Thursday, October 27, 2011

October 24, 2011

A pretty normal normal week this week. Real good, but real normal.  The picture is of lots of the Elders Quorum of our ward just after finishing digging a bathroom hole for the Familia Acuña. The house behind us the the Familia Acuñas house (the one where I always eat bad meat that makes me sick). The Acuña family just got baptized, and now they are the superstars of the ward and everybody loves them. Francisco is a really outgoing, charismatic guy, and within his first three times going to church, he had the whole ward in love with him.

In the Longchamps ward not many of the members want to do activities, service, or help with the missionary effort. As a result, the ward has an insane number of inactive people. There are 700 people on the Lonchamps record, of which about 70-100 are active. People usually get baptized and have two friends in the church...the missionaries. As soon as the missionaries are transferred, the new members would go inactivate without any support from the ward. Needless to say, there has been a pretty bad pattern established here in Longchamps. When the members of a ward don't help, it's pretty tough to have any success.  Right when Elder Oporto and I got here, we did our very best to animate the members and more than anything, establish a really good relationship with the Bishop (Bishop Godoy, farthest left standing up in the picture). At first we didn't have any success at all, and lots of the members gave us the cold shoulder. When Elder Borgersen came and we started baptizing more and more people, the ward started to trust us more and more, and we started to ask them to do more and more things. For about five straight Saturday mornings, we and lots of the elders from the ward have been digging the familia Acuña a bathroom, and the ward has really rallied around them and these activities. Now, the members of the Longchamps ward are beginning to be the most active and helpful members. More and more inactive members, who have not been to church for years are returning to church and loving it. We are receiving more referrals to teach friends of the members than we can handle. There is almost a line of people waiting to help us with teaching. Longchamps has turned 180 degrees and it's way too good. It all started with the baptism of the Acuña family.

This week we had lots of miracles. We have been teaching a man named Oscar for about 6 weeks. He is 26 years old. He is the youngest of 16! He was born in the villa (ghetto), and in his own words, "was raised by the street". From 14-23 years old he was totally addicted to crack and in general has had a pretty crazy life. He has scars all over his body from different fights he has been in. We found Oscar while standing outside of one of the Members houses, trying to talk ourselves into the house, (they were giving us the cold shoulder and wouldn't let us in) when Oscar walked by and asked us, "Hey, are you the guys with the Book of Mormon, or is that somebody else?" We were initially pretty scared to talk to him because he looks like the typical pibe who tries to rob us everyday. I just told him yeah and asked him why and he pulled an old kind of the Book of Mormon out of his backpack (light blue with an Angel Moroni on it) and told us that he was looking through his Mom's old things and had read a little part. We made an appointment to come to his house a few days later to talk about it. It ended up that he lives in the house of a member who had been inactive for 20+ years and that his Mom had been a really active member of the church before she died when Oscar was really little. He started to tell us that he read a little bit of the book and then started to feel a heat in his chest and it scared him, so he hid the book back into the box. A few days later, he decided to try to read it again. When he started to read, he felt the same heat, but this time it didn't scare him, it made him cry. All he wanted to know was why he had felt what he had. Over the last few weeks, we have been teaching Oscar all we could and letting him know that this feeling he feels when he reads the Book of Mormon is a confirmation that what he is reading is right and true. It was pretty hard for him to accept that explanation because he has about zero religious background and doesn't really understand what/who God is. So we have been teaching very slowly, basically, and clearly to help him understand. He has progressed so much, and it was so good, but he still lacked something. Oscar has a pretty tough time expressing himself and letting us know what he is thinking. Because of this, we have had a really hard time figuring out what he needed to know in order to get baptized. He knew it was all true, but something was holding him back. It was super frustrating for me to almost probe him to remove the doubt that was hindering him. The other night one of the 23 year old kids in our ward, who is getting ready to head out on his mission, invited Oscar to go to a church dance. I was foolishly kind of irritated at the kid because Oscar is very timid and I have seen what a Mormon dance is for a timid person, yet alone a timid investigator: torture. I thought we were about to loose Oscar for sure. The morning after the dance, Oscar called me and said, "Elders, we have to talk." I thought, "Well, that's it. We lost him. He wants to talk because he was horrified by the other worldly atmosphere of a Mormon dance and now doesn't want any more to do with us." I was so so wrong, and never more happy to be it. We got to Oscars house and he ran out of the house and gave me a big, lingering hug and said, "How about the 6th of November?" He was obviously referring to a baptismal date and I shook him off me and shouted "¿Que?!" right in his face. It ended up that everyone at the dance was super nice to him and he loved it. The way the members of the church treated him with such respect and love stood in stark contrast from what he was used to in the streets of the Villas, and it was the best thing in the world for him. All Oscar needed was to know what kind of change the church can bring him, and he found that in the behavior and example of the members of the church. Needless to say, I cried. Like every other moment in my mission. Now we are preparing to baptize Carlos on the 6th of November. The inactive family that Oscar lives with are activating to, with the help and encouragement of Oscar.

