About Me

The adventures of Christian Toronto, a full-time missionary serving in the Rome Italy Mission (Dec 2016-Dec 2018). Christian grew up in Minnesota, then moved to Colorado right before his senior year in high school. He is the third of seven children. He was attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah prior to his missionary call. Christian's older brother Simeon completed his mission in Rome, Italy a day before Christian left for his so they literally swapped places. We call them our Roman soldiers for Christ. In his free time, Christian loves basketball, tennis, american history and politics, and music.

Friday, January 27, 2017

What I Gave Up To Serve a Mission

I don't have much time left this week because I wanted to respond to everyone that emailed me individually, but I'll tell a few stories with what I have!

This week's Sunday devotional was given by Brother Steve Allen, manager of missionary work, and it was truly incredible! The topic/main theme was Satan's button pushing, and that the buttons he can push are far reaching and specific to each of us. For some it's obedience, others worthiness. One for me is certainly pride, and the challenge to be humble. It has been something I've worked on since the moment I stepped into the MTC. The message was simple, yet thought provoking, and caused much introspection on my part, to the point where I almost didn't notice the row in front of me and my row get called up to the stage in the middle of the devotional. When the 10 or so of us got up in front of the entire MTC, Brother Allen asked us, "What's something you gave up to serve a mission." I was second to last in line, so I had a little time to think, and in that time many thoughts flashed through my head. I kept returning to the same answer, and so I settled on it and waited my turn. Anziano Laudert in front of me cracked a joke or two about giving up the chance to be an Idaho Farm Boy, and then I was up. As I stood there at the podium, staring out at the thousands of missionaries sitting in front of me, I felt proud in being able to wear the name of Christ on my chest along with these other incredible people, many of which were sacrificing far more than I. Bro Allen looked up at me, made fun of my height, (much to the audience's amusement), and asked me what I had given up. My answer was short, and heartfelt, "My brother." He was startled, and asked me to explain. I proceeded to do so, quickly detailing the incredible example Simeon has been for me in missionary work, and that despite the fact I only saw him for just a few short hours, I knew I was where both he and the Lord would want me to be. As I tried to articulate just how much he meant to me, I really couldn't, he is my personal Superman! I ceded the stage to Elder Osmond, who quickly distracted the "awww-dience" (that's for you Camille), and turned their attention away from the elder who was working to keep it together... I was grateful for this chance not to focus on me, and my mission, but on those things and people for which I am serving, the first being Jesus Christ.

Second and last story of the week, occurred on Wednesday. I prayed in the morning, asking for help speaking my language, and received the answer, like Elder Calhoun in the Best Two Years, that I needed to fast. Funny how that goes, food wise, as breakfast, lunch, and dinner offered my 3 favorite meals the MTC serves. The lord will challenge us, but as Paul reminds us in Corinthians, "there is no temptation taken you, than such is common to man, but God is faithful, and will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able." Instead of eating, I studied, studied, and studied some more, and it truly worked. But the end of the day, I had committed over 150 verbs to memory, along with present, past, and future conjugations for most of them. I am incredibly grateful to the spirit's help, because I know that was not simply my God-given brainpower, but the gift of tongues at work in my life!

One last admonition, send me questions so I can respond individually and personally!

Love each of you, and pray for you nightly!

Anziano Toronto II

President and Sister Burgess, who oversee the MTC

My MTC teacher Fratello Jenson
My MTC teacher Sorella Francom

Can you say, "Brain Overload?"

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Let us Never be Afraid to Testify

MTC Week #3 Highlights:

1) This week, I was lifted up by the words of Nephi as he concludes his sermon. He writes that if a man speaks with the power of the Spirit, his words, and the message he brings, will be carried into the hearts of those who listen to him. As one who knows little Italian, but seeks to constantly have the Spirit, the idea that my grammatical and conjugation errors I make don't matter, is extraordinarily comforting. Sorella Francom got Motivational Quote of the Week when she taught so powerfully that, "The gift of tongues, given to you ordained missionaries, isn't the ability to speak or understand Italian, it is to speak and understand the language of the Spirit." I know that is true, beyond a shadow of a doubt. The Spirit helps me learn Italian, only when I strive to live with him as my companion. Last week I quoted Doctrine and Covenants 42, and in the past week it has taken on even greater meaning, "If ye have not the Spirit, ye shall not teach."

