Beltrán: Aug 1996 to Dec 1996

I served in the city of Fray Luis Beltrán from August 28, 1996 to December 17, 1996. It was a small city a few miles north of the main city of Rosario, Argentina. I think we were part of the Capitan Bermudez ward, which was a city just to the south. This was the third area of my mission. (See this article on my first mission area, the Gazano Branch in the city of Paraná, and my second area, the Rural Ward in the city of Santa Fe). This was an enjoyable area to serve in and the first where I was able to have a leadership opportunity of being a district leader and trainer.

People I Taught and Baptized

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Above: This is the baptism of Maxi Paré Sept 8, 1996. His mom was baptized the week prior, having received most of the discussions before I got there. But Elder Gertge and I taught Maxi all the discussions and then he was baptized. I remember teaching him the principle of keeping the Sabbath Day Holy because in the lesson, he mentioned that he played in a basketball league and had games on Sunday. He did not want to stop playing ball on Sunday, and I felt bad pushing the issue. I remember him agreeing to a rather weak commitment to come to church and to avoid playing basketball if he could on Sundays. I have often wondered if I did the right thing.

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The picture above was taken at the baptism of Aldo, September 29, 1996. Aldo was a great young man. We met him my first week at Church when I was in Beltrán. He was dating a girl in the ward, Gabriela Reide. We taught him the discussions and he was soon baptized. Click here to read the full Conversion Story of Aldo.

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The baptism of Betiana Pare and Silvina Saucedo, October 6, 1996.

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This is the baptism of Agostin Zapata, November 24, 1996. Agostin’s was a memorable conversion story. Read it here.

Members in Beltrán

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This is the Columbo Family (the three in white across the front: Enrique, Yolanda, and Ines). They were baptized only weeks before I got to Beltrán.

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This is Yolanda and Maria Jose Celentano’s baptism. They are in white with Elder Gertge. Her husband and their younger son are also in the picture. They were baptized only weeks before I got to Beltrán.

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This is the familia Godoy, the older daughters were Gishela and Shamila, and I don’t remember the names of the others. Sister Godoy would wash our laundry for free. All she asked was that we pay for the laundry soap, which we were happy to do. Thanks Sister Godoy! She would go above and beyond the call of duty in cleaning our laundry. As I recall, we once arrived at her house to find her ironing our jeans. We, of course, told her that was not necessary. The Godoys also fed us frequently and for that we are very grateful.

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This photo was taken in the home of Claudia Santoro. She is in the front left, and her mom and sister, Hermana Wagner, are on the right. Her dad is in the middle. Her daughter Raquel, and other family and friends are in the photo. Sister Santoro was a relatively new member as I recall, about 6 months. She was very stalwart and served as the stake primary president. Sister Santoro would cook for us often and each Sunday night she would let us use her phone for 30 minutes (not an inexpensive thing). Read more about the Santoro family here.

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This is Monica Brenner and her three children, the younger two are named Emanuel and Pamela.

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Here’s the Santoro family. Alejandro Sr was not yet a member, but Claudia, Raquel and Alejandro Jr were baptized a few months before I got there. The dad was baptized a few months after I left.

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Here is the familia Torres with friend Leandro Paré making bunny eyes in the back. Children Daniel, Elizabeth, Maita, her son Leandro.

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Here’s Jorge Torres (no relation to the Torres family above) and his wife and seven kids.

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This is Brother and Sister Zacarías and there two youngest children, Rafael and Gloria. They were also very stalwart members. Several of their sons served missions.

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This is Sister Portillo with two of her children. One of the things I remember about her is that she had been endowed in the temple and thus one of the few people who was able to do all our laundry, including temple garments.

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Brother Jose Chopita playing ping pong in a table set up in the chapel of the Church owned and constructed building in Capitán Bermudez. The two in the back are resting against the sacrament meeting podium. Each Sunday we would set up chairs in that space for sacrament meeting.

Missionaries I Served With

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Here’s my companion, Elder Gertge, on our first day together. He had been with his trainer for four weeks. We would spend the next three months together.

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This was the composition of our district of missionaries: Elder Draper, Elder Segelke, Elder Gertge, Elder Smith, Sister Sines, and Sister Johnson.

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Me and Elder Gertge got caught in the rain and took refuge at Sister Santoro’s house.

argentina-rosario-mission-beltran-jimmy-smith-16Elder Quick, the zone leader, and I. I remember being amazed at his grasp of the Spanish language, then he confided in me that when people spoke in slang, he couldn’t understand a word.

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Another picture of the missionaries in our district. Elder Videla is the new one. This is the room in the Capitan Bermudez chapel where we had district meeting each week.

 

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This was when the Elders in our district went to downtown Rosario to donate blood for Brother Zacarías who was having open heart surgery.
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New missionary in the district is Sister Ireland. I think she was brand new out of the MTC.
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Elder Gertge and I pretending to drink mate. I only drank it for real once, and that’s when it was accidentally given to me in a normal cup by a member. Usually when Argentine’s drink mate, they do it out of those special cups with a cool, filtering straw called a bombilla.
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Here’s Elder Adams and I with Agostín Zapata.
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Two new additions to our district. This photo was taken at the mission home, where we would go once a month to have interviews with the mission president. Sister Ireland, Sister Julien, Elder Smith, Elder Adams, Elder Videla, Elder Manriquez.

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Here’s me standing out in front of the mission home in Rosario.

Neighborhoods

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This was the view looking north (I believe) from our apartment.

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The city of Fray Luis Beltránwas located right on the Rio Paraná. A large river that had huge barges going up and down it.

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This is the Terminal de Omnibus, the central bus station in Rosario. Each time we had transfers, you would see a lot of missionaries coming and going through here.

