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My First Day in the Mission Field

Note to my good friends in Argentina: Many of my initial reactions to life in Argentina were completely changed after living there. In this post, though, I tried to capture some of my first reactions, as misguided as they may have been. I love Argentina and the people there and look forward to visiting again some day soon.

map of trip to argentinaI left the MTC in Provo Utah on December 26, 1995. I flew from Salt Lake City to San Francisco en route to Miami, FL. I remember waiting in the airport in Miami, a city with many Spanish speakers, and hearing the announcements for departing flights made in both English and Spanish. I hardly understood anything when they made the Spanish announcements. I sincerely hoped my lack of understanding was due to the poor quality PA system, but honestly I knew my Spanish language skills were pretty weak and it made me very nervous.

From Miami, me and a few other missionaries took a 13 hour flight to Buenos Aires. When I stepped off the plan in Buenos Aires I was astounded by the heat and humidity, and also by the uniformed and armed military personnel standing at the end of the jetway. All of us of missionaries gathered together and none of us knew what to do next. Luckily, a local member of the Church showed up to greet us and help us get our luggage. We sincerely appreciated the assistance. We piled in to a van, and this wonderful helper took us to another, smaller airport. As we waited in this airport, I had to go to the bathroom, and when I went inside I found a toilet and a bidet but no toilet paper. I don’t recall what I did, but I guess I figured something out. Soon we got onto another plane, a small, propellered one, which took us to the city of Rosario.

At the Rosario airport, we were greeted by two missionaries, who were the Assistants to the Mission President. They took us to the mission home, which housed the mission president’s family and also served as the central office for the mission. There we had a meal with the mission president’s family, then a group meeting, and then individual meetings with the president. In the group meeting, the president’s wife spoke about sanitation, being careful of water and washing vegetables thoroughly. I was very concerned about contracting a parasite and her talk actually set my mind at ease somewhat. Still, I was wary of the water. For more detail about my first meeting with my mission president, see this post about arriving in your mission and this post about preparation day.

After a couple of hours at the mission home, the assistants took us to the bus station to catch a bus to our respective areas. I remember being amazed at the assistant’s skill with the Spanish language and the confidence with which they spoke to the bus driver. I longed for the day I could speak Spanish that well (read more on my experience learning a language here). With some trepidation, I boarded the bus and prayed fervently that I would make it to the right city, Paraná, where I had been assigned to work.

Mormon Missionaries in Paraná Argentina 1995I arrived in Paraná late in the evening. Once again I was extremely blessed to be greeted at the bus station by two Elders, the Zone Leaders. They helped me get my suitcases, and then we took a taxi to the apartment where my companion was supposed to be waiting for me. As it turned out, my companion wasn’t expecting me, because he already had a companion. None of us knew it until that moment, but we had been made into a three-person companionship.

The Elders in the apartment were kind and helped me get settled. There wasn’t a third bed in the apartment, so one of them, an American named Elder Ballou, volunteered to sleep on the floor. I was tired from the traveling, yet I still had a restless nights sleep. In the morning, I showered, studied the scriptures, and had breakfast much like I would every other morning in my mission. I was amazed at the electrical device hooked up directly to the shower head to provide hot water (read this post on what to expect in Argentina for more info on the calefón, the common shower water heating device). I counted myself blessed for not being electrocuted. I was pleasantly surprised to find a refrigerator in the apartment, though this turned out to be a luxury I had in only about half of my missionary apartments.

As we went out to work that morning, I followed the other Elders diligently. We walked many dusty roads that day, and I had some difficulty keeping up with the fast pace. We stopped by a few members houses and they each offered us something to drink. Whether it was justified or not, I still had a real fear to drink the beverages offered to us by the members. One of the first places we stopped at, the members offered us some “jugo” (juice). I didn’t want to offend them by not taking it, so I drank it and found it to be significantly watered down flavored drink mix. I didn’t ask for seconds.

Later in the afternoon, we stopped at another member’s home and they offered us some “agua fria” (cold water). I remember being so excited that I actually understood the offer, and I was thrilled just to get some normal, plain cold water to drink. It was a hot day, and when the sister handed me the cup, I gulped it down right away. Big mistake. As the beverage hit my tongue, I almost spit it out. It was carbonated water. And while it was cold and refreshing, it was not what I was expecting.

At one point late in the afternoon, we stopped at a small neighborhood store (a “kiosko”), and Elder Ballou bought a two liter of lemon-lime soda from. Finally, I thought, something good to drink. I had no fear of this drink because we had been told that bottled drinks from the store were safe. After being out in the hot sun for most of the day with little to drink, this was the best tasting drink I had ever had.

