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Monday, October 29, 2012

Pergamino Info.

Hello to everyone. I have absolutely loved serving as a non-office missionary these past few weeks. The only downside is the mail system. Now, I have to wait until special conferences or meetings with the zone leaders to receive mail. So long story short, I haven´t heard anything from the outside world for close to a month now. Pretty crazy, huh? No worries though, since the mail should arrive this week with the zone leaders, or at least that´s the plan. :) I enjoy reading about school and activities in your letters, especially after a long day of work. I know I´ve said that like a thousand times, but it´s completely true. I love serving as a missionary, but at the same time, there is nothing like getting a letter from a good friend or family member. Letters are treasures for us as missionaries, and they always make me want to work even harder! So thank you, like always. I´ve decided to focus this week´s message on the small little town of Pergamino here in Argentina, which actually lies with the providence of Buenos Aires.
Pergamino. Including my service here in Pergamino, I have now served in four different cities of Argentina: Santa Fe, Paraná, Rosario, and Pergamino. Each one has its own pros and cons, and Pergamino has the smallest population, that´s for sure. I don´t know the exact statistics, but we only have about 10 missionaries in the whole city, forming a small, legit zone. I already know almost all of the missionaries here because we all live within walking distance except for two companionships. They take the bus, which is no big deal. I really love it. It reminds me of my experiences in Paraná, the other smaller zone in which I served before heading into the offices. Like Paraná, this city is so small that all the missionaries get together every pday--every single pday!!!!. We played indoor soccer this morning with a mini soccer ball. Tons. of. fun. I had a blast, and everyone is really tired right now. We will probably head back to the apartment after writing home to take a nice long nap before heading out to work this evening.
Aside from the zone and its missionaries, Pergmaino has a ranch/cowboy feel to it. About 40% of my current area contains ranches, fields, and lots of dirt paths. We walk on rocky streets half of the time and on cement whenever possible. The people aren´t as educated here, but they are a little more open and treat us well. Some of them even give us food and a glass of water during the first visit. Many own horses or cattle. So cool. Whenever we head out to the ranches of our area, the majority of the men don´t wear shirts and have big mustaches. It makes me think of El Paso sometimes. haha. Due to the fields and wide spacing, we have to walk two to three minutes between contacts sometimes. It really is quite the experience. The other half of our area is the border of downtown. It has a suburb feel to it, although most of the people still lead a simple life with little technology.
Let´s be honest, it is really quite different than all of my other areas. I really like it; however, and I learn some more each week. The people here have passionate feelings towards soccer in Buenos Aires, even more so than Rosario and all my other areas in the mission. We talk about the league and the teams during almost every visit :), which is good as we're having some solid small talk before starting the lesson. I´ve enjoyed my time here. Due to little time here in the computer shack, here are some other quick facts about the little town of Pergamino:
  • Little groups of young adults and kids always play soccer in the street.
  • A large chunk of the population goes to an Evangelist church, which helps us out while teaching them. Usually they have a reasonable understanding of basic gospel concepts and accept the Bible without any problems. 
  • It rains here three to four times a week. I don´t know if we have just had some random weather, but it does seem to rain here quite regularly.
  • Our apartment has a car garage. It is really small, unlike the typical garages in the states, but we use it to do exercises. We can even play small soccer games inside when the relentless rain keeps us inside.
  • We starting having missionary activities in the church this past week, inviting many members and investigators to come and get together. It was a great success, and we plan to work with the Bishop some more this coming week.
  • Our first Sunday, only 16 people attended. This past week we had 36! We can´t demand unrealistic goals, but we sure can demand improvement :)
I have tons more to say, but I would like to dedicate some more time to writing my family this week. Thank you for all of your support. I´m doing well down here, thousands of miles away from home. Actually, I will experience a reverse culture shock upon my return home to the states haha. Seriously. Hopefully I won´t be too weird! haha.
Elder Jones

