which the Mission President that I had brought that up on my own accord, and after calling the bishop or stake president from Virginia who I hardly even knew I was promptly forgiven. I remember at one point I expressed I thought it would better if I was in another mission, and the Mission President disagreed, but he couldn't even remember my name, what does he know about me? Finally the time came to call home, back in Ethiopia. I remember my parents asked if I could be transferred to another mission, and in a pained voice I said "I think that door has been closed." I then cried, like I was freaking sobbing, I hadn't cried like that since I was a child. As I left the office, I made sure to leave behind I post-it note, on it was a list of 12 items that I had been working on in the last week. I had another, refined version of it in a word document, this is what it says:
"12 Requirements for Disability Inclusive Service:
- No turning people away for lack of room. There needs to be room somewhere, and if there currently isn’t, room needs to be made in the future.
- Include both males and females, and allow them to interact in a reasonable manner (eg. give them separate housing, but let them work in the same area).
- Allow people without disabilities to serve, and make the environment and work so that someone without a disability would actually be willing to serve there.
- No working intern –level desk or otherwise monotonous jobs all day, everyday. Some variation is required, and free labor should not be exploited, especially from a minority group.
- Work should be utilized, work should not just be created for the sake of making there be work to do.
- But the focus should remain on the volunteer’s health (including emotional and mental health) over getting the maximum amount of work accomplished, and there should especially not be a focus on hours.
- The place needs to accommodate before it excludes. Accommodations should be based on individual ability and special needs, not general standards like age. Conformity cannot be ideal to be strived for as there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach and the disabled inherently cannot conform to some degree.
- Emotional abuse in any form cannot be tolerated, especially by leaders.
- Discrimination for positions cannot be based on diagnosis label, only on individual ability as absolutely required for the position. Likewise, unacceptable behavior is not to be tolerated from someone just because they are disabled unless it’s something they cannot control and it can be accommodated for.
- The people cannot be isolated from the public (don’t hide the cripples), nor should anyone be forced into the spotlight against their will.
- People need autonomy in their work. No one can be forced to serve, people must be able to leave at any time, and people need some options in exactly what work they will be doing while serving. It’s service, not servitude.
- There needs to be leadership opportunities for the disabled people serving, and they should not structurally be put under a non-disabled leadership. In other words, the service for the volunteers themselves should be driven by the volunteers, not a third party. People should direct their own future and set their own goals. As is the scout leader motto, “Don’t do for a boy what he can do for himself.”
Before I went home, I was given a final day to pack and whatnot. One of my plans on the mission was to go to Crown Burger before I left, so I made a farewell party for myself there, inviting my few friends on the mission like my previous companion. I remember that it was apparently prom night when we went there as there were several highschool age couples in formal attire. It was a bittersweet moment, and I still remember it every-time I get a pastrami burger. The next day I headed to my grandparent's house, where by some miracle we managed to get the exercise bike I inherited home in a small car (because my grandfather didn't realize I had acquired so much mammon over the course of the mission), but the seat might have gotten broken in the process and so far I've been unable to use it.
After coming home, I sought to correct things. It took awhile to get released, and I ended up playing a game of DnD before then where I played a female sylph magician of some sort. The highlight of the game was when I used a spell called pupmorph on a giant worm monster, as apparently baby worm monsters are cute. I also looked through my gmail and all my old notes there (the irony is that at six months they meant nothing, but they would have been extremely valuable in two years), and got on Facebook to see if I could reach this friend who went AWOL and see if they were okay. After messaging her for a couple days, including sending songs like "Never Giving Up" by Of Mice & Men and "Thought I'd Let You Know" by 4everfreebrony. Eventually she did respond, and she was PISSED. Her three my points where me playing psychologist (including speculation that she is on the autism spectrum, she got over a 40 on the AQ while I only got around 27) and worrying about, trying to convince her to convert to my religion, and something terrible I had said about a year ago. Talking with her was like trying to reign in a tempest with a kite, trying to control a powerful force despite being utterly powerless myself where one wrong move would kill me. It was definitely one of the most stressful experiences of my life. By some miracle we managed to make up, and she's still my friend to this day. It's funny, because about six months later she then asked me for information on aspergers syndrome in women and I was happy to give her some resources, though I dared not ask what it was for or what conclusions she came too. I like to think I was right after all.
