I was "called to serve" as a missionary for the LDS Church in the Argentina Buenos Aires North Mission. Prior to going to Argentina, I was to report to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.
My parents, not too thrilled with my dropping out of my last year of University, were none the less trying the best they could to be as supportive as they could under the circumstances. God bless them for what they went thru. They decided to make it a family trip of sorts, and drove me down to Utah from Seattle. We stopped and saw some sights in Salt Lake City, including Temple Square. They dropped me off at the MTC ( mission training center) on June 6th, 1990. There is a very large room where all the parents leave their children who are serving missions. A short speech of sorts is given and then the parents are told to exit thru one door and the missionaries thru another. It is an emotional moment to say the least. Especially for my non - LDS parents.
My experiences at the MTC were positive for the most part, although extremely busy. There are a strict set of rules that LDS missionaries live by. There is a "set time" to wake up at ( 6:30 am) to go to bed, ( 10 pm) and everything in between was dictated as well. The only "free" day is Mondays. I was assigned a "companion" , another female missionary that I would have within eye site the entire time I was assigned to be her companion ( with the exception of visits to the toilet). My companion was Hermana Caballeros ( Hermana is "sister" in spanish). I don't know what her first name was, because we were strictly forbidden from calling our companions by their first names. She was a sweet humble tiny little thing from Guatemala. Oh, could she eat! She was tiny but she could put down food like no one else, and at the MTC it was cafeteria "buffet" style eating, so you can imagine how much she could eat. I remember her fondly.
I also made friends with some other precious young women, some whom I have stayed in contact with for over 19 yrs. Amazing, eh?
Because I spoke Spanish fluently, I did not require language training. I was assigned to take classes that would help me to learn 6 lessons called "charlas" that I would be teaching to those investigating the Mormon Church. I learned them fairly quickly, as the language was pretty easy and the lesson material very simple. The first "charla" was about Joseph Smith, and how he had a vision and saw God and Jesus and how they told him that no church was correct and that he was going to "restore" the true church of Jesus on the earth again. I also learned to teach about how in LDS temples couples could be married "for time and eternity" . That is mormons believe that an LDS couple's marriage would not terminate at death but continue forever. There was also lessons on the "word of wisdom" , aka: the LDS health code. Basically NO alcohol, or tea or coffee. We were taught how to "build relationships of trust", that is get to know a potential convert before teaching them LDS doctrines. Find out about their interests, kids, job, etc and then teach them the doctrines.
My time in the MTC passed quickly and I was then sent to a "mini-mission" in the Provo Mission while I awaited my visa to arrive to go to Argentina. I was exposed to Utah - Mormon culture, while I served in the small town of " Castledale". I think I ate jello at every dinner appointment we had there. :)
In August of 1990, my Visa arrived from Argentina and I flew out to Argentina with a group of 20 or so missionaries destined for the same mission. We arrived in Argentina exhausted but excited to share the Mormon message.
I was committed to being "obedient" just as I had been taught in the MTC. I was told by my teachers and leaders in the training center that if I was obedient I would have great success on my mission. Success meant "converts" to the LDS church, and that is exactly what I hoped for.
I was assigned to be "trained" by an LDS missionary from Ohio. Sister "G" was a wonderful person. She was loving, patient and kind. We became friends quickly and have stayed close ever since our mission. Sister "G" taught me how to "door knock" , and share the mormon gospel. She was enthusiastic and had been on the mission for over 1 yr. ( female missionaries serve 18 mos and male missionaries serve 2 yrs)
We had many good times together. We grew to love the people we met, and they warmly invited us into their homes and lives. We taught many people the LDS gospel.
After being with Sister " G" for about 5 mos, I was asked by my Mission President ( that is the man who is in charge of the missionaries in a given area, in this case Buenos Aires) to "train" a new sister missionary from the states. I was a bit nervous about this, but excited at the same time. Sister " W" was from Washington State like me, and she was the oldest daughter of a faithful LDS family of 12 children. Sister " W" had some serious health problems and it created some challenges for us to be able to keep up the rigorous schedule. LDS missionaries have many rules to live by. They are told to get up at 6:30 am, and shower, and dress then study individually and then as a companionship and then plan their day and set "goals". Goals are very very important for the LDS missionary. Missionaries are told to set goals each day and for the week and month. That is "how many" Book of Mormons they will place each day and how many discussions they expect to teach and how many baptisms they expect to have. The LDS church keeps very acurate records and statistics to chart growth and development of their church.
Sister " W" had some serious health problems that prohibited her from working, so I had to find other young LDS women in the ward we were assigned to work in to help me out. I felt badly for Sister " W". She was not well and so weak at times. We did go to the Mission doctor, an American LDS Man who was volunteering in Argentina to oversee the health of the Missionaries in that country. Sister " W" was diagnosed with endrimitriosis. She wanted to go home. She was miserable and felt terribly. My heart just felt so badly for her. I , like my prior companion, had grown very close to this new companion and really we were like "sisters". We did everything together and were not allowed to leave each other's site, other than for bathroom purposes. So you can imagine how tight these friendships became.
