Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 11, 2012

Picture in front of my house

I know I said that last winter was the coldest winter of my life, but this winter is starting off colder's really cold. I just broke out the insulated/longsleeved underwear. I am never leaving the pinch again without them.

I am slowly getting to know Avellaneda and it has been a blast. It has been really hard, but really good. Pretty much the whole mission is generally the same except for the zone I am in right now.  Our area is divided right down the middle into two different parts. On one side, all the streets are paved, there are skyscrapers and high rise apartments all over the place, and everyone is wearing suits and going to work. We live on this side. The other side of our area is the opposite. The eastern side of our area is the coast. But it's not a pretty coast. The whole eastern side of our area is filled with huge loading docks and factories and dirt roads. All of the poor people made their shantytown in between, and sometimes inside of the deserted factories. This is the villa. All of the neighborhoods on this side of the area are illegal, but the people don't have enough money to buy a plot of land to make a legal house and the government just leaves them. All of the houses are about one meter apart, and the street is about 2 meters wide. that is where we work the majority of the time. It's wild. 

Our house is a giant refrigerator. We live in the shade of a skyscraper, so the sun never touches our house. It gets cold, and the house keeps the cold in the house, even when it is warm outside. The worst part is is that we don't have hot water. hahaha To take a shower, we have to wake up early and boil water in the kitchen, take it to the bathroom and put it in a bucket with a shower head attached. It's not that bad, its actually kind of fun. But, I won't be sad when I have hot water again. 

Elder Ruvalcaba is great. He is from Mexico. He came out on the mission when he was 18. Apparently there is a rule that Mexicans can leave on the mission a year early. He is a machine. I have never seen a more exactly obedient Elder. At 10:25 every night, he sits upright on his bed in his pajamas (pajamas for Elder Ruvalcaba = jeans and a cardigan hahahah) and looks at his wrist watch, waiting for 10:30 to arrive. At about 10:29:58, he lays down and says, "Buenos Noches Elder" and nothing else. He wakes (shoots out of bed and starts doing super fast push ups) up at 6:25 everyday. We have to wake up at 6:30. He walks about 27mph and I struggle to keep up. I never thought you should get shin splints by walking. I'm lucky to have him. He finishes up his mission in August, so I will probably be his last companion.  

I don't know if you guys have heard, but the Buenos Aires temple will be getting rededicated this coming September. It's gonna be real good. President Eyering, Ballard, and Chistopherson are coming to take part. All of the Missionaries from Buenos Aires North, West, and South will be going to all ceremonies. During the whole month of August, the temple will be having its open house. The zone leaders from every mission will be the guides for every Saturday in August. That's me. It's gonna be way too good. There will be a festival in the Stadium of the soccer team, Independente, which is in my area. (You can probably find the stadium really easy on GoogleEarth.) All the missionaries from the three missions will be singing in the ceremony. The three apostles will be having a special fireside for only the missionaries. They will be showing the temple dedication in all stake centers, and in that moment, the stake centers will serve as extensions of the temple. I don't really know what that means, but I'm excited. Every missionary companionship will be allowed to got to the open house once with investigators of their choice. That's all I can remember right now. Surely I will let you guys know more in the coming weeks.

Everything is going real good. We don't really have many investigators right now because the Elders before me baptized all of them the week before I got here, but I'm not very worried. It's pretty easy to find people, and a lot of things can get started real fast. I am super grateful for each of you. All is well. Life is good.

June 4, 2012

 Antonio and I (holding The Book of Mormon)
 The members love to give us crackers for some reason
 Ramos, me and the family of the Presidente de Rama
Me and Retamal (a member who gave us lunch every Wednesday)

I'm jealous that you are all starting summer because the winter just started here and I am so cold. So windy, so humid. 

Lots of big and unexpected changes this week. I don't know how you knew Mom, but this week I was transferred from Solano to Avelleneda. Seeing to how I only had three months in Solano, the change was totally a surprise. In my letter to President this week, I told him that I would feel totally comfortable finishing my mission in Solano. Bad idea. I pretty sure that upon reading my letter, he decided to take me out. Whatevs. I was super sad to leave Solano, but am totally excited to be in Avelleneda. The goodbyes in Solano were not quite as hard as they were in Longchamps. I am proud to say that I did not shed a tear. hahaha I am a man. I have hair on my chest. Lots of it. Anyways.....It was rough, but it was good. Probably the hardest goodbye was to Elder Ramos. Elder Ramos was one of my favorite companions. He is one of the most positive people I know. That is super valuable to have in a companion. I am sad to see my little Peruvian go. He's the best. 