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hello from Pergamino

Guess what? I have lived in Pergamino, Argentina for a week and a half already. Though tough at times, I have enjoyed my experience so far and plan to stay here for three more months. When we hit the three-month mark, the president will tell us the next game plan. As for now, I can´t complain. Here is some solid info. that gives a quick lowdown of my mission right now!
The Apartment. I already briefed you guys on the format and layout of our little apartment last week, which actually has served us pretty well up to this point. However, I still have some more to tell everybody. First off, IT IS CRAZY. For my whole mission, all of my companions have been from the states. This go around, not only is my companion from Chile, but everyone I live with speaks fluent Spanish. It is a completely different and unique feeling. I love it. I feel as though the different, legit culture shock has finally hit me, and boy did it take me by surprise haha. I will do my best, but you just have to serve as a missionary to really take the rollarcoaster ride. Here are some bullets, just to give you a sample:
  • My Spanish has improved dramatically in these past few days because I live in a complete Spanish world right now haha. I am learning a lot of non-gospel vocabulary. It is nuts, and I wouldn´t have been prepared for it earlier in the mission. I am able to speak well enough to always keep up with the conversation, and they can´t make fun of me like they do with other Americans. haha.
  • Elder Rodriguez is from Mexico and has to train his new companion as well. We work together sometimes, formulating ideas and planning out weeks. He is hilarious--absolutely hilarious. He knows English better than the other two, but we just always talk in Spanish since it is easier. He eats spicy eggs, spicy tacos, spicy jalapenos, and spicy everything. Man, I thought Elder Camacho (from the offices) ate spicy food. Boy, was I wrong! :) Elder Rodriguez always jokes around too, and I have learned a lot of Spanish words with two meanings, depending on the context of the sentence. A lot of jokes in Spanish have a play on words, just like in English.
  • Elder Eliosoff is the one from Buenos Aires. He speaks super fast, but it helps me with Spanish conversations, which is the hardest part for Americans learning the language. He speaks really formally in the streets (obviously, since we are missionaries), but then a little less formal in the apartment. He is kinda like a skateboarder, and he cooks all of the Argentine food really well. He is a pretty cool and chill dude. :)
  • Elder Valenzuela is my companion, and I described him a bit in last week´s message too. He loves to play tennis!! We haven´t found a court here though.... We will have to see if we can play within the next few weeks. His Spanish from Chile is a lot different from how the Argentines speak here. He is learning fast, however, so it´s no big deal. There are just a lot of small words that change across countries. It happens in the states too. Is it a coke, a pop, or a soda? They all mean the same thing, but sometimes people get confused haha. We speak English together like 30 minutes a day, just to practice some. He really isn´t too bad and took three years in high school. I imagine he speaks English like a new missionary from the states speaks Spanish. Long story short, things are going well.
  • Not ever speaking English is really weird. On pdays, I finally see some other Americans, and it feels kinda strange. When I´m in the apartment or sitting in on a lesson with an investigator, it´s as if I am in a completely different world. English means absolutely nothing to them, which still blows my mind sometimes. 
  • I finally feel like the missionary I´ve always wanted to be since my arrival. I finally have a good grip on the language and improve some more everyday. I finally understand the Bishop, the people, and we all work together to better the ward and members within the boundaries.
Alright. I have some other quick points to tell you guys!
  • We walk on average 10 miles a day. Yeah, we hit the hay hard at night haha.
  • It rained three times this past week, and half of the streets are made of mud here. We both almost ate it in this slippery sludge a handful of times.
  • My area is poorer compared to Rosario, but it is much better off than Santa Fe.
  • Our ward had 30 people in attendance yesterday, which is really good for us. The average is 22. We have close to 300 members on the roster, so we are doing lots of visits to less-active families. A lot of people have lost their jobs and have to work on Sundays to help provide some extra change for food.
  • I am completely used to the food and diet here. I eat Argentine food almost everyday since I don´t live with Americans anymore.
  • The bills come to the apartment every month, and we divide them between everyone. The landlord thinks we are crazy since we all live together and get along, forming four different nationalities! haha.
  • My zone consists of 10 companionships. There are eight here in the main city, and the two other ones work out in in the outskirts of the city, called "pueblos," which basically means "small town" in English. We usually get together in groups of eight missionaries, with whichever companionships live closest. We plan to play soccer today at one in the afternoon. The majority of the zone is Latino, so the game should be pretty intense.
  • The companionships in the pueblos come up to the main city like once a transfer, but they have to pay an expensive cost and travel for like an hour each way.
Basically, everything is pretty chill. I´m living the good life as a missionary, despite the tough circumstances. Long story short, I feel used to everything and know you guys support me. I appreciate your prayers and letters, too. We haven´t found a post office yet.... Hopefully we will come across one this week.
Thanks for everything!
Elder Jones

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Most Bizarre and Random Week of my Mission!

