Friday, January 30, 2015


December 19, 2007 – December 21, 2007

 My padrastro (“stepdad,” a missionary’s second companion in the field) Elder Nájera and me at the Xalapa bus terminal heading to Veracruz for a conference.

Transfers day, and I took a taxi up to the bus station, and Elder Guerra got on a bus back to Veracruz. He would spend a couple of days there and then fly home to his family in Guadalajara, Jalisco. A few other missionaries were getting transferred, too, so they and the zone leaders were at the bus station as well. Since missionaries can’t work without their companions, transfers usually took up most of the day.

Once everyone who was getting transferred had left, the zone leaders led us out of the station and over to a buffet restaurant nearby. We all got breakfast while we waited for our new companions to arrive. The buffet was all of 28 pesos (like $2.00 USD) to get in; I don’t know how they could afford to charge so little. The food was even good. I got a big plate of chilaquiles, which are basically tortilla chips or just pieces of dried tortilla soaked in a cooked salsa and then topped with cheese and cream. I liked them so much I think I went back for second and third helpings. 

About to enjoy a plate of chilaquiles on a different occasion.

Some parts of the mission were more than ten hours away, so a lot of us would be waiting a long time. A few hours later, we went to a different buffet for lunch. This one cost 40-something pesos, which I remember thinking was a lot (it’s about three bucks), but it was also good. By mid-afternoon, we went back to the bus station to collect missionaries that had arrived. I’m pretty sure my companion, Elder Nájera, was one of the last to get there since he was coming from a city called Acayucan, in the southern end of the mission (Xalapa was more towards the north).

Elder Nájera was very different from Elder Guerra. Elder Guerra had been in the last six weeks of his two-year mission, but when I met Elder Nájera, he had been on his mission for about ten months. He was taller and thinner than Elder Guerra, and while all male missionaries wear essentially the same type of clothing, Elder Nájera looked especially well-groomed. He spoke in a crisp, deep voice. He had finished college before going on his mission and held a degree in business management. He even spoke some English. When we met him at the bus terminal, he gave Elder Breceda and me one of those handshake-hugs. He and Elder Breceda had become close friends back when they were in Acayucan. After chatting for a few minutes, we grabbed his luggage and took a taxi back to our apartment.

One of the things I remember most from the first few days of working with Elder Nájera is how much more responsibility I suddenly had. I was still the junior companion, of course, but Elder Nájera didn’t know our investigators, the members, or how to get around the area. I had to make a lot of the decisions about where to go and who to teach for a little while.

For basically the first time since I’d left home, I carried a cell phone around in my pocket all the time. The mission provided each pair of missionaries a single cell phone between them, and there were lots of rules about how we could use them. We were only allowed to make calls that had to do with missionary work, like setting appointments and coordinating plans with local investigators, members, and missionary leaders. We weren’t allowed to make personal calls at all, especially not to anyone back home.

In my mission, it seemed like the senior companions were generally the ones who carried the phone. This was probably more of a practical consideration than anything else. Since the senior companions have more experience, they usually make more of the decisions about how to work in the area, so they’re the ones that the members and mission leadership usually talk to on the phone. The most common exceptions were in cases like mine, where new senior companions arrive in an area where their junior companions have been for a while. Since the junior companions know the people and the area, they’re the ones that make the phone calls for a little while.

Before my mission I didn’t like talking on the phone very much. I just felt awkward having to interrupt someone’s life and then have them yell across their house to the person I was actually trying to reach, announcing my interruption to everyone there. Things were a little better once I was in college, and everyone started to own their own cell phone, but I’d already developed a habit of avoiding phone calls whenever I could.

I’d heard that I wouldn’t have a cell phone as a missionary, and that was fine with me. The reality turned out to be that missionaries use cell phones all the time to communicate with people, so I had to get used to making calls to people that weren’t expecting or even didn’t want to hear from me. It was especially hard in Spanish; even when I could successfully navigate people’s accents, talking on the phone was tough because of the lower sound quality and the fact that I couldn’t see their faces.