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This is a Carrefour super store, kind of like a Super Walmart, but much more rare in Argentina. They had a huge assortment of groceries and other things that were hard to find anywhere else. I believe there may have only been one in Rosario at this time and it was near the mission presidents home. So we had permission to go there after we came in for interviews with the mission president.

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The Carrefour had a McDonald’s in it. McDonald’s were rare in Argentina at that time. This was the only time I recall going.

Apartment

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Here’s where we lived. This is our land lord’s house, and he rented the second floor it us. It had one bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom, all a missionary needs. We would sometimes hang laundry out to dry on the roof that we could walk out to.

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This is our land lord, Luis Sanchez and his wife. They were always very kind to us.

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This is the bathroom toilet and bide in our apartment. I never used the bide and don’t think most America missionaries did. Once Luis, the land lord, found out that the bide was broken and he was shocked. He asked “how do you clean yourself?” We explained that we use toilet paper and we shower daily and that keeps us clean.

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This is the birthday party of Luis Sanchez. We almost always got back to the house around 9:30, and Luis knew that. But on this particular day we had a discussion that went long and it was about 10:25pm when we walked in. We were planning to race to bed to meet our 10:30 bedtime in the missionary schedule. But when we realized they had been waiting for us, we decided it was more important to socialize with them, so we joined them for the party.

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A picture of me at Luis’ birthday party. Luis gave this one to me and signed his name on the back.

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Here’s the bedroom in our apartment. Two bed and a desk in between. When we did daily companionship study, we did it at the kitchen table instead of this desk.
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Me in our apartment. Getting ready to go to district meeting, I believe.

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Here’s Elder Adams in our apartment.

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Here’s what my mom sent me for Christmas that year. Thanks Mom!

Rural Ward: Apr 1996 to Aug 1996

After serving in my first mission area, the Gazano Branch in the city of Paraná, Argentina, I was transferred to the Rural Ward in the city of Santa Fe where I served from April 3, 1996 to August 27, 1996. This was the longest area in which I served–nearly 5 months. There are a lot of pictures, so I have broken them up into these sections:

Members of the Rural Ward, Santa Fe, Argentina

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This is the Sassettis, a great family that fed us lunch frequently. The Hermana Sassetti always used the most interesting combinations of food, but it was always tasty. I think the husband was the former bishop of the ward. He was always at work when we came over for lunch, but we got to know the wife and kids really well.

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This another great family in the Rural ward. The Martinez family. They invited us often for lunch.

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This is Sergio (I can’t remember his last name) and his son Mauricio and his daughter Jessica. Sergio was not a member, but I think his wife was. His wife’s parents were the Loveras, in the ward. Sergio was very nice to us missionaries. We would visit them often to strengthen them spiritually and they would invite us to lunch or dinner at times. The husband would use this horse drawn cart to drive around neighborhoods selling fruits and vegetables.

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Sergio even once let me takes the reigns of his cart.

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This is the Andrada family. Brother Andrada is cooking some fried pastries dipped in sugary syrup. I’m sure there was a name for them but I don’t remember now, but they were a common in Argentina. They were sold in pastry shops or small neighborhood stores, kioskos. People would also sell them on the streets, which is what this family was preparing to do, to make some extra money. In fact, we met their kids my very first day in this area when they approached us and asked if we wanted to buy some pastries. This was a great family, very faithful, and I always wanted to do more to help them temporally, in the material aspects of life. Still they were happy and generous with what little they had.

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This was a great family; the Moyanos. Martin is 12 with the orange drink. Maria Jose is his sister in the blue jacket. Emiliano is their younger brother in the red sweater being held by his mom. The dad is the one I the blue v-neck sweater.  They fed us lunch and dinner frequently, which was very kind of them. But this was also the family that fed us huevos de torro without telling us what they were until after we had tried them. Pretty gross. There are actually two families in the photo, both of which lived in this house. The little baby I’m holding was the younger couple’s child and he was just a month or two old. Like many Latin babies, he had a ton of thick dark hair. I had hair clippers, so they asked me to cut his hair shortly after he was born. So I did.

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This is Emiliano Moyano’s birthday party. I was frequently amazed at how Argentines would go all out for their kid’s birthday parties. I guess a great many people in the US are just as guilty at that. Anyway, I remember many families didn’t have a camera, so they would rent one for the day when they had a birthday or special occasion.

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These are two young adults in the ward: Carina Campos and Fernando Benavidez. They were dating at the time and I assumed they would marry, but I guess it didn’t work out because a few years later I ran into her at BYU in a single women’s apartment complex.

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This was a part member family in the ward. The Alegre family (they’re name translated means “happy”. What a great name!) We visited them frequently in an effort to befriend and strengthen them. They fed us often. I can remember eating some delicious empenadas with them as well as some fried spinach rice patties. I don’t think all missionaries had a pallet for them, but I thought they were delicious.

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This is Obispo Picolo, the bishop of the Rural ward at the time I was there. We took this photo after a dinner appointment with them one night.

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This is the Benavidez family. They are a great family and strong in testimony. They had sent there older son on a mission (he is pictured above with his girl friend in the bike picture). They lived a modest life style, without many of the niceties we are accustomed to in the US, but they were happy and faithful.

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The Benavidez family fed us all the time. Brother Benavidez was the ward mission leader and very dedicated. It looks like we’re have giso, or something of the sort for dinner. Giso was a generic name Argentine’s often called stew or soup. And of course notice the segmented loaf of bread on the table. That was the most common form of bread in Argentina. You almost didn’t have a meal with it.

