Friday, December 21, 2012

Advice I Wish I'd Gotten- Elder Allen

Elder Allen- Mexico Torreon Mission

A little bit of parting advice. The Torreon mission used to be the highest baptizing mission in the world about 10 or so years ago. But there was a lot of bad things that went on. There was the age of ANIMO where missionaries would use that word all the time and do anything for a baptism. Even some things that got them ex communicated. Missionaries have a bad reputation in some parts for stupid missionaries that did bad things and stained the name of the church. A lot of the work that we did with our mission president was picking up the pieces and defending our reputation as representatives of Christ. Be obedient and be successful. Don't let your companion, the members, or anyone else with a bad attitude discourage you from doing what you know is right. And that means following the rules. Have the right attitude and have fun. 

Advice I wish I'd Gotten- Elder Barker

Elder Barker- Amaheim California Mission

I wish I had known that it wouldn't be as scary as I was antisipationg- like I felt sick and like I was on death row as I flew away from the MTC.
It really wasn't that bad. it was just different.

I wish I had learned earlier that bible bashing doesn't do anything. It just wastes time. The spirit isn't able to testify in contencious situations. I spent a good portion of my mission reading scriptures and trying to remeber ones that would be good to bring up if I got in a situation with a bible basher. When We did happen on them and I brought up the scriptures the person or people just ignored them and moved to another point to argue. I think it's in one of the espistles of Paul when paul says something about not arguing but when I finally read that It hit me that I had wasted so much time trying to argue with people that wouldn't be swayed and they were trying to argue with me and I wouldn't be swayed so it was pointless on both sides.

Elder Allen- Mexico Torreon Mission

My name is Jacob Allen, and I served in the Mexico Torreon Mission.
     My Mission had 3 different states of Mexico which were all North of Mexico City, but south of the border states.  The three states are Durango, Zacatecas, and the little corner of Coahuila (which is where Torreon was). I lived in all three parts. The Torreon part has the most city and industry but its all hot and dirty with lots of grafiti trash and dirt. Durango is a little more green (depending on what part you're in) and Zacatecas was my favorite because it feels like you are in Europe with cobble stone streets and unique architecture. Not to mention all the cool cathedrals you can find in just about any area. It can get hot and cold wherever you are, but mostly because you don't have well built homes with AC or heaters to make living more comfortable. Because this is not the touristy part of Mexico don't expect any beaches, or ruins, or anything pretty really. I loved my mission, and the people there, but it is not ideal for a vacation. So you won't see any tourists around which is why we stuck out so much as missionaries. And the fact that all my companions were short dark Mexicans and I was a skinny tall super white gangly kid in a white shirt and tie didn't help either. There are rich areas and poor areas just like anywhere else. Rich in the city, more poor the farther away from the city you get.
Culture/Traditions you should know about...I arrived in Mexico on December 12, 2008. The day of the Virgin. I remember getting to my first area at about 7 or 8 at night. I set my bags down and we had an appointment that night so we left. From then on and all through the night I heard drums and saw people dressed like it as the year 800AD dancing in their traditional garments and yelling and singing "La Guadalupana". Mexico has it's own, brown, version of the virgin Mary named Guadalupe, the mother of Mexico. The only thing I could think was "what year did I travel to?" It was all very primitive with all of the dancing and shrines, and food sacrifices. They do this and have parties and parades many times a year with different saints that they recognize in the Catholic Church. You will have to ask your companion to make sure you know how to respect and recognize some of the traditions, cultural differences and gestures in Mexico. Like how to roll a tortilla correctly to eat with it. Or how to whistle for a taxi. Certain sounds and hand gestures are just as bad as swear words down there. For example, don't knock on the door with the pattern of "shave and a haircut, two bits". Don't honk your car in that pattern either. That's how they swear at each other. haha.  
As far as food is concerned, know your limits with eating. Can you eat a lot? Can you handle spicy? Are you a picky eater? Could you eat street vendor foods without getting sick? I LOVED it all. My mission gave me a diverse pallet that helped me to enjoy more foods when I came home. There were still a few things I didn't enjoy eating. Menudo tasted good except for the texture of the cow stomach they made it with. I wasn't good at eating things like chicken feet or pig ears. But most other things I got used to quickly and learned to love whatever was put in front of me so I wouldn't offend the members that would graciously feed us. Some of these people don't have food to give their own kids but they love stuffing the missionaries. They are very faithful in that manner. There are certain words and mannerisms that even your native companion might not understand because there are so many regional dialects and traditions. But they probably still know more than you so don't be afraid to ask questions.
Things I would say about pday- I washed my clothes by hand for a takes hours. But everyone should experience it so they can appreciate washers and dryers. You won't find any dryers down there. And a nearby member of the church might have a washer machine you can borrow if you are lucky. I always used my p-day for journal writing which i was grateful for later on. And we were allowed an hour in a nearby internet cafe to write an email home and write other letters. Ask missionaries who have lived in that area for what there is to do as far as touristy things. Missionaries would get together to play soccer a lot too. The most toursity things were the Christ statue in Torroeon (3rd largest in the world- compare to Rio de Janeiro) there was a cool mine in Zacatecas and there is a history museum and a gondola that gives you a view of the european style city with all the cool cathedrals. But that's about it. 
We had some fun mission lingo.  Chincua was what we used for girls. Like the equivalent of fiery dart. Chincua is a mix between chica and inicua (iniquitous). Most places in Mexico used musa (muse). Most popular in other Mexican missions was Frito for a missionary that didn't want to work. We used gandul. Don't ask me where that one came from. I think it's an old word in spanish that no one uses anymore. Those are the two main ones. I didn't use to say fetch until my mexican trainer got me saying it. Not sure if they still say that a lot.
A little bit of parting advice. The Torreon mission used to be the highest baptizing mission in the world about 10 or so years ago. But there was a lot of bad things that went on. There was the age of ANIMO where missionaries would use that word all the time and do anything for a baptism. Even some things that got them ex communicated. Missionaries have a bad reputation in some parts for stupid missionaries that did bad things and stained the name of the church. A lot of the work that we did with our mission president was picking up the pieces and defending our reputation as representatives of Christ. Be obedient and be successful. Don't let your companion, the members, or anyone else with a bad attitude discourage you from doing what you know is right. And that means following the rules. Have the right attitude and have fun. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Elder Barker- Anaheim California