The way we behave and express ourselves is always sending a message about what the church is, and what it can do for us to the people that are watching. Sometimes we don't know how far a little bit of kindness and respect can go. Be nice to investigators. Give them hugs when they come to church. Let them know how happy the church makes you. This is the best way we can help the missionary effort. I once heard a quote that I really liked about sharing the gospel, "Don't waste words trying to convince people what the gospel can do for them, spend your time showing them what it has done for you."

October 17, 2011

Elder Borgersen and I have just been running all over Longchamps, laughing all the way. Unfortunately, last night la Familia Acuña invited us over for asado once again. When they do that, I know they are trying to show their appreciation and love for us, but it makes me cry a little bit. Last night the asado consisted of morsilla or blood sausage. (A sausage filled with cow blood and floating bits of cebolla and then cooked until the blood hardens) For me, eating a morsilla is like eating a big cow scab. Elder Borgersen and I ate the absolute minimum amount of the morsilla that would be polite.The eating of the asado came with the same results as the last time, but not quite as fierce. We were only tied to the toilet this morning for a few hours. Better than i could have hoped for. 

The pictures that I sent are of: this is not an orc from Lord of the Rings, this is a kind of dog that I always see in the streets but have never been able to take a picture of.  I call them them the zombie dogs, but they are really dogs with a disease called sarna. Sarna is pretty much when the skin gets so dry and scabby that all of the dogs hair falls out. Most dogs in the street have a little bit of sarna, but there are the select few who have no hair at all, just zombie. The thing about sarna is that it is contagious. I try not to even get close to the dogs for this reason. But, apperantly earlier in my mission (in the first few months in Argentina) I was less diligent in avoiding the zombie dogs because I got sarna. hahah I don't know if i sent the picture, but I got a really big rash on the whole right side of my body (shoulder, hip and thigh) that was totally gross. Parts of my leg hair were falling out (blessing in disguise, I have too much leg hair), and overall it was just gross. I went to an American doctor in Buenos Aires capital and he gave me a special soap that made the rash go away after one washing, but what he didn't tell me was that the rash was sarna; the same disease of the zombie dogs. Gross, huh?  

The other picture is of a hole that the Elders in my district and I dug for the Familia Acuña. Its about 5 meters deep, and we did it over the course of five or six weekends. It's for their bathroom. I don't really understand exactly what it is, or how it will function, but I think it is where all of there waste will go when they flush the toilet. Every Saturday morning we help him dig the hole and every Sunday, I can barely move I am so sore and sunburned.

Right now Elder Borgersen and I are working with a lot of different investigators who are almost almost ready for baptism, and just need another nudge or two, whether that be getting married, stopping smoking, leaving their 14 dogs for the three hours to go to church, or whatever. I will let y'all (By the way, I think I am slowly adapting an Oklahoma drawl because of Elder Borgersen. He is the only person I speak English with, so it is gradually taking over.) know what happens. Make sure to lend your prayers to them.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October 10, 2011

Yesterday we baptized a man named Carlos. He is such a good man, and I am sure he will be a Bishop someday. He talked to missionaries and was almost baptized 20 years ago, but a few things popped up to keep him from getting baptized. He lost contact with the missionaries and didn't really pursue the church after that, but kept on reading the Book of Mormon and all of Jesus the Christ. Needless to say, he had a pretty strong testimony of the church and its teachings long before we found him. But one day a couple walked into the church during a ward Family Home Evening and said that their names were Pablo and Natalia and that Natalia had been a member of the church her whole life but was inactive at this moment, but were looking to come back to church.  We set up an appointment with them a went to their house to meet Carlos. Carlos is Pablós Dad and was pretty excited to see us so we invited him to accept the discussions. He accepted and a great two weeks of teaching later, Carlos was baptized. One could feel that it was a really special day that was long belated. I had the privilege of baptizing Carlos and it was not very easy. Carlos is a pretty big guy and we couldn't find pants big enough for him until the night before the baptism. When we got to church early to start filling up the font, we turned on the fountain and nothing come out. We started freaking out and filling up cooking pots in the kitchen and running them to the baptismal font one by one. I swear I ran up and down the church hall in between the kitchen and the baptismal font 300+ times. This lasted all three hours of church until a plumber got there and saved the day. When it came time for the baptismal service, about 13 members showed up and I was running around like nuts trying to get everything ready, people into the chapel, and my own clothes changed. The actual baptism was a little rough. The water was pretty low and Carlos is a pretty big guy, so it was pretty tough. I did the ordinance, tried to put him as far as I could under water, saw that his tie was floating on the surface, and then tried to put him a little farther underneath the water. When I did this, it through off my balance and I almost fell into the water with him, but at the last moment caught myself and brought him out of the water. The rest of the service was buenisimo and Carlos gave an amazing amazing testimony of the church and of the missionaries. Sometimes as a missionary, I run from house to house doing my best to speak Spanish and teach with clarity. In these times, I don't realize how much the person is being changed by our message. This work is huge and I love it, and thanks to people like Carlos, little by little,  I realize how big what missionaries do really is. It was really obvious to see that there was a lot of opposition coming from someplace against the baptism. Someone didn't want it to happen. But it did happen and it was too good. I am so thankful for that.

