Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chapter 8: The Eye of the Storm- Part 3/5 Alejandra, Alejandra.

I wasn't going to continue with any more mission stories, but I thought that it would be wrong of me to omit this one, seeing as I'm getting all sorts of personal around here, and this is the first thing I think about when someone asks me about Chile.  


In my first area (Carahue), I couldn't speak a lick of Spanish. By the time I left, I was speaking fairly well, I had even convinced a few people I was from some other south American country with a strange accent. 

In my second area (Camilo), I lived with 3 Latino missionaries, and I pushed myself to leave English behind. I think I went days and week without speaking English. It was so wonderful.  My district leader, Elder Navarro, pushed me very hard to really embrace the Chilean culture, which was great.  He helped me learn the mannerisms, expressions, and funny customs of the Chilean people.  By the end of that transfer, I had amazing Spanish, and an already extensive vocabulary.

My third area, Temuco Nielol, was where I really learned to express myself in another language. I could explain how I really felt about things, and connect with the people on a different level.  It's strange how, as you listen to someone speak in an unknown language, you almost take for granted that they are a real person, just like you. It's hard to realize that they have hopes, and dreams, and complicated emotions, and families, etc.  

Bridging that gap, for me, was a life changer.  

Here's a quick story:

Camilo, 4 months into the mission. I'm still new, still getting the language. We're at a member's house for lunch one Saturday, the 4 of us (Elder Navarro, Elder Bonds, Elder Cedeno and I).  

We're at the home of Alejandra Vidal.  She's been a member for like 20 or 30 years, she's separated from her husband (typical Chilean deadbeat) and lives with 2 of her sons, Dario (19) and Victor (13).

We sit down at the table to eat lunch, Tallarines with chopped hot dogs (my favorite). She sat at the head of the table, and I sat at her left.  The four of us missionaries were quite a hoot. We were always joking and laughing with people, having a good light hearted time. Today was no different.  Navarro was usually cracking jokes about how much of a gringo Elder Bonds was. 

He was about the whitest kid you could meet.  A tall, skinny, nerdy looking kid with glasses from California; he looked like he had just gotten his braces off before getting on the plane.  He was way into karate, and not at all good at speaking Spanish.  Navarro was pretty hard on the kid, probably because I had been in the field for less time than he had. I felt kind of bad for him.  

While I'm introducing characters, might as well talk about Navarro and Cedeno too.

Navarro was a life long member from Santiago, from the suburb of Maipu.  He was from the "Flaite", or "Gangster" side of the suburb.  Before the mission, he was one of the gangsters.  He was out mugging people, and doing lots of graffiti. He even told me a story of how he and some friends stood up a pharmacy.  

Then he had a bad run in with some Neo Nazis, which is a real urban tribe down in Santiago.  They beat him nearly to death, and left him with a deviated septum.  Throughout his recovery, I think he found God, changed his ways, and decided to serve a mission. 

Elder Cedeno- my companion during the transfer, a dark skinned, dark haired, dark eyed little guy from Guayaquil Ecuador.  He became one of my best friends.  He was super diligent, hard working, full of fire.  He loved to hear my stories about the United States, and working in the oilfield. He had a short temper with people, but never with me. We got along swimmingly. 

So, the four of us are sitting around the table poking fun at everything and everyone, when all of a sudden, Alejandra looks to her left, right at me, and right into my eyes.  Her eyes get all watery, and she just starts laughing. I was kind of confused, and figured that there was some joke I didn't get.  She just laughed it off and made some funny remark, and the moment was over.  I was left thinking that something really just happened, and it had something to do with me. 

The next day in church, I played all the hymns (per usual) for the sacrament meeting.  As it concluded, everyone got up to leave, I was still playing postlude music for a couple minutes, and Elder Cedeno was on the back row waiting. I thought everyone had gone, so I closed the hymn book and stood up from the piano.  Alejandra was standing right by me as I stood up.  

I was never sure if she had learned English before, or if this was some kind of miracle, but she started speaking to me in English.  

She said, "Elder Page, I need to tell you a story". She was sort of choked up.  

"When I was a young girl, about 14 years old,  I lived here in Camilo. I grew up catholic, but never really went to church, and had also been to many of the other churches. I wanted to know where God wanted me to be. I played basketball and futbol here at the Mormon church a lot, but never really gave much thought to the church itself.

I could sense that it was a person, and as I started to look up, I knew who it was.  It was Jesucristo. I was too afraid to look at his face, afraid of the look he might have had.  But, he told me that this was the place that I needed to be.  This was the church he wanted me to go to.  He said that he loved me and that everything would be okay, and eventually I did end up joining the church."  

She paused.

"But then, I finally looked up at his face."  This is where she got even more choked up.

