Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February 20, 2012

This week was real good. I feel like the longer I am here, the faster the weeks go. The days kind of blend together, and lots of the time, I can’t remember what happened the previous day. But it is all good, and I am loving the experience.

This week, had about 15 commitments to attend church. We were really excited, and I was sure that this Sunday was gonna be a special one. But Sunday morning, it rained. Rain, to an Argenitine, is something very different than it is to anyone else. Whenever it rains, everyone disappears from the streets and goes into hiding. You would think that rain made them melt or something. When the first droplet of rain falls, everybody runs as fast as they can. Rain kind of kills the work on a normal day, but it destroys Sundays for a missionary. Church attendance drops more than 50%. I remember one time in City Bell, it rained on a Sunday, and the Branch President didn’t come. And the thing is, it was totally acceptable. The other day, a lady was telling us that she would make it to church no matter what.  Sea sickness, danger, anything. That is, anything except rain. So this Sunday, we had 15 commitments to attend and 2 came. I was so frustrated and mad.  Luckily, the investigators who did come had an awesome experience. We are teaching a 16 year old kid named Franco and he is such a stud. At church, we were sitting in the pews, so sad that no one was coming, and then Franco walked in. He is so great and loved the church experience even though about 20 members showed up to church. I take his good experience as a reward for his faith and sacrifice.

That was the most important thing I learned this week. That whatever we sacrifice for good is rewarded to us several fold. Hopefully that means that since I lost all muscle whatsoever to violent diarrhea, I will come back to the states looking like Lou Ferrigno (the hulk).

Right now I have to head to a zone activity in which we will be playing mud football. It rained all week. I fully expect and hope and will do all possible to have mud football digress to mud wrestling.

I love my family. I learn more and more of the importance of family in my life every day. I am grateful for the gospel in my life. It means everything to me. All is well. Life is good.

February 13, 2012

 The picket
 The one year shirt

This week was real good. I feel like I have been in Longchamps so long that the weeks are kind of starting to melt together.  Longchamps is a crazy crazy town, and I see so many abnormal, dirty, crazy, and great things everyday, that I feel like I have stopped being amazed by somethings that would normally blow my mind. For example, whenever the electricity goes out in the villas (illegal ghetto neighborhoods), it goes out for like 5 days. When the power goes out, people don't have water (almost everybody uses electrical water pumps to pump water out of the ground), can't watch their usual 7 hours of TV a day, the fans don't work, and people just start to get angry for 5 days. Usually after about 2 days without power, the people start to do protests where they get in big groups, find a bunch of tires, throw the tires on the closest bus route, and then light the tires on fire and block the road and buses for several days until they get power back. During the days while they picket, they stand in the middle of the road (amidst tons of black tire smoke) play the drums, do chants, and attack any bus that tries to go through their barricade. It seems crazy, but it is actually pretty normal here. The power goes out about once or twice every month. One of the pictures I sent was when Elder Lem and I foolishly snuck out our cameras and decided to take a picture in front of the picket. Right after we took this photo, and group of men with drums ran out of the smoke towards us and shouting things that I couldn't understand. We ran away and they did not give much chase. And the other day, we were on the bus during a picket, and the bus driver decided to try to go through the barricade. As he started to go through the barricade, lots of big rocks started flying through the smoke and crashing against the windows. Then a few man tried to climb onto the bus to stop it from going through the barricade. Thankfully the bus driver was evasive and did not let the men get on the bus. During the whole experience, my companion and I just calmly sat on the bus and watched the rocks crash against the windows. I didn't really realize how crazy the situation really was. After we got off the bus I just realized that it was a crazy situation and was a little confused why I was not more concerned or worried. I guess my sense of normal is just a little bit skewed for the time being.

This week I hit one year in the mission! It was kind of a strange day. As a missionary, you always always hear the cliché, "The time on the mission flies by without you even noticing." I always thought that that cliché was pretty dumb and inaccurate until this Thursday. It just hit me really hard that I was half-way done with my mission and that I had hit the crest of the mountain. I can't believe that one year from today I will be watching Nuggets games at Mom and Dad's. Whaaaa? To celebrate the year, I found an orphan shirt of some past elder in the pinch and wrote "1 año" all over. And then, with the help of my companions, I burned it. The flames were way bigger than I thought they would be and we almost lit a tree on fire, but luckily it all ended smoothly.