1/3 through the mission! All is well. Life is good.

October 3, 2011

This week included lots of running around and laughing and eating delicious food; three good things. Elder Borgersen had ended up to be another awesome companion. I have had lots of good luck up to this point. He has a little bit of a hick accent and keeps me laughing all the time by saying weird sayings that don't exist anywhere else except in Oklahoma like, "its all gravy" and "that's dirtier than pond water" and "You are tougher than a leather boot with the heel kicked off". I can't really tell, but I think I am gradually adapting a little bit of hick accent day by day.

We have been super busy running from one side of our area to the other several times a day and teaching lessons. It's always good to be busy, but when we get back at night, we are so beat that we plan and then go straight to bed. This week we got permission to start entering into Villa Paris (the area where we got chased by a guy with a gun) again. We were a little nervous at first, but we started finding a lot of people in the area, and everything looked pretty tranquil. This Thursday we a Noche de Hogar with a menos activo family in Villa Paris. As we left the house at about 9 pm, I told Elder Borgersen that we were in a pretty sketchy area and needed to walk the five blocks to the bus stop pretty fast. At this point we were both pretty on edge and a little bit scared. We started walking at a pretty brisk pace when Elder Borgersen said, "Walk a little faster, someone is following us." I looked behind us and sure enough, I saw a guy following a little too close for my liking. We started walking faster and so did the guy. I was just thinking, "Oh jeez, not again." when I heard the guy behind us start running our way. We started to sprint as fast as we could towads the bus stop. Along the way, we saw another group of pibes (gangsters, punks) and they too started to run after us and shout. I was just thinking "Oh great, now there are two different groups of people trying to rob us." We kept on running till we got to the bus stop on a lit street. (The pibes don't really follow people into the more high traffic areas.) It was only then that we realized that the first man who had started following us was only running to catch an oncoming bus. We looked back and he was about a 40 year old man with a briefcase. We felt pretty stupid for running and I said to Elder Borgerson, "Well, at least we escaped the other group of pibes who were trying to rob us." He looked up and said, "You mean that group of pibes who is coming towards us right now?" My stomach dropped a little bit and I saw the big group of pibes who had chased us just a few minutes earlier walking down the street towards us. We were about ready to start running again when one of the pibes shouted, "Hey Elders! Elders! Why are you running?" I looked up and realized in relief and a little bit of embarrassment that the other group of pibes who had chased us were young men from the ward. They had seen us running, assumed we were being chased, and ran after us in an attempt to help us out. They asked us who had been chasing us so they could go beat the guy up and we told them a little sheepeshly that it ended up that no one was chasing us. They laughed and made fun of us for a second and then bid us good night. Elder Borgersen and I still feel a little stupid for running, but I think it is better to run from someone than have the chance of getting mugged. We laughed the whole bus ride home.

It ended up that we were able to watch all the sessions of conference except the Preisthood session. The Mission President decided that all the missionaries needed to see all the general sessions and no one complained. Conference is only broadcast at the stake centers here, so all the Elders from our stake got to have a little reunion and it was quickly evident that conference weekend is a holiday weekend for missionaries. It only got better when the Stake President told us that he had set up a different room where all the American Elders could watch the sessions in English. It was as close as I have been to a party in almost 8 months. It was great to rest and listen to all the conference and be with people from my own country.
I loved to hear all of the messages, but my favorite talk by far was that of President Uchtdorf. I loved the stat that he told that there are 10 times more stars in the night sky than every single grain of sand in the worlds beaches and deserts combined. God has an infinite number of creations, but knows and loves every single one of them. As we all know, the value of every soul is great in the eyes of God. This, for our mortal minds, is a paradox. The devil tries to use this paradox by making us think that we are either worthless or more special than others. But President Uchtdorf ensures us that we each have a divine plan and divine potential. I took this as being especially applicable in the mission field. One needs to try to maintain the perspective that every person is oh so valuable at all times. But at the same time, we must avoid pride at all costs. Pride causes us to value the things of this world. "All the combined currency in the world could not buy one loaf of bread in the economy of heaven."