"I'll never forget his eyes. I'll never forget his mirada. It was kind, and loving, and wise, and beautiful."

I was thinking, "What does this have to do with me, exactly?"

She continued, "I've been looking for that mirada for my entire life, and I never saw it again, until yesterday at lunch". 

This is when I started to get choked up.  

"Yesterday at lunch, I glanced over at you, and I saw it in your eyes.  For some reason, God gave you those eyes, and that look. You have something very special, Elder Page.  Your parents were very blessed to have adopted you into their family. You better take good care of those eyes, and keep in mind that you have important things to accomplish in your mission and in your life."

I was kind of speechless. I could really say much, except for a choked up "Thank you."

That whole thing stuck with me for every day of the rest of my mission.

Flash Forward.....the story I'm actually getting at. 

My 5th sector, Victoria, of the zone Angol.  

Victoria is this little Catholic town, way up on top of the hills.  It gets super cold in the winter, and it rains almost unceasingly.  It's right on the main highway running north and south in Chile, so all the buses stop there.    We were able to hop a bus to either end of the mission if we needed to.

Being a super staunch Catholic town, the work was pretty slow.  Although the first transfer I was there, we had 4 baptisms, they were people who had already been investigating the church.  During that first six weeks, I don't really remember getting into a single house to teach a lesson.  

We lived in this huge, ancient house, with high ceilings and a broken wood fireplace.  I usually slept with 5 or 6 heavy wool blankets, a couple sets of thermals, all of the sweats I owned, and a warm wool hat.  

And the rain continued.  This was my first time as district leader, so I was trying my best to get results, and to help my district succeed in the work as well.  I was so frustrated by the cold, and the slammed doors, and the fact that my companions could never speak any Spanish (I had a long rash of American companions that drove me crazy). 

Transfers came, my comp Elder Roy left, and President Swenson thought it'd be a good idea for me to train.

Training means you get a companion who is straight off the plane from the USA.  You help him with the language, with the lessons, the culture, everything.  It's like babysitting for 6 weeks.  

I trained Elder Rory Hawker.  He was a muscly dude, about my height, light brown hair, really good looking guy from Midland Idaho.  He had some serious A.D.D.  He was great at soccer, bad at Spanish, and a genius on the guitar.  He was so excited about teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, that he'd totally just chase people down on the street and talk to them.  In fact, the moment we got off the bus in Victoria, luggage and all, he started handing out pamphlets and contact cards. It was pretty awesome. 

Well, we went the whole first week without getting into a door, trudging through the rain for hours and hours.  One Thursday night, after many slammed doors, it was dark, raining, and we were disheartened and wanting to get warm.  

It wasn't time for us to go back to our house (missionaries have strict schedules), and we were kind of hungry.  We passed the gate of the church, and stopped to decide what we were going to do.  I told Hawker that I didn't really want to go back to the house yet, and he said he was starving.  We decided to stop at this little burger joint that was located literally right next to the church parking lot.  I was about 40 feet from the gate.  

Now, when I say burger joint, I don't mean the kind you see in the united states.  I mean, it's probably smaller than my kitchen/dining room at my parents' house.  There are about 4 tables, and a little kitchen in the back.  The kitchen just had a grill, a sink, and a counter top to make sandwiches.  There was a little storage closet area in the back as well.  

We walk in and sit down, a girl, mid 20s I guessed, sitting at the counter where you order.  They had a little T.V. on which they watched American music videos. This girl at the counter, she had a kind of sad look upon her face, but she was very polite, and took our order promptly.  

As we sat, I had my back to the kitchen, and Hawker sat across the table from me.  We started talking about things, in English.  I was kind of watching some 90's music video out of the corner of my eye.  Hawker kicks me under the table and says,

"Dude, this girl keeps staring at me." 

I tell him, "Get used to it, you're American and you have blue eyes.  It's gonna happen a lot."

"Should I say something to her?" he asks all fidgety like.  

"Yeah, go for it." I say, really apathetically. 

He turns and says, "Quieres aprender algo de la Iglesia de JesuCristo?" It was the most terrible gringo spanish, but it was understandable. (Do you want to learn something about the Church of Jesus Christ?)

To my surprise, she says "Yes, I really would." (In spanish, obviously).

I turned in my seat, probably with this dumbfounded look on my face. "Really?" I asked.  She nodded her head. "Why?" I asked, again, with probably a skeptical dumb look on my face.

She answered, "It really calls my attention.  The leaders there eat here once a week and they are all very nice to me.  I've lived here all my life, and I've always wondered about that church."

We got our food, and talked a little bit, but it was getting late.  We were running out of time, so I basically just gave here whatever pamphlets I had on me to read, and we took off. We had also invited her to General Conference, which was that weekend.

