I wrote in my journal the first night I was here:"Fell in love with everything without hesitation. No fear."
It was barely legible since it was past lights out; I was writing in the dark trying not to make any noise. But you get the point. I have hit a few energy walls since that first dreamlike day, but all in all that statement is consistent. I love Formosa, I´ve stopped worrying about a lot of things. This year and a half is going to fly by so fast my biggest and dearest goal is to cherish the time I have with these beautiful beautiful people; I can worry about my institutional concerns later when I´m not on the clock.
Formosa is folksy. Folksy Formosa, folksy Castellano. In English it would be like listening to the way they speak in the Irish countryside. Folksy. From the first taxi driver onward, I learned fast that everyone you meet TALKS. People love to talk. You clap in front of someone´s door, they come out, and as if to thank you for interrupting their day they tell you their life story starting with the life story of their parents and sometimes grandparents. You can have a discussion with a Catholic catechism teacher and they will invite you in gladly and introduce you to their family and ask if you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior.
So I already know my weakness in this area is and shall be keeping appointments from going over time. Finding the balance between simply befriending people and filling my role as a missionary. It´s a challenging balance to find. All of these precious, precious stories people are sharing, as if they´re giving me part of their joys and their sorrows and themselves.
So this whole week I´ve been thinking and thinking WHO will I write home about?? And I have a feeling that´s going to be a hard question to answer every week, but here it goes. Sandra and Valentina.
Sandra is probably in her late 20s, she has a 10 year old son Axel, and they are living with her family. She joined the church in 2003 and she stopped going to church about 6 years ago after a lot of family disapproval. So for a long time she was living in Buenos Aires and had no connection to the church. Hermana Beecher (now my companion) and Herm. Lund contacted her 12 weeks ago, and between the time they found her and now she has made what sounds like a complete 180. It´s hard for me to imagine her any other way, cause by the time I met her on Thursday she was and is this spunky, strong-willed, sweet woman who loves wearing electric pink and has really thought-provoking questions about the Book of Mormon. We go to visit and read it with her a few times a week and she just keeps getting happier and happier every time we see her. She´s still not technically "active" in the church so we´re helping her find her rhythm and make it back into a lifestyle. It´s not easy with her family and with other life factors, but she is just so good, she´s a good person. I know she can overcome these things and have a brighter future every day. Her little brother out of the blue expressed interest in going to church, and from what it sounds like, she looked at him as if he had lobsters crawling out of his ears (what movie is that from?) (Christmas Story). His own qualms with God are far more difficult, what with everyone he loved dropping dead around him, his withdrawing and turning to substance abuse and being too scared to move forward. He´s coming to our little chat tomorrow and so I´m praying a lot about how can I possibly sympathize with this boy and know what to say. I don´t know what I will say, but I am ready to listen.
Valentina and Basilio now. They have been married for 30+ years and have a lot of marriage problems. They were my very first lesson I ever taught. It was Wednesday morning and we were in their yard and they were going back and forth about "he should forgive me" and "she should forgive ME" and I could just feel how badly they WANTED to forgive each other but they´ve just fallen into this vicious cycle of not dealing with things and blaming each other that things aren´t better. They´ve stayed together for all this time though, they still have a daughter at home, and they are just in it together, end of story. They just need peace, they need to find a way to heal--emotionally and also physically; Valentina had a stroke over a year ago, then later fell and broke her hip. She´s blind in one eye, she´s in a lot of pain. Yet she has this profound calm about her. She was the most ready to listen, with a sincerely open heart. So I opened my mouth and started talking about God and how he has a way for us to be happy and content with the people we love, and the spirit rained down upon us in a way I had never before experienced, and Dora (daughter) came outside to listen, and then she started asking questions. She has the best questions. She´s in her 30s but has the mental condition of about a 15 year old, and she is very sincere and has become one of my dearest friends here. Basilio was very hard to reach at first; I was sure he didn´t like us and was going to tell us to stop coming by, but he didn´t, he kept inviting us back. We invited them to church but only Valentina and maybe Dora seemed willing to go check it out.
