The most spiritual and awesome moment I have had in General Paz so far came in week 1 when the bishop of Puerreydon (the other ward we share the capilla with) called us and asked us what we were doing that night and invited us to the despedida (farewell) of his son, Angel or Dallin, who was about to leave for his mission in Buenos Aires Oeste. He told us that many of Dallin´s friends from school, members and nonmenbers alike, would be there in the capilla, and many lived in the boundaries of our area. Naturally we jumped on the opportunity–so many nonmenbers in the capilla! We were stoked.
That night we arrived at the chapel at 8:30. We were already exhausted from a long day of proselyting, but we knew that it was an opportunity that we couldn´t miss. Everyone was standing around, mingling, and I was trying to figure out which kids were the youth of Puerreydon and which ones were the nonmember friends from school (all the Gral Paz youth were there too, but I know all of them, thank goodness!). After asking around some, we realized that all of Dallin´s nonmember friends were chilling outside the church at the front gate. So we went out to find them.
When we went outside, there was a group of more than ten eighteen-year-old kids standing at the gate, talking amongst themselves. It was obvious that they were a tough group of kids, too cool to come inside the church, doing their own thing. My first reaction was to be intimidated–I´d been proselyting in the dusty street all day and didn´t have a hairdo, and I was just a nerdy sister missionary from the Estados Unidos–what was I going to say to these hardened, fashionably-dressed, porro-smoking kids?
And then in an instant I thought of the FHE with the Bogeros, how when we started the FHE you could slice the tension in the room with a knife, and how by the end everyone–kids, parents, and Rosita–were laughing and playing the Lamanite game with tape all over their faces. I thought of all the houses I had marched into and called repentance to men, women, and children–and they had listened. I thought about how Hermana Masters said, “You know what´s cool? After the mission, after surviving all these awkward situations and building all these relationships with all these difficult people and doing everything we do–we won´t ever have to be intimidated of anyone ever again in our lives.” And I thought most of all, I have a placa with Jesus Christ´s name on my chest. I don´t have to be afraid of anyone ever again.
So I squared my shoulders, stood a little taller, and marched over to the group of jovenes, and learned all their names. And introduced myself. And joked and laughed and talked with them until everyone felt at ease. And talked to them about what they liked to do, what their life plans were. And a half hour later we were all still standing there, laughing and joking. And I said, “So you guys know that Dallin is moving to Buenos Aires for two years to be a missionary, to share with people about Jesus Christ. He´ll be a missionary and wear a placa like this one. And my companion and I are doing the same thing here in the barrio that Dallin will be doing there. We share about God and Jesus Christ with the people, about how they have a plan for each one of us. Can we take down your addresses to go and visit you in your houses share more about the gospel with you?”
And they all said yes. Every single one. We got the datos of nine eighteen-year-olds interested in learning about the gospel, who already had a friend who was a member. It was a miracle. But it didn´t stop there.
At about nine o´clock we all passed inside the chapel and the service began. It was a brilliant idea of Dallin´s dad, Obispo Peralta–he had contacted all of the ward and all Dallin´s friends and all the family and invited them, but Dallin didn´t know–it was a surprise. So Dallin thought he was coming to the capilla for a final interview with Pte Chehda nada mas. So we all took our seats in the chapel, and Obispo Peralta welcomed us and then they turned off the lights and waited in perfect silence for three long minutes. Then Pte Chehda led Dallin into the chapel and I think there was a song by The Fray playing in the background (Dallin is a sick talented musician, singing and playing the guitar–music is his life and I think the song had some significance) and then they flipped on the lights and Dallin saw that everyone–everyone–was gathered there. All his friends from school, all the young men and young women he had grown up with, all the members from Barrio Puerreydon and General Paz, all his immediate and extended family, us, the elders, everyone. Oh man, I´m getting chills just writing about it because the feeling of absolute love in the room was so strong. Dallin just kept shaking his head, like he couldn´t believe it was real.
And we sang an opening hymn and had an opening prayer, and Bishop Peralta (Dallin´s dad) conducted the service and it began by his mom sharing her testimony. Then Dallin´s dad. I couldn´t help but admire them, their fortaleza, their strength–I know that this last year can´t have been easy for them. Their 17-year-old daughter Claudia, the president of all her Young Women classes, the “ejemplo de todos,” always leading out the other young women in Personal Progress and always accompanying the missionaries, had gotten pregnant and was not too far off from having her baby. And all the regular pressures of being a bishop in a struggling ward of only 50 active members–I imagine that the moment was very bittersweet for them, with all the hopes for Dallin and his future mission, and knowing that Claudia´s hopes for her mission could never be realized. But nonetheless they were there, boldly delcaring their testimonies of the gospel and sacrifice and missionary work, lifting the rest of us up with their testimonies. I honestly don´t remember what they said, but I remember that I felt the Spirit so strongly and more than anything felt the pure love of Christ. I felt and knew that I was in the right place, in that moment, where the Lord wanted me to be. I knew that he loved us all and had a plan for each of us. And I knew that missionary work was the Lord´s work and the greatest thing I could be doing with my life right now, the greatest thing that Dallin or any nineteen-to-twenty-five-year-old boy could be doing with his life.
Finally Dallin bore his testimony. He directed his remarks mostly to his friends from school, his non-member friends. He thanked them for their examples and for helping him be the person that he was, for being understanding and supportive of his living church standards. He talked about how much he would miss everyone. I looked over and saw that all of his friends were weeping with emotion (okay, we all were).
We finished the meeting by singing “Called to Serve.” All four verses (because Spanish is so much cooler than English so we get four verses of Called to Serve).
I felt so privileged to have been a part of that special moment, so blessed to have been able to feel of the Spirit and love that was present that night. After the service, everyone passed into the cultural hall for comida and a baile (dance), and everyone talked and mingled and hung out. I copied down the direction of one more joven who was a friend of Dallin´s. “Pero pasen!” he said. “Make sure you come!”
I am so grateful that Bishop Peralta thought to invite us to be a part of that evening, and to make Dallin´s despedida a missionary opportunity for his friends. I am so grateful for the Savior, and for Heavenly Father. I know that they love each one of us with an infinite love. A few special times in my life I have been able to feel a piece of that inifnite love. That night in the chapel was one of those times. That love is the reason we do missionary work. I know that this is the Lord´s work–going after the Lord´s sheep. I had to leave the ninety and nine that I loved at home to go after the lost sheep in Argentina. I am SO GRATEFUL to be a part of this work!
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.