First, when does Ben leave? Not until March 16th. He'd probably jump on a plane tomorrow if he could, but we're thrilled that he'll be around a little longer. This delay gives him time to finish the semester at BYU and spend January through March at home. He'll be working, shopping for suits and probably skiing a bit during those months. And he'll be around for all of our birthdays. As Ben pointed out, it will be his last season as a kid at home and we all intend to enjoy it.
On March 16th he'll report to the Provo, Utah Missionary Training Center-- a sprawling campus of dorms and classrooms that happens to be less than a mile from his BYU dorm. The big difference between the MTC and BYU is that missionaries very rarely leave the grounds. Their days are spent studying language and gospel principles. Erik's fondest memory of the MTC is dessert at every meal. Ben will be there for two months and although we can send him a letter or a package every day if we like, visits are strictly forbidden.
Can we visit Ben in Italy? No. Not at all. The restrictions on visits and phone call are perhaps the hardest part of missionary life to explain to anyone outside of Mormon culture. Our reasoning is that a missionary should concentrate on his work and visits from family or girlfriends are simply too distracting. But if my sister or one of my friends feels the need to visit Italy and check up on him that would be just fine. ;) We will be able to email him every week and chat on the telephone on Mother's Day and Christmas.
Will Ben get paid by the church? Again, no. But it's pretty interesting. Back in the day, families would anxiously open a mission call knowing that the location determined the expense-- Japan or Europe, you'll be spending a fortune; South America, hmm, maybe I'll get a maid? Now, each missionary pays $450 a month and the church disperses the money as needed. Missionaries live a pretty bare-boned lifestyle. Suits or work clothes are the daily uniform and they don't buy the latest music or electronics because they can't listen to popular music or play with an iPad.
Missionaries travel two-by-two, and their companions change every 6-12 weeks. As you can imagine, getting along with a new roommate and constant sidekick is an enormous part of the learning experience.
One luxury most missionaries indulge in is eating well. Even in the poorest countries, the mothers of the world cook and bake and pinch the cheeks of these young people so far from home. And can you think of a better country for food than Italy? Mamma Mia!
Practicing Italian this morning; we're all going to become fluent.