For the first time in seven months, I have the opportunity to write my weekly letter to home from a computer shack close to my apartment. This past week has blown by, leaving me exhausted and excited at the same time. I have less access to computers now, so I better get started. Some of the details will probably take you by surprise, so get ready!
Companion. I recently left the offices after serving for seven months as the mission historian and now work as a trainer right now with my new companion, Elder Valenzeula (Val--in--sue--eh--lah). I finally have the opportunity to work with a missionary from Latin America! He is from the heart of Santiago, Chile and has served as a missionary for almost 30 days. So yes, he feels extremely new sometimes. haha. I help him with the missionary work and explain how the schedule, appointments, and special missionary meetings work each week, while he helps me with Spanish. He speaks a little bit of English, but barely enough to hold a conversation. About 95% of the time we just speak Spanish, just to make sure we understand each other and everything. Much of the training program comes from either Salt Lake or the president, so we always speak in Spanish to make sure he understands. He loves music and always sings romantic Spanish songs, which basically sound like a Spanish radio for me. haha. I don´t really know of any good Spanish music, but I have learned a decent amount though just from listening to other Latin missionaries. One time he started singing while preparing breakfast, and I started singing along with him. Even though my voice is terrible (yes, all of my close friends and family know I can´t sing at all), he was SUPER surprised. I have a huge list in my journal completely full of Spanish music. I have asked each of my Latin American misisonary friends to write down their favorite artists. So I should have a pretty solid library for Itunes when I come home :). Here are just a few other quick details about him:
  • He plays soccer really well and practiced a ton as a kid.
  • His English doesn´t really make that much sense, but we are working together so he can communicate better.
  • His older brother served a mission in Ecuador.
  • His accent from Chile is really obvious right now, and a lot of the members make fun of him. He does alright though. There are just small words or sayings from Chile that don´t often get used here. So I have even taught him some Spanish stuff, which was really funny! :)
  • As a missionary from Chile, he likes to hang out with the other missionaries from Chile, which makes sense.
  • He is doing well, and we will have to see how it goes over these next few weeks!
Transfer Week. I have already explained the chaos of transfer week in other weekly messages, so I don´t have to explain the process this time! However, it did feel different being on the other side of the process this past week. I was one of the trainers who ate with his new companion and went to the special ceremony for new missionaries. I´m not gonna lie, it felt kinda nice not having to worry about setting up tables, cooking food, or running to do last minute set up for the ceremony in the chapel. I just took everything in and enjoyed it, smiling at my old companion since I knew what everyone was really doing outside in the offices behind the scenes! haha. The day felt as if it would never end. I woke up at 5:30 am since I still had to train the new historian a bit more, which started the day off with a bang. That´s for sure.
Finally, after all the ceremonies, the lunch, the interviews with president, and everything else, we took a taxi to the bus station. I also felt strange since I had always helped other missionaries buy bus tickets in the past, but I was on the other side this time. Some of the other office elders had already found my ticket, and the zone leaders helped us load everything up on the bus. After a three hour bus ride, we finally arrived to Pergamino, my new zone and area for the next four to six months! Guess what? We arrived, and nobody was there in the station waiting for us! My companion is completely new, and I had never been in Pergamino before, which made things a little hectic. I called a few people, and we finally got everything coordinated. The taxi dropped us off right in front of our apartment at 8:30 at night. What. a. long. day. We had to unpack, do groceries, and all that jazz. Let´s just say I slept great that night! haha. Anyways, moving on!
My New Apartment. I will have to make this short, but don´t worry, I will continue writing more next week! I live in another apartment filled with four missionaries. This is CRAZY. As of right now about 85% of all missionary apartments are simply for one companionship. I have never had one in my mission so far! haha. I haven´t met another missionary in the field like me. Everyone has lived in a two-man apartment at least once. haha. Alright, I´m sure there are at least a few other missionaries who have had the same experience as me. It is still pretty crazy though, considering the statistics. I lived with six elders in Santa Fe when I started the mission. Then I lived with four in Paraná. In the offices, I lived with eight missionaries. And now here in Pergamino, I live with four once again!!! There is a twist to this one: everyone is Latin except me! Crazy stuff. I am from Texas, and my comp is from Chile. Elder Rodriguez is from Mexico, and Elder Eliosoff is from Buenos Aires. So yeah, I am really having the foreign mission experience right now :) The bathroom is terrible, but overall, it is a pretty nice apartment.
Well, I would really like to say more, but we have to leave in five minutes! We played soccer and ate pizzas as a zone today. It was tons of fun, but we didn´t finish until like 4:30, leaving us with only one hour to write to both the president and our families. I will have to continue next week, and hopefully we will have more time.
I would like to thank everyone for your support, your cards, and your prayers. I got a few letters mailed off my last day in the offices, which was really fortunate. So Kimber and Malia, you should get one soon! I found out that sending cards here is really tough. Hopefully the zone leaders will be able to give me my mail quickly!! Thanks again for everything!
Elder Jones

