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Chapter Five Matamoros

The Mexico Tampico Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints receives the charge to share to gospel with the inhabitants of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, along with parts of the states of San Luis Potosi, Veracruz, and Hidalgo. This area stretches along the Gulf Coast from the arid borderlands in the north, to lush, tropical mountains in the south. Travel time from north to south is twelve hours, but only two or three hours from east to west. The elongated shape of the mission creates a unique cultural atmosphere within the mission community. I can distinctly delineate five different regions within the borders of the Mexico Tampico Mission. First is the Tampico-Madero region itself. This area includes the twin cities of Tampico and Madero, as well as their closest hinterlands, the nearby cities of Altamira, Mata Redonda, and Pueblo Viejo. Fully half of the stakes in the mission are located here, and thus half of all the missionaries. Estaca Bosque is in the north, Estaca Tampico in the south, and Estaca Madero in the city of Madero on the east, bordering on the Gulf of Mexico. Missionaries enjoy serving here because of its close proximity to the mission offices, and thus the increased frequency of letters. However, many long for more exotic postings, further away from the mission offices. The second mission region includes the outcities. Three large cities, sharing two stakes between them, are located on a north-south line along Mexican Highway 85, to the west of Tampico-Madero. These cities are large enough to have modern conveniences and are far enough away from mission headquarters to produce an exotic feel. Being distant from the moderating influence of the ocean, these cities often have more extreme temperatures than other areas within the mission boundaries. The outcities are Ciudad Victoria, which is the capitol of Tamaulipas, Ciudad Mante, and Ciudad Valles, located in the state of San Luis Potosi. In the north is the third region, the borderlands. These cities are the furthest away from the mission offices, and elders who serve here often feel cut off from the rest

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of the mission social life. No mission gossip travels the long road between Matamoros and Tampico, no word of advice reaches into that remote area, save that which is passed through official channels. The advantage of serving in the borderlands is that many members have addresses across the river in Brownsville, Texas, and thus missionaries often receive mail via the United States Post. Two stakes exist in these distant posts, one in each of the cities—Estaca Matamoros, and Estaca Valle Hermoso. Travel to these areas is via an eight-hour bus ride from Tampico. The fourth region includes the appendage cities. These are cities staffed by only a single companionship, yet they are close enough to major cities that the elders serving there can travel to a weekly district or zone meeting in their parent city. These areas stretch in line from north to south between the outcities to the west and Tampico-Madero to the east. San Fernando, Soto la Marina, Aldama, Xicotencatl, Gomez, Tamuín, and Tanquián are all appendage cities. Elders here experience the quaintness of small-town life without having to sacrifice too many of the conveniences of the larger cities. In the south is the Huasteca. This is a region of small towns and beautiful vistas. There are no stakes in this mission region, but the Huasteca District had recently been split into three separate districts of four branches each. Panuco, Ebano, Tempoal, Tantayuca, Huejutla, San Felipe de Orizaba, and Tamazunchale all belong to this region. Though elders here never travel to the big cities, this small inconvenience is compensated for by the beautiful greenery, mountainous terrain, and lush foliage that exist in this region. In summation, the Tampico-Madero region is the core of the Mexico Tampico Mission. It is bordered on the south by the Huasteca, and to the north and west by the appendage cities. To the west of the appendage cities are the out-cities, and to the north of both appendage and out-cities are the borderlands. Such was the entirety of my world for the two years I spent serving and loving the people of Mexico.

Wednesday, November 6, 1996

Well, I’m not as tired as I thought I would be. We taught the fourth charla (on the law of chastity) to a ten-year-old. Talk about uncomfortable moments. This was Oscar Gonzalez, a child of busy parents that spent most of his time at the home of a family friend. The friends happened to be members of the church, and so Elder Ramos and his previous companion had gotten permission from Oscar’s parents and had begun teaching him the charlas. We also taught a first charla. Since I had taught so few of these in Soto la Marina, this was a big event. This first week I constantly gushed to Elder Ramos about how hard we were working and how many charlas we were giving, because in Soto, we never even came close to that level of success. We ate lunch at a the house of the former Matamoros Stake President. It was great food. In Mexico, it was not uncommon for church leaders to slip into inactivity after being released from an important calling. This good brother, however, continued his faithful service, and at this time was teaching the adult Sunday school class every Sabbath.

