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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.

Power of Prayer: Conversion of the Almada Family

The story of the first family that I taught and baptized in Argentina, the Almada family, is a great example of the power of prayer.

Meeting the Almada Family

Within a week of my companion and I arriving in the city of Parana, Argentina, the Almada family moved into the home right behind our apartment.  With Fabian, the husband, Silvina, the wife, and their four kids living right behind us, our paths crossed often.  I can remember my companion, Elder Loesener, often kicking the soccer ball with their oldest son as we came and went from our apartment. missionary apartment gazano parana argentina

Within a week or two of first meeting the Almada family, we got home one evening and were contemplating what to cook ourselves for dinner. Elder Loesener wanted to cook something that required sugar, but we didn’t have any.  He thought we should ask the Almada’s if we could borrow some sugar.  He also thought this was the perfect time to more formally meet the family and tell them about our message as missionaries for the Lord Jesus Christ.  We borrowed the sugar and ended up having a nice conversation with them, and they agreed to have us come back and teach the first discussion.

Baptismal Commitment

The first discussion went very well and we scheduled the second discussion.  Fabian was very interested in our message, read The Book of Mormon and everything else we gave him to read.  He was eager to learn, asked many questions, and demonstrated great faith, dedication and determination to begin a new life with his family.  At the end of the second discussion, when my companion asked them if they would be baptized, both Fabian and Silvina said yes without hesitation.

Bread and Pastries

Fabian worked at nights at a local panadería (bakery).  One morning, after we had begun teaching the family, we awoke to find a bag of warm bread and pastries by our front door.  It was so delicious, hot and fresh, we couldn’t help but gobble up all the pastries within the morning.  And the bread was great for sandwiches that afternoon and evening and even for French toast the following morning.  We began to find the bread and pastries on our door step several times a week, and we were very grateful to Fabian for thinking of us. almada family kitchen table parana argentina

Trial of Faith

The Almada’s were doing great. They were coming to church and progressing in the gospel.  They had been searching for the true gospel of Jesus Christ and recognized it when they found it. When we taught them the word of wisdom, Fabian had his son go to the kitchen, get all the wine, and dump it down the drain immediately.  They were every missionary’s dream of a golden family.

Then, about a week before their baptism, Fabian lost his job at the bakery.  The economic situation was tough in Argentina at that time. Many people were without work.  We knew this would be a great trial to the Almada’s growing faith in the gospel, and we were amazed at how they responded.  Silvina, the mom, told us that the morning after Fabian lost his job he knelt and prayed fervently for 30 minutes.  Afterwards he rose and headed out the door with a determination to find work to provide for his family.

Prayers Answered

Not only did Fabian offer a prayer, but his wife and children and us missionaries were all praying that he would find a job.  We thought it would take days or weeks for Fabian to find something, but the Lord answered our prayers very rapidly.  Fabian came home that very night with not just one job, but two jobs, which was a tremendous blessing.  He was going to be able to work more hours and get more pay than he had before.  It was a true miracle.

The Family is Baptizedalmada family baptism parana argentina

On Thursday night, February 8, 1996, we held the baptismal service for the Almada family.  Our little branch didn’t have a real LDS chapel or a baptismal font, so we had to go to a different ward building in the city.  I baptized Fabian and their 10 year old son Cristian.  Elder Loesener baptized Silvina and Anai, their 8 year old daughter.  It was a wonderful experience for all.

Following the baptisms, as traditional in LDS baptismal services, there were additional talks once the family had dried off and gotten dressed.  My companion was conducting and, to my surprise, he asked Fabian to come to the front and beare his testimony.  I thought it was a bold move, but Elder Loesener must have been prompted by the Spirit.  Fabian stood up without hesitation and bore a powerful testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Power of Prayer

The power of prayer is real.  As the Savior says in Matt 7:7 “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”  And as James adds in James 1:6, “ask in faith, nothing wavering.”

When Fabian lost his job, his convictions in his new found faith were not shaken.  He, along with his family and friends, prayed in faith and with great power the Lord answered and poured out blessings, both temporal and spiritual, upon the Almada family.  And so will God bless you, your family, the missionaries, and all who faithfully seek His help through the power of prayer.