2) Speaking of teaching, this week our investigators, Lorenzo and Alessia have made incredible strides. Despite being our teachers in disguise, (Fratello Jenson and Sorella Francom), they show to us what real investigators need and desire from the missionaries. When we teach to their individual needs, we find success.  It’s as incontrovertible a law as those spoken of in President Nelson's worldwide devotional. Its' results are testable, repeatable, and consistent. Sorella Riber, our ZRT (Zone Resource Trainer or something like that), helped Elder Osmond and I discover this as we taught with her this week. We began teaching her a mini lesson on faith, and she stopped us in less than a minute. She asked us to ponder why any person in Italy would have an extended conversation or lesson with two strangers who took no opportunity to get to know them. We were stumped, the point was clear. As a missionary, I need to understand my investigator, and their needs in order to appropriately teach to them. We put this plan into action as we taught Lorenzo yesterday morning, and when he expressed a desire to know how he could follow Jesus Christ, we declared that the best way was through baptism. After the closing prayer, I looked over at Elder Osmond, gave him the, "wait on just a sec" look, and then challenged Lorenzo to baptism. He took a full minute of silence, and then he said the magic word, "Si!" I would remind those keeping score that simulated baptismal commitments still count... Elder Osmond and I hugged it out as soon as the door closed, and said a prayer of thanks for guidance and assistance. Even in simulated lessons, the Spirit leads us as we bring our investigators closer to Christ. The last note on teaching, comes from our TRC lesson of the week, where we taught the same couple we had the week before, the Roneys. As we closed that lesson Fllo Roney looked over at me, laughed, and said in Italian, "Great progress Anziano, last week you spoke about 1/3 in Spanish, and 2/3 Italian.  This week, all Italian!" I was just as excited as he was! This language has its' difficult points, but I am ever grateful for the Italian ancestors sitting behind me in class and in lessons, whispering answers I should have no idea how to communicate, just 3 and a 1/2 weeks into learning a language!

3) Funnies:
"Can't you see she is a nun?" Here in the MTC we elders oft find opportunity to quote Nacho Libre and other masterpieces, and this week's spotlight quote comes as a result of an error an Elder made during a lesson. While attempting to say the Spirit is a quiet voice/sound (suona) in our ears, the Elder misspoke and declared the Holy Ghost to be a Suora, or a Nun. Afterward our district had a good laugh, and it was declared the Mistranslation of the Week, a prestigious award Elder Osmond had earned the week before in accidentally referring to our investigator as a "Scema," or stupid person, while trying to direct her attention to the "Schema" or diagram we had that detailed the plan of salvation. I'm always grateful for the chance to laugh and have fun as we learn to speak this incredible language!

Bohemian Slap-sody. This Dad level pun comes thanks to the MTC dining staff. To give a little context, one must first understand our Zone loves to sing. Everywhere we go, before, after and during class, and more. Most of the time, it is hymns, and as Zone Leader I encourage this, but sometimes the Elders set rolling a ball that can't be stopped. This week, it was Bohemian Rhapsody as they ate lunch on Tuesday. I got up to get some food, leaving normal conversation behind me, but came back to a bunch of crazy Italian elders belting "GALILEO GALILEO FIGARO!" The song ended, and a MTC dining staff worker went over to where the nucleus of sound was, (un altro distretto), and declared, "If you were my kids, I would slap you upside the head..." Sometimes we need a break from the serious work we have engaged ourselves in, but maybe that break shouldn't come in the form of Freddie Mercury's angelic tones. "Soli Inni" was the message that stuck with us for the rest of the day!

