Elyse (Argentina Bahia Blanca Mission)
–Paraphrased from Elyse’s mission interview–
I served in five areas in Argentina. It is a huge mission and covers parts of three different provinces or states. I served in the corners of all of the provinces so I jumped around a lot. The northeast part of my mission is the bottom part of the Buenos Aires province so we have the south part of that state. We have all of the province of La Pampa and we have one city in Rio De Negro. We covered three different states so our mission was huge and we always had to cross these weird state borders.
It was kind of hard being moved to all of these different areas because you were constantly being put on buses for eight hours and doing that by myself was so nerve-wracking because sometimes I didn’t know when to get off the bus. It was fun though because you have the Spirit constantly and you are blessed in ways you don’t even realize because I woke up at the right times. The bus rides were so long and so I was able to talk to people around me and share my message with them even though I would never see them again. I could explain what I was doing and why I looked different with my dress and name tag. Those moments were way less stressful because it was up to them to hear it again. So I got to meet the most interesting people.
Mate and the Church
One huge thing about Argentina is they drink mate. Most Americans think it’s disgusting and I did too at first, but now I love it. I was on the bus once and a guy pulled a mate cup out and started making mate and it was hilarious. They love it so much. We weren’t allowed to drink it, but it was a good opportunity to explain more about the church. Finding points about their culture or families to talk about and connect to the Gospel was one of the best ways to teach the people down there. They really appreciate that you’re trying to accept them and become part of their culture.
Argentina’s Immigrant Culture
The majority of their people were refugees from others countries. In WWII, a lot of people left Germany and settled in Argentina. So a lot of people in Argentina have lighter skin and not everyone assumed that I was American. They didn’t have the typical Latino culture that exists in Mexico and Peru. You’ll meet a lot of people that still know German and because of that we ate a lot of pasta and potatoes. The culture itself is European based, especially how the cities are set up. Everything is kind of stuck to everything else.
Clapping at Doors
One thing that was fun was trying to learn when someone was knocking on your door and not on your neighbors. We actually clapped outside of the door instead of actually knocking on the door. We practiced clapping in different ways on the streets sometimes.
There were a ton of challenges down there. The country itself is pretty much a Catholic country, and a majority of people don’t actually go to church or participate in religious activities. They just say that they’re Catholic and they don’t want to hear anything from us. They were really stuck on tradition. A lot of people would gain testimonies of the church but not be baptized because of those years of tradition. The evangelist church is very big down there as well because I can remember several times when an evangelist missionary would try to smack me with the Spirit. I would try to explain to them that I already have the gift of the Holy Ghost. They do practice what they believe though and theirs is really similar to our Gospel, but sometimes that similarity meant that it was difficult to teach people the difference. They tend to prefer loud music and bands at church and reverence can be a difficult concept to teach.
Another huge challenge is the concept of marriage. No one gets married there because it is way too expensive so they just live together. It’s also really expensive to get divorced. So even if we teach someone and they want to get baptized but they have to get married first, they can’t because it’s so expensive. It was really hard to help them with that and all of that paperwork and documents. It was such a struggle. It’s always amazing to see the chosen ones who go through the steps and do everything they possibly can.
Working with Members
If you don’t have appointments and members don’t give you referrals, then you have to knock on doors. It isn’t that effective, so it was much better to work with the members. It wasn’t always possible, but it was fun to see how excited some members would get in certain areas.
Olavarria was interesting because I couldn’t really speak Spanish yet and we opened up the area for sisters and the ward was really used to having Elders so we had to earn their trust. We didn’t have many investigators either. It was really amazing for me to be in that area because we had a set of Elders that helped us find and teach investigators and we would help find and teach investigators for them. It would get crazy sometimes, because we would have one investigator and four missionaries. One time the Elders just could not get this investigator to understand why they needed to be baptized, so they brought us in and we showed them the baptismal font and the Elders brought them down into it and showed them what would happen when they got baptized. It was just so special and spiritual. I remember testifying in broken Spanish and it was just such a spiritual moment even though I couldn’t speak very well.
