Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stories from My Mission: We Run for Our Lives

OK, maybe the title was a little over dramatic, but at the time it was a little scary. Previously I mentioned how when I got to Argentina the country was in the middle of a major economic crisis (not unlike the one we have today). A year an a half later the country was still having major problems and people were still having a hard time getting enough money to buy food. In an effort to help people out the government would institute various welfare projects with the aim of getting people working. In the first year of my mission they had programs where they would have women sweep the streets, and the men would mow the (very tall) grass on the side of the road. In return they would get a few hundred pesos a month to cover food and other necessities.

Unfortunately these programs broke down over time with some work groups ceasing to work, but still getting paid while others adhered a little too strictly to the rules. ("Oh, you're 10 minutes late for work, on the last day of the month, well you just won't get paid at all this month. Don't complain, it's the rules. You have to work." Never mind the fact that they were on time and worked for the rest of the month, they wouldn't get paid.) This made people disillusioned with the whole process and after about three months the whole system broke down and no one worked, or got any money (except for those few who had connections and could still "cobrar", or get paid, even though the program was "officially" ended).

A few other times there were some feeble attempts to revive the programs, and there were also various programs to help the elderly. It seemed like the old ladies were always telling us that they needed to go into "el centro" to see if they got their "giro". They never seemed to get it though, because a few days later they told us that they still need to go check. Overall there was little money and many people were struggling to get by. A lot of people were working and trying to do something but there were also a number of people who just seemed to be waiting to the government to hand them their money.

Now with that introduction, I can tell the story which takes place in my fourth area of my mission, in the city of Eldorado.

One Friday, about 6 in the evening, my companion, Elder Caballero, and I were walking along trying to find people we had previously spoken with and seemed interested in hearing what we had to talk about. At every house we visited no one seemed to be home, or they were busy, or the person we were looking for was not home. Eventually we ran out of investigators to visit and ended up clapping random doors (remember, we don't knock on doors, we stand at the edge of the yard and clap until someone responds). I was getting a little discouraged and thought about just giving up for the night and going back to our apartment (we were supposed to work until 9:30 or even a little later). I said as much to my companion, but he flatly refused, saying that we needed to keep the rules and stay on the street talking to people until it was time to go in. I didn't see any point in staying out much longer because it seemed like no one was home and all the people we met on the street were in some stage of drunkenness.

We continued on trying to find someone to talk to without success. As we walked along I noticed a general noise growing in the city. It sounded like a mixture of fireworks, people yelling, cars honking and music blaring. This was weird because normally the city was quiet, except for the downtown area. Walking along I began to hear breaking glass, like people were breaking glass bottles on the cobblestone streets. On one street I heard the distinctive fwop of a slingshot being released. I turned and looked at where the sound came from and saw a teenager standing and trying (and failing) to look innocent.

As we continued on we heard a few more fwops and Elder Caballero indicated that he heard and knew that someone was trying to shoot us. We quickly moved on. At this point (about 7 in the evening) the general din that was present began to grow louder. Up ahead of us we saw a couple of men in the middle of the street in round 3 of a boxing match with no rules, and everyone else passed out, surrounded by beer bottles, on the side of the road. We quickly turned down a side street. Immediately we were confronted with more drunk people throwing empty beer bottles with a few coming crashing down quite close to us.

I should point out that my companion, Elder Caballero, was very macho and never wanted to admit that he was scared of anything. He was an intense fighter and would never back down. But in this moment we had both had enough. I looked at him and he at me and we both knew we needed to get out of there. We began hightailing it out of there as fast as we could run. We took streets that were less likely to have people on them and ran without looking back.

Fortunately we were only about a kilometer and a half from our apartment and got there in record time. From the balcony of our third floor apartment I could hear the yells and screams and general noise coming from all over the city. In retrospect it was the noise that you might expect from an invasion of zombies. A lot of yelling, moaning, and screaming, cars honking their horns, things breaking (especially glass) and a general noise punctuated by bangs and booms. This noise continued until late at night.