Little did I know, but this girl was about to make my whole mission worth it, all by herself.  Her name was Alejandra.

She showed up to General Conference, all by herself. I didn't even see her, because she sat in the back, and we were in  different room watching it in English.

I felt terrible when I found out she had been there and I didn't even see her. I apologized for that later, but she wasn't worried about it. We went over to the burger place (btw, it was called "Burger Prince").  She was there, and we continued talking to her about the church, and the pamphlets we had left.  She had read everything we had left her with.

We started teaching her almost every night for the next couple weeks.  Her family was extremely against the Mormon church, so we were never able to teach her at her house. In fact, I never even got to see her house.  We always taught her lessons there at the store, up front if no one was there, or in the back storage room if there were customers. I remember sitting on a bunch of stacked soda crates, and hawker sitting on a propane bottle with a pillow.

We set a date for Alejandra to get baptized.  She was 25, and didn't legally need permission from her parents, but she had to keep it a secret. If they found out, they would kick her out of the house and disown her.  Her little boy, Marcelito (8) lived with her. She was afraid that they would try to keep him from her if they kicked her out of the house.  But she was determined to follow what she felt was right. She was determined to get baptized, no matter what kind of difficulties faced her.

She had had such a rough life until that point.  She got married to an abusive husband at 19 years old. After several years of physical and emotional abuse, they divorced. She was alone with her little boy, and went back to live with her family.  She was full of heartbreak and disappointment, but she still had faith that something better was waiting or her.

Elder Jason Busenbark gave her the baptismal interview.  She was working that night, and couldn't leave the store, so we did it there.  I waited outside on a bench.  Elder Busenbark and I had been close friends our entire life.  We both grew up in Roosevelt, Utah. He got his mission call several months before I did, but we ended up in the same mission. In fact, we ended up in the same district. He was branch president in a town up in the mountains, about an hour or so away.  I don't really believe in coincidences. But that was a very cool thing.

She got baptized, in March of 2009.  The only people there were my companion and I, and a couple of ward members. I don't even know if I have any photos, although I think there might be a couple on facebook.  Here's the one I found.

Alejandra was solid. A few months later, I spoke to the missionaries in Victoria. I asked how she was doing.  She became Primary President over the branch, and then the district.  The missionaries were teaching her whole family, and her son Marcelo was going to be baptized as well a few months later.

Almost a year later, I was headed home.  I hopped on the plane to Santiago, then we spent the day there at and around the temple.  I met Reed there, on the temple grounds. I'll never forget seeing him across the grounds on the other side of the fountain. This is a picture of that day, right in front of the Temple doors.

 We hugged and talked and laughed with the rest of my group.  I glanced over to my right, and noticed that Alejandra was there!  She had taken a bus from Victoria, to Concepcion, to Santiago.  She had her temple recommend, and went to the temple to do baptisms for her first time.  We all spent the day wandering around Santiago, buying a few souvenirs, and catching up.

It finally came time to leave.

"I'll never forget you." She said, holding back tears. She then explained about how she knew without a doubt that it was all true. She saw it in my eyes, every night we taught her at the Burger Prince, or at church.  "You have something special, and it's exactly what I needed to get here. Thank you for that."

I replied, "Thank you for everything you've done for me. You've made this all worth it. Every day, every disappointment, every door slammed in my face. I would have done it twice to find you."

That was one of the hardest moments of my life, saying goodbye.

Reed and the other guys were in the taxi, honking the horn. "Let's go, we're gonna miss our flight if we don't hurry".  I shook her hand and said goodbye.

I'll never forget staring out the back window of the car as we turned the corner out of the temple grounds, as she waved goodbye.

I still have contact with Alejandra, and she is doing well. I hope to see her in Chile at the end of this year, if all goes as planned.

Everything I do, I do with my whole heart.  I put everything I am into what I feel is important. I'll never turn my back on those who are important to me, and I'll never forget the people who touched my life in Chile.

I'm thankful for the opportunity I had to serve God, and to serve my brothers and sisters down there in Chile.   It was the most meaningful and important thing I've done in my life up to this point.

I'll let Buze throw in a few comments about Victoria, Victoria/Curacautin, and the mission when he reads this.

Still to come:

Chapter 8: Eye of the Storm part 4 of 5- Going home, leaving home.

I don't think I actually have a part 5 of 5, and I might just go into Chapter 9: 5280 after part 4.

As always, thanks for reading what is becoming a book more than a blog...

Also, there is going to be a chapter dedicated to how I broke up with Nyckie. I haven't told anyone the whole story (except maybe Rondee), and it's really quite crazy.  You'll all be quite entertained.

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