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This is the Craven family. Brother Craven was a counselor in the mission presidency. The Cravens had two boys and also in the picture is Elder Maynes, Sister Thomas, myself, and Sister Vallejos.

Investigators We Taught

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Here I am with Lenny Marquez, a remise (taxi) driver in the city of Santa Fe that lived near us. He was from the United States originally, so he was one of the few people in Argentina, besides other missionaries, with whom we could speak English. We tried to teach him the discussion and we did have a couple of visits to his house. But ultimately, he really wasn’t interested at that time in the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps we planted some seeds, though, that may sprout and allow other missionaries to teach and baptize him.

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This is a family we had just found and began teaching in the weeks before I was transferred. Adrian Martinez and his girlfriend and their daughter. I’d be interested to know if they ever got baptized. Though Adrian was interested in the gospel, he needed to get married to his girlfriend before he could get baptized (an obstacle we ran into quite frequently).

Missionaries I Served With

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These are pictures of Elder Pinto and I. After only one month together, Elder Pinto was transferred. When we learned of the transfer, we asked the land lady to take our picture. Her hands were shaky and somehow I didn’t think the first photo was going to turn out, so then we took the selfie. Elder Pinto was a great companion, but my time with him was difficult because he did not speak any English. He was from Mendoza Argentina. This was only my fourth month in Argentina, so my Spanish was still pretty rough. I can remember dreaming in English at night and then waking up in the morning and the dreadful thought hitting me that I would have to speak Spanish all day long without the option of communicating in English. It was difficult, but the hard work paid off and my Spanish greatly improved. My first day with Elder Pinto, he bought me hot dogs because he thought all North American’s did. I don’t like them, though, so it turned out to be a funny story. Read it here in my article about my first transfer.

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This is Elder Maynes, my second companion in the Rural Ward. I think I caught him a little off guard in this photo. He had just arrived from the transfer and was unpacking his things.

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This is a picture of me with my second companion in the Rural Ward, Elder Maynes. Also in the photo are the other sister missionaries in our district, Sister Smith and Sister Thomas.

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Here I am with the zone leaders, Elder Davis and Elder Rindlisbacher. I did a couple of day-long exchanges with Elder Rindlisbacher. In fact he was with me during the experience I wrote about when the power of the Book of Mormon was manifested.

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This is Elder Stephenson and myself at a regional conference in Rosario. I believe Elder Boyd K. Packer was visiting. Elder Stephenson was from the Frederick Maryland area like myself.

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Here is our Rural District with Obispo (Bishop) Picolo. We are in the chapel of one of the nicer church buildings I saw in our mission. It was owned by the Church (rather than rented was the case in many of my wards and branches there). It was two stories high and I believe it may have housed multiple wards.

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This is Elder Maynes and I with Hermana Thomas and Sister Epul, the other sisters in our district.

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This picture was taken on Preparation Day (P-Day) when Elder Manes and I went to the Church and played basketball with Jose Luis and Orlando Andrada. Notice how the basketball standard has a soccer goal under it. The soccer goal got used a lot more than the basketball. But the missionaries used it for basketball, not every week, but once in a while.

Me Cooking

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Here I am making crepes. This is a Smith family favorite recipe that comes from my dad when he served his mission to France. I’m kneeling beside a propane tank with a burner attached to the top. We did not have a stove or oven in the apartment, nor a kitchen, nor a fridge, for that matter. The owners, in a house on the same property, would let us use their refrigerator if we had something that needed to be kept cold. I’m sorry the apartment appears quite messy in this photo. I assure you that we generally kept the apartment neat, clean, and organized.

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Here I am cooking some asado, Argentine barbequed steak. We had it served to us from time to time, so Elder Maynes and I decided one day that we would try to cook some ourselves. I don’t think it turned out as well, because we never tried it again during my mission.

Cutting Hair 

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For some reason I had the thought to bring hair clippers on my mission and it turned out to be a good idea as I put it to use on other missionaries and and many members. When Elder Pinto was transferred, I gave him the hair clippers and asked my mom to send me a new set.

Here I am putting those hair clippers to good use on Orlando Andrada. The other young man is his friend, Jose Luis Osuna. I was always anxious to give the young men missionary-style hair cuts at a good price: free. Haircuts was often part of my weekly service as a missionary.

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Here I am cutting the hair of a member of the ward named Hermano (Brother) Aquino. This family was very poor. As you can see, there home consisted of whatever scrap sheet metal they could find. Four walls and a roof made up their modest home. They had electricity, though, and a television. Often people in circumstances like this would want to come to church, but since they had no way to lock their home and secure their belongings, they felt they needed to stay home.

Neighborhoods in Rural, Santa Fe

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These are pictures from the roof of my first apartment in the Rural Ward of Santa Fe, Argentina. The first is looking into the city, the second is looking away from the city center. Our apartment was on the edge of our area. Our area went away from the city. The sisters in our district had the more urban areas of the ward because it was safer.

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These are two pictures of one of the more run-down areas of one of the poorer neighborhoods we visited from time to time. There were a handful of members that lived in this neighborhood, and we would occasionally find people here to teach discussions to. Though no one in this neighborhood, or in our entire area for that matter, was baptized while I was stationed there. That fact made this one of my hardest areas. It was the longest baptismal drought on my mission. I was in the Rural ward for 5 months. Anyway, back to the photo, the little cow on the left of the top one, tied to a tree by the train tracks was a funny situation to me which is probably why I snapped this photo.

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This is another picture of that poor neighborhood. I took this photo because the house has mud walls. That type of construction was rare but not unheard of, and must have meant the family inside was very poor as to worldly possessions.