Right now, our main investigators are two twin girls named Judith and Brenda (Grandma names). They both are 14 years old. Last month, Elder Jolley and I decided to go past the house of every person who had ever been baptized in Longchamps in hopes to find part family members who wanted to come back to church and baptize the non-member part of the family. It was kind of a funny and sad experience. Lots of people who had been baptized just a few years back did not really remember their baptism and were kind of confused as to what our purpose was in passing by their houses. One lady thought that we had come to gather tithing and begged us for more time before she had to pay us. But, in the process of passing by all these houses, we found a lady named Yolanda who was baptized about 15 years ago in Tucuman, but lost contact with the church when she moved to Buenos Aires She was happy to meet us and told us that we brought here tender memories of her baptism. She introduced us to her two daughters and that was when we met and began to teach Judith and Brenda. They are both so great and love to learn so much. One thing that I have noticed and been impressed by them is that they have so many desires to do what is right. They also have an uncle who tells them lots of crazy things about the church. They come to us with all kinds of funny doubts that I kind of secretly love hearing. Once Judith asked me, “The Mormons need to give their first two children to the church, and then the church gives you a really nice house, right?" The both are planning to be baptized in the next two weeks and I am so proud of them.

All is going real well. I happy to have completed a year and way too excited to have another good one.

February 6, 2012

This week was real real good. I definitely miss Elder Jolley, my first son, but I was happy to accept my new son, Elder Derrik Abbott, this Wednesday. He is a few months older than I am and from Maryland. He is a great guy. He is so humble and happy and ready to work. I feel lucky to have been blessed with another great companion. I'm sure we will have a real good three months together. 

More stories about Hielda. Hielda is the sister who we have been taking to church for the last few weeks. She is so great and so loving and has so many desires to do good. I love her so much. She just has a few crazy thoughts that she hasn't really figured out yet. For example, she started offering all kinds of money to Elder Abbott and I the other day as a gift of diezmo. This week in church, she stood up in Relief Society and started to speak in tongues and prophesy, because she thinks she is a prophet, and that's what they did in her last church. Lots of the sisters complained to me and I told them that we would try to talk to her, but that they had to be really patient and try to help her figure out what is okay, and what is not. Nevertheless, she continues to progress and is a great lady. I sincerely love her a ton and she has taught me so much.  She probably wont be able to be baptized in my time here in Argentina. Hielda is married with one man, from whom she separated, but not officially divorced, and has been living with another man, Domingo, for the past 12 years. So to be baptized, she would have to get divorced and then get married to Domingo. That's the biggest problem. In Argentina, the government is insanely slow with marriages, and even slower with divorces. They have made it very difficult to do either. To be married, one has to take out a marriage license about 3 months ahead of time, and then be married by a federal judge. (The Argentine government does not recognize church marriages.) The usual divorce takes about 2-3 years, even though all the people have to do is receive a signature from a lawyer and a government official. It's super frustrating and delays and discourages hundreds of people from being baptized. Oh well, I will do my best to help these people develop their testimonies to the point where they are completely set on being baptized and won't stop for anything.

This week, one of the couples that I have been trying to help get married for six months now told me that they took out a license to be married right before I head out of Longchamps and wanted to be baptized the following Sunday. I cried. The man is the son of another man I baptized, Carlos. His name is Pablo. Him and his fiance, Natalia have been coming to church more loyally than most of the members, and it will be so good to finally see them make the big step. Can't wait.

I feel so fulfilled. I have been understanding more and more lately how much true happiness comes from helping others, and misery comes from thinking of yourself. Every time. The more you helps other's cups to be filled, the fuller your cup is. It's way too good. I feel great, and I love what I am doing. All is well. Life is good.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

January 30, 2012

On Saturday night we got our transfer calls. I was pretty sure that I was getting to get called to another area, seeing as how I have been in Longchamps for 6 months. I guess there were different plans set for me. I will be staying in Longchamps for three months more and receiving another brand new Elder to train. When I got the call, I was blown away, and kind of still am. Elder Jolley will be sent to an area called Villa Fiorito with an Elder who has the same amount on the mission as I do. Villa Fiorito is well known in the mission as the most dangerous area in the mission. It is also where Diego Maradona grew up. He is super excited about his new area, I am sure he will do great. I have loved and learned so much from every single one of my companions. But, none of them have been quite like Elder Jolley. Elder Jolley is the kind of guy who is never ever satisfied and always wants to be and do better. Elder Jolley continually pushed me to be better. I have grown so much in my time with Elder Jolley and am really grateful for him. I really do have a testimony that companionships are inspired. There were so many things I had to learn from Elder Jolley, and I hope that he learned a lot of things from me.  He is a great guy, and I am gonna miss him a ton.

Today, Elder Stokes, (my trainer/Dad in the mission) went home.  He is the first of all of my companions to go home. It was kind of a weird moment saying goodbye to him. I officially am orphaned in the missionary sense. (I don't care how nerdy that sounds.)