Me: "Dear Elder Barker, You are hereby called-" Oh man... 'Elder Barker' That sounds so cool!
Others: Read it Soren!
Me: Oh, right... sorry. (Ahem*) "You hereby called to serve in the Cal-" Do you think I should get a new passport for my mission. I mean in my old one I look kinda-
Others: DUDE!!!
Me: Sorry! ...Sheesh... you guys are worse than my-
Others: Whatever man. We're out of here. You can tell us where you're going over Facebook.
Me: Okay-okay. "Dear Elder... you are hereby called..." Anaheim, California?! Spanish Speaking?! But I told them I took French in High School!
Others: ...
Me: Hmmm...
Others: Well At least there won't be a culture shock, right?

That's what it was like when I opened my call letter. Okay maybe it wasn't exactly like that. I may have elaborated on the truth and taken some liberties with the script from "The Single's Ward."... FINE! I opened it alone in my dorm room- But the other way sounded better. (Hmmm... Maybe that's why they used it in a movie...)

Anyways- Yes, my name is Soren Barker and I served my mission in the California Anaheim Mission. It was quite the experience. And despite what the 'Others' In my little dialogue up there may have said, even though it was a State side mission it was still pretty different. But I'm from Maine- so really anywhere with multi-racial population would be different. Actually I had been abroad and had experienced a few different cultures before my missionary service so I wouldn't have considered myself "sheltered" by any means. AND YET- there was a definite culture shock!
For one thing, the people! There are so many people in such a small area. It's so crowded. I told my companions that back in Maine we have as many trees per capita as So. Cal has people. The amount of bodies in a given city is almost suffocating. But, it sure makes contacting easier. You can't walk four feet without bumping into someone new. The potential investigator lists filled up fast. But the "Talk to everyone you see" mindset made getting to appointments on time a little tricky- so often we had to limit our contacting down to a certain number along with whoever the spirit prompted us to talk to.