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Tonight we started working on this month’s missionary activity, which is going to be a “missionary play.” The missionary activity is something this ward does on a monthly basis and in cooperation with both the full-time and the stake missionaries. For this month’s activity, a play, I’m going to play the role of Jesus Christ. I also found out that I’ll be able to send and receive letters from the American side of the river. Yipee! It’ll take only a few days, and I’ll also be able to receive care packages. I can’t wait to write my family with the news. So far, I like Matamoros. It’s got its poorer elements as well as its rich. We were treated to soft drinks today by an investigator. It was a sympathy drink, since he was telling us he no longer wanted to listen to the charlas. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that I had a pineapple-flavored soft drink. Life is pretty good. I’m in the first ward I’ve been in for a while, and we have a chapel! This latter fact brought me so much joy. Soto la Marina had showed me the most unorganized elements of the Church in Mexico, and now I had returned to the stakes of Zion, where we had bishops, chapels, and ward mission leaders. After Soto, no other test of physical discomfort could cause me to despair.

Thursday, November 7, 1996

I think the days pass more rapidly when I spend the whole thing away from the house. We taught two first charlas, one to a wonderful old woman, eighty years old, named Julia Salazar. I think it went well; we’ll return on Saturday. She lived behind the Stake Center, which she could see from her front door. Each street in the neighborhood was named after a different celestial body. The stake center, for example, was located on Calle Marte. Elder Ramos and I tracted out the entire street that passed just south of the Church building, Calle Jupiter. I’m very excited about my new area’s potential. I like Matamoros. There are still poor people here, but also middle class and rich. We ate with a poor member today, and a rich one yesterday. The rest of the day is sort of a blur; I’m still learning the area. I met a lot of wonderful members. One had a son named Chemish. He said that I was the first missionary to recognize the name as one coming from the Book of Mormon. I also met a five month old girl named Abish, a name also taken from the Book of Mormon. According to my new housemate, Elder Van Slyke, Hermana Goodman calls Matamoros “outer darkness.” Her nickname for the city stemmed from the tremendous distance that stretched between us and the mission offices in Madero. Matamoros was almost considered its own separate mini-mission. All the other areas in the mission were no further than four hours from Tampico, and most were less than two. My new area was eight hours away from the Mission Offices. Matamoros and Valle Hermoso were areas into which an elder disappeared from regular mission gossip for a few months. A veil of ignorance was drawn across the mission, and it separated the north from the south, such that no one from one side knew what was happening on the other. The isolation in which I spent the first third of my mission bred in me a streak of fierce

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independence and a plucky resolve to follow my own instincts in achieving my mission goals, sometimes in defiance of mission leaders.

Friday, November 8, 1996

I love the climate here in Matamoros. The days are only slightly hot, but bearable. The evenings are cool, just like autumn nights should be. We taught a second charla today to the children of a less-active member. They were unresponsive to our gospel message, but we did what we could to motivate them. They lived in a small wood house located close to an open sewage canal. Theirs was an unpaved street in a forgotten corner of Matamoros. We also read the Book of Mormon with several investigators. I concentrated a lot of energy on trying to stay oriented. Matamoros is a confusing city with streets running at all angles. Our home was located in the northern reaches of the city, only a few block away from the Rio Grande and American soil. South of us was Avenida Lauro Villar, a main thoroughfare running to downtown Matamoros to the west, and the beach to the east. Our neighborhood was a “gated community” except that there was no gate, and the guard house was never manned. We lived on a street in the back corner of the neighborhood, in a quaint little government-built prefabricated house. I thought my new living quarters were palatial compared to my flat in Soto. Lauro Villar also marked the northern boundary of Barrio I, (the Matamoros First Ward). The barrio was divided into three areas, each area was staffed by a single companionship. Elder Ramos and I worked the westernmost section, which contained the Matamoros stake center. The western boundary was marked by the Avenida del Maestros, and at its northern terminus near Lauro Villar, was found the ugliest eye-sore in the city. This monument in honor of teachers depicted a large hand holding a bright blue torch. Further south, the Avenida del Maestros passed by the Matamoros sports complex. Bisecting our area were two major thoroughfares—Roberto Guerra and Periferico. Guerra ran the entire east-west length of the Matamoros First Ward. At its western end, where it terminated at the Avenida del Maestros was the Luz del Mundo church, a small Guadalajara-based religion that was popular in some areas of Mexico. Periferico wrapped around the city, passing through our area on a north-south heading, and crossing Guerra at an oblique angle. A large monument to Francisco I. Madero, a martyr of Mexican Independence, was located in a small plaza at the intersection of these two major thoroughfares. I used this major intersection to orient myself in our early work efforts in my area. However, as time passed, and as we began working further and further from the paved streets of Matamoros, this landmark became less and less useful in orienting myself. The newer neighborhoods are easier to navigate, except for the homogeneity of the houses. Like the neighborhood in which we lived, many of the new colonias were government-funded prefabricated homes. They were more affordable for the common Mexican worker, but they all looked alike and were

