In Nacho Libre accent:
Brethren, this is the best life I ever lived!
Okay, in all seriousness now…the mission is the best thing that ever happened to me. It is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life but at the same time the most rewarding. I would not trade this time and these experiences for anything. At times I literally feel like I can´t make it another day because it´s so hard but somehow it always turns into the best day of my life.
This week, the members of our little branch traveled seventeen hours in a rickety old bus to attend the nearest temple in Montevideo, Uruguay (the Buenos Aires Temple is closed until next October). Because travel to the temple is so expensive, the last temple trip was in 2009, and the next one probably won´t be for a while. My favorite part: Hugo Osses, sixty-one-year-old president of the Elders´ Quorum, who was baptized a year and a half ago, went to the temple to be endowed. He´s quite a character; his ex-wife was a gypsy and so he always has gypsy friends who are coming into town and staying at his house, and whenever we go visit him he sets chairs out in front of his house and his chickens peck at the dirt around our feet. Anyway, when we were at lunch at the Castros´ the other day they told us that Hugo had slaughtered four of his hens to have food for the temple trip. And sure enough, when we pedaled by his house on our bicis the other day, there were no chickens running around the yard!
Maximiliano was confirmed yesterday! And on Saturday we have two more baptisms: Ada Ramos, sixty-one-years old, and Micaela, her eight-year-old adoptive daughter. Yesterday we went to pick up Ada for church in a remis–it was a cold overcast morning, but when we arrived at her house we found that she had already left. We found her several blocks away walking in the cold, hurrying to get to Relief Society on time. When we arrived at the capilla, the class in Relief Society was on preparedness and, specifically, having a 72-hour kit in a backpack for each member of the household. Ada is a sharp, funny, sassy old lady, and I thought my heart would burst with happiness as she participated in the class and contributed suggestions to be prepared and insisted that chocolate needed to be a part of every family´s emergency supply. 🙂 It made me miss Mom a lot–thinking of all the preparedness stuff she´s working on at home, and how we´re doing the exact same thing here in Bell Ville, a random town in rural Argentina. I felt overwhelmed with a feeling of sisterhood, all around the world, and I also felt so impressed with the church–all the roles it has to fulfill! Important ones! Missionary work, temples, preparedness, welfare, humanitarian aid, protecting and defending family, everything. In hundreds of countries, in dozens of languages. How could this not be the true church and still accomplish what it does?
What I wish I could share with you all are the people. Ada, who has a perfect memory despite her sixty-one years, who asks probing questions about the Book of Mormon and makes pop culture references about Lady Gaga, who pokes me in sacrament meeting and warns me not to fall asleep. Who smacks the cat on the face when it tries to cuddle her, and has a profound love for everyone and makes fun of everyone at the same time. Her dear daughter Micaela, who adores us just for being the sisters and draws us pictures every time we go over. Twenty-four-year-old Gisela, who raised all her younger siblings when her mom left them, who is trying to quit smoking so that she can get sealed to her sweetheart Sergio and her little girl Estefania. Her dangerously attractive older brother Gaston, who is hilarious and won the hearts of lots of investigators on his mission by baking them banana bread. Papa Reynoso, who won´t darken the door of the church to save his life, but who left the table and went down to the corner store right then and bought us lightbulbs when he heard that we were without light in our pension. Hugo with his chickens and his crazy gypsy friends. President Salas, with his burning testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ and his divinely inspired leadership of the Mision Argentina Cordoba. Three little boys, brothers, Alan and Pepe and Martin, who played futbol with us in the dirt road in front of the house and showed us the kite they made out of garbage bags. Hermana Masters, who regularly provides the comic relief in our day by shooting me with her finger gun while we ride down the streets of Argentina on our horses–er, bicis. The sister I never knew I had; we´ve been through thick and thin and survived six weeks on a time on banana pancakes and gotten very little sleep because we always, always talk late into the night about the mysteries of the kingdom and our investigators and the shoes we´re going to wear to our weddings. Elder Pinkston, who makes us no-bake cookies and teaches us Argentine slang. Our investigator Brenda, a twenty-one-year-old single mom whose baby recently suffered horrific burns when a thermos of hot water for mate spilled on his scalp; now she has to take one-year-old Facundo to Cordoba for treatments every week. Elder Olivera, who saved my life or at least my sanity a few times by his quiet acts of kindness and thoughtfulness, and who was a professional futbol player in his former life (lock your heart lock your heart lock your heart). Crazy Mirta Franco, who stands uncomfortably close to everyone when she talks to them, and never lets anyone get a word in while conversing (hey, she´s Argentine), but who won my love with her amazing squash soup. Veronica and Gabriela and Silvia and all the girls at the bakery who know us by name because–well, because we´re addicted to Argentine pastries.
Bell Ville is my home in Argentina. I felt from the moment I arrived, from my first day, my first breath, that it was so. Four months here has only made me fall more in love with this place, with these people. This weekend are transfers, and it is almost certain that I will have to leave and start over making a new home here in South America. But for now I´m just going to savor this time: one last week, one perfect moment, in a place that, for all its problems and idiosyncrasies, quirks and flaws, feels an awful lot like heaven.
I love you. I pray for you always. You are always present.