Friday, May 3, 2013

Stories from My Mission: Sandra Gets Baptized

This story comes from the second area of my mission in the city of Sáenz Peña. Whenever a missionary arrives in an area the standard procedure is for the missionary who already knows the area to give a "data dump" on the incoming missionary. This includes things like the names of people that are currently meeting with the missionaries, members we are working with, important information about the area etc. Thus on my first day in the area I sat down with my companion Elder Keyes and went through the standard procedure. There were a few people they had been teaching and I wrote their names down on my weekly agenda that I carried around with me.

Then I asked if there was any one who was ready to be baptized. Elder Keyes looked at me and said, "Yes...well sort of. There is one woman named Sandra who is going to get baptized."

"Oh?" I asked, "When is she getting baptized?"

"She doesn't have a date yet."

(me) "... how many charlas [discussions] has she had?"

"Just one...well sort of...but she is going to get baptized."

"Did you ask her if she wanted to get baptized?"

"No, but I just know that she is going to get baptized."

"Has she come to church yet?"


"When was the last time you talked to her?"

"We saw her about three weeks ago."

"And that was the last time you gave her a charla?"

"No. That was four weeks ago."

(me) "..."

"How many times have you talked to her?"

"Once or twice. But she is going to get baptized."

"How do you know that?"

"She's a great person and I just know that she is going to get baptized."

There was something sincere about the way that Elder Keyes said it that made me know it too. Even though I had never met her I knew that Sandra would get baptized. Under any normal circumstances Sandra would have been considered to be a dead investigator (i.e. not progressing in the discussions, not showing willingness to meet with us, not reading, coming to church etc.). But there was just something about Elder Keyes and the way he said it that made me believe it too (for anyone who knows Elder Keyes they know that he is a very sincere, kind person, and he really does know what he is talking about). So I put her name down on the back of my agenda as a future possibility.

Over the next few weeks when I was working with Elder Keyes occasionally we would walk past Sandra's house, but we never seemed to have time to stop and talk to her. But eventually we did have an opportunity to stop, and she wasn't home. So we tried again. And again. And again. Eventually we found her two kids at home (aged 11 and 13). We talked to them briefly. We asked if their mother was around and they told us that she was working, she had just gotten a new job on the other side of the city and it took a lot of time to travel and to work. They seemed nice and asked when we could come back and talk about the church again. We said we would come back when we could.

Eventually we finally caught Sandra at home and were able to talk to her a little bit, but she didn't have a lot of time. She was getting ready to go to some school thing with her kids. We set a time to come back and meet with her but when we came she wasn't there.

After six weeks with Elder Keyes, it was time for him to go home. I saw him off and promised him that I would take care of the people that he cared about so much.

My new companion came into the area and like normal we sat down and I told him about all the people we were teaching. My new companion, Elder Pereyda, was Argentine and very opinionated. I gave him all the standard information, but when I came to Sandra things got a little interesting. The conversation was roughly like the one I had with Elder Keyes, except with Elder Pereyda interjecting comments about how this was stupid, a waste of time, he wasn't going to write her name down because it was obvious that she wasn't an investigator (remember it had been 10 weeks since her first and only charla, and about 4 weeks since our last contact with her). My new companion was "efficient" and wasn't going to waste his time with someone who had no prospects of progressing.

I sincerely told him that Sandra was going to get baptized, because Elder Keyes had told me so, and I believed him. Elder Pereyda just thought I was daft.

Over the next few weeks the issue of Sandra was a minor bit of contention between the two of us. It was never spoken but it was there every time we talked about our list of investigators. I even pointed out Sandra's house to him as we were walking by and told him that if we were unable to teach her before I left the area then he could go there and have a guaranteed baptism. He wasn't much amused with that. I could tell that he was just waiting to "cut her off" so that he didn't have to deal with the thought hanging over our companionship. Because of this I always steered him away from meeting with Sandra because I knew that if he went to meet her with his attitude then a disaster would happen.