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built with the same standard blueprints, which made distinguishing one street from another a terrific chore. Matamoros is, to put it bluntly, an ugly city. I don’t know what makes it so, but it is. Perhaps it was the open sewage canals, or perhaps it was the open fields filled with wind-blown trash. Whatever it was, I missed the rural beauty of my last area. Soto was so neat, tidy, and picturesque (relatively speaking). In a letter he wrote me soon after I arrived in Matamoros, my father confessed that he imagined my new area to be similar to the famous cantina scene in Star Wars. We did see a lot of strange things, and talked to some off-the-wall people, but I don’t think that my father’s characterization of Matamoros was entirely accurate. Matamoros is my home now, and I’m going to love it and be loyal to it.

Saturday, November 9, 1996

I love being in a house with five other elders (Ramos, Manzo, Rico, Burch, and Van Slyke). Each of the Mexican elders was senior to one of the American elders. Elder Ramos, our zone leader, was my companion. Elder Manzo, the district leader, was companions with Elder Burch, and Elder Rico was training Elder Van Slyke. Both Elders Burch and Van Slyke came from the same MTC generation and had arrived in the mission field in September. Elders Burch, Van Slyke and I had more in common than just our nationalities, since all three of us were still training and learning mission procedures. We often spent time talking about our experiences with culture shock. Elder Van Slyke did an amazing impression of the water delivery guy who drove through our neighborhood every morning, shouting “Oasis Agua.” I was thrilled that we did not have to fetch our own water, but rather wait for a garrafón to be delivered to our front door. This was an aspect of the culture that we Americans found interesting, one of the many things we talked about after our long work days. It’s so nice to not be alone in the work. I enjoy having other Americans to relate to, to come home in the evening and talk and laugh and rejoice about the day. I don’t feel so alone, and my asocial nature is slowly giving way to a love for these elders. Tonight, Elder Van Slyke was mugged. He lost four pesos and his watch. Also, Elder Burch was teaching a charla when someone confessed a murder to him. Jeez, the only thing that happened to me was that Elder Ramos and I were approached by a prostitute. I was never certain that she was a lady of the evening. She approached us, asked the time, and Elder Ramos completely ignored her, walking quickly, eyes straight ahead. I was still so amazed at the grande ciudad, that I rashly concluded that she was a prostitute, and that was why Elder Ramos had ignored her. I guess Soto la Marina wasn’t that bad after all. We taught two charlas today and almost went to the bank. Magda’s car broke down, so we’ll have to get our quincena tomorrow. The quincena was deposited on Saturdays, but we really weren’t supposed to withdraw it until Monday, on P-Day. Gotta love Matamoros.

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Sunday, November 10, 1996

Well, kick my butt and call my happy. It was so nice to meet in a real chapel today. We had a real ward, real bishop, real Sunday school, and so forth. The ward was somewhat smaller than I am used to; 132 people in attendance today, but that’s an advantage. The ward family feels closer, more intimate. This was a rather average attendance number for this ward. The Matamoros First Ward usually had an attendance hovering between 120 and 140, though later in my mission I would serve in a ward that would be lucky to top forty. It wasn’t the number of people who attended that was important; what made a functioning ward was the number of Melchizedek priesthood holders that were active and worthy to serve in leadership positions. After the meetings, Elders Burch and Manzo had a baptism. Looking at the font, I recalled the time I stepped in one similar with Shawn, Gabe, Kelli, and Evan. I rode a bus today with a ventriloquist with a monkey. He turned out to be a member of the Church, and an RM to boot. For lunch, I was served menudo—cow stomach and intestines. It was in a soup and looked nasty. It tasted even worse, with its rubbery, raw texture. I took four or five bites, and seeing my obvious dislike, though I tried to deny it, the hermana went to the kitchen and made me some eggs. I much preferred the eggs and French fries that Hermana Moreno made for both Elder Ramos and I. Although this good sister was less active, she had a daughter serving a mission in Guadalajara. Hermana Moreno loved the missionaries, and always took very good care of us. We showed up at a couple of no-show appointments and practiced our play. As Jesus Christ, I only have two lines. “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever,” and “Here am I, send me.” I guess they’ll be easy to memorize. Other than these events, not a lot happened. We went to the bank and got our quincena, and I had a nice conversation with Magdalena Olvera, the bilingual stake missionary. She’s a convert, and one of the members that has a Brownsville address. She speaks English very well, and I love her accent. It’s a funny thing. I can still write in English, but I can’t seem to get the words past my tongue. I hope this means my Spanish will improve shortly.