That evening, when we got back to the apartment, the Zone Leaders showed up again, expectantly. They said Elder Ballou was getting transferred to another area and he needed to leave right away. Our trio only lasted for one day. Our companionship was back down to two, per the norm, me and Elder Loesener, a native Argentine who spoke English about as well as I spoke Spanish. I was a little worried at first, but Elder Loesener turned out to be a great companion and trainer. Read more about how Elder Loesener helped me in my post on practical steps for mission prep.

It was a whirlwind of a first day in Argentina and first day as a full-time missionary in the field. All in all, I think it went pretty well. We visited with many wonderful members. I don’t recall teaching any non-member discussions on this first day, but there would be plenty of those in the days and weeks ahead (this city is where we found and baptized the wonderful Almada family). In a relatively short period of time I became more comfortable with the language, the food, the people, and the lifestyle. I grew to love Argentina. I met and shared profound gospel discussions with many great people there, and I was blessed to see many families baptized and enter the gate that leads to eternal life with Heavenly Father. Missionary work truly is the work of the Lord.

Picking Up Missionaries

Mormon missionaries flying homeThe Church discourages parents from traveling to pick up their missionary son or daughter when he or she is finishing their mission. Nevertheless, if parents request this privilege, the Church does allow it, provided they follow the guidelines below.

Typical Missionary Return Travel

A missionary’s travel to return home after their mission is coordinated by the Missionary Travel Office and the cost of it is already included in the missionary’s monthly payments. When the mission president assigns the release date he advises the Church travel office who then arranges the missionary’s flight home. Parents will then be notified of the travel plans.

Missionaries generally travel directly home from their missions. Any other travel is permitted only when the missionary is accompanied by at least one parent or guardian. While traveling, missionaries should continue to dress and conduct themselves according to missionary standards. Remember, missionaries are not released from their missions until they report to their stake presidents back home.

When missionaries arrive home, usually at an airport, it is recommended that only immediate family members go to pick up them up. The stake president is also advised of missionary travel plans. He usually makes plans with the parents to meet with the missionary soon after he gets home to release him.

Picking Up Missionaries

If the parents or guardians of a missionary want to travel to pick up their son or daughter, the Church asks that they:

  1. Inform the mission president and Missionary Travel Office at least three months in advance of the plans.
  2. Make travel plans based on the release date established by the mission president.
  3. Do not request a change in the missionary’s release date to accommodate travel plans.
  4. Make and pay for their own travel arrangements, including lodging and meals.

The missionary travel information on LDS.org has lots of details and answers to questions about picking up missionaries. Here is what they say there:

“Parents should contact the mission office where their missionary is serving to find out the release date and visa requirements, if applicable. Then parents should contact the Missionary Travel Office to obtain the travel allowance amount. This will assist parents as they move forward with their travel plans. Parents will need to make travel arrangements for themselves and their missionary and inform the mission and the Missionary Travel Office of these plans. Missionary Travel will mail parents a reimbursement check in the amount that Missionary Travel quoted, or if the ticket the parents purchase is less, Missionary Travel will reimburse the lesser amount, approximately four weeks prior to the release date.”

Missionary Schedule

Missionary Studying ScripturesMormon missionaries are expected to work hard, be obedient, and keep a strict schedule. Following the missionary’s daily schedule as prescribed in the Missionary Handbook is an important aspect of being in the right place at the right time. This schedule is a major part of mission rules and obeying these rules as a missionary will keep you safe and blessed. Abiding by the schedule will also help you to do the things you are supposed to do at the times you are supposed to do them. Here’s a quick overview of the daily routine:

  • 6:30 a.m. Wake up, pray, exercise, and do other preparation for the day.
  • 7:30 a.m. Breakfast.
  • 8:00 a.m. Personal study: the Book of Mormon, other scriptures, chapters from Preach My Gospel, etc. with an emphasis on the doctrines of the missionary lessons.
  • 9:00 a.m. Companion study: share what you have learned during personal study, prepare to teach, and confirm plans for the day.
  • 10:00 a.m. Language study for 30 to 60 minutes, if necessary and approved by your mission president.
  • 10:00 a.m. Begin proselyting: teaching appointments, finding people to teach, open your mouth, etc.
  • Lunch and Dinner: You may take an hour for lunch and an hour for dinner at times that fit best with proselyting. Normally, dinner should be finished no later than 6:00 p.m.
  • 9:00 – 9:30 p.m. Return to the apartment and plan the next day’s activities. Write in journal, prepare for bed, pray.
  • 10:30 p.m. Go to bed.
  • This schedule may vary a little in some countries and missions. For example, in the Rosario Argentina mission, where I served from 1995 to 1997, we were expected to be out proselytizing by 9am and we had our companionship study after lunch when the rest of the country was taking a siesta (nap).

Missionaries are expected to follow this schedule every day, except on preparation day (P-Day). P-day gives missionaries time to do laundry, go shopping, and have some recreational activities, but it ends around dinner time (6:00 P.M.), after which missionaries are expected to carry out their normal proselytizing schedule.