Another thing that was different was- the food! Who knew that even in the same country the food could be so different? I sure didn't. Some of it was defiantly a personal diet choice. I can count on three fingers the number of times I ate red meat before the mish, but after the first few months I lost count. The Members just loved to make us steak! They'd say, "Oh we know that you've probably had lots of spaghetti and meat balls so why not steak?!"So that was out of my range of normal. But besides that there was the Mexican dishes. I found out that Menudo is really good. It's a soup made with cow stomach. I also grew to expand my love of spicy things. It seemed that a meal wasn't complete without some hot peeper to pump up the flavor. One of my companions bought a big thing of Jalapenos so we could have them with our meals in the apartment.

But what really threw me for a loop food wise was the junk food! It must be because of the heavy Mexican influence in the area but I have never seen so much Spicy Hot Hot Cheetos and potato chip flavors in my life!

There are these people that sell produce and toys and junk food out of little carts all over. One of my favorite carts sold hot dogs "Como la Calle" or street dogs. They were amazing! And I can't look at a regular hot dog the same way. (Unless it's from a vendor in NYC... those guys must inject those dogs with something because MAN they are GOOD!!! Nothing like them. There was this one time my sister and I were just getting out of The Museum of Modern Art, we were both starving, and right outside the exit was this guy selling Dogs and- Holy Cats! They were amazing! I never knew that simple Ketchup and Mustard on a dog could taste so exquisite! But I digress... )

Another thing that is sold from street vendors is Cheetos.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Soren. Maine must be pretty sheltered to make Cheetos seem strange."

But hear me out.

My companion and I walked into the most ghetto part of our area, heads held high and ready to find some investigators. We made our way through the faulty apartment complex security (locking front doors that the locals had disabled so they could enter freely) and came into the open courtyard area. That was when I saw the kid. He was eating Cheetos. Now I've eaten Cheetos before, and I've seen other people eat Cheetos before, and I'm sure you have as well, but this... this was different. Instead of the traditional way (Take a few pieces out of the bag, eat them, brush the Cheetos dust off your fingers and repeat) this kid was eating his bag of Cheetos with a fork. A clever way to avoid the second to last step of the traditional way... but still there was something strange. I noticed other children with their respective bags and forks. And upon further investigation I saw that these Cheetos had more than just the little crunchy cheesy doodle things to offer. These Cheetos has been sup-ed  up! In the bag was a Salad! These kids were eating Cheeto Flavored Salads!

As we knocked the complex we found the puppet master of this great show downstairs. A little old lady cutting open the tops of the bags and filling them to the top with cut carrots, chopped lettuce, diced cucumber and then drizzling (practically drowning) the contents with hot sauce and lemon juice. She sold them out of her apartment and as we walked past her establishment her son was busy bringing another few flats of Cheetos into the home. Apparently business was good. And it was brilliant! It could save millions of parents hours of struggling to get their children to eat vegetables. Just make it look like junk food. I've seen it work. A whole army of children munching away at their bags of Cheetos With forks in hand and Hot sauce and lemon juice in their lips.

Of course then there was the time my companion and I were treated to spaghetti and meatballs Mexican style... with sour cream and crumbly cheese that smelled like my shoe... but that's a story for another day.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Arcor- The Real Wonka Factory

If you're a fan of bin candy, root beer barrels or any number of other sweet treats you may be interested to know that many of your favorites are likely made in Argentina. There is a little town that was in the Cordoba mission when I was there called Arroyito. It's kind of a backwater place except for the gigantic candy factory. The factory is owned Arcor, a huge multinational candy company that started right there. Arcor actually stands for Arroyito Cordoba. They make a ton of gummi candies, fizzy candies, and fruit flavored hard candies. Sometimes they have different names for distribution purposes, but if you're lucky you will find wrappers from time to time that carry the Arcor logo.

When Upon Life's Billows Cartoon

Here is another fun piece by Elder Gutierrez. This one shows some of the trials and blessings of tracting as set to the words of "Count Your Blessings". It is the Spanish version of the hymn, I will translate it a bit more literally, but it would be just as funny to the English words.

"When you are surrounded by pains and strifes..."
Angry Man- "I'm Catholic!"
"When temptation roar with fury..."
Attractive Girl- "Come on in, do you want to read me the bible?"
"See your blessings, count them and you will see..."
Woman- "I made Milanesas!"
Missionaries- "Again?"
"How many blessings from Jesus you have."
Friendly man- "Come in!"