4) Last thoughts and testimony of the week:
In choir this week, Bro Eggett had us sing a magnificent arrangement of "Praise to the Man". After the devotional, given by Elder Soares of the Presidency of the Seventy, who taught us the importance of intertwining our faith and obedience to allow us to work miracles, Elders Laudert, Dickey, Maytham, and I went to the Joseph Smith Movie. I have never felt stronger in my testimony of the prophet Joseph, then as I watched the final days of his life, and would read about later that night in Elder Holland's masterpiece, "Safety for the Soul." I know the powers of evil would never give a second look at something that wasn't of God, let alone drive him and his church halfway across the United States, and kill him in cold blood. "No evil man could have written such a book, [Book of Mormon], and no good man would, unless it were of God." -Elder Holland. I so testify that Joseph Smith is the first prophet of this dispensation, and he was called of God, to bring forth the words of God found in the pages of the Book of Mormon. President Gordon B. Hinckley once declared, "Nothing is too good for the prophet Joseph Smith," and I echo this sentiment. He deserves our undying faith and respect. Let us never be afraid to testify of him, nel nome di Gesu Cristo, Amen.

I'm thankful for each and every one of you, for your prayers, support, and love!

Anziano Toronto II

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Second to Smiling, Work is my Favorite!

Anziano Toronto with President Burgess and Sister Burgess

First and foremost, sorry to my mother, for making her wait an extra day, but this week on Sunday, our schedules were changed, and our P-day was moved to Friday. Hope nobody suffered too bad in anticipation of my letter, because I wasn't being non-communicative, just obedient!

(Please share this next part with Abe!)

Second and only slightly less foremost, HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my homeslice Abe! I felt my first pang of homesickness as I put on my Abraham's Christmas belt, and wished I could be there to celebrate with you on your special day... A few things I love about Abe, since I wasn't there to tell him in person: 1) competitive drive - Abe constantly drives himself to be better, whether that's in sports, music, school, and learning, he always wants to improve himself! 2) Spirit - Dad pointed this out a few times over the past year, but I have really noticed a significant change in Abe as he has received the gift of the holy ghost, and committed himself as a member of the church. As I prepare to share that gift and experience with the people of Italy, I am grateful for a little brother who embodies the truths found in 2 Nephi 31 regarding baptism! 3) Last but not least, Abe has the greatest laugh. Whether he's being tickled, or just cracking up at a joke, he has a contagious, lovable laugh! I wish I could deliver a hug in person, but know that your missionary brother prays for you every night, and wants the absolute best for you! I'd love to get an email from you sometime soon, I Love you my Monkey!

As far as an update on the important things that occurred this week, here goes:

1) Unfortunately, this week had a few goodbyes... The first was Anziano Smith, who was an Elder in our district, and was Elder Christensen's companion. He struggled with illness, and a few other things since getting here, and it was decided on Monday that he would be returning home, in hopes that he could serve in another capacity here in Salt Lake City. Elder Christensen joined the companionship of Anziani Laudert and Moody, two spiritual giants, and has greatly blessed the two of them. As Zone Leader, I have had the opportunity to interview each District Leader, and many of the Elders, and have heard so many positive things about the progression of the work in District 22! The second goodbye was tinged with happiness, as we bid farewell yesterday to President and Sister Burgess. After serving 50,000 missionaries over the course of the last 4 years, the Burgess' are a fantastic example of Christlike service, and embody Elder Bednar's definition of the Character of Christ, (turning outward in all interactions, and constantly looking to help those around them). I got a picture with them before they headed out, and also learned of a familial connection I have with Sister Burgess. I was grateful to see their example of missionary service here in the MTC!

The last goodbye was to Brother and Sister Whiting, who have faithfully served in our Branch for the last 3 years. Brother Whiting instantly remembered Simeon, and recalled almost to the day, their first meeting. In just a few short days, Bro Whiting impacted positively my testimony of both the Book of Mormon, and post-mission faithfulness, (enduring to the end). He was released this last Sunday, and I was truly devastated to see him go. He was an incredible teacher and leader to all in our branch!