Even when it is hot, or snowy, or rainy, or cold, it is important for missionaries to keep this schedule. As missionaries do so, the Lord will bless them, for God “doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you” (Mosiah 2:24).

It is important for missionaries to be out of their apartment, meeting people, and sharing their testimony at the most opportune times. If it is mid-morning, 10:30-ish, and missionaries are still in their apartment, then they are not where you are supposed to be. But if, at that time, they are knocking doors, meeting people, and sharing their testimony, then the Lord will bless their efforts and help them find people he has chosen to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

If missionaries linger at a member’s home after a dinner appointment and have been there for long past the prescribed hour, then they are not keeping the missionary schedule. If, rather, missionaries keep their dinner appointments brief, thank the members for their hospitality, and get on their way to your next teaching appointment, then they are working hard and being obedient and the Lord will bless them to be a better instrument in His hands.

Finding Juan Carlos Lopez by Keeping the Schedule

Had I not been obedient to the missionary daily schedule, I would have missed out on many opportunities to meet families and eventually see them join the true Church of Jesus Christ. Once, when I had just been transferred, I arrived in my new area around 8:30 in the morning. It would have been easy to justify lingering longer in the apartment to unpack my suitcases, but by 9am we knew we were supposed to be out working, so we hit the pavement. It just so happened that within minutes of leaving the apartment, my companion and I first met Juan Carlos Lopez, who eventually got baptized. Had we chosen to disobey the rules and not keep the missionary schedule, then we may never had met Juan Carlos.

As missionaries are obedient to the mission rules, including the daily schedule, they will have the Spirit in greater measure. They will be guided by God and be more successful in their important labors.

Mission Companions

Mormon Mission Companion CollageMormon missionaries always work in companionships of two (occasionally three).  The reasons for this are for spiritual and physical protection, but most importantly, because it is a mandate from the Lord.

Why Missionaries Travel in Pairs

The Lord has commanded missionaries, in D&C 42:6, “Ye shall go forth in the power of my Spirit, preaching my gospel, two by two.”  Missionaries will be more powerful in their teaching if they work together in unity.  As it says in 2 Corinthians 13:1 “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”

Senior Companion

In companionships, one missionary, usually the younger or less experienced one, is the junior companion, and the other is the senior companion.  I had a reader once email me and ask the requirements to become a senior companion.  I told him that when a mission president thinks a missionary is ready for the responsibility and is prompted by the spirit, then he would make that missionary a senior companion.  Therefore, how and when a missionary becomes the senior companion would differ from mission to mission, depending on the mission president and the prompting of the Holy Ghost.

My recommendation to this young man was to not worry even for a moment about getting “promoted” to senior companion status.  I advised him to take President Hinckley’s counsel to “forget yourself and go to work.”*   Just seek to be the best missionary you can be, and you will be an instrument in the hands of the Lord.  Obey the mission rules, work hard, enjoy your mission, and it will be a success regardless of whether or not you are the senior companion.

Companionships Lead to Lifelong Friendships

Many missionaries will make friendships with their mission companions that will last a lifetime.  Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, in his November 1997 Ensign talk titled, Valued Companions, said:

“Companionships also constitute the basic organization in the 318 missions of the Church. Just as the disciples of old, our more than 56,000 missionaries go two by two “into all the world” to proclaim the good news of the gospel. In this wonderful work of saving souls, there is tremendous fellowship and camaraderie. When Alma was reunited with the sons of Mosiah after 14 years of missionary service, he “did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord.” Missionary reunions are still a great time of rejoicing.”

Companionship Inventory

Missionary companions are instructed to stay together always with reasonable exceptions for showering and using the bathroom. Missionaries are encouraged to learn how to work with and love their companions, but when you are with someone 24/7, it is likely that conflict may occur.  When disagreements occur between companions, they are encouraged to try to work it out them themselves before contacting their district or zone leaders.  Your mission president is also likely to ask, in interviews or through your weekly letters, how well you are getting along with your companion.mormon missionary companionship inventory

One thing missionaries are asked to do to keep harmony in their companionship and to quickly resolve disputes is to have a weekly companionship inventory meeting.  In this meeting, mission companions should:

  • Discuss their relationship and resolve conflicts.
  • Talk through any challenges that might be preventing the two from working together in unity.
  • Set goals to improve their relationship.
  • Start and end with prayer so as to have the Spirit of the Lord present.

Learning to get along with your mission companion will be excellent practice for getting along with your eternal companion (your wife), and keeping harmony and love always in that relationship.

How NOT to Conduct Companionship Inventory

In conclusion, here’s a funny video I found on YouTube showing how NOT to conduct a companionship inventory.


*Actually, that quote is what President Hinckley’s father told him in a letter during his mission.