Santa Rosa, Argentina
My second area was Santa Rosa. My companion there was so hard working and I learned a lot. Santa Rosa is the capital of La Pompa. We actually didn’t live in our area, so we had to take a bus or walk to our area. On the way, we would see just dirt and farms everywhere. It was interesting going from the city to the farmland in the country. They had a really cool museum as well that showed the history of the city and that was really fun. My favorite thing about the area was the excitement that the members had. The ward mission leader was one of the first people baptized in the area and we met with him each week. We didn’t have baptisms every week, but we taught a lot of investigators that were progressing and had a lot of faith. That stake is very near and dear to my heart. At one point I found a member that actually spoke English and it was so amazing to hear English again. We had four missionaries in that ward and we worked together so much. We were able to teach so many people and the members got excited to help us. We had open houses for the church and it was so amazing. The dream was to serve in Santa Rosa because of all the gauchos and the history. The members there are just awesome and the cities are so cool. There is a lake in that area that we go to go to for P Day.
I had a zone leader in Santa Rosa that got transferred before I did and I basically followed him there and it was nice to see a familiar face. There had been sisters there previously that had left the members with bad tastes in their mouth, so we had to work so hard to get them to trust us. They really grew to love us though and it was really cool to see the change. I was called to train a new missionary there and that was nerve-wracking. I was really nervous because I thought I would be a bad trainer. I was afraid of training a Latina that would have way better Spanish than me, and I was afraid of training a gringa because we would speak English all the time and our Spanish would get worse. I ended up training a sister that was blonde haired and blue eyed just like me, but she was so dedicated and we actually didn’t speak English together at all. We were able to baptize a couple together and that was the highlight of my mission. Argentina is really flat, but in that area the entire city is hills. I was used to walking miles on flat ground, but here my calves and my feet hurt so bad. The people there thought they lived in the mountains until we showed them pictures of Utah. That area was also hard because of how big it was.
Mar del Plata
I got transferred here and it is a typical beach city. It’s huge. I would compare it to San Diego. It isn’t quite as grand, but it is for Argentina. It was weird to be in such a metropolitan city. The work was amazing. We had such great investigators. I thought serving next to the beach would be really tempting because I’m from California, but I never felt any temptations to go swimming. The climate was a lot different because we were next to the coast. It was probably one of my biggest areas. It was like a long rectangle. We would have an appointment like 20 or 30 blocks north and we had to learn the bus routes very well. The thing that was really hard in that area was that our investigators weren’t progressing. They had been taught for such a long time, but they just hadn’t had that desire to be baptized yet.
Carmen de Patagones
Carmen de Patagones is on the border of two states on the river of Rio Negro. For district meeting we had to cross the river and it was just so beautiful. I wanted to go to the river every P Day. There is this little boat that can take you across or you can take a bus across the bridge. I got to know the members really well in this area. We had some really great teaching experiences as well. The work was already so great before we got there. We had some members that would have come out to teach with us every day if we let them. We had a recent convert and her daughter that were members, but the husband and her extended family weren’t. We started teaching them. They convinced the mom that wasn’t a member to come to church one week and from then on they went every Sunday. The husbands would never go to church though. They would sit in on the lessons, but they just never would come to church. Since I’ve been home, I learned that all of the men in the family have since been baptized and they have even gone to the temple as a family.
Andy (Argentina Bahia Blanca Mission)
–Paraphrased from Andy’s mission interview–
Geography of La Bahia Blanca Mission
La Bahia Blanca Mission is the final frontier for Argentina as far as heading from north to south. Argentina from top to bottom is about the difference from New York to LA, or about the length of our country. Argentina, however, is definitely not as wide and only has about 40 million people compared to the over 300 million in the US.