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hey Hey Hey

Alright, so another six-week transfer has come and gone here in the offices. I have served as the mission historian for almost seven months now, and time has absolutely flown by these past few weeks. Last Tuesday, the president called me into his office. This has happened regularly over the past months, and we usually just talk about reports or other topics related to my job. Not this time! He surprised me completely, informing me that a new historian would come to the offices in a mere two days!

So for this past week, I have trained Elder Rubio, a humble missionary from Buenos Aires Province. He has gradually learned how to use all of the programs and should serve as a great historian. Plus, it has been kinda fun showing him the ropes. All and all, I have enjoyed my time here in the mission home, but heading back out into the field should be a great experience. I will leave the mission home this Wednesday, heading for the small town called "Pergamino," a small city close to the southern tip of our mission. Even though I serve in the Rosario Mission, our boundaries include small parts of Buenos Aires Province, and Pergamino is one of them. I have never even gone south of the mission home, so we will have to see how it goes over these next few weeks!

Also, the president informed me that I will be training a new missionary from Chile! Wahoo, I will now have a companion from South America! So far, all of my companions up to this point of my mission have been from the states! Wow, that makes me feel old. While in high school, I remember looking up to other missionaries and thinking, "Wow, they are super old." But guess what? I don´t feel that old! Oh well, I will probably say the same thing when I become a grandpa haha :) 

Anyways, long story short, I will continue serving my mission and trusting in the Lord by listening and following my leaders here. Right now, Pergamino is calling my name, and we´ll have to see what it has in store for me. In one short week, I will change from an office elder with Elder Hull to a trainer serving along with a companion from Chile. I might not see anyone who speaks English for a while... 

Don´t worry, I will keep you updated. Thank you so much for your support and prayers. I know we receive divine help here in the field, and we most definitely need it on a daily basis. 

Thanks again, and sorry for writing so little. We have had extremely small amounts of free time today between as I've helped train the new historian and prepare for all of the new missionaries who will come tomorrow. I hope you are all doing well. 

Elder Jones

Monday, October 1, 2012

Weekly Wrap

Wow, that title made me think of ward wrapup from freshman year. Good times, good times. Anyways, here is a cultural note and some other quick details!