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I couldn’t believe it when we came upon this piece of graffiti. It says, “Why are there so many religions if there is only one God?” This is a great lead into the first discussion about Joseph Smith and how a similar question led him to study the scriptures and pray and receive a marvelous revelation we know as the First Vision. If we only could have found the perpetrator we could have had a great discussion about the apostasy and the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in these latter days.

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In our area was the soccer stadium for one of the city’s major soccer teams: Union de Santa Fe. Union was doing well this year, and I believe this was a championship game or one of the games leading up to the championship. The city was going crazy with excitement. Along the streets around the stadium were lots of vendors selling flags and shirts and other branded paraphernalia. At first we thought it presented a great opportunity to talk to the vendors about the gospel. Then we realized most were from out of town and so the teaching opportunities would be limited. I always wanted to see the inside of this or another Argentine soccer stadium but I never had the chance.

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This is the Benavidez family’s neighborhood, “Barrio Villa del Parque” (Park Village Neighborhood) according to my notes. Notice the “zanja” in the bottom right of the photo. The zanja is the drainage ditch on the side of roads, which in certain parts of Argentina, always seems to be stopped up and would become cesspools of filthy water. Disgusting, yes, but part of life there and part of my memories as a missionary.

Apartments in Rural, Santa Fe

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This is a picture of our apartment in the Rural ward in the city of Santa Fe. Particularly, it’s a picture of the bathroom. While it’s pretty typical for an Argentine bathroom, it has some features that distinguish it from typical bathrooms in the U.S., which is why I snapped the photo. Notice the box connected to the shower. That device was filled with copper pipes that the water ran through. Flames instantly heated the water as it came out. Also notice that nothing separates the shower area from the sink or toilet, a common layout in Argentina. Notice the squeegee off to the left in the bathroom, that was used to clean up the floor after a shower and push splattered water down the drain on the floor.

Off to the right of the bathroom is the desk where Elder Pinto and I would study each day and our beds are right behind the person taking the photo. On the desk you can see some of the snacks I used to eat frequently in this area: Pepitos, which are were chocolate chip cookies. I couldn’t get those in all areas, so it was nice when I could. And there is a stack of wheat crackers and a little tub of strawberry jam. I’m not sure who introduced me to that combination, but for a time I was really enjoying jam on crackers. It also looks like there is a jar of Tang powder. Tang was one of my favorite drinks in Argentina, when we could get it.

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This is a picture of Elder Pinto taking out the trash. Who knows why I snapped this photo. It is interesting to note the yellow, orange and blue papers on the right wall. Those, as I recall, were cheat sheets to help learn Spanish verb conjugations. I think generally, Spanish is an easier language than English, but those verb conjugations could be very tricky. Click here to read more about my experience learning Spanish.

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This is the second apartment in Rural. Not long after Elder Pinto was transferred, we had to find a new apartment. This one was a little crammed for space, but it worked out fine. One thing this photo brings back to my memory is sleeping each night with a cap on. Winter came while I was in Rural and it started to get cold. Our apartment had no heat, which really only would have been needed at night. I found it difficult to sleep at night because my head was cold. I tried sleeping with my head under my blanket, but I felt like I was going to suffocate. That’s when I realized why the night cap had been invented all those years ago. I bought a comfortable winter cap to wear at night while I slept. Problem solved!

Other Memories of Rural

I don’t have a picture to go with these memories, but still wanted to record them:

  • In this ward there was a sister who would invite us to lunch and would make an oatmeal based chicken soup. It was a little strange to me at first, but it was very delicious.
  • There was a family that invited us over from time to time and usually served polenta with chicken and tomato sauce. Again, most missionaries I knew did not like polenta. It’s a lot like grits. But my mom is a southerner, so I grew up eating grits, and I really enjoyed the polenta.
  • During my first month in this area, I would get up an hour early to go jogging in the morning with Elder Pinto.
  • In this area we would often take the bus from the far end of our area back to our apartment when it was getting late in the evening and we needed to get back quickly to meet our curfew.

Gazano Branch: Dec 1995 to Apr 1996

In an effort to better tell the story of my mission and the wonderful experiences I had, for the benefit of my children and the audience of this website, I  thought it would be good to put together a one-pager on each one of my mission areas. This is the first such article, about the Gazano Branch in the city of Paraná Argentina, where I was serving from Dec. 27, 1995 to Apr. 2, 1996 in the Rosario Argentina Mission.

On a side note, I’m lucky to have any pictures from my first month in Argentina. My first roll of film on my mission, which consisted of probably a dozen photos from the MTC and a dozen from my first few weeks in Argentina, did not turn out. It was the first time in my life that I had my own camera and I must not have loaded the film correctly because all the pictures turned out blank. The pictures I do have from those first weeks in Argentina were donated by my first companion there, Elder Loesener. Thank you!

The Two-Day Trio: Elder Loesener, Ballou, and Smith

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This picture was taken on or around my first day in the mission field. When I arrived in my first assigned area, I was part of a trio instead of the normal two person companionship. This is a picture of the trio: Elder Loesener, Elder Ballou, and myself, Elder Smith.  It was taken in the kitchen of our apartment. Right behind us is the sink and stove. To our left is a cabinet we kept dishes and food in. To our right was a refrigerator. This was one of the few apartments I had during the mission that had a fridge. I didn’t realize at the time what a luxury it was. The photographer, most likely the owner of the home, was standing in the living room of the, obviously, small house. Off to the right of the house were three room, one bedroom from the owner, one bedroom for the missionaries, and a study room with a desk for the missionaries. The trio only lasted a day or two. Soon we got word from the zone leaders that Elder Ballou had been transferred and the next day he was gone.

