Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year!

Christmas is a hard time for missionaries.  It is one of the two times a year that you are allowed to talk to your family via phone or skype.  We have to stay focused on the work here.  I was really grateful and the time spent talking to my family was amazing.  I love them and I miss them a lot.  Saying goodbye was hard, but I made it short so as to be relatively painless.
In a way I am lucky in that it doesn't feel like Christmas.  It's been in the 80's and 90's every day, so Christmas memories are somewhat harder to be triggered.  This made it easier to focus less on the popular culture of Christmas and more on the birth and life of our Lord and Savior Jesús Christ; the Shepherd and the Lamb; the humble King of Kings and Lord of Lords who was born in a manger;  the Mighty God, and Ever Lasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  He suffered beyond our comprehension so that we could be saved.  I hope that every one was able to ponder a little about His birth and life, and His great sacrifice for the salvation of man.  If not, I ask that you do.  We owe Him everything, and we can never pay the debt, but we can give a Little back through our thoughts prayers, and service.

The four of us in our house were able to have a small celebration.  We opened packages from our families, shared Candy, and exchanged gifts.  Elder Jarrett gave me a hand-made wooden saxophone.  It's not well tuned, but it is fun to play. 

I forgot to mention last week that I felt my first earthquake.  That was pretty cool.  It was just a small shake, but it was still a cool experience for my first time.  I also experienced a new dish last week.  It was some kind of Green vegetable made into a pancake with eggs.  It was delicious, but I couldn't figure out what the vegetable was.  All I knew was that they were called porotos verdes and that they weren't in my dictionary.  I asked around and learned that they could be found in the feria, they're cheap, and that they are very unique to South America which is why they were not in my dictionary.  I looked around the feria only to find that they are green beans. So for your reference, if you chop up greem beans, boil them, and fry them like pancakes together with egg, they are delicious.  They're called tortillas de porotos verdes. 

My companion has been resting his injured foot all week, so we have spent a lot of time inside.  In this time, I was finally able to finish Reading the New Testament, regretably for the first time.  I would never say that study of the Book of Mormon is over emphasized in the Church, but I would say that study of the Bible is under emphasized.  I have studied the New Testament throughout my life, but never read it from cover to cover.  I wish I had done it sooner.  It really is an amazing book.  Maybe in a future post, I will include the scriptures I've marked for the future missionaries out there, and anyone else interested.  My Mission President said some powerful words on the subject of reading the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament.  "How can you call yourself Christian having never read the Bible from beginning to end?" I'll tackle that next and sign out on that note. 
Happy New Year!!

Ben's home in El Bosque (he shares with three other missionaries)

The family Ben spent Christmas Eve with. He used their computer to Skype with us. (He told me their last name but I don't remember)

 Burning the collapsed bunk bed in the "back yard"

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Skype


OK, it's not the greatest picture but it is an image of Ben on Skype Christmas Eve. The missionary handbook says they're allowed to call or Skype on Christmas and one other time during the year (usually Mother's Day for Americans).  Ben and his companion were able to make arrangements with a member family to use their computer and Skype. The family served them a turkey dinner as well.  It is apparently tradition there that the big Christmas dinner is actually on Christmas Eve, and turkey is not unusual for the dinner.  Ben bent the rules a bit and went overtime, but none of us minded.

We meant to take notes, but didn't so we'll try to remember some things he talked about.  The picture doesn't do him justice, he looked very good and tanned.  He says he gained back the weight he lost initially and a little more.  The church members feed them lunch, the main meal, daily. For breakfast Ben says he eats lots of fruit which is plentiful and cheap at the outdoor markets. We asked about toast and Ben said it was rare to find sliced bread and sliced bread is rather expensive. He does like the bread though and they eat it frequently. A popular fast food is "compleatos" which are hot dogs with lots of toppings (mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, onion, avocado, etc.)  Ben isn't fond of mayo but he does eat them because they're cheap and filling.  There's a place near where he lives that sells a "50 cm compleato" for about $1.00 US. He says the water is safe to drink and he mostly drinks water at home, although he had to get used to the taste. When visiting locals he says they are served soda or juice, never water. He did reference the blood sausage again, and said the taste actually isn't bad, but thinking about what it is makes it unpalatable for him.

Ben held his camera up to the webcam, so we have seen pictures of his house, including the infamous shower.  Incidentally Ben reported the shower ran out of gas again that day. The mission office reimburses them for filling the small tanks. His home is a small house, not an apartment.  The downstairs has a living room and kitchen and the bedroom is upstairs.  The bedroom appeared to be cramped with two bunk beds. Previous to Ben and his companion arriving this place had been home to just two missionaries. There are no closets, but they have requested some shelving from the mission office.  The bunk bed that collapsed was apparently ceremoniously burned in the small back yard, something that may not have met the approval of the owner. There was an evidentiary photo. The mission office replaced the bunk bed.

Our Christmas package did arrive but he hadn't opened it yet and he even took off the customs tag, which listed the contents, without looking.  There was lots candy included which we told him about and said he could share with his companion and the other companionship.  The trainer in the other companionship is from the Dominican Republic and was disowned by his family when he joined the church.  He does not get mail from his family and was not expecting anything for Christmas. He did email his family recently but they did not respond. Interestingly, Ben's companion, from Peru, was also not expecting a package but apparently because they don't do that sort of thing.  He said his companion was fairly well off and they send him the equivalent of about $150 every month (in addition to his mission funding).

Ben talked about racism in Chile and said it is fairly rampant and visible. We were surprised at that.  There are racists against people of African decent, but there is also racism against Caucasians, and against Latinos of other countries. It seems no one is safe.