Cultural Note. Here in Argentina we use Argentine Pesos. Different from the Mexican peso, each Argentine 4.7 pesos values about $1 American dollar right now. As you might have guessed, it takes a while to adjust to the difference in value. My first few weeks, i always had to do the conversion between pesos and dollars, until I learned the true value of each peso. For example, soda might cost eight or nine pesos. This sounds really expensive when you only pay attention to the numerical value, but when you do the conversion it rounds to just under two bucks, which isn´t too bad for a half-liter. That reminds me, everything here functions on the metric system. So just like with the peso, I had to adjust to kilometers, liters, and all sorts of random measurements you would never really think twice about while living in the States. Even when I first started driving the mission van, I had no idea how fast the speedometer registered. 120 km/hr... (72 mph) What does that really mean?  Sometimes I just smiled to myself and went with the traffic, hoping it wasn´t too crazy fast. haha. It just takes awhile, that is for sure. It´s all part of the experience, though. The hardest for me right now is the difference between Fahrenheit and Celsius. My first few months, people would tell me, "hey, it´s 30 degrees outside." I wouldn´t have any idea what it meant, especially when you throw the language barrier on top of everything haha. So each day, regardless of what the dumb thermometer said, I had to go outside to feel how hot it was haha. Another difficult one was using kilometers per liter, which has basically nothing to do with miles per gallon haha. Even now, after living in Argentina for more than a year, when someone tells me their gas mileage, i don´t really have any clue about its efficiency haha, so i just smile and say, "cool." You just have to live in a foreign country to really experience the change of both simple and complex aspects of life, anywhere from the language you speak daily to how you plug in a stereo system haha. Some missionaries have blown stuff up, all due to the difference in voltage.

Actually, just to give a quick recap on last Christmas, i will tell a quick story. I just reminded myself about a funny experience! Last December, one of the missionaries couldn´t contain his excitement while opening his Christmas package, in which he found tons of Christmas lights. Super excited and with the biggest smile ever, he ran to the wall and plugged them in immediately, without thinking and completely forgetting about the Argentine voltage system. All of his beautiful lights exploded one by one, until everything was totally ruined and kinda smokey. His facial expression and excitement pulled a complete 180 in about two seconds HAHAHAHA. So yep, his Christmas lights didn´t really turn out quite like his mom would have liked last Christmas, but at least he made me laugh haha!

And that´s about all I have today. I will try to write a bit more later today, but i´m just worn out. It has been a long, routine week, without any really unique experiences. We did the normal stuff, worked hard, and had some great lessons. Many of our investigators have done some solid reading, and we have had some support from member too. I´ll probably give an update on some of them next week. That reminds me . . . next week is transfer week--"the week of chaos". I will probably have little free time, but it´s all good. Everything has its purpose, right? I have been here as the mission´s historian and data analyst for almost 7 months now. I know, pretty nuts, huh? I will probably serve in another area and get transferred from here next week, but whatever the President feels will work fine for me. I will willingly (and excitedly) go back out into the field, whereas staying here in the offices one more transfer for six weeks would really be an adventure too. Whatever the Lord wants for me. :). Rumor has it that i´m staying for one more, due to many other changes throughout the mission and since the President feels content with my work. At the same time, I have stayed here longer than most.... We will just have to see with time. I will know next Monday for sure!

Thanks for all of your support. I have had some of the busiest days of my life, starting at 630am and ended right at 1030, with very little break time. Like always, I really appreciate your letters. Malia and Kimbz, thank you so much for your mail!!!!!! I enjoyed reading your letters, and they made me laugh, like A LOT. Rojo was thrilled! haha. I will try to write back today if there´s time! Thanks again for your support. Also, i appreciate the prayers of everyone. Actually, i´m grateful for any type of support directed to missionary work. I want everyone to know of my gratitude, whoever it might be that´s reading this page right now. You help me keep going. I would like to leave you guys with a quote from my personal study this week. It is in Spanish, so you will have to put it in a translator. Those of you who speak Spanish should like it a lot. :) I just don´t want to translate it because it would lose some meaning, knowing that any translation isn´t 100 percent accurate. Alright, here it is:

"Podemos cambiar nuestro estilo de vida si lo deseamos de verdad. Si ponemos nuestra fe en el Padre Celestial, Él nos sostendrá en nuestro esfuerzo."

May we all strive to mold our lifestyles in a way that binds us closer to our loved ones and to our Heavenly Father is my hope and prayer, and I leave it with you as a missionary here in Rosario, Argentina. I know we are all one big family, and I really appreciate all you do for me.

Elder Jones

And that´s a wrap! :)