My new comps name is Elder Ruvalcaba from Gudalajara, Mexico. He is super tall and is well known in the mission for his work ethic as well as his walking speed. (Really fast) We will see if my stubby/super thick Lewis legs can keep up. I don't really know anything else about Elder Ruvalcaba yet.

 Avelleneda is very very different than the rest of my mission thus far. Avelleneda is the most northern area of the mission and the most urban area in the mission. How urban? Today we bought our food at a WalMart. BOOM. It felt so good to buy food from someone who wasn't sending my money to a Beijing-based mafia. Avelleneda is famous for being really urban and really ghetto. Half of our area is city with lots of tall buildings, and the other half is a real big, real nasty villa. But no worries, Ruval will protect me. 

I am super happy to be in Avelleneda now because a lot of my best friends on the mission are in my zone. My old companion, Elder Borgersen (Tim Tebow) shares the same chapel with me. Our zone is the biggest in the mission with 20 missionaries, so it will be a little different to be a zone leader here.

May 28, 2012

Locro with a little visible pig skin

Another real good week, this one. Lots of laughing. The other day
Elder Ramos and I were cleaning out the pinch and found this ancient
book called "El Chi". A Spanish translation of eastern
philosophy = solid gold. We were reading little parts of the book and
have so far learned that the chi is a river of energy that flows in
all places at all times. But, one must align themselves with this
river to live a more full and energetic life. I found another part
that said that one can move their bed in line with the chi and live
better. So good. Elder Ramos and I have been moving our beds into all
kinds of weird locations in order to find the chi and have a easier
time waking up in the morning. I think it's working.

I tried to send photos today, but the computer is not working out, so
I will try to send them another day. For the 25th of Mayo (Patriots
Day-Argentina), the branch had a party and prepared what is called a
locro. Locro is a super traditional Argentine food. It is a soup with
a corn based broth and about every part of a cow and pig that doesn't
taste good if it isn't in a soup. So the soup ends up being corn broth
with pig skin (not kidding-Argentines eat footballs), cow tail, pig
head, cow stomach, and little bits of bacon. So good (tear). Everyone
was so excited for the locro and acted like it was the best thing in
the world. The tradition is that when you cook locro, you do it for
about 50 people, which requires a pretty big pot. I wish I could send
the pictures, but someone brought a pot that looks like the cauldron
that Voldemort comes out of in the fourth book. HUGE. I could
literally sit inside the pot and still feel good. About 90 people
showed up to the activity and all of them ate well out of this one
pot. That is, everyone ate well except for me. I wanted to like locro
so bad, but when it came down to eating it, it was horrible. The
pieces of pig skin didn't really dissolve, but end of being really slick
and impossible to chew. I swear my plate had more than its fair share
of pig skin. So bad. But, I ate the whole plate and when I was asked
if I wanted seconds, I firmly and fearfully declined. All of the
others ate 3 or four plates. If you have read the rest of my emails,
you know that I have a weak weak stomach, and gets very upset if
anything foreign enters into it. Pig skin is no exception. We had just
gotten onto a bus heading to our 8 o'clock appointment and I felt like someone punched me real hard right in my stomach. Needless to say, we rushed as fast as we could to the pinch to avoid disaster and we barely made it. Luckily the storm in my stomach only lasted a few hours and the next
day we were out working again. Never again locro. Never again.

Apart from that, the week was real good. Antonio has progressed
super fast and is planning for a baptism the coming Saturday. Even
though he has a few screws loose and sometimes talks to dogs, he is so
great and smart. I love him tons.

This week one of the area seventies came to our ward. Elder Abila (I
think). He spoke a lot about the atonement. He referenced the famous
little story that talks about the footsteps on the beach and Jesus. In
the story, there are two sets of footsteps in the sand. One belongs to
Jesus and the other belongs to you. Except, in the hardest parts of
your life, there is only one set of footprints. One would think that
Jesus had deserted us, but he was really carrying us in the most
difficult points. Elder Abila took this story and tore it apart. hahah
He said that there are never two sets of footsteps, but just one. We
cannot do anything without Christ's Atonement. Nothing. Real good.