Laundry Day on the Mission

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This was the back yard of the home where we had our apartment in Gazano. Every Monday, we washed our clothes in the sink, in the right of the photo, and then we hung them out to dry. In at least half of my areas in Argentina, there was a woman in the ward who would wash our clothes. Usually we would pay her about $20 each, which was decent income for them, and well worth it for us. Click here to see a video I made about doing laundry on my mission.

Outside View of Our Apartment in Paraná

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Here’s the outside front of the home where we had our apartment in the Gazano Branch in the city of Paraná. For our weekly service one week, we started building that fence off to the right. In the picture, behind our home, is another home of the Almada family. This family moved in about the same time Elder Loesener and I arrived in the city. We struck up a friendship with them and they were baptized a couple months later.

Our Neighborhood in Paraná

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This is a picture of the neighborhood where our apartment was located. Our home is there in the middle. The house was located on a bumpy dirt road, though you can see a paved road crossing on the right side of the photo. We were near the outskirts of the city Paraná. If you walked a few blocks toward the city, all the roads were paved. If you started walking away from the city, more and more of the roads were dirt. I’ve always remembered this bumpy dirt road by our apartment because in one of my first weeks there, I severely twisted my ankle, yet my body went unharmed. In the year previous to my mission I had had two severe ankle sprained that required me to use crutches. I feared that I would sprain my ankle on my mission and that would limit my mobility and the amount of work that I’d be able to do.

A Discussion with the Almada Family

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This is the Almada family: Fabian, the father, Silvina, the mother, and their four children. They were great. They were so friendly to us, and they embraced the restored gospel when we taught it to them. You can see the Books of Mormon on the table. We would sit around that table for all of the discussions. Elder Loesener did most of the teaching since I was new and my Spanish was horrible. Their home was so small for their family, though it was a very typical home. As I recall, they had this room where this picture was taken, which was the kitchen, dining room and living room combined. Then they had two bedrooms and a bathroom, and I think that’s it. Compared to US standards they were very poor, but they were happy and always generous in sharing what they had with us missionaries. Click here to read more about the Almadas and their conversion to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Baptism of Hugo Correa

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This is the Correa family. The picture was taken at the baptism of Brother Hugo Correa. I believe Sister Correa had been baptized months, perhaps years, earlier. This family was very poor, even relative to Argentine norms. As I recall, they had a one room brick home with a dirt floor. The home was literally four walls and a ceiling, but at least they were brick walls. Later in my mission I was get to know people who had four walls made of sheet metal. Again, though poor, the Correa’s seemed happy. They had four little girls who were so cute. I remember being jealous of the speaking abilities of their two year old. I felt like this two-year spoke Spanish much better than I, so it motivated me to study and practice even harder. I believe this was my first time baptizing someone on my mission.

Our Mission District of Gazano

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Our missionary district, as most in Argentina at that time, consisted of two companionships, me and Elder Loesener, plus Sister Matsen and Sister Gomez. We had district meeting once a week with them, plus we saw them at church on Sundays. Other than that, we didn’t see the sisters a whole lot. My companion was the district leader, so he called them every once in a while, at least weekly to get the stats on their work.

An Average Suburban Argentine Neighborhood

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This is a neighborhood not far from the one where we lived, maybe four or five blocks away as I recall. Notice the water tank on the top of each house. Water pressure was always an issue. At best water pressure was weak, at worse it was barely a trickle. To compensate, each home had a water tank on top that was constantly being filled. The house then drew its water from the tank, which gave the home consistently higher water pressure through the pipes. I can remember standing on one of these streets one night early in my mission. We were talking to someone in their front yard, trying to convince them to invite us over for a complete first discussion. The sun was setting as soon as the sun went down, the mosquitos came out in force. I couldn’t believe how bad the mosquitos got in an instant. But I digress. Anyway, this was a typical Argentina sub-development. The homes here are duplexes; two units per building. Each home was simple, likely with one of those rooms that combine the kitchen, dining room, and living room, a bathroom, and two or three bedrooms.

The Almada Family Baptism

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This is the baptism of the Almada Family. It was a wonderful event. This first photo right before the baptism, and the second photo was taken outside the church building just afterwards. Click here to read more about the Almadas and their conversion to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our Land Lord, Brother Cabrera, and Elder Loesener

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This is a picture of the home owner, landlord, and roommate of ours, Brother Cabrera, with my companion Elder Loesener. This picture was taken in the same room as picture 1, except it is looking in the opposite direction. You can see the cabinet in the left of this picture is the same as the one on the right side of photo 1. Brother Cabrera was always very nice to us and patient and had a good demeanor. I can remember him on the front row of church my first Sunday in Argentina. I was asked to give a five minute talk and he was coaching me through it and encouraging me. I felt sad for him that he lived in the home alone, except for the missionaries. I don’t recall the details of his family situation.

My Companion for a Day, Mario

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This is a young man in the Gazano branch named Mario. One day my companion had to go do something with the zone leaders. Instead of having me sit around the apartment all by my lonesome self all day, we arranged for Mario to go with me for part of the day. This was only a couple weeks into my mission, and my Spanish was still pretty bad so I was glad to have a native with me. But, as it turns out, Mario hardly said a word all day in speaking with people. We knocked doors, and talked to people on the street, and fulfilled other appointments and all the while I did most of the talking. Miraculously, I was able to get a couple of appointments for us to return for a full first discussion, which shows the blessings the God pours out upon missionaries if they will simply open their mouths. Click here to read more about my day with Mario.