Monday, November 11, 1996

Today was my first P-Day in Matamoros. I spent half an hour trying to send a fax to Tampico because Elder Ramos is the zone leader. Every week, each companionship filled out a sheet of paper with their datos for the week. These included things like number of charlas taught, hours spent in proselyting activities, number of new families found, number of families in the teaching pool, and number of baptisms. Elders Lopez and Hoover never filled out the datos with me, so it was Elder Ramos who taught me how to complete the form. Each companionship reported the datos to the district leader, who reported them to the zone leader, who then passed them to the assistants to the president in Tampico.

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Being so far from the center of the mission, we faxed the datos to the mission offices every week.

We then went to a laundromat! All my clothes were cleaned in forty-five minutes while I sat and read an Ensign from 1994. It was quite a difference from Soto la Marina. I went shopping at the appropriately named supermarket, “Gigante.” It was located on Lauro Villar, a short ten-minute walk from our house. After our shopping trip, I took a nap, and then later, went to our zone meeting. The zone meeting was held in the stake center. We’ve got a big zone— fourteen elders. We only had eight in Victoria. After that I got my hair cut free of charge by a member of the church who

lives down the street from us.

life, and her teenage children were currently taking the discussions. While Elder Burch and I were getting our haircut, we met a guy who liked to hear himself talk. We tried to teach him the first charla, but he just kept going off on tangents. We often met people like this. They talked with the missionaries, not because they had a desire to learn of the things of God, but because they wanted to

demonstrate to themselves how intelligent they were. It wasn’t an easy experience. Because of it, we arrived home an hour late that evening. been a full day. It’s time to head back to work now.

I think it’s

This widowed sister had been a member her entire

Extracts from a Letter to my Parents

“On the bus ride to Matamoros, I talked with a young man who said he was a member of the Church, from Honduras, and was going to cross to “the other side” that night with his group. How am I supposed to react to that? I didn’t approve of his decision, but this guy had spent all his money to get to Matamoros. “So, what do I think of Matamoros? Well, to be perfectly honest, and though I want to be positive in all I write home, I also want to paint a realistic picture, I have to say that Matamoros is the absolute ugliest city I’ve ever been in. There are several large streets running though our area. However, the vast majority of the streets are smaller, running at odd angles. Many buildings are run down and ramshackle. While you have richer elements here (I’ve been in some very nice houses, even by American standards) there are also elements that are as poor, if not poorer, than Soto la Marina. I saw one family that lived in what appeared to be a junkyard. You really can’t get a feel for it unless you come here. “I think Soto la Marina furnished me with some much needed adversity. I loved it though, and the people, too. While there are easy things in Matamoros (laundromats, daily meals, weekly letters through Brownsville), I think I’ll face adversity here also. It will just be of a different kind.”

Tuesday, November 12, 1996

By the end of the day, I was pretty darn frustrated, but then I remembered the good things that happened today. For one, I found three old Ensigns in my apartment; I’ve been collecting Ensigns. I absolutely love them. Our lunch appointment today was the best we ever had, marred only by the atole we had for

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dessert, which wasn’t even half as bad as I remembered it. Hermana Carrillo lived on a narrow side street off of Calle Roberto Guerra. She was a less-active who lived in a large home and always fed us the best meals in any given week. I soon hungered for Tuesdays, knowing that Hermana Carrillo had prepared a great meal for us. On this particular day, she had made us chicken fried steak with homemade macaroni and cheese. Both dishes were divine. Things went to pot from then on, but why dwell on the negative? Soon, my parents will receive my letter through Brownsville, and we’ll be in sync. Also, we have interviews on Thursday, which means letters! News from home is always welcome.