2) Instruction - this week we had the opportunity to instruct, and be instructed. Highlights include hearing from Elder Anderson on Tuesday night, who gave a few pieces of advice, and bore solemn witness of the reality and divinity of our Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ. To hear an apostle of the lord testify of Christ so boldly was incredible... a faith building experience to be sure. Fratello Jenson continues to be an incredible instructor, and this week we added Sorella Francom. Both of them are patient and awesome, and I simply cannot get enough of the Italian language. While smiling is my second favorite, I've taken the advice of the Gimbel's boss in the movie Elf, and made work my favorite! Whether it's preparing to teach, memorizing passages of scripture, or continually learning verbs, nouns and phrases in Italian, I dig in and love it. I'm grateful for the many ways I've been instructed, and have been able to instruct in return. Anziano Osmond and I are working with two new "investigators", Alessia and LORENZO (Sra Francom and Fllo Jenson), and they are not making it easy on us. We work every single lesson to find ways for them to make commitments to further themselves on the path to salvation, and come unto Christ, but it's hard when they "forget," or simply say things like, "I'm uncomfortable praying, especially to a God I don't necessarily believe in." I love the challenge each of them present, and cannot wait to continue teaching them, and teach the people prepared for me in Italy! The last note on instruction came from Bro Eggert, the MTC Choir Director, who taught us the true meaning of the hymn, Nearer My God To Thee. As I learned how it teaches of the experiences Jacob had in the Bible, and the solace he found in loneliness and destitution, I was taken aback. The words testify so majestically of the solace we can find in Christ, I encourage you to take a closer look when you get the chance!

3) Miscellaneous - Gym time is one refuge from a mentally battering spiritual storm. While
I love that storm, and am a little bit of a storm chaser in that regard, that hour I get 6 days a week is truly a blessing. While there are no Germans to ball up, (sorry Sim), I've compensated with the Romanians in our Zone. There isn't a better team in all the MTC than the Italian Scallions, and I can testify based on the spiritually high percentage from deep I have shot since arriving here. Besides gym time, we have been given the chance to go the temple every week on P-Day. Each time we go, and I spend time there, I am touched by the love the Savior has for me, and for the covenants I've made.

Anziano Toronto outside the Provo Temple. 

My favorite scripture of the week is D&C 42:14 And the Spirit shall be given to you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the spirit, ye shall not teach! I truly recognize how powerful the Spirit is when I try to speak, and how hard it is to learn and teach without it!

I love hearing from each of you, and am thankful for the way you all support me!

I pray every night for each of you by name!


Anziano Toronto II

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Best Week of My Life

Bringing in the New Year

As I sit down for the first time on P-Day, it's crazy how much I'd like to say to all of you. This first week and a day in the MTC has been without a doubt, the best of my life. Many Elders and Sisters compare the MTC to a prison camp, and while the perpetually falling snow does give the place a "Siberian work camp" feel, for me it has been liberating. It felt weird yesterday when we left the MTC campus, and I count that as a major blessing, feeling home in a place I have been for just a short time. A few of the major highlights from the week:

1. Day 1 was a blur. After getting a wonderful breakfast with Nana, Grace, and Abigail, we ventured down to Provo. As I was dropped off with my host missionary, I gave one last hug to the girls, and stepped off into the next adventure in the oh-so-interesting life of Anziano Toronto. After collecting that which I needed from the MTC bookstore, and dropping off my luggage in my residency, I was taken to my classroom, where I met my teacher for the first time. Fratello Jenson is the best, hands down, no contest, don't even argue with me. I met the other teachers, Sorella Bucco and Fratello Hatch, the latter of which immediately recognized my last name, leading me to believe he either taught or served with Anziano Toronto the First. The true challenge was immediately evident as all they spoke was Italian. Since that first day, I have not heard Fratello Jensen utter a single sentence in English, which is incredibly useful as I am trying to understand this language. After sending a quick letter home, letting you know I got here safe, we returned to the classroom, and were taught, all in Italian, for the ensuing 3 hours. I felt like my mind was a slowly melting block of ice, initially solid, but in direct proximity to the fire of the spirit, melted into a puddle. Despite the mental taxation, that first day was a blast, as we grew to know our district, and ended the night by meeting our Zone Leaders, a Tripanionship of Romanian elders who had been in the MTC for 5 weeks. Sleeping that night was not a problem in the slightest, I was exhausted from the labors of the day.