May 21, 2012

This week we were walking out of one of our citas and this old man came running over to us. He was wearing this weird turtle neck sweater that went down to his ankles in a weird tunic style. I kind of liked it. I want one too. But anyways....he told us that he had been looking for us and wanted to talk urgently. He tried to pull us into his house at that very moment, but we were a little late for our next appointment, so we just took out a return time for the next day. His name is Antonio. He has 70 something years. We went back the next day and it was so good. I loved it so much. The moment we sat down, he started to say one million different things. He explained that he had just gotten out of the mental hospital a few weeks earlier and that we was looking for religious direction. (He also said about five hundred other things that didn't make much sense. For example, his favorite types of olives, why glass scares him, which martial arts actor is the best, which dog would be the best dog to help you in a survival situation, and more and more) We talk with lots and lots of people, but Antonio was different. Usually we talk to people who speak, and it is super obvious that they have never had very much education. Antonio talks like he is reading from an encyclopedia. We eventually were able to stop is endless flow of words and started to teach. Once we started to teach, he just stopped and listened so closely. When he didn't understand something, we would stop us and have us explain the principle over again. It was awesome. At the end of the lesson, we decided to challenge him to baptism and he accepted. Emphatically. Jumping and screaming emphatically. He told us that he has read about every religious scripture ever written and felt like he had finally found the truth. We gave him a Book of Mormon and all of the different types of folletos that we had on hand. We went back two days later. When we got to Antonios street. we saw that he was waiting outside is house on the porch with his arms crossed, hugging and pressing the Book of Mormon to his chest. When he saw us he was so excited and jumped off the curb and started running towards us. This was kind of unsettling for me, but I held my ground. He shouted, "Ramos! Lewis! Hola!" So excited. hahah I felt like how I expect dads to feel when they get home from work and their kids come running towards them. Except for my kid in this situation was a 70 year old man, but that is beside the point. It was sweet. I laughed so hard. Once we got him sat down and calmed down, we started the lesson, and he told us that he had read all of the folletos and the Book of Mormon up till Helaman. hahahah I couldn't believe it. He told us that he knows it is true. He also asked us what time and where is baptismal service will be. He also asked us what he will be wearing for the baptismal service and all of the details. We invited him to church the upcoming Sunday and he accepted. He loved church way too much. He asked about 567899 questions to the teachers and all the members loved him. Oh yeah, he arrived to church in a Napoleon Dynamite like suit with one of the bow ties the size of a dinner plate. I was so excited. 

In between classes, he started explaining to me all of the reasons he likes stairs. Not kidding. One of the reasons he likes stairs is because he likes exercise. I asked him what kind of exercise he likes to do and he told me with a very straight, serious face "Martial Arts". I said, snickering a little bit "Oh yeah, how do you know martial arts?" He then told me that he has watched every martial arts movie ever made. He told me to act like I was coming at him with a knife so he could show off his martial arts. I did, (horrible mistake) and with amazing speed, he slapped my hand away and punched him square on in the crotch. hard. In the middle of church. I doubled over and felt to the ground with tears of pain in my eyes. He calmly pretended like nothing had happened, stepped over me and went to the next class and left me in the hallway on the ground. I love Antonio. He is one of my favorite people I have met so far in the mission, and he deserves the attention I have given him in this email. More Antonio stories are sure to come.

Everything else is good. I am happy. All is well. Life is good.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