The Church in Bahia Blanca
The mission itself about the size of Texas, or fairly large. Most of that is in a province called La Pampa, which is very rura, and so the Church has yet to reach the farthest western edge of the mission. There are branches in some of the far reaches of La Pampa, but they are part of larger districts that are part of the Mendoza mission, bordering provinces like Rio Negro and Mendoza. There are two stakes in Bahia Blanca, another in Santa Rosa, La Pampa, and they are making another near Tandil, which is in the center of the province of Buenos Aires. My mission also had pieces of Buenos Aires and Rio Negro. One of the most famous parts of the Bahia Blanca mission is Mar Del Plata, where there are two stakes, and they are pushing for 3.
One of the main goals that my first mission president impressed upon me is the goal of having a temple. He said that if we want a temple in 10 years, we need to have the attitude if getting one in 5. There are four million people in the Bahia Blanca mission and if they were to all accept the covenants of the gospel and be righteous, they would definitely be considered for a temple. A temple in Bahia Blanca would be advantageous for the church in southern Argentina, and would greatly bless the lives of so many members.
If you’re going in between buses you take these big double decker buses called colectivos. It’s really a nostalgic thing for me know. Mar del plata is probably the only city I was in that had the bus system reliable enough and the city was big enough. Mar del plata looks a lot like what you would see of Brazil on TV. They have a beautiful beach front with lots of hotels, tourists, surfing competitions, and vendors. We could go to the beaches in the winter if we had permission. There is always someone on the beach selling something. The middle of the city has a lot of English influence, but also some French and German influence. The city is mostly very modern, but the area I lived in was where the more poor people had to move to when the modern city was really put up. There are houses of boards and cement. They aren’t called favelas, but they are there. We lived in the middle of one, and most people would tell us that it wasn’t where we should be living. I felt safe where we were though because it was kind of like a gated community with security guards. It was safe enough. There were definitely some places that I didn’t want to be at night. I wasn’t assaulted, but I did get robbed. If you’re passive and attentive, nothing bad really happens. I always carried a little money with me in case I got robbed. Most people will work in the city center. There is a lot of tourism and a lot of fishing. The church was pretty well established there. The members were divided into pockets where someone would get baptized and they would bring their neighbors in. The social ties are really important for people to feel comfortable at church. I was training then, so we would wake up, study, and we would study the language together. I had a dictionary of Argentine words. It’s almost like they have their own language. The area that I was in meant that their language was very Argentine and very different than other Spanish you would here. I would study a lot of that and I tried to forsake my Mexican accent. Of course you don’t want to use a lot of slang, but you want them to be able to relate to you. I studied the language very seriously throughout my whole mission. We would have an hour of training sessions afterwards as well. We definitely did a lot of practicing. New missionaries come in with a lot of new knowledge. He couldn’t speak very well, but he definitely knew what he needed to know to get going. I spoke a lot of Spanish to him and I would help him less and I would make him talk on the phone. He definitely learned to be Argentine a lot faster than I did.
Courtney (Argentina Bahia Blanca Mission)
–Paraphrased from Courtney’s mission interview–
It was interesting trying to go into homes of the people of Argentina because the culture is so different. A lot of them don’t even have screen doors, so they hang rags in the doorway to keep out flies. The houses are all very small. They don’t have a lot of money down there and usually they just have one room and the table will be where they eat their meals and watch TV. No one has couches or carpet and I thought that was so weird. They always have the TV on too. They’ll have conversations with friends and they TV will just be noise in the background. I had to learn to politely ask to turn the TV off. I remember one lady I was teaching that kept looking at the TV and I went and stood right in front of the TV. A lot of the nuances of the culture like that weren’t very conducive to the Spirit. They’ll try to serve you mate or they’ll get up to prepare something and you really have to teach them how to have that spiritual environment. It was interesting in the beginning to help people to create that kind of environment. They don’t have the same concept of time as we do either. We are very structured and set appointments and try to be on time. No one wants to make appointments ever. If we had appointments, it was because I forced them to give us a time. They were never there if we set appointments though, so after a month of trying to do it that way, we started learning that we had to understand their culture and work with them differently. No matter where you go, there will be different cultural things and you have to tailor your missionary work to fit their needs and their customs. We had to learn when they would normally be home and we just had to show up and they were glad for us to come in. I remember getting really frustrated at first