2. The next couple days similarly flew by. Day 2 marked a significant milestone, as Anziano Osmond and I taught our first investigator lesson, all in Italian. Let me just testify to you right now, the gift of tongues is real, and is given to those called to preach the gospel to God's people. In just a week, my capacity with the language has skyrocketed. While we are told not to compare ourselves to others in the MTC, it was clear from the beginning I was far more prepared than the other Anziani. I attribute most of this to the diligent teaching of Mr. Ahlquist, back at Andover High, who taught me just about all the Spanish I know, and the rest of this to Giuseppe Taranto, who seems to be whispering in my ear the translation to just about everything my teachers say. Comprehension is incredibly high, and is a blessing to not have to struggle to understand. I feel extraordinarily blessed in that regard. As far as speaking goes, I am quickly proving my doubts wrong, as I learn to conjugate verbs, use correct noun tenses and masculinity, and communicate, albeit simply, the gospel of Jesus Christ. By the end of today, we will have taught 5 lessons in Italian, each one successively better than the last. Yesterday marked another milestone, as Anziano Osmond and I taught without writing out phrases we were going to use, or questions we were going to ask, and simply relied on the spirit to direct our path. It went remarkably well! While my use of grammar and structure was laughable, the meaning and importance of the lesson, centered around Christ's example regarding baptism, was clear. At the end of the lesson, we challenged our "investigator," who had testified to us that she knew the Book of Mormon was true, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet, to be “baptized" on the 30th of January. The rest of our lessons with Daniella will focus on preparing her to follow Christ's example in Matthew 3.

3. Sunday was undoubtedly the most spiritual day I have ever had. Between a mission conference taught by the very soon to be released MTC presidency, a fast, spiritually focused on increasing my testimony of the reason I am out here, a visit to the temple to pray and feel the spirit, and instruction from Brother Hemingway of the Church's Missionary department, I have never been more spiritually fed. As I listened to Bro. Hemingway testify of the power of giving everything you have, visiting just one more door, teaching just one more lesson, I recognized the truth of what he was saying.
Anziano Toronto (left) in front of the Provo Temple.

The crowning jewel of the night, however, was the video recording of Elder Bednar's MTC devotional entitled the Character of Christ. Never before have I felt the spirit stronger than when this apostle of the Lord taught to me the importance of turning outward from our natural man, (compared to the cookie monster, imagine Elder Bednar saying in a Dikembe Mutumbo voice, "I WANT COOKIE NOW!" and you basically saw the video too), and sharing with everyone the light of Christ. This talk contained far more powerful lessons and teachings than most any general conference talk I've listened to, and I'm thoroughly convinced the Lord saves his most profound messages for those who serve him with all their heart, might, mind, strength, and time. Similarly, our Tuesday night devotional was taught by Sister Oscarson, and the same feeling of power and validity resonated throughout that MTC gym, where just hours before I had exercised. I live for the opportunity to hear from the Lord's ordained servants.

4. Just a few more things, as I'm running short on time! MTC food is not my mother’s cooking, and I daily experience adverse side effects, but I know, like the Lord told Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, that this is but a blink of an eye in terms of trials, and that I soon will reach the promised land, flowing with alfredo sauce and olive oil. I love my companion, and the rest of my district, and could not be having more fun! We have celebrated many holidays, like first night, first lesson, and more, but the greatest holiday occurred Tuesday night, as we celebrated First Week.

I'll close with a short testimony in Italian:

Lo so che, mi scopo a un missionario e a invitare le persone a venire a Cristo, aiuttandole ad accetare il Vangelo Restaurato, mediante le fede in Gesu Cristo, e la sua
 espiazione, il pentimento, il battesimo, il conferimento del dono dello Spirito Santo, e
​​perserverando sino alla fine, e Io so che Gesu e mi Salvatore. Ti amo, e cuesto missione!

To Anziano Toronto I, Brother Whiting says hello!

Anziano Toronto II

Work Hard--Play Hard in the MTC.
Anziano Toronto celebrated his birthday his first week in the MTC.