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Teaching as a Companionship Cartoon

This is another cartoon by Carlos Gutierrez. I loved his witty ways to teach us how to be better missionaries. He is a native of Chile, but his English got really good, good enough to use plays on words. This cartoon is all about sharing the teaching and not leaving your companion out in the cold.

Effective Tracking Cartoon

This was a cartoon drawn by one of my mission buddies, Carlos Gutierrez. When he was a zone leader he would draw awesome cartoons for us, mostly in a sort of anime style, to illustrate points about being a missionary. This one is all about effective planning. I will put a translation below:

Chapter 8 Predicad Mi Evangelio (Preach My Gospel).
Effective planning
- Plan appointments and contacts by sector
-Do not enter areas you are unsure about (I think this meant in reference to safety)
-Less walking, more talking.

The sister missionary is saying, "I think it's on the other side of the dunes".

The sign points to a place called "Enter if you wish" which is a parody of the name of a town called "Sal si Puedes" or "Get Out if You Can".

I speak Castellano!

If you already have your mission call you may have heard about the unusual Spanish that they speak in Argentina. It's no exaggeration, they really do speak a very different type of Spanish, but it is really quite beautiful in some parts of Argentina. This Spanish is referred to as "Castellano" or Castillian Spanish. It's supposed to more pure (it's really not, they just like to say it is). But this graphic down below sums up the Argentine attitude toward they language pretty well. It says "I don't speak Spanish, I speak Castellano!"

Monday, November 26, 2012

Missionary Art- Map of Cordoba

Near the end of my mission I saw a guy in my mission who had drawn a map of Cordoba that was in the style of Lord of the Rings. I loved it, so I decided to draw one myself, and show on it the different areas that I had served. If you look closely you will see the different areas I served in within the province of Cordoba.

Advice I Wish I'd Gotten

There is a little yellow card they give out at the MTC for Spanish speakers. I suppose other languages have something similar. It has a bunch of useful tools on it for learning the language. Find someone who served a mission speaking the language you are going to learn, and see if you can borrow or make a copy of that card, then memorize that card. You might not understand what it all means, but when it clicks for you, you'll be leaps and bounds ahead on learning that language.

If you are in a ghetto area and a shady looking group of guys calls you over, trust me they don't want to hear the gospel. But they might want your watch.

Study the scriptures in depth. A lot of missionaries have this sort of contest with themselves to see how many times they can read the Book of Mormon through as a missionary. I finished it only 2 or maybe 3 times. In my first year as a missionary I only read it through once. Instead of rushing through I took copious notes, studied meanings, tracked cross references etc...I was able to fill 3 study journals as a missionary, and they have been a huge blessing to me ever since. God will reward you with more learning the deeper you dive, and the more you record of the revelation you recieve.

Develop your talents wherever possible. You are actually smarter and more capable as a missionary than you have ever been before. Your capabilities and capacities are expanded because you carry more of the spirit with you and it will amplify your abilities. Improve your talents, and try to use them in ways that will benefit the work and you will see amazing things happen.

Take a nice camera, a digital one if there are going to be cyber cafe's or other places to download your pics. Take a nice camera, don't carry it everywhere with you.

Take a bazillion pictures! You have no idea how much you will cherish those memories later. Even the dumbest things at the time can be so much fun later on.

I was prepared for a mission to be hard physically. I was not ready for it to be hard mentally. I thought I would be happy all the time, not a care in the world. The truth is the mission will push your emotional and mental limits just as much, if not more than your phsyical limits. Be prepared for that, and you will be fine.

Missionary Art- Jacob 5

As a missionary I discovered new levels to my drawing talents. I had never been anything too impressive as an artist, but I found myself getting better at it. On p-days, and at other random times I would sketch a bit here and there. This is one of my favorite pieces. It is a combination of the literal, and figurative inspired by Jacob 5.

Cordoba Argentina Mission

 My name is Brian, and I served in the MAC (Mision Argentina Cordoba). It was a great place that I loved to serve in. Argentina is a 3rd world country, so keep that in mind when I say this, but Cordoba, La Rioja and Catamarca (the 3 provinces in the mission when I was there) were pretty well to do as Argentina goes. They aren't very American in Argentina, so there aren't a lot of companies that you will see that you will be familiar with, but there are a few.