The next morning we left our apartment to see the remnants of the zombie Apocalypse. It took us only a few minutes to discover that no one was home/awake/willing to talk. There were still people passed out on the side of the road and plenty of empty beer bottles and boxes of wine. After a while we decided to go hang out at a member's house since it was evident that no proselytizing would be done this morning. We had to find someone who would be guaranteed not to have a hangover.

At the member's house we told our story about the night before and they told us that unexpectedly the government had decided to give every household a few hundred pesos to help cover food costs and other things. Also as an attempt to spur the economy. But everyone just got their money on Thursday and on Friday they all went out and bought beer and wine and drunk themselves all into a stupor. So in one day the entire country got drunk and passed out. The next day no one had any more money and they all had hangovers. What a waste.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Stories from My Mission: Welcome to Argentina

While I was in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah, my sister kept sending me newspaper clippings of what was going on in Argentina. In the year leading up to my mission Argentina was experiencing major economic problems that resulted in riots in the streets, and the interest rate demanded by lenders to the federal government spiked to 16% (sounds just like Greece? yes almost exactly like Greece). A troika consisting of The World Bank, The U.S. Treasury, and the IMF agreed to lend money to Argentina at a greatly discounted rate, with the demand that they cut their deficit and fix some structural problems. But due to riots in the streets, internal political disagreements, and many other problems (such as the president had to flee La Casa Rosada by helicopter to escape the rioters), Argentina eventually defaulted on their debt about a week after I entered the MTC. In a period of about 4 weeks the country went through 3 different presidents, with the last one resigning about a year later, which prompted a rather interesting election, but that is another story.

The debt default sparked a period of inflation which brought much hardship to the people I worked with. [Author's note: I want to take a moment to point out something problematic with how economists "measure" inflation. Officially inflation in Argentina peaked at 10.4% in April 2002, with a total inflation of about 40% for all of 2002. Even by economist's standards that is bad, but their way of measuring inflation generally includes things like washing machines, cars, houses, radios, TV's, computers, cellphones, and things like that. But for about half the population their main concern was food, and nothing else. Because I had to go buy food like everyone else in Argentina I got to watch the price of food shoot up dangerously. My food allowance as a missionary also had to be increased significantly over the course of a year. If you measured inflation using only food, the things people buy every single day, then inflation for all of 2002 would have been somewhere over 100%. I watched food prices double, and continue to rise the next year for a total inflation of 200-300% over the course of my mission. This left over a quarter of the population without enough money to even buy food, and I found this out by talking to these people every single day. That is something that is never reflected in the economist's numbers. And now back to our story...]

The worst part of the political uncertainty and turmoil happened while I spent two months in the MTC. After that we flew down to Argentina to land in the middle (literally) of all the unrest. While In the MTC I teased the elders in my district by telling them that when we flew into the city of Resistencia, where the mission office was, we may have to circle the airport a few times while they cleared the cows and goats from the runway. Some of them actually took me seriously.

We flew from Salt Lake City to Chicago O'hare, and from there to Buenos Aires. The airport that we flew into was the international airport, but we had to travel to another airport on the other side of the city (literally!) in order to catch our flight to Resistencia. There was a guide (who spoke 16 words of English) who directed us to the proper transportation, but the drivers didn't speak English, and despite two months of intensive training, none of us spoke a lick of Spanish. So there was little communication, mostly gestures and an occasional burst of the gift of tongues.

Because our flight did not leave until much later they took us to the Buenos Aires Temple (which has its own MTC, or CCM as it is called there). While at the Temple some people took pity on us and speaking very slowly explained to us that we could go to the cafeteria and get some food. Let's just say I was not very impressed with the vegetables cooked beyond recognition, the beef that was half fat and tendon, and the rolls that were hard enough to pound nails. The empanadas were good though. After a while the transportation came and picked us up and took us to the airport. This airport is right on the waterfront and overlooks directly el Río de la Plata, which is an estuary formed by el Río Paraná and el Río Uruguay. At its widest el Río de la Plata is 140 miles wide. As we stood there looking out the window at the river I mentioned to the other American missionaries that what they were looking at was a river, not the ocean. They all responded with disbelief, "There's no river that big." I went over to one of the sister missionaries from Argentina and asked her, "¿Eso es un río?" ("Is that a river?"). When she answered "Sí." ("Yes.") the elder's jaws dropped. They also started thinking, "If Elder Tanner is right about that being a river then he might be right about the cows and the goats on the runway. What have we gotten ourselves into?!?!"