Transfer Day

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This was the morning I was transferred out of Gazano. After three months together with my trainer, Elder Loesener and I parted ways. I know I didn’t fully appreciate him as a companion and trainer during the time I was with him, but since then I have grown to appreciate all he taught me. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for my trainer and first companion in Argentina, Elder Maximiliano Loesener. I didn’t see him again until almost two years later when I was on my way home and he met me at the Buenos Aires temple for an endowment session. I was so nervous about this transfer because I would have to travel by myself, first taking a taxi to the bus station, then buying a bus ticket and going to a different city. I got to the bus station, bought my ticket, and then waited, watching the bus like a hawk, because I was afraid I would miss the announcement to load when the time came. Miraculously, I made it to my new assignment in the city of Santa Fe without incident.

Other Memories of My Time in Gazano

  • “Vamos por la sombra” (Let’s walk in the shade) is something Elder Loesener would say often indicating that we should walk on the sidewalk on the side of the street where there was shade, rather than direct sunlight. I was in this area during the heat of summer, as you can tell by the extra tan skin on my face, so seeking shade whenever we could was a necessity.
  • Getting home at about 10:25PM, with just enough time to get in bed by our 10:30 curfew. We found that one of the best times to go contacting was after 8pm when people would sit out in front of their homes and sip mate. This provided a great opportunity for us missionaries to walk through the neighborhood and strike up conversations with people. If we happened to find someone interested in our gospel message then we could easily get caught up in a discussion that would go past 10PM and we’d have to hustle back to our apartment to keep our missionary schedule.
  • Making pizza in our apartment. We would buy a pizza crust, tomato puree, and queso cremoso (literally “cream cheese” but different than cream cheese in the U.S. It was more like mozarella). Add some spices and after a few minutes in the oven, we had a delicious pizza.
  • Pancakes and french toast for breakfast. Bread was inexpensive and we would often have plenty of it. So I’d crack a few eggs in the morning, dip the bread in it, and fry up some french toast. I would also often make pancakes and put Dulce de Leche (kind of like caramel, but a little different) on it. They didn’t have maple syrup, but the dulce de leche was so good, I didn’t even miss it.

The Colors of Christmas in Fiji

[colored_box color=”blue”]Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Elayne Reece who served a mission in Fiji from November 2004 to May 2006. We welcome this and any future contributions from Elayne.[/colored_box]
Colors of Christmas the Talebula Family of Fiji

The Talebula Family of Fiji. Image courtesy of Elayne Reece.

If you had been looking for me on Christmas Eve 2004, you would have found me in Fiji…sitting down “on the mat” with the Talebula Family.

The Talebula family consisted of Malakai (the father), Merei, (the mother) and their five children: Toga (13), Malakai Jr (12), Losalina (9), Merei (7), and Saini (4).

Their home was a one-room wooden house (with a tin roof) located in the small community of Lami on the eastern side of the largest of the islands of Figi called Viti Levu. That side of the island is a rain forest…lots of jungle with mango, banana and papaya trees and thick undergrowth everywhere (and don’t get me started on the BIG BUGS that go with it!).

Malakai went out each day, looking for work, working wherever he could for whatever wage he could get. Regular jobs were almost impossible to come by. They had a small patch of land that they grew a few things on, but not enough to feed growing children. So Merei did her part by making treats to sell at the bus stand. If she couldn’t sell enough for that day…she would fast. It was very common for her to fast 3-4 days a week, every week, so that her children would have enough to eat.

There was no running water in their house, only the little stream that ran down the hill nearby, not far from the outhouse. The house was built on 3-foot pilings to protect it during the flood season. There was only one light bulb hanging from the ceiling and no other electrical outlets. Merei either sat on the floor to cook with a kerosene burner, or stood over a wood-fire in a small tin lean-to next to the house. The only furniture was one small bed. Everyone “sat down” on the mat to eat, study, visit and sleep. Washing clothes was done by hand. Baths were taken by standing out in the rain. There were none of the “necessities” that we feel we need in order to live…

My companion, Sister Koroi, and I were teaching Malakai (the father). Merei and the two older children had been baptized a couple of months earlier. But Malakai, a former Methodist minister, was taking a little more time.

On that Christmas Eve they had invited us for dinner. Malakai had gone out earlier in the day looking for work and had not yet returned…we sat outside on the mat and waited for him. Sister Koroi was playing a game with the children a few feet away from where Merei and I sat, quietly talking.

The night was warm and humid (90 degrees w/ 85% humidity), typical Fijian weather. Looking out through the jungle, we could see dim lights from other houses situated here and there. And the stars…they were something to behold!! There is nothing quite like the Fijian night sky…you feel like you could easily reach right up and pluck your favorite star and put it in your pocket. It was the perfect setting for the story that Merei shared with me that night….

The day before, the children had come from school so excited. They had heard stories about a special person…Santa Claus…who brought gifts and put them under brightly decorated trees. They wanted to know if he would be coming to their house too…would there be gifts under their tree?

Merei felt she needed to be honest with them. She told me it was the hardest thing she’d ever done…to tell them what it really meant to live a life of poverty and what the limitations were to that kind of life. Until now they hadn’t really understood the word “poverty.” They had a roof over their heads, food to eat, and loving parents.

But now they needed to understand…that whatever money she or their father could bring home would be used for food only…not for gifts and decorations.

She told them that other children at school might make fun of them because there would be no decorations, no tree and no gifts. She wanted them to know that these were just “things” that people see…but our Heavenly Father sees things very differently. To Him all people were on the same “level,” as Merei put it.

So this year they would decorate themselves…inside their hearts…with three colors. She took them to the door of their house and had them look out and tell her what color they saw. They answered “green”. She told them, “Green is all around us. It is the color of the land we live in, the land you play in, and the land that gives us food. It represents God’s blessings of life to us.”

Next, she had them look at the sky and tell her what color they saw. They looked up, saw puffy clouds gathering, and answered “white.” She told them, “White is for the light that comes from above. It is the light from our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ …the light that guides us each day.”

