Monday, March 2, 2015

Bound for the Promised Land

The best/worst thing to hear as a missionary is when someone who's been out for a long time says "I wish I'd learned ___________earlier on in my mission."

Full disclosure--I am a believer in trial and error, and comfortable with the fact that this is a process. I've also learned that the majority of people who rave about how awesome mission rules are, did not in fact have a computer chip installed in their brain to make them feel that way. The mission rules were ACTUALLY written with the aim of making you a better missionary. This took me some time to accept. Once I saw it, I couldn't deny it. 
I've learned that, as afraid as I am of changing, and as much as I miss home, there are some things I'll fully give up, not just for 18 months, but for forever. All I ever saw was the empty space left behind when you take something out of your life; I didn't get why any sane person would do it. 

For those of you who are familiar with the Book of Mormon, I kind of realized that I'm like Lehi's family. I had this really groovy place in Jerusalem (my old life, everything I'm comfortable with, everything I know, really), and I left it behind, taking with me only what I need, and I´m going out into the wilderness. Maybe it's serving a mission, maybe it's in a more figurative, abstract way. 
God has promised me not just that I'll learn something new; he's got a whole promised LAND waiting out there for me, and if I find a way to get there, and if I follow God's lead not because of obedience--that very abused and charged word--but because I've come to love God with all my fervent heart, I'm going to see miracles I never so much as hoped for before. I already feel a joy that is so complete, it's more than just being healthy or successful or anything I ever was. I'm going to be blessed and I'm going to go far, but one thing that God never promised is that I'll get back my home in Jerusalem. When you're reading in Nephi, before they even hit the great water phase of the story, you are well beyond feeling like God is going to let them go back to Jerusalem as recompense for all their hard efforts. It would be a joke. Maybe some of them wanted to have never embarked on this journey in the first place, maybe some of them lay awake at night and longed for their sweet silky beds and super-delicious food, but anyone reading the story with hope knows that God has better plans for these people, and by the time they get where they're going, they're not going to want Jerusalem back. God didn't say "Allison, if you do this well, I'm going to give you a really great thing in return....I'm going to re-insert you back into your old life and all will be as if Argentina never happened!" No, on the contrary, I'm feeling like a lot will change, and Jerusalem is going to be just a precious memory. And I like that it's that way.

And to finish, what "Jerusalem" symbolizes is up for debate. This does not mean I am going to give up all the life I had previously built for myself, nor does it mean I have stopped writing satire since I got here. Secondly, enough with the bashing on Laman and Lemuel as if we're all clones of Nephi. As I read this story, I am every character. And I think it's a great and open-minded way to read it--to realize all the characters are a part of your personality.

Meanwhile, back in Formosa, let me take you to Friday. Friday was the best day. We clapped a million houses and talked to a million people, and everyone said the same thing, which would roughly translate as "I would love to talk, dear, but can't you see it's raining outside?"

"Yeah! Can we come in to your little porch thing and have a chat???"

"------it's RAINING. Come back another day, please, I'll be waiting for you."

"Alright. But how are you doing?"

(person looks up in desperation) "It's raining."

Barrio San Pedro

So the rain has cosmic power over us here. 

Friday was the best day because we let off a lot of steam walking around, despised and delighted. Imagine being the couple of teenage boys sitting on the sidewalk seeing two lady missionaries approach who thought they were alone. Wearing big black rubber boots and muddy skirts, the sisters hear music coming from inside a house and dance as they move forward through the mud (me in my signature undulating jig). We make it to the paved sidewalk the boys are sitting on and walk by briskly. "Holaquétalcómoestán," I say in a gruff voice. After we pass, we look back and all four of us laugh and laugh and laugh.


It was that kind of day, and the next day, after the roads dried up, all of our efforts on Friday seemed to start paying off. The universe showed its approval. Everyone we talked to was uber-responsive, random people we passed on the street said "Hermanas, I'm going to church tomorrow, see you there!" Investigators we thought were going to politely drop us, instead had spent the rainy day reading and studying and finding answers to their questions, and they were really energized to keep learning. 

That night we went to see David and Brian, ages 14 and 9, and they put on these homemade name tags and taught us about the Restoration. These kids are the only members in their family and they hadn't been to church for a very long time. After this role-reversal night, we all walked away feeling really, really happy and humbled by what we all taught each other.

Sunday morning is a queasy thing for a missionary. I like it when people come to church becuase they get to see what it's like and hopefully feel some peace and rejoicing. However, I tire of the fixation on "getting people to church," on reporting numbers, on these sorts of things. I am not here to raise up a batch of members who are dependent on missionaries to push them to church. If someone doesn't make it, the world keeps spinning and there really shouldn't be the amount of lamenting there sometimes is about people NOT doing things. If we can't do things out of enthusiasm and free will, why do things? God blesses us for what we DO manage to do. He doesn't merely damn us every time we don't get something done. 

I still like seeing people come to church. They make this transformation--one day you see them dirty sweaty and working; the next day, whether they show up in jeans and flip-flops or a suit and tie, they look unrecognizably fine and beautiful. So when we were standing there to give the warm welcome to anyone who came, and we saw David and Brian walk up to the door, squinting in the sun, wearing white shirts and looking impeccably clean. I was aghast. "No puedo creerlo! [I can't believe it!]" I called! We had a great Sunday. Herm. Beecher and I along with the other two sets of missionaries in the ward had a delectable amount of investigators show up, and they and us and the ward all came together in a miraculous expression of unity. 

After all that was over, perhaps because of fasting and the intensity/spiritual high of the past 24 hours, the armadillo we ate at the Barrios' house was one of the most delicious and gratifying meals I have ever eaten. (They called it tatú.)

P.S. Saturday was also the best because I turned one month old!!!!!!! 1/18 of mission completed!!

P.P.S. Guess WHAT. An apostle is coming to our mission April 24-26!!! We don't know who yet, but very exciting news. Everyone, members, missionaries, everyone is spiritually preparing. It's like being visited by Peter. It's like a very big---deal---.

I went on divisions with Sis Gull! 24 hours with this incredible woman!
She worked us really hard and taught me to be fearless.

Valentina and Dora
Sister Franco, Mission President's wife

Gisela---a ward member who is the Relief Society president and helpful to no end. She sometimes comes out with us to visit people who disappeared from church and see how they're doing. She also came to a lesson with Val & Basilio and was SO helpful in addressing their concerns and openly letting them know what it's like to be a member here. She was baptized less than a year ago. This is her teaching RS on Sunday.

Woman waiting for a remis (cab)
Ubiquitous Dogs

These posters are all over bus stops and things... 

...always destroyed by angsty,
 anonymous passersby...

There is beauty in the decay.

...or the weather...

It is magnificent.

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