Saturday night, the night before church, it poured heavy rain. We sat inside the pension with the deafening noise of it hitting the tin roof, and drank mate cocido (the only mate we´re allowed to drink. Which I get. I get it. If we could matear with people we would be doing it alllllll day, not just some of the day, allllll day.)
The next morning the streets were rivers of thick gooey mud. Barro. Lodo. Hermano Barrios had offered to take Valentina to church in his car (HE is just the best), since she can´t walk. He, Hermana Beecher and I were in the car, going to her house. Almost there. We sank into a mudpit. The wheels spun. The windows got spattered, we lost visibility out the right side. We reversed, we drove. We made it.
And we found that waiting in front of the house was not one, but three people, Valentina, Basilio, and Dora, all looking fine and standing right in front of the gate. They all came!!! What??! What.
When I first met the ward I just had the song "You´re going to miss me when I´m gone" playing in my head on repeat. I am not always going to have such stellar members. These people are miraculous. They all gave these three investigators the most considerate, warm welcome I have ever seen. Kisses and handshakes and kind words and good vibes from every single person. Several of them spent time after sacrament meeting asking if they had any questions. The talks during the meeting were brilliant. One was on FORGIVENESS and the other was on how we need to love God first before we can love our family in a healthy way (the first great commandment comes before the second one, they were given in a clear order). They were clear and powerful and lots of examples. It was perfectly tailored to what they needed to hear. After, one of the bishop´s counselors gave her a blessing of health, and she had so much faith, and it could not have gone better if I wrote up a fictitious happy Sunday scenario for a church-produced film. On the way out, a member, Sis. Flytes, was talking with Valentina and asking her if she had heard of the church before she met Sister Beecher. Choking back tears she said yes, dos rubios, two blonde missionary boys had come to their house a number of years back, but she couldn´t understand a word of their Castellano.
Well guys I am out of time. I will tell you more next week. I love you all, bye!!!
[Notes from other short emails:]
Tell Anne that Lauren Gull is my STL!! So she´s over my zone! Small world. Pres. and Sis. Franco send their hugs! I am living in a place where we can flush our toilet paper, mom!!! It´s the consistency of crepe paper, but you can flush it!! We live in a pension behind a member family, the Barrios family, and we just have it toooooo good. Too good. Too much. It has an AC unit in it too, so as long as you keep it clean nothing molds. Life is very, very, very good, you have no idea. It IS a very physically challenging mission, but it really only gets bad in certain moments.
You know, I am longing all week to be able to email you guys and tell you things, and then the reality of email time is it´s a nightmare. Several missionaries all ravenously, furiously reading and typing on these busted up old computers like so many hungry wolves munching on hunks of rotting meat.
Email time is stressful. But I´m HEEEEERE!
There is SYMBIOSIS here. My mission blesses me and I bless my mission. This place is strangely fitting for me, and everything I´ve learned in my life up to this point is incredibly useful to me here. Not just the language or my knowledge of the church. It´s like things happened in my life just so that when I got here I would be ready to understand these people I have never met.
My blip on Sis. Beecher:
She is from Oregon, she was drafted for college water polo. She reminds me a lot of Heather because of the way she looks but especially the way she acts and controls her voice. She makes me miss Heather. She has been out for 6 months, she served in Chaco before this. The moment we got put together and looked at each other we just KNEW this was going to be a great transfer. So the companionship is a blessing, not a challenge this time. (cue "You´re gonna miss me when I'm gone" song)
Hi Sister Tolman!
I am Alison's trainer and I want you to know what an INCREDIBLE daughter you have! She is blessing my life, and I know she is an answer to my prayers. I have been praying for someone who has faith in the people here and who is willing to do everything possible to bring people to Christ! She is already doing that. She is a born natural missionary! Also, we are starting to think how we can use family history in our missions more and how we can bring people closer to their families through genealogy! You were the inspiration for that idea!
Thank you for sending your sweet daughter to me! Lots of love!
|Allison & her first companion, Sister Beecher|
|First pension: a luxury!|
|Allison's little corner of the world|
|Sister Rodriguez from Mexico ("love her love her")|
|Main mission chapel in Resistencia|
|The "bubble," an experimental chapel in Provo.|