In several of my areas there was a Wal-Mart near enough to my area that we could go shop there on preparation day and get the occasional jar of peanut butter, or chips and salsa. 

If you didn't guess it from that last statement the folks in Cordoba aren't much for spicy food, so if you are headed down there expecting mexican type food, prepare to be surprised. The Argentine palate is fairly bland. But the foods they eat there are tasty, and most of them won't be big culture shocks for you. They eat lots of pasta, mashed potatoes and other simple solid foods like that. Empanadas were my favorite. They are basically a turnover with tasty fillings. They have a unique kind in Cordoba called Arabes that are delicious.  There is also my second favorite, milanesa, which is similar to a chicken fried steak, but way more delicious.

 Here is a look at a farily typical street on the outskits of Cordoba capital. This was my first area, and it was very poor. As you can see it's dirt roads, and small, humble brick houses. They do have electricity anywhere you go, which is nice, but in the more ghetto areas such as this one most of the electicy is being stolen.

 You'll see loose wires just randomly hanging off of the main powerlines. After being in the ghetto's long enough you start to wonder how anyone makes money off of electricy in Cordoba. You can see here a car in a driveway. They do have lots of cars in Cordoba, although many of the people that own them in areas like this are taxi drivers or Remis drivers. (A Remis is a kind of taxi, but you are supposed to call ahead, and not flag them down.)

You will have indoor plumbing everywhere you go, but usually you won't have access to a washer and dryer. In my first area I had to wash all my clothes in a basin in the yard. Occasionally there are members who are willing to do your wash for a small fee, and that's nice, but otherwise you mostly end up washing by hand.

Here are a couple of pictures of a more well to do neighborhood that I served in. The way it tends to work is that an area of the city is "settled" by people who just build slums there. Houses that are shoddily built, dirt roads, and only stolen electricity. The people who started out living there slowly improve their houses, add finer touches, and
 over the course of years the slum will get   
 nicer and nicer until the city officially recognizes it and comes in and gives them
proper roads etc...

This neighborhood had probably emerged from being a slum 5-10 years before I served there. You can see the houses are nicer, and there are even road signs and a couple of two story houses. This area was nice because it was safe, had a nice church building and a decent sized ward. But there was an area about 2 miles that was part of this area that had not "emerged" yet. It was still a dangerous slum.

Here you can see a picture from the back door of my apartment (pension) in this area. As you can see, and might have seen in the other pictures, there are odd tanks on top of the houses. These are water tanks. They store water for drinking, bathing etc...theoretically the water that comes out should be fine, but the problem is, especially in poorer areas, they often don't have tops on them. You don't want to think about what might be in
there. So it's best not to drink the water. On the plus side all of your apartments will have filters, so you can drink and use the water there just fine.

You  may have heard that Argentina is very European. There are a lot of very European things that you will see. This for instance is a little plaza in La Rioja. You will also see cathedrals and big churches all over the place. There is also the central "Plaza de San Martin" which is the biggest shopping area/tourist attraction in the capital city of Cordoba. It is a really fun place that is very European in its feel, and there is a lot of awesome old architecture there that is totally worth checking out on a p-day.

There is so much more to say, but I am sure it will come in future posts, so I will finish for now. Cordoba is a great place with wonderful people. Even the people who don't want to talk to you tend to be a lot nicer than Americans would be in the same situation. Remember that God loves each of them as you serve them. Stay upbeat, and appreciate the beauties that Argentina has to offer while you are there. I know that this is a true work and that God will bless you as you give your whole self to his service. If you wish to as me any questions about Argentina or missionary work please feel free to leave a comment on this post with your question and I will get back to you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Royal Army: Mission Statement

There is an urgency to missionary work in these last days like we have never seen before. There is also a need for missionaries who are truly prepared to teach the people of the world. The church has ramped up its program of spiritual preparation to new heights to make sure missionaries are prepared to teach the doctrine, however there are so many other facets of the work that many missionaries are not prepared for. There are language barriers, culture barriers, and a million tips and tricks that can save a prepared missionary headaches and heartaches. This website is dedicated to helping prepare missionaries in this way with advice from missions all over the world, advice specific in many cases to a certain mission or area. If you or a loved one is preparing for a mission please browse around, pick the brains of returned missionaries from all over and above all prepare for a whole new kind of mission preparation experience!