The best compliment I ever received was given to me on March 25, 2007. And it wasn’t meant to be a compliment. Here’s the story.
I worked at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) for nearly three years teaching missionaries assigned to Spanish speaking missions how to speak Spanish. It is by far the best job I’ve ever had. Most of my districts (classes) were small and we spent hours together five days a week for two months getting them fluent (well, sort of fluent) in Spanish. Around their 6th week in the MTC we’d make a goal to only speak Spanish for the entire week. We called it an English fast and it applied outside of class as well. I probably tried this with a dozen different districts during my time at the MTC and they all gave up and reverted back to English after a few days – except for one.
Speaking a new language is hard work and it’s especially hard when you’re surrounded by people who speak English natively. The missionaries always struggled during the English fasts because they weren’t able to communicate in Spanish as freely as they wanted to which made it hard for them to be themselves. It was just a lot easier to speak in English. The English fasts were tough on me, too. I was very capable of expressing myself freely in Spanish, but the missionaries couldn’t always understand what I was saying. It was taxing on me to explain something in Spanish and know that they weren’t understanding me. It was so tempting for me to switch into English just to be understood.
This particular district struggled just as much as all the others had. We did everything in Spanish and I could see the frustration on their faces. I watched them struggle to form poorly worded sentences with sketchy grammar. I saw the defeat in their eyes as they searched their brains for words that just weren’t in there. I got frustrated, too when, after explaining something to the class, instead of seeing understanding on their faces all I got were confused stares. None of my districts had tried so hard before and I started to think that I was asking too much of them, that this was just too hard. But we pressed on and that entire week we spoke on Spanish. It was quite an accomplishment and their Spanish got so much better that week.
At the end of the week we had a little lesson in English to discuss what we had all learned during the week. Not to discuss the grammar or vocabulary they had learned during week, but the principles they had learned. The classes heaved a collective sigh of relief knowing that they were temporarily allowed to speak in English again. I started off the discussion by saying the first thing I’d said to my class in English in a week. Right after I finished talking Sister Spotten looked right at me and said, “It’s so weird to hear you speak English.” And that is the best compliment I ever received.
At the beginning of the week we had all made a goal and committed to follow through with it. It was a hard goal for me to keep, but I had promised to keep it and I did. Sister Spotten’s reaction to how I sounded in English was an affirmation that I had stuck with and followed through with my promise. And it felt so good. In essence what she really said was, “You did it, Brother Schilaty, you really did it. It was hard, but you did it.” I once heard a talk at church in which the speaker said that the best compliment a latter-day saint can receive is to be known a covenant keeper – someone who keeps their promises. I totally agree.
Once everyone had gotten over how odd it was to hear me speak in English I shared the story of Helaman’s 2,000 stripling (young) warriors from the Book of Mormon. The scriptures say that they were exactly obedient and because of their obedience and faith they all survived their battles with the Lamanites while thousands of their comrades were killed. It’s one of my favorite stories from the Book of Mormon and the missionaries agreed that they had been immensely rewarded for their effort and obedience to do what they had agreed to do. This is what I wrote in my journal that day:
“This week I understood a little better how Heavenly Father feels about us. He loves us and wants us to succeed and improve, but He allows us to have trials because He knows that they will help us grow. I’m sure it’s hard for Him, but He knows what we need to help us grow. I hope that I always remember the examples of Sister Spotten, Sister Ross, Sister Morris, Elder Halgren, Elder Cannon, Elder Rex, Elder Redford, and Elder Fielding. They are just as valiant and diligent as the 2,000 stripling warriors and they will be richly blessed for their obedience and effort. I feel so blessed to be able to know modern day sons and daughters of Helaman.”
I hope that I can always be known as someone who follows through on his promises because that would be the greatest compliment of all.