Sister " W" became convinced she needed to go back home. We went to the Mission Home - where the Mission President lived with his family and requested an "interview". The Mission President didn't know what to do. It is frown down upon to have a missionary leave to go back home. It's just not OK unless there is serious illness. The Mission President called in the help of other authorities of the Church there in Argentina. ( Area presidents). We were hopeful that they would approve for Sister " W" to go back home. That was not the case. I'll never forget one interview with one of these authorities, who ranted and yelled and screamed at Sister " W" and told her she was failing God and her family and there was NO way she could go back home. It was an awful experience. I mean these men were supposed to be "men of God" and we were clearly seeing their "flesh" come out in a big way. It was discouraging.
At this point, Sister " W" was discouraged, and I didn't blame her. I was asked by my Mission President to translate interviews between her and him. ( he did not speak english and Sister W's spanish was poor) The Mission President encouraged me to do what was necessary to "keep" her on the Mission. To say I felt pressured is an understatement! Sister "W"'s parents were called, and while they were kind and sympathetic to her on the phone, when they asked to speak to me, her dad who was at that time serving as a bishop of her ward back home, told me in no uncertain terms that I "was to do what it took to keep her on the mission" that "she would never live it down if she came home dishonorably". Dishonarbly? She was sick for pity sake! I was feeling very pressured.
Sister " W" was given many "priesthood blessings" by the Mormon Elders in our area, promising her good health if she would be "obedient". Poor Sister "W". I recall one time in particular, we had just arrived to our apartment after a very difficult interview with one of the leaders there. They had spent a good deal of time yelling at her and telling her she would never live it down if she came back home and "quit" her mission. Oh my, we both felt discouraged. I remember sitting on our beds and looking at each other and joking and telling one another that we were going to "run away" and leave the mission! Of course we knew we couldn't. There was too much pressure to stay and conform and be obedient.
I would spend hours praying with Sister " W". Praying that she would be healed of her illness and praying that she would be understood. The Holy Ghost was supposed to "speak" to her and tell her what she needed to do, and all she could figure is that she needed to go home! Poor Sister "W".
I was told to work harder, and that Sister "W" just needed to catch the "spirit" of missionary work and once she did she would want to stay. Sister " W" did end up staying and finishing her mission. I think it was a struggle for her , poor thing but she did go home "honorably". That was the concern of her Bishop/Father. It amazed me that he was more concerned about her coming home at the right time than her health. It made no sense to me. I sure loved Sister "W". We have kept up via Christmas cards once a year. She lives in Idaho now happily married with 4 kids.
Meanwhile, after spending 3 months with Sister "W" I was received a call from the Mission President. I was to report to the mission offices in the city immediately. My Zone Leaders had no idea what this was all about. I arrived with Sister "W" to the Mission offices the next day. We were about 1 hour from this location, so we took the train into the City.
I was then interviewed by my Mission President, and told that I was being called to be a "travelling sister". I had no idea what that meant. He explained to me that it was similar to an assistant to the Mission President. Assistants or AP's as they wer called were in charge of picking up new missionaries from the airport and for training meetings that were held thru out different zones in the mission. Since our Mission had over 70 Sister Missionaries, the President felt we needed to call a Sister to help out and travel thru out the mission encouraging, training and seeing how the Sister missionaries were doing. I was not assigned a companion, and that was different. For the first time since I left my home , I was with another LDS young woman 24/7!! Now I was not. It took some getting used to. I found out later that that was not exactly appropriate for my Mission President to do. ( He was later chastised by other leaders above him for doing so). I was told that I would travel thru out the entire mission and visit with different sets of lady Missionaries. I was to work with them, see how they were doing and report to him of any problems or issues that needed to be resolved. I was also responsible for a training session at each Zone Conference there was sister missionaries present.
I enjoyed my time travelling thru the mission. I met and worked with many wonderful women. I also had some issues to deal with that were less than pleasant. ( like dealing with discipline problems when some missionaries were not being obedient to mission rules) Overall it was a pretty positive experience. I was released from my travelling duties about 5 months later. The Area Authorities "found out" that our mission had a single sister travelling by herself thruout the mission and that was not approved of.
I had one experience on my mission that really "rocked my boat" sort of speak that was deeply troubling to me. Looking back, I should have discussed it with another adult or called my parents. Towards the end of my time as a travelling Missionary ( that was what I was called) I was called in for an "interview" with my Mission President. He began the interview with the normal questions of "how" things were going, was there any problems he should be aware of, etc. Really interviews were a way for the President to gauge how the missionaries were doing emotionally, spiritually and with their work assignments. He is viewed in a way as the "dad" of the mission, but given more respect and always called " President". ( no first name or titles were allowed between missionaries or with leaders). He then proceeded to confess to me that he had been struggling with inappropriate feelings for me, and had 'fallen in love' with me. OH MY. I thought I would pass out! Let me just say this was / came as a complete shock. My Mission President could have been my father, ( he was in his 40's I was 21) and he was married with a lovely wife and 6 beautiful children! Not only that, my goodness he was my ecclesiastical leader for goodness sakes!!!! I had never ever seen him act inappropriately towards me in any way, so this came as a huge huge surprise. He then told me that he was dealing with his feelings and how did I feel about it. Excuse me? How did I feel about it?!!!!! I told him that I viewed him like a father and had NO feelings for me, and how I had trusted him and how totally and completely wrong this was for him to feel this way about me. He said " of course, of course". The interview abruptly ended. I was warned or "told"to not tell anyone about this , because it was "damage" the work of the Lord on the mission and the missionaries would lose faith in him.