This went on for about 3 weeks until one day I got a call saying that I needed to go into Resistencia, where the mission office was located, so that I could get my official Argentine ID (Documento Nacional de Identidad, or DNI). The trip would take a full day so I would have to spend the night in Resistencia. I was to be traveling with the companion of the zone leader who also had to go get his DNI, which meant that our zone leader would be staying with Elder Pereyda.

As I was getting ready to leave (as in I had by bag and was walking out the door with the zone leader's companion) Elder Pereyda looked at me and asked if there was anything that he and the zone leader could do while we were gone (I knew the area better and I knew who all the people were that we had been talking to, he was still learning the area). I looked at him and the zone leader, Elder Cook, and in a moment of inspiration said, "You could visit Sandra." Elder Pereyda got a gleam in his eye that said, "Now's my chance. This is going to be a charla franca [frank discussion, usually when we tell the person that we will never visit them again]." He wanted to get Sandra off the list, even if he had never written her name down on his own list, he knew that she was still on my list.

Elder Cook saw the exchanges of "looks" and knew that something was up. He asked if Sandra was some kind of problem. I told him no, she was going to get baptized, which started the whole discussion again of, "How many charlas has she had?" and all that. But in the middle of it I just walked out the door to go catch the bus to Resistencia and left Elder Pereyda to explain to Elder Cook (I'm sure the explanation was full of sarcasm) all about Sandra, the mystery "investigator" who had only one discussion, had never come to church, and had talked to the missionaries a grand total of 5 minutes in the past 10 weeks. I'm sure Elder Cook was primed and skeptical when they left to go find Sandra that evening.

The next evening, after my trip to Resistencia, I finally returned to the house where we were staying. Elder Pereyda and Cook were there and were ready with a story of their own that they couldn't wait to tell. After I left them the day before they planned a few things and went to take care of some things that the zone leader, Elder Cook, needed to take care of. When they were done with that it was getting pretty late and dark so they had time for one final visit before they went home. That is when they decided to visit Sandra.

She happened to be home, available and with time to talk. They decided to skip most of the formalities and after a brief chat they dived right into a discussion of the basic message of the gospel (i.e. Book of Mormon, the restoration, prophets). At this point Elder Pereyda asked the blunt question, "Do you want us to keep coming by and visiting you?" To which she said, "Yes." That took Elder Pereyda back a little. Then Elder Cook asked her if she was willing to commit to baptism and to becoming a member of the church. Her response about killed Elder Pereyda. She answered with a simple, "Sí."

The almost didn't know how to respond to that. But they collected themselves and then set about setting a date for her to get baptized. They spent about two hours talking with her and making sure that she really was ready and willing to get baptized (she was). Over the next two weeks we met with her some more and taught her the rest of the charlas. She came to church and finally three weeks after that night she got baptized. I wished Elder Keyes could have been there.

Shortly after that Elder Pereyda got transferred out of the area (which is unusual but there were things that I had to do in the area that only God knew about). My new companion was Elder Palazuelos. We visited with Sandra some more to have was were known as "new member discussions". Even though her children were there for a few of our visits they didn't seem to be too interested (they had a cousin and an aunt and uncle who were very active members of another church who were trying to get them to join that church).

After six weeks with Elder Palazuelos I finally got transferred to a new area. A few weeks after the transfer I had the opportunity to talk to Elder Palazuelos. I asked about Sandra. He said that she had gotten sick and needed surgery and had a hard time coming to church. The transition to coming to church is always a difficult thing for recent converts and missionaries are always hoping that the people who they baptized keep coming and remain active in the church. But Elder Palazuelos said that one Sunday Sandra's two children, with out prompting, showed up at church and asked the missionaries to be baptized. They had see a change in their mother and wanted to be part of that. So on their own (aged 11 and 13) they just came and wanted to be baptized.

Some day I hope to be able to find out what happened to Sandra and her children, and find out if they are still going to church, because God was looking out for them and was making sure that we, the missionaries, were ready for when they were.

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