The other thing I did on Facebook was track down some of the former young sister missionaries. See, I had taken a document with their names with me that I had saved from the missionary portal, and it was hard to find the exact people who matched as those who I could find listed that they served at the mission. I sent a couple of them messages, but none of them answered, though one did add me as a friend. So I still don't know what happened with the change. The other that I had come out with was President Uchtdorf's email address, but I found emails to it don't work outside of the church email system. I was also looking for service opportunities after my mission, but I couldn't find any, and before long I returned to my old habits. I thought back to Viktor Frankl, and figured that I had to find meaning in my experience, which I had be unsuccessful at doing so far, or my time would have been wasted. I tried seeing if I could do anything to help women and girls on the spectrum, and to my surprise one source I reached out to actually responded, but of course nothing went anywhere. Eventually I decided to go get a psych minor, so at least people would take me more seriously then if I had nothing.
My mother visited not long afterwards, and then the rest of the family came from Ethiopia for their R&R. While they were here we visited Salt Lake and the mission buildings, they were originally planning on visiting me why I was there, but that didn't happen. I made sure we stopped in the Church History Library so that I could donate my missionary journal. I figured that if nothing else someone else my might appreciate my experience, and I figure that not only is the artifact itself quite interesting (I should never handwrite anything), but it's cryptic contents would provide a unique a valuable perspective in the future. About a year later I got back a digital version of it, and they did an incredible job at scanning it. So while the work they give their missionaries is hell, they actually do a good job with their real work. I'm planning on using it as a reference to write a memoir in the future. And that concludes that saga for now.
On the plus side, I was quite creative productively while on the mission. During the evening zones I made a ton of artwork in Irfranview, which I uploaded to my gallery right afterward I came own. Chief among them is the abomination series, a bunch of dark, surreal manipulations of figures, typically animals. I was inspired by original companions "Pfeffer" series were a very specific effect was applied on pictures to make them very sharp, red, and creepy, but I managed to create something even more terrifying. I tried to create more after the mission, but with time I've forgotten the skill and haven't been bored enough to relearn it. Here is the gallery: www.deviantart.com/gan…
In my initial zone, I did a lot of spitballing on my game ideas with my companion. The one we talked about the most was White Metal Hero. Gameplaywise it's essentially a fusion of Guitar Hero and the Mario & Luigi Series, and the plot is about an Christian girl who is an autistic music savant and a fan of Antestor who gets caught up in plot to stop the resurrection of Euronymous and summoning of Satan along with a cast of colorful characters who join her band along the way. The original concept focused more on unblack level specifically, but the end result we came up with was filled to the brim with all sorts of rock and metal references and inside jokes. What we came up is absolutely ridiculous and we'd never actually be able to do it just because it became overly complex and we'd run into so much legal trouble, for copyright infringement and maybe libel as well. Still, we had a lot of fun talking about it, and maybe I'll share what we came up with sometime.
The other game we talked about is Faust. Faust was based on a very simple premise, a game made around evading paying back deals you made with demons and flipping Metroidvania mechanics around by making you pay the price for the items you get AFTER you get them, and I originally envisioned it as a minimalistic indie game. My companion however had a much grander vision for it, and began to think of Faust as grander too. I didn't work on it nearly as much as White Metal Hero on the mission, but soon afterwards I had a huge creative breakthrough. And grand it become, with 13 different demons you could make deals with. Everything just fit together like pieces of a puzzle, the synergy between the different the different demons I came up was perfect. I even came up with an expansion pack with another 7 demons. Unlike White Metal Hero, I figured I could actually make and sell this game, so once I got gamemaker in a Humblebundle I got to work on it. You can see the first demo here:
Before long I found that there is no way I was going to be able to finish the game on my own, so for now I'm deciding to go back to the original minimal idea, which only includes the bare minimum number of demons required to get the good ending. There is two key innovations my companion came up with that I'm keeping though. That's that you can also eat the demons heart after defeating them for a cost later on, and to have the demons be classical inspired, like using Leviathan and Moloch and the like. The final game is actually going to be set in a fantasy version of India though, not Europe, it just fits the geography better.
There is one last major project that I worked on while there, but it was in the FHL, not the CHL. Some people on the mission had learned to script Batch, and I picked it up as well. Most people just made small practical scripts, but I realized you could use it to make an adventure game. So make an adventure game I did. I had the idea for a choose your own adventure called Rariquest for a long time, and I decided it was time to finally act on it. So with my endless free time that I couldn't use to do anything actually useful I started on a large, absurdly complicated adventure game. I was even going to incorporate an action mechanic, IN BATCH! You can find what I ended up adding to the game here
and a prototype for the action sequences here
. I've decided to give up on batch program as I now have better things to do with my time, but I've continued to work on Rariquest on FimFiction. Maybe I'll eventually finish it.
Yeah, that's it. It's been over two years now, where I've been writing this entry for over year, and I'm so glad to finally finish this. I'm going to throw everything that's happened since then into a single journal entry, so going at this rate I'll hopefully get it finished before I graduate from college. Yay.