I went back to my apartment or "home base" that is where my stuff was while I traveled. The apartment was large and there were 2 other sets of missionaries that lived there. I came back and felt this HUGE burden upon me. I recalled and replayed the previous months, trying to recall if there was anything I had done to "lead him on" or vice verse. Nothing came to mind, honestly. I just couldn't figure out "where" these feelings stemmed from. I respected my Mission President and always listened to his counsel and thoughts and was exactly obedient to his wishes. Could this had been construed differently? I am not sure.
All I knew is I wanted to go home. I wanted to call my mom and dad and tell them to come and get me the heck away from this mess. Worse, I couldn't share this burden with anyone. I knew if I did, problems would certainly only follow.
I didn't know what to do. I felt so huge a weight. Shortly after this interview, I was told by the Assistant's to the President that I was released by the Mission President as a travelling sister and that I would be assigned an area to work in. I was relieved. I hoped that by working hard, I wouldn't have time to think about the recent chain of events.
I was assigend to work in a new area or "open" the area as it was termed back then. I was assigned a companion from Bountiful, Utah. Sister "B" was wonderful. She was full of energy, and enthusiasm and willing to work hard, and work hard we did. We really got along well. But i spite of this all, I still felt weighed down by the last experience with my mission president. On top of that, the Mission President was not holding " Zone Conferences" in our Zone. Months had gone by and no conferences were being held. He was holding them in other areas, but not the Zone or area I was in. The missionaries in my Zone wondered "why" the President wasn't coming out for the monthly meetings. I had an idea. He was avoiding seeing me, meeting with me, etc. OK, I didn't know for "sure" but that's what I expected. I couldn't deal with the stress anymore and my companion noticed I was deeply troubled about something. She confronted me one day . I couldn't hold it in any more and told her all about it. She was stunned, but she was not shaken. She told me in NO way was it my fault, and that it was wrong of the Mission President to have shared these feelings with me. She challenged me to confront him and tell him it was wrong what he did and that he needed to talk about this to his wife and stop avoiding the Zone Conferences. Wow. That was a lot, and it would take some courage, but I was so miserable inside I couldn't hold it in anymore. Sister " B" told me that the Church was still 'true' regardless of the behavior of the Mission President and to not let it bother me. Bother me? Ugh.
I am thankful Sister " B" was there to talk to, and I did end up talking to my mission president again. I made an appt to speak with him and I did confront him on "why" he wasn't holding Zone Conferences in my area , etc. He did apologize and say it was wrong for him to have placed that burden on me, and that he had indeed not been to visit my Zone because he didn't want to see me.
Looking back I should have come home. Period. How innapporiate for a married man to have unloaded his adulterous feelings upon a young single woman, who was far from home. I often have wondered if he did share his feelings to see what my reaction would be. I guess I'll never know for sure, but I am so glad that he didn't speak to me again about his feelings for me.
The rest of my mission was spent training new missionaries and continuing to build up the LDS church in this new area I had been assigned to. I left the Mission exhausted tired, and worn out. I had worked hard, been obedient and had taught many families the Mormon gospel.
On a funny note, I also came home with a bad case of head lice!!! :) That was quickly taken of.
My last experience with my mission president before flying home was an interview where I was told to go home and "get married in the temple and marry a worthy LDS priesthood holder." I was given a letter from the First Presidency of the Church encouraging me to prepare for temple marriage. Once again I was feeling the "push" to get married.
I arrived home to a family very relieved to see me! It had been a long 18 months for them, although it passed very quickly for me.
It was good to come home and rest and sleep well. I had lost a bit of weight, hair mass and was generally worn out. Even my shoes had worn out soles. :)
I had competely my LDS mission with "honor".
I thought perhaps I would get a 'breather' of sorts now that I was home.
But that would not be the case....... life just got busier.........
Now that I understand that the LDS gospel is not the same gospel that Jesus taught, I have some regrets for having taught all those wonderul people a message that is not true... I have wished many times that I could go back and tell them how sorry I am and that it really is JESUS who is the "way" and not a Church membership . How many people did I lead astray? More than I can count...... and it hurts me to think of that........ all I can do is pray that somehow, someway, someday God will make it right. I did what I thought was right at that time. I was teaching a message I believed was from God. I had no idea that there were inconsistencies in the LDS teachings. I didn't know. I know God has forgiven me for that. I only hope one day He can make it right with those souls.