Merei then told them that the last color they would decorate themselves with was “dark blue”. She explained, “Dark blue is the color we see when we go the beach to fish, when we look out at the ocean. We only see a little bit of the water…it is very deep. We can’t see into that deep part or know all that is in it. It represents the blessings that God has yet to give us, the ones we have no idea of…that we can receive if we will do what is right every day and pray to our Heavenly Father every day.”

These would be their “Colors of Christmas”…green, white, and dark blue. The only gifts they would receive were the ones they already had…of being together as a family, and being members of the true Church. These gifts were from a loving Heavenly Father. And they would give Him the gift of being thankful every day for His many blessings to them.

Merei was crying as she finished sharing this experience with me. I put my arms around that sweet, humble woman and cried with her. I will never forget what she taught me on that Christmas Eve…simple beautiful truths. There was, however, one thing she was wrong about…when she said that all people were on the same “level”. Merei Talebula rises far above many because she truly understands the meaning of Christmas.

May our hearts be decorated with our own “Colors of Christmas”….

The Colors of Christmas in Fiji

Rasmina Samuelson in the New England Mission, 1937

Rasmina SamuelsonRasmina Samuelson Price Beck is my wife’s grandmother. She served a mission in her youth to the Eastern States Mission and New England Mission. As I read her account in her written personal history, I was struck by how similar some things are to missions today, but also how different many other things are. The training, both spiritual training and with language and teaching techniques, has vastly improved. But the sacrifice and impact a mission has on the life of a missionary was just as powerful then as it is now.

The Mission Home (Yester-Year’s MTC)

Rasmina received her mission call to the Eastern States Mission in 1937 and was assigned to report to the Mission Home in Salt Lake City four weeks later. She arrived at the Mission Home in April 1937, and spent only ten days there with about 30 other missionaries. They ate all their meals at the nearby Lion House, the former residence of Brigham Young and his family. The Mission Home no longer stands on temple square, but the Lion House is still there and is available for tours and events.

She went to the Salt Lake temple, with all the other new missionaries, soon after arriving to receive her endowment. While in the temple, they were able to tour many of its room and even climbed the spiral staircase to the roof for a view of the city.

At this time in the history of the Church, there weren’t any formal lessons taught to the missionaries. One day though, the new missionaries spent an entire morning with the prophet, President Heber J. Grant. During her short time in the mission home, Rasmina and the other new missionaries were asked to memorize some scriptures.  They heard many inspiring talks and testimonies to help them understand the importance of their calling.

First Area in Hartford, Connecticut

Rasmina and First Companion Carol ReedRasmina says that the time spent in the mission home was just enought to make her realize how much she didn’t know. Before she knew it, the ten days were up and she was on a train headed for New York. The first area she was assigned to work in was East Hartford, Connecticut, where there were no members, so she went tracting every day. Rasmina says that when they had knocked on every door in the town, they started over and tracted the entire area again.

Rasmina tells one funny story of knocking on a door and a woman inside started yelling, “Get away from my door. We don’t want you Mormons here. You are coming to take our women back to Utah for your old men to take as another wife.” Rasmina continues, “I was embarrassed, and knew the whole neighborhood could hear her, but my companion spoke up and told her we were not here for that purpose. Sister Reed (Rasmina’s companion) told her she was having a hard enough time finding a husband for herself and she wouldn’t think of taking any more women back to Utah.”

At this time, missionaries had no set lessons plans, instead they left “tracts” (pamphlets) with people on topics such as the plan of salvation and the Joseph Smith story. When they did sit down to teach people, they were instructed to spend most of their time teaching from the Bible and carrying a message that “we Mormons are your friends.” The message was one of love and service, and says Rasmina, “we tried to carry out this love for all of God’s children with all we met.”

The First Hill Cumorah Pageant 

Hill Cumorah PageantNot long after arriving in her mission, Rasmina was involved in staging “the first Palmyra Pageant, A New Witness for Christ, at the Hill Cumorah.” In the weeks before the pageant, Rasmina and the other missionaries tracted all throughout the nearby communities handing out invitations. The missionaries also spent a lot of time building sets, painting, and rehearsing for the parts they would play in the pageant. Rasmina says, on the night of the first performance, “I was the only blonde Lamanite in King Lamoni’s court.”

Another thing that happened during the first Hill Cumorah Pageant was nothing short of miraculous. Though it had not been raining, “right on cue as the Savior was crucified, the thunder rolled and the lightning struck. We didn’t need to use our sound effects because the skies really put on a show. The trumpets blared, all became quiet, no thunder, no lightning, then the spotlight shown on the top of the hill, the Savior appeared. We all cried it was so dramatic and we were showing the world that the Savior did appear on this continent to His people after he appeared as the resurrected Christ to His people in Jerusalem.”

Testimony of the Book of Mormon

After the pageant, Rasmina had three days where she was waiting for her new companion to arrive. She decided then that she would read the Book of Mormon, cover to cover, for the first time. Says Rasmina, “I loved what I read. I was so grateful for time alone and felt better prepared to serve. I have read the Book of Mormon many, many times since then and thrill with the story and the love our Savior has for all of His children making sure they have His words as a guide to more righteous living.”

New England Mission and the Mission Office

Some time after the pageant, the Eastern States Mission was divided, and a New England Mission was formed. Rasmina was called to go to the new mission. She was sent to Springfield Massachusetts and became a senior companion for the first time and was asked to mostly work on strengthening the members there.