Wednesday, November 13, 1996

We taught two first charlas today, one to a man whose only interest in the Book of Mormon was as a history book. He was fascinated by our claim that it was a record of occurrences in the ancient Americas, but I think he was disappointed that the book did not mention civilizations by the names we know them today. There are no Toltecs, Olmecs, Mixtecs, or Huastecs mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon, though I am sure they are present. Tony is excited about reading it, though On a crowded micro tonight, I had a good laugh with my companion. As I was getting off the micro, someone pinched my bottom! Elder Ramos caught it out of the corner of his eye, and heard me mutter, “I hope they do that again real soon,” and we both laughed out loud. Such experiences were quickly making Elder Ramos and I good friends. Later, we played a trick on Magda, the English-speaking Stake Missionary. We knocked on her door, and she opened it. The door opened outwards, thus shielding Elder Ramos from her view. She thought I was alone, and I played along. She began to panic. “Where is your companion?” Magda asked me. “He’s down the street making contacts,” I replied. “He wanted me to come get you and go to a charla together.” Her eyes got wide, and she nearly stammered, “Don’t you know you’re never supposed to leave your companion?” at which point, both Elder Ramos and I began laughing uproariously. It was hilarious. We had a long, boring meeting tonight, I think it was priesthood executive committee. I nearly fell asleep. Such was the price I paid for working in the stakes of Zion. It was a fairly slow day; we had a number of no-shows. Our morning was more productive than the afternoon, and usually it’s the other way around. Matamoros has huge open sewers, nothing like the small canal in Soto. It smells great. Later that evening, as I was descending into sleep, I heard voices talking in my room. I rolled over, opened my eyes, and sat straight up. President Goodman was in my bedroom talking with Elder Ramos! I knew we were to have interviews with him the next day, but I did not know he was planning on traveling to Matamoros the night before. After recovering from the shock, I greeted the

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mission president and his assistants, and descended once more under my covers into the blessed oblivion of sleep.

Thursday, November 14, 1996

I’ve got a blister the size on Manhattan on my left big toe. I practically crawled through the front door tonight. I thought my blistering days were finished. My situation was unique. My first area was small, and yet we did a lot of walking. I blistered, but soon grew accustomed to it. When I was transferred to Matamoros, we covered an even larger area, worked harder, and walked even more than I had in Soto. The end result was two periods of foot blistering. However, I’m walking on air. I gave five charlas today: Two first charlas, a second, and two fifths. It was wonderful. Last night the APs slept over, and I received letters from home and friends. I got seven when all was said and done. Today we had interviews with President Goodman; I love the guy. He spent some time explaining to me the structure of the church beyond the stake level. It became my custom to have a question for President Goodman each time he interviewed me. In his previous life, he had been an institute teacher, and as such, he knew how to teach the gospel effectively. He told me that companion to the ZL is a leadership position. I need to act the part. As companion to the zone leader, I would go on many splits, and my actions during the splits would reflect on the training given me by my companion. I was admonished to set a good example for the other junior companions in the zone. I went on two splits today, one with Elder Burch, and the other with Elder Trejo.

Elder Burch and I were instant friends, but then again, he was instant friends with everyone he met. He approached his mission as if it were a popularity contest to be won. He spent as much energy winning over other missionaries as he did preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and winning over friends for the Church. He had a way with people that put them at ease instantly, made them open up, trust him, and share their thoughts and dreams with him. During zone conferences, he would hunt down elders whom he did not know, introduce himself, talk for a while, and quickly have his new friend laughing boisterously. Watching Elder Burch in action, and seeing his incredible people skills, inspired me and had a huge impact on my life and my mission. Elder Burch and I, living in the same house as we did, became close friends. My first split with Elder Burch was during a leadership training meeting that President Goodman held with the zone and district leaders in Matamoros. Since Elder Burch and I were neither zone nor district leaders, we were not invited to attend the meeting. Instead, we taught Oscar the fifth charla, the one about the Ten Commandments, sacrifice, fasting, and tithing. On our way to Oscar’s house, I got lost once, but I was only off by a single street. We found Oscar, taught him, talked about his upcoming baptism, and then left for an appointment that Burch had in his area. We gave a first charla, and then returned to the stake center to retrieve our respective companions.