Training, in our mission, is a three month process.  Wednesday I will be starting that process all over again. That means I will be staying in Longchamps for a total of 9 months, by rule, the longest a missionary can stay in one area. I will be leaving Longchamps around April 20th. I feel like I have been here for an eternity, but it has been/will be really good. I can't wait to do a lot of good work. I can only imagine how hard it will be to say goodbye to all the people I have met and learned to love here. The members of our ward told me that I have been here for so long that they want to give me a calling and name the Church building after me. I told them that that would be fine.

Until Wednesday, I will be with another Elder who will also be training. His name is Elder Lem and he is Mexican and Chinese. A very good mix. He is from California. We will be enjoying one another until we receive our newbies.

January 23, 2012

I had a dream last night that was so real and stressful. I dreamed that I was at the Denver Airport, just getting home from Argentina, and greeting the whole fam. It was so good to see everybody and give lots of hugs, but the prevailing feeling of the dream was one of confusion and discomfort. I was just really confused why I was home so early and wishing that I was back in Argentina. I woke up and was really relieved that I was still in Argentina. I love everybody at home so much, but I realized last night how much I belong in Argentina right now and how much this place has become and second home for me. A second home, and the staging ground for a lot of changes in my life. I love Argentina and its people so much. It caused me so much dream stress to have left Argentina and I'm sure it will cause me a lot of real sadness to leave the place, but in that moment, I will be more excited to come back and see the family than anything.

This week was real good. Yesterday we baptized and confirmed a 13 year old girl named Malena. Does everybody remember the story of when I baptized Norma, the woman who screamed the whole time she was in the water? Malena is her daughter who still wasn't sure about baptism at the time of her Mom's baptism. I thought that screaming during a baptism might be in the genes, so I was kind of relieved when she told us that she wanted Elder Jolley to baptize her. She is such a good, humble girl and has such a sweet, simple, pure testimony. The baptism went totally smooth and was real real good.

The other day I was on splits with Elder Rivera (from Chile) and we were walking down the street when this lady came up to us out of nowhere, got right in my face and was like, "TEACH ME ABOUT THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE!!!" She had one tooth on bottom and one on top and really big, crazy eyes. I am kind of accustomed to crazy people getting in my face in the street and saying totally weird things, but I still felt really uncomfortable and wanted her mouth more than 4 inches from my eyes. We started talking and she told me in deep breaths and lots of really fast, desperate talking that she loved Mormons and had been hoping we walked by her house soon. We made an appointment, found out her name was Ana, said bye, and gratefully walked away.

Crazy people are all over the place in my area, and that kind of thing happens all the time. We spend huge amounts of time talking to crazy people about how they don't like the taste of shadows or conversations that they had had with their fence posts. I was kind of negatively expecting the visit with Ana to be another crazy person babbling and went into the lesson without much hope. I was so wrong. Ana turned out to be the nicest, smartest lady I have met so far in my mission and had so many good things to say. She told me that she had found a Book of Mormon in her daughters house once and read the whole thing cover to cover in the two days. She read it several more times in the next few weeks. She told me how great the Anti-Nephi-Lehites were and how much she liked the Brother of Jared. All of this kind of blew me away and my jaw dropped several times throughout the lesson. She told me that she knew the book was true, but felt like her knowledge was being wasted because she was taking no action on it. We then talked about how one has to do things to enjoy the gospel, including baptism. She was so excited at the idea of baptism, and hopefully that will be happening in the upcoming few weeks. 

Transfer calls come this Saturday night, and I feel fairly sure I will be headed to my third area. I will let you know.

I love what I am doing. I love the people I am talking with. I love Argentina.

January 16, 2012

I feel like I am getting so much into the missionary groove, I don't know if I will ever get out.  Every morning, my eyes shoot open at 6:29:59AM, one instant before my alarm clock goes off. And after that moment, I cannot go back to sleep. For those of you that have lived with me before, that is a really big deal. Usually when I wake up, I feel like someone has shot me with a buffalo tranquilizer or something and kind of feel like crying. I even feel like I have the typical missionary cadence when I talk. I promised myself I would never acquire it, and am now kind of ashamed of it. I guess lots of things change when you are a missionary.

This week, I had to run around and spend the night in a bunch of different other areas to help them out and to do some baptismal interviews. The District Leaders in the mission are always traveling all around the mission, so I can expect weeks like this for the rest of my mission. It was really good to spend time in other areas, but being away from Longchamps for a few days made me realize how much Longchamps has become my home here in Argentina. I love it so much.