We did ask him why there were no sister missionaries in his zone. He said there are about 200 missionaries in his mission and only about 20 sisters.  The huge influx of missionaries after the recent age change has been about two-thirds sisters, so it is a bit surprising that only about ten percent of his mission is made up of sisters. Ben said sisters are only in the safest areas of the mission, and while Ben's zone is not bad and is far from the least safe, it is apparently not the safest, either.

We asked him about how he gets around, and locally he mostly walks. For meetings at the mission office they take the bus, which is only about a 15 minute ride. They do take taxis sometimes, particularly if all four missionaries are going the same place. If they go to Santiago proper they take a bus then the subway.  In larger missions, zone leaders and many times district leaders have cars. Ben said only the two assistants to the president get a car to use there, and they mostly use it to deliver mail. While on that subject, it seems the "pouch mail" system is much slower than we were led to believe. Our letter sent that way have taken upwards of a month, he reported to us he got one dated Nov. 26 that day. We recently began sending them airmail which we assume will be much faster. In my mission days in New Zealand (in the dark ages before electricity, or at least before electronics), airmail took a week to 10 days.

Ben spent some time talking about his daily routine and some of the people they have taught.  We asked about finding new people to teach seeing as how the church has been established there for so long.  It seemed to us that most people probably would be aware of the church. Everyone in New Zealand knew something about the church, although what they knew wasn't always accurate.  Ben said it wasn't that way in there, and that the area was so heavily populated that there were always new people to meet. He did say they still spend a great amount of time visiting the members, many of who are not actively participating in the church. He said on the ward (congregation) list there are about 1,000 members, but there are only about 70 in church on Sunday. He also said that many on the list aren't there any more, some have died, and others don't really want to be associated with the church.  When asked if they reported this back to the ward clerk he said they didn't because they didn't really seem to care. In the US, by contrast, the church records are fairly meticulous and most clerks take their assignments seriously.

I'm sure in the amount of time we talked we covered a lot more, but that's all we can recall at the moment.

Monday, December 23, 2013

¡Feliz Navidad!

¡Feliz Navidad! Again, there is a lot to write about and not a lot of time.  For starters, a few corrections.  The weekly open air market is actually called the feria and the straws to drink mate with are bombillas not bombillos.  Also, my assignment with the young men of the ward is better titled an assignment and not a calling, but I guess that's a technicality.

Eggs are expensive here- about $3.20 a dozen.  I assume corn isn't subsidized here the way it is in the US and that is the reason.  That would also explain why they use real sugar in soda.

They don't eat dinner here.  Lunch is the main meal, and instead of dinner they eat once (pronounced own-say), which is translated to the number eleven.  I've heard that they call it once because it symbolizes the Savior's dinner with His apostles as Judas betrayed him. So there were eleven.  This is the reason that they always eat bread with once.  It's a very light meal. 

A pair of Testigos de Jehovah (Jehovah's Witnesses) stopped by our house last week.  I'll take this opportunity to mention how much I respect their religion.  They understand the urgency of the message of the Gospel and they dedicate themselves to their beliefs. They're a diligent and a loving people.  I love the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Last week, I mentioned that mate is sanctioned by the Church and that it has caffeine.  I'll take this opportunity to clear up some common misconceptions about Mormons and caffeine. Revelation was given to the prophet Joseph Smith from God that said "hot drinks" are not good for the body.  "Hot drinks" has been interpreted to mean coffee and black tea by modern prophets, and so caffeine, hot chocolate, mate, etc. are OK.  Only coffee (including decaf) and black tea are prohibited by the Word of Wisdom, otherwise known as the Law of Health.

I got my first kiss this week... When people greet others in Chile, it's normal to give them a kiss on the cheek. Yesterday, my companion and I shared a little bit about the Church with a young woman.  As we said goodbye, she gave my companion a kiss.  He took it like a man. When she tried to kiss me, I cringed and pulled back, but she got me.  Ayayay... It was pretty embarrassing and I offended her, but my companion explained that as missionaries, we are supposed to stay focused on the work, and not have physical contact with women.  Luckily, she understood and we went our separate ways.

I'd like to talk a bit now about my schedule as a missionary.  The day for missionaries in most places begins at 6:30 and ends at 10:30, but here in Chile, where people get up later and go to bed later, it's more effective to start at 7:30 and end at 11:30.  I usually get up at 6:30 or 7:00 in order to study a little extra.  We exercise for a half hour every morning, spend an hour studying by ourselves, two hours of studying as a companionship, and one hour for non-Spanish speakers to study the language.  Then we eat lunch, and go to work. On the perfect day, we go from appointment to appointment teaching the Gospel, and doing service, but that hasn't happened yet.  We are supposed to be back in our houses by 10:30 and we have an hour to plan the next day, write in our journals, and prepare for bed.  Our schedule is deviated a little on Mondays, when we go shopping, clean the apartment, do other necessary chores, write our families, and find ways to have fun.  Every Sunday we have Church, and once a week, missionaries in the area meet in order to help each other out.

It's not very easy walking around all day in the heat with a bunch of people that you can hardly understand, but it's the most rewarding work I've done.  I know the Jesus Christ lives, and that families can be together forever, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to spread the good news.  Until next week amigos.

Editor's (AKA Dad) note: Ben says he has had fairly limited time on the computer the last couple weeks and there hasn't been time to upload pictures. He says he will arrange with his companion next week to go to the internet cafe a little earlier so they have some more time.  Ben has made arrangements to Skype with us on Christmas Eve, and of course we are looking forward to that.  We'll try to take some notes and make a blog post. We do pass along to Ben that his blog is read by many and the comments you make to us and he does appreciate it. The picture below is of Ben's zone, which apparently doesn't have any sister missionaries in it. Ben is in the second row up on the far left.