After a while we boarded out plane to Resistencia (several missionaries were happy to see that it was a standard passenger jet, and not some dinky prop plane). After a short trip we arrived and were met by a couple elders who worked in the mission office. They transported us to the mission home and showed us our temporary accommodations, let's just say we were a little apprehensive with the accommodations. (Think high school locker room smell, with 4 tier bunk beds and a shower that consisted of a bucked hanging on the wall. At least the bathroom had a door.)

In the morning we had a few meetings with the mission president and his assistants to get us oriented and then we met our trainers. My trainer, Elder Tenny, had just arrived that morning and had not slept in about 24 hours. He fell asleep in our meetings and was a little out of it. But we did get the best pastries I had ever had (and will ever have for as long as I live, they were the best). After all this was over all the missionaries walked out and started milling about in front of the mission office while the office elders figured out how to transport everyone to the bus station so that we could travel to our respective areas.

While everyone was milling about on the sidewalk I noticed a pickup truck drive by and pull up to the curb about 30 feet down the road from where all the missionaries were standing. A set of policemen (about 7 or 8) climbed out of the back and out of the cab and proceeded to calmly arm themselves with shotguns, gas masks, riot shields, and body armor. While I watched them arming themselves (now about 20 feet away) I looked past them and noticed that about a block away there was a large crowd of people gathered in the street carrying banners and waving flags. I stepped over to Elder Tenny pointed at the policemen arming themselves and said, "Um...should we be concerned?" Elder Tenny was paying more attention to the office elders discussing bus schedules, and no one else seemed to notice the growing riot and escalating, armed police presence.

I stood there thinking, "Surely someone else notices the police with the shotguns 20 feet from us, and surely someone with some authority will say something." But no one did. About the time the shotguns were being loaded I went over to Elder Tenny again and again asked him, "Um...should we be concerned?" This time I got his attention and pointed to the police. He looked at them for a moment (he was rather tired) and eventually said to one of the Assistants to the President (AP), "Hey Elder Mackey! This doesn't look good, maybe we should go inside!" Finally the AP's and the office elders looked down the street and quickly assessed the situation.

"Alright! Everyone INSIDE NOW!!!", one of the AP's yelled out.

"You, you, you and you get in the car right now! Everyone else MOVE!!", he yelled pointing at me, my companion and a few other missionaries that needed to get to the bus station right away. As all the other missionaries quickly filed into the mission office, we hurriedly stuffed our bags in the van, jumped in and quickly drove away past the forming line of policemen. As we drove by the police Elder Tenny turned to me and said, "Welcome to Argentina!"

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Orson Hyde and the Fourteen Articles of Faith (LDS)

[Update 10/28/13: I noticed that the Frontier Guardian has been digitized and now appears on the LDS Church History Library website. Here is a link to the images. The segment containing the articles of faith is on the first page in the right most column. This copy was apparently owned by President Willard Richards, since it has his name on it.]

This is something I came across today I and thought I should share it. Everyone in the Church is familiar with the thirteen Articles of Faith as they appear in The Pearl of Great Price, but few know that Orson Hyde also wrote down some articles of faith using the thirteen Articles of Faith, from the Wentworth Letter by Joseph Smith, as a template. But in Elder Hyde's version he added one more article of faith (to read a brief history of the Articles of Faith I would recommend this brief explanation at

The fourteen articles of faith appeared in a newspaper edited by Elder Hyde called the Frontier Guardian, (Feb. 20, 1850, Vol. 2.) Interestingly enough, the only copy of the fourteen articles of faith by Orson Hyde I could find online was on an anti-Mormon website. I could not find anywhere else a copy of the text or an image of the paper, though the original is listed as being held in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. [Update 10/28/13: This part no longer applies, see above.]