DictaphoneRasmina was next transferred to the mission office where she served as a secretary for two months while she awaited the arrival of a new companion. One of her main jobs was to type up letters that the mission president would record on a Dictaphone. While in the office, Rasmina put her piano skills to use. There were four Elders in the office who formed a quartet. Once a week they would perform music and the spoken word on a half hour radio program in Boston, and Rasmina would accompany them on the piano.

Grandmother’s Love and Support

It was about this time that Rasmina felt that something was wrong with her family at home. She wrote her parents to ask what was wrong and the answer came back that her father had lost his job and that her mother was pregnant. Due to the circumstances, Rasmina’s grandmother had been paying for her mission expenses. Rasmina volunteered to come home immediately to help out the family but her grandmother wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted that Rasmina stay and do what the Lord had called her to do. Rasmina was ever grateful for her grandmother’s love and support.

Towards the end of her mission, Rasmina was looking forward to another pagaent at the Hill Cumorah, but because she had been transferred to the New England mission, it was out of her area and she could not attend. She was able though, to attend a special mission conference at the birth place of Joseph Smith in Sharon, Vermont, which was within her mission boundaries, and this was another meaningful experience to her.

A Stormy Conclusion to Her Mission

1938 New England hurricaneIn September of 1938, just one week before she was scheduled to go home, Rasmina lived through a major hurricane that hit the New England area. This was one of the most powerful and deadliest hurricane to hit New England in in the past century. The eye of this Category 3 hurricane made landfall at Long Island, some distance from Rasmina, though the whole New England area was affected. While the power was out, Rasmina and her companion joined the missionaries at the mission office. They lit candles and sang hymns and prayed. Once the water levels had dropped, she got on a train and headed back to the Salt Lake City. Members from her San Diego, California branch, who were attending General Conference, met her in Utah and drove her back to San Diego where she “had a grand reunion with my family.”

David Chappuis

Where did you serve your mission?: taipei Taiwan

Years served?: 1991-1993

Mission Summary: Serving in Taiwan was one of the best experiences I have ever had. working with the people in Taiwan was incredible and seeing them grow and accept the gospel was an amazing feeling. Learning Mandarin Chinese was not as difficult as I thought and what a joy it was to finally get to the point where I was able to teach without help in Chinese.

What was a typical “day in the life” like in your mission?: Every morning it was early to rise for studies and daily preparation then off to the local breakfast shop for a huge glass of soy bean milk or peanut milk and a “dan bing” (tortilla and egg) or two. After breakfast we hit the road on our trusty bicycles to teach and find those ready, or not, to hear the gospel. We ate almost every meal in little food shops and street vendors because it was so cheap but it also kept us out on the road. Rain or shine we were out among the people and traffic on our bikes. After a long day it was back to the apartment for some needed R&R as well as more studying.

What is the most important lesson you learned on your mission?: Having never been outside the US it was a real wake up call for me. But one fact hit me and that was no matter where we are the gospel is true. It does not need to change to fit the culture or area. I taught the same undeniable truth to everyone and in the process cemented my own testimony.

What advice do you have to young people preparing to be a missionary?: You can never be too prepared to start as soon as possible. No matter where you go you were called by God to serve in that mission so embrace it and be happy. Serve with an open mind to the culture, area, people and FOOD. Rely on the Lord and you will accomplish everything you need to.

Your testimony and/or anything else you want to say about your mission.: My mission was a true converting experience for me. I know the gospel is true and that Jesus is the Christ. I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to serve a mission and teach the people the gospel.

Jimmy Smith

Website/Blog: MormonMissionPrep.com

Where did you serve your mission?: Rosario, Argentina

Years served?: 1995-1997

Mission Summary: My mission was a wonder experience. I grew in ways that otherwise would not have happened. My mission was not easy, in fact it was quite challenging at times. But during my mission, I grew closer to the Lord, I learned to rely on His Spirit to guide me, and my testimony of my Savior and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ became strengthened.

During my mission I was able to meet, teach, and baptize many individuals and families. Finding people who are eager to learn the gospel, and teaching them the truths of eternity brought me great joy. In fact there is no greater happiness that to see a family enter into the waters of baptism, then continue on the gospel path that will lead to eternal life.

What was a typical “day in the life” like in your mission?: It has been so many years now since my mission, so I don’t remember all the details of our schedule. Throughout my mission, I usually got up a half hour early, around 6am or so, to so some extra language studying. In the morning, of course, we had breakfast and got ready, and then we did some scripture study. We generally were out the door by 9am, for appointments or contacting (door knocking or street contacting). In Argentina, our meal appointments, if we had any, were for lunch. After lunch, the Argentine’s generally took a ciesta (nap), so we used that time for companionship study. Around 3 or so, we’d go back out for more appointments and contacting. We’d work generally until 9 or 9:30pm, have a little dinner and planning session, and then go to bed and start it all over again the next day.

What is the most important lesson you learned on your mission?: I learned so many lessons:
• to endure to the end (and endure well)
• to rely on the Lord in all things
• to be patient
• to be prayerful in all things
• to exercise faith

What advice do you have to young people preparing to be a missionary?: My website, MormonMissionPrep.com, is full of advice I have for future missionaries.

Your testimony and/or anything else you want to say about your mission.: I know that we are children of a Heavenly Father. God our Eternal Father loves us. He sent His son to show us the way. Jesus Christ is the Savior. He died for our sins, and he rose again on the third day. He lives today and guides our Church through a living prophet. Joseph Smith truly was a prophet, and the Book of Mormon is the word of God. The priesthood has been restored, and the keys of the priesthood are only found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I know these things are true, and I know the world needs to know these truths. The gospel of Jesus Christ blesses lives. If you believe these things to be true, the Lord needs you to be part of His missionary force. May the Lord bless you in your mission preparation and in your missionary service.

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