I had to take a much more active role in teaching lessons, as well. When I worked with Elder Guerra, there was virtually no time when I knew more about what to say or do than he did. He’d been a missionary for much longer than me, and he’d been in the area for longer than me, too, so he knew all the members and investigators at least as well as I did. This meant that if I lost my train of thought while teaching, all I had to do was look over to him, and he’d take the reins and finish teaching the principle we were talking about.

During my first week with Elder Nájera, though, I was the one who knew the people in our area. When we planned out what we would teach each person, I had to update him on what lessons we’d already covered and what kind of progress the investigator was making. Teaching was also an adjustment just because of the difference in styles between Elder Guerra and Elder Nájera. I hadn’t worked with him as much, so we didn’t know exactly where the other was going with the lesson unless we’d prepared well ahead of time.

Arguably, these differences made my job harder, but it also gave me a chance for personal development. Not being able to rely as fully on my companion forced me to work harder myself and rely more on God. I remember feeling the Spirit guide my teaching much more during this period, helping me know what to say at times when I previously would have gotten hung up somewhere. I got lost once and said a silent prayer in my mind asking God to point us in the right direction. I felt like we should walk a certain direction, and we found ourselves back at the house of two of our investigators. One of them seemed less happy than usual, so I felt that God had led us there to help cheer her up.

Since we had just gone through transfers, it was time for another zone conference. This was the last round of zone conferences before Christmas, so instead of having separate zone conferences in each of the parts of the mission, the whole mission traveled to the city of Veracruz (also known as el Puerto (“the Port”)) to have big zone conferences there instead. I think they split us into two halves, each on a different day, since there were too many of us altogether.

The nativity scene in front of the temple in Veracruz. Just so you know it’s actually December in these photos. It was still probably 85 degrees and humid.

I have to say that one of my favorite things about traveling to Veracruz was getting to ride on the inter-city buses. Getting up early to hop on a comfy, air-conditioned bus is one of the few times when you can’t really do very much missionary work. I have to admit, it was kind of a nice break from all the pressure of everyday mission life. Xalapa isn’t all that far from Veracruz, but that hour and a half bus ride felt awesome. I loved just watching the countryside go by and not feeling like I needed to be working for a little while. 

The Xalapa zone at the Christmas multi-zone conference. Back row: Pres. and Sis. Johnson, Elders Calzada, Bowen, Schwarting, Hernández, Durán, Nájera, Tovar, Älonso, and Bada. Front row: Elders Bowman, Sharp, Breceda, and Eduardo. Awkwardly standing behind the back row: Elder Lindsay.

Elder Nájera mentioned that I should prepare a talk for the conference. Pres. Johnson had a tradition of randomly calling on a couple of missionaries to give talks at each zone conference, so you had to go in being ready for the possibility. I’m glad Elder Nájera reminded me because I was that conference’s lucky winner of five to ten minutes of public speaking in a foreign language. My talk was about humility, though I can’t remember whether I chose the subject or not. It wasn’t the best talk I’d ever given, but I got through it.

Another highlight of the Christmas conference was getting to go to the temple. In the LDS church, temples are special buildings used for performing certain types of ordinances. For example, we believe that baptism is required for everyone to go to heaven. But what about all the people that weren’t given a proper chance to accept baptism in their lifetime? This is why members of the church perform baptisms for the dead, which are baptisms performed in the temple in which living members are baptized on behalf of deceased people that weren’t baptized while they were alive. Doing so, we believe, gives the dead an option to accept or reject the baptism, based on their own free will.

The Veracruz Mexico Temple on the day of the multi-zone conference.

Temples are also where sealings are performed. While civil marriages last only until death, we believe that a marriage performed in a temple under the proper authority can last eternally, into the afterlife. Temple sealings are performed for both the living and the dead. Other ordinances, such as the endowment, are also performed in temples.

In my mission, the only missionaries that could go to the temple were those assigned to work in el Puerto, and even then, only occasionally on a P-day. Everywhere else, we had to wait for the Christmas conferences to get to go. It was my first time going in Spanish, which was kind of exciting for me. And as always, it was a peaceful and spiritual experience.

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