Because I think it is interesting I will provide a transcription of the fourteen articles of faith as written by Orson Hyde in the Frontier Guardian. Spelling and punctuation are preserved. Differences from Joseph Smith's original version are marked in red. The "fourteenth article of faith" is inserted between the tenth and eleventh articles, and deals with the resurrection.

Latter Day Saint's Faith.
     We believe in God the eternal Father, and his son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
     We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgressions.
     We believe that through the attonement of Christ all mankind may be saved. by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
     We believe that these ordinances are:—1st. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. 2d. Repentance. 3d. Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. 4th. Laying on of hands by the gift of the Holy Spirit. 5th. The Lord's Supper.
     We believe that men must be called of God by inspiration, and by laying on of hands for those who are duly commissioned to preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
     We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, viz : apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, &c.
     We believe in the powers and gifts of the everlasting gospel, viz : the gift of faith, discrning of spirits, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, wisdom, charity brotherly love, &c.
     We believe the word of God recorded in the Bible, we also believe the word of God recorded in the Book of Mormon, and in all other good books.
     We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will reveal many more great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God and Messiah's second coming.
     We believe in the literal gathering of Israel, and in the restoration of the ten tribes; that Zion will be established upon the western continent, that Christ will reign personally upon the earth a thousand years, and that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisaical glory.
     We believe in the literal resurrection of the body, and that the rest of the dead live not again until the thousand years are expired.
     We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our conscience unmolested, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how or where they may.
     We believe in being subject to kings, queens, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.
     We believe in being honest, true, chaste, temperate, benevolent, virtuous and upright, and in doing good to all men ; indeed we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul. we "believe all things," we "hope all things," we have endured very many things, and we hope to be able to "endure all things." Everything virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, and of good report we seek after, looking forward to the "recompense of reward." But an idle or lazy person cannot be a christian, neither have salvation. He is a drone, and destined to be stung to death and tumbled out of the hive.

     The Frontier guardian, 1849-1853: 1850-1851 (Volume 2); 1850 February 20 (No. 2). Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Stories from My Mission: Holidays

Because today is Independence Day in the US I thought that I could mention something about holidays in Argentina.

Argentina does not have more national holidays than the US but it does have more fixed holidays. That means that there are more national holidays that fall on a specific date and they do not move them to accommodate people who are traveling. For example, in the US Labor Day and Memorial day are always on Mondays so that there is a three day weekend. These holidays are movable. Holidays such as the 4th of July, are fixed. In Argentina the majority of their holidays are fixed (two of their three independence days are fixed, the third one is a made up holiday to celebrate a victory over French and English forces in 1845).

Because so many of their holidays are fixed they have to deal with the problem of what happens if the holiday (such as the 25th of May, the 9th of July, the 20th of June, the 12th of October, May 1st, the 2nd of April, or the 24th of March) falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. If it falls on a Tuesday then there is an additional holiday on the Monday before. If it falls on a Thursday then there is an additional holiday on the Friday afterwards. Technically there are no additional holiday days given if any of these holidays fall on a Wednesday, but many people assumed that there would be additional days off work anyway.

For example if the 25th of May fell on a Wednesday, and because it was a sufficiently important holiday, people would assume that either the following Thursday and Friday would also be holidays, or that the proceeding Monday and Tuesday would also be holidays. But because there was no general rule, half the people would assume that Thursday and Friday would be off as well, and the other half would assume that Monday and Tuesday would be off instead. The end result would be that everyone would end up taking the whole week off and nothing would get done (kids wouldn't go to school, some shops would be closed, government offices would be closed and everyone would be sitting in their yards barbecuing).

If the holiday fell on a Saturday or a Sunday then people would assume that either a Friday or a Monday would also be a holiday to compensate. But again there were no set rules, so half the people would pick one day and the other half would pick the other, with just about everyone ending up with a four day weekend. As missionaries holidays were both helpful and an annoyance. Because there was a holiday people would tend to be home and willing to talk to us, but also because it was a holiday people were always going places and doing things and thus they were not willing to talk to us. This was compounded by the fact that some holidays (the really important ones) tended to stretch out and turn into holi-weeks  instead of holi-days.