This week we started talking to a man named Eloy. Eloy just moved from Peru and he told us that he came here with the clothes on his back and 10 pesos in his pocket ($2.50). Right now he is without a house and sleeping in the trains, in parks, or on buses. The way we found Eloy was really interesting. The other day, we were on a bus that we take several times a day.  Let me digress for a second. When we are on the buses, we always do our best to talk to as many people as we can. We decided we needed to be more bold and started talking to people on the buses in a different way. We get on the bus and stand at the very front, hold up a pamphlet from the Church, and say in a loud voice for all to hear, "We are men called of God. We are here to share a message that will help you. Right now we are going to come and talk to every one of you. If you are interested in the truth, you will give us your address so we can pass by your house. Thank you." It's so embarrassing sometimes and I kind of hate it, but Elder Jolley loves it, so we do it anyways. We have found some good people in that way. But, when we found Eloy, we were not doing mass soap box contacts. We were just standing really close to people who were sitting down, and putting our name tags right in their faces, almost forcing them to look at us. Then we ask them why they are looking at our name tag and start up a conversation. I was doing that to Eloy on a bus and he was looking pretty earnestly at my tag, but we were about to get off the bus, so I didn't start up a conversation. Later in the day, we were walking around an area that we had never been in. We walked past a house and I saw Eloy sitting on a chair outside, sleeping. We were kind of in a hurry, so we didn't stop. I told Elder Jolley that I had seen the same guy twice and I thought it was weird. Elder Joelly just stopped walking and said, "Whaaaaat?!" He was really distressed and told that if I see a person two times in one day, the Lord really want us to talk to him. Elder Jolley was totally right, so we went back and asked Eloy how he was doing. He ended up being totally nice and humble and homeless. He had just been sleeping in front of his friends house when we found him. We started teaching him at the church and it has been so good. He is so prepared for us. He is getting baptized in two weeks. Too good. I will let you know what happens with him in the next few weeks.

The mission is real good right now and I am starting to think that one year more is not going to be enough. I miss home and I miss you guys. All is well. Life is good.

January 9, 2012

I have been here for 11 months today! I will be burning a shirt one month from today. Boom.
This week was totally interesting. Lots of funny things happened that were so interesting. Not all of them were good.

1. We are teaching a couple named Renee y Elaina. They both are 24 years old and have 2 kids. They are so humble and nice. We found them as we were looking for a references house when we asked them for directions, and they invited us into their house. Ever since then, we have been teaching them and it has gone pretty well. Mainly we have been focusing on the principle that they can pray and ask whether the Book of Mormon is true and really receive an answer. They had been doing that for sometime, and we did our best to help them be patient and realize that the answer would not come in their time, but in God's. The other day we clapped their house and Elaina came out totally happy and beaming and told us, "I got my answer! I got it!" We started to get really excited and asked her how it went. She told us that she prayed really sincerely and asked if the things we had been teaching were true. She then told us that it came really clear into her mind that she should be attending The Church of the Seventh Day or something. We were both totally surprised and didn't really say anything because we were so surprised. She then went on to thank us for helping her get to her answer. We were both still blown away and asked her for more explanation and she just said, "I am so sure about my decision and I don't really need to talk to you anymore." We did our best to talk about how she needs to do other things to be sure sure, and she kind of ignored us. It was so bad. Walking away from the lesson, I was so bummed and almost felt like crying. We haven't given up on Elaina and will continue talking with her husband, so hopefully good things will happen there.

 2. We are teaching another couple named Hielda and Domingo. They are so good and I love them more than I do the usual investigator. They are both about 60 years old and and both kind of really crazy. They love us so much and kiss us all over our faces whenever we go by. They love hearing our message too. Every time we say something that they REALLY like, they stand up, throw their hands in the air and say, "AMEN! Thanks the Lord!" I have been meaning to tell them that they should probably not do that, but I have not really gotten to it, because I secretly love it so much when they stand up and shout for excitement. It's a good change from the person who casually listens to us and doesn't really care. The other day, we brought Hielda and Domingo to church and they loved it way too much. (One note before I tell the rest of the story: When Hielda prays, she starts praying really quietly, and then gradually gets louder and louder and more and more excited until the point where she is shouting and using her hands a lot to express her feelings.) In the Gospel Principles class at church, the teacher asked Hielda to say the closing prayer. I started to sweat bullets and bite my nails and feel so nervous. It was so bad/good (not sure which). Hielda pretty much rapped the prayer and threw in a few toe steps from side to side during the prayer. All of the members were kind of horrified, and Elder Jolley and I could not stop laughing. I secretly and silently hope for an encore next week.

I am loving my time here. I can't believe that I am almost halfway done.