May 14, 2012

This week was real real good. Elder Ramos is teaching me lots of new things. He goes home in less than two months and is starting to make a lot of preparations. One of these preparations has been salsa dancing. Apparently, dancing salsa is really big in Peru. My comp wanted to get his salsa skills all sharpened up and ready and has been asking me every once in a while to practice with him. (I take the part of the girl dancer.) I am getting kind of good, but only know the girls steps. True charity for my companion. He has also taught me how to make a few Peruvian rice dishes that are so good.  Arroz Chaufa and Lomo Saltado. Every once in a while, we offer to cook a dinner for our investigators. The other night we were cooking for two of our investigators. They are the parents of an 18 year old girl who got baptized a while back and is now waiting on her boyfriend missionary who is serving in Brazil. The mom firmly believes in the virgin and doesn't want much to do with us on any religious level. But shes totally nice and gave me mysterious Argentine medicine when my throat started to get bad. Her husband is way more accepting and totally nice. He is a grown up hippy and loves to talk with me about 60s-70s music. He is totally intelligent, but always asks the strangest questions. Ex. "Do you think John Lennon and Joseph Smith would have gotten along?" and "Can I do baptisms for the dead of the deceased members of Pink Floyd?" I love going to teach them so much and look forward to it all week. Anyways...the other day we were preparing arroz chaufa for the family and I was chopping peppers with the Dad of the family, and we got on the subject of symbology. (hahah reading over the last sentence made me laugh a little. It makes us sound like we were in a study surrounded by expensive leather bound books and dressed in smoking jackets. Understand?) He then told me that he was a free mason and knew a whole lot about symbols. I started to get super curious and asked him a lot of questions about free masonry. After a while he told me that if I was really that curious, that i should go to a Free Mason meeting. I secretly wanted to, but explained to him that as a missionary, I can't. He understood, but after letting me know that I could be a Free mason before I return to the United States. I nervous laughed/smiled his invitation off.
This next week should be real good. Elder Ramos and I will be traveling around a lot. I guess that is good news because the more we are traveling, the more our zone is baptizing. We have a good amount of baptisms coming up for the weekend of the 26th. I will let you know how those go.

I love my family! Everyday I am more and more aware of how lucky I am. It's so good and real that our primary source of happiness is our families. It's so sure and unique.

May 7, 2012

This week was a week of a lot of firsts. This Saturday, we went to a barber who we weren't familiar with. Bad mistake. Apparently, the barber was used to giving all the little villa kids ghetto villa haircuts. Elder Ramos and I went to the barber hoping for crisp Elder Bednar-like (bulletproof) haircuts, and came out looking like we grew up in the villa. (Prett much a buzz with a skinny skinny line of hair along the crown of your head. So, to counteract the bad barber effect, today I gelled my hair for the first time in my life. No one laugh, I'm totally embarrassed and trying to figure out if I will continue gelling my hair for the rest of my mission. 

This week I ate liver off the parilla for the first time. It was way better than small intestines, large intestines, blood sausage, kidney, pig eye, chicken foot, or any of the other strange things that I have eaten off the parilla so far. I plan on eating it again. 

I think I wrote about Lucilla and her family a few months ago, but I'm not sure. Lucilla was a woman that I was teaching in Longchamps. Right when I start teaching people, I always ask, "How long have you and your spouse been married?" just to know if they are married or not. About 85% of the people in Argentina just live with their "spouse" because it's so hard to get married under Argentine law. I asked Lucilla how long she had been married when I started teaching her and she said, "Oh, like a year." I took the answer and was happy that I had found one of the few married people. She progressed really fast and we were planning her baptism. We programed her baptism for a Saturday. The Friday of her baptism arrived, the programs were all printed, the ward was informed of the baptism, I had sent out invitations, and Lucilla called me and told me that she was not actually married, but just living with her "husband". I was pretty bummed, but comforted by the fact that Lucilla told me that she was completely committed to do everything necessary in order to get baptized. I then ran to the Registrero (the place where you take out fechas to get married by law), took out a license for her and her "husband" and paid the fee. The closest date that I could get for the marriage was the fourth of May. But, as you know, I got transferred before that date came. I didn't really think about it after that until I got a call from Elder Abbott (my ex companion who is still in Longchamps) and let me know that Lucilla had gotten married and baptized. A strange flavored happiness came over me. Up till this point in my mission, I have tried to put a big focus on loving the people around me, especially the people I teach. The moments when I feel the most love for my investigators is when I see them in white and when they enter the water. When I see them like that, I feel like my chest is gonna blow up and I cry and its something really intense and a little embarrassing for me. When I got the call and heard that Lucilla had been baptized, I felt the same baptism/love feeling, but a more tranquil sweeter brand of it, no tears, no love explosions in my chest, I just felt real....good. It's hard to explain. 

There is something special that happens in between investigators and missionaries when baptism is put into the mix. It doesn't matter if I'm at the baptism or not, I just feel good when people that I have helped take the steps to become closer to their Heavenly Father. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what or how it is, but I know it is real and I will never forget it. Once I fully understand it, I will let you all know.