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The other elder with whom I split that day was Elder Trejo, one of the district leaders in Matamoros. He was working hard during this, his last month in the mission field. Because of a freak tennis accident earlier in his life, Elder Trejo was blind in one eye. I loved working with him, and I wish I had had more time to befriend him. Elder Ramos went to do a baptismal interview in Elder Trejo’s area, so I taught a second charla in my area with my companion du’jour. We invited two young women named Claudia and Selena to be baptized. Magda attended the charla with us and augmented our teachings with her own testimony. The two girls were hesitant about baptism, but promised to attend church that Sunday.

Friday, November 15, 1996

I spent my whole morning baby-sitting Elder Burch. He thinks he has dengue, which means he’s extremely sick. In retrospect, it was probably just an acute gastrointestinal event. We all got them from time to time. I stayed home with him while my companion left with Elder Manzo to do some baptismal interviews and teach Oscar Gonzalez the sixth charla. In the afternoon, our lunch appointment wasn’t home so we ate with another member instead. Our dinner that day was with Hermana Moreno, on whom we could always count when a missionary was in some kind of predicament. All said and done, we didn’t get started until late in the day and gave only a single first charla. By Soto la Marina standards, that’s a great day. While I was baby-sitting this morning, I got myself a much needed two- hour nap. It was dreamy, in more ways than one. My day was slow, but I at least gave my feet a rest. I could barely walk this morning.

Saturday, November 16, 1996

It was a long, slow day, and yet, by the same token, it was fast. I can’t believe how fast the days are passing right now. We taught half of a first charla, but then the lady made an excuse and left when we got to the Joseph Smith part. We were to teach the sixth charla to Ana Isabel, and baptize her tomorrow, but she wasn’t home when we stopped by the first, second, or third time. Elder Van Slyke, who was Elder Ramos’s previous companion, tells me this it typical of her. He and I had a nice talk tonight, about missionary work, home, MTC, and so forth. He’s a good guy, I think, of the same caliber as Elder Smith and Elder Bach. Elder Van Slyke was a large and jovial young man; he was unsophisticated, genuine, and whole-heartedly dedicated to the work of the Lord.

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Sunday, November 17, 1996

Today my brother got married, the first Barrett of this generation to do so. I wonder what the ceremony was like. By tomorrow, he’ll be in Mexico on his honeymoon. Today started off bad. We went to visit investigators to invite them and accompany them to church. None of them could go. So, we attended church alone, filled up the font, and had a baptism: Oscar Gonzalez Cardenas, the ten- year-old to whom I taught the law of chastity my first day in Matamoros. Perhaps a note on last names in the Spanish speaking world is in order. Each person has two last names—the first last name of the father followed by the first last name of the mother. When the name needs to be abbreviated, the second last name (the mother’s) is omitted. This was my first baptism as a missionary. Oscar is quite a bit lighter than he looks. I plunged him into the water so fast and strong that he slipped and his feet came up. However, his whole body was immersed. Elder Manzo, who was acting as witness, had to suppress his sudden urge to laugh at the spectacle of this featherweight child being thrust under the water with so much excessive force. After the baptism, Oscar and I realized that we had both forgotten to bring a towel, so instead we dried off using an extra pair of baptismal pants that I had brought with me. Then six elders stood around him and confirmed him a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and gave him the Gift of the Holy Ghost. While thus standing, I couldn’t help but marvel. It is so awesome being a part of this work, of being able to act in my Lord’s name. Of the thousands of missionaries in the world today, the Lord chose me to perform this sacred ordinance for his beloved child Oscar Gonzalez. Could anything be more humbling, more awe-inspiring, more amazing and heart-swelling? I think not. And could anything be more pleasing to our Master than this army of youth who is sweeping over the globe armed with His power and authoritatively performing sacred gospel ordinances? I think not. It’s a wonderful time to be alive.

Monday, November 18, 1996

I wrote a few letters today, to Jeff, Shawn’s mom, and Uncle Dennis, as well as letters to my parents and to Evan. I spent the day in various activities:

sending a fax to Tampico, washing our clothes, and getting a haircut for Elder Ramos. I’ve been listening (on tape) to a series of lectures by Truman G. Madsen about Joseph Smith the Prophet. These tapes belonged to Elder Burch, who slept downstairs in what would normally have been our living room. The Walkman on which I listened to it was property of Elder Van Slyke, who lived across the hall from the master bedroom in which Elder Ramos and I made our home. Listening to the lectures on tape increased my admiration for Brother Joseph. He was a prophet and my love and respect for him are immense, immeasurable, and impossible to fathom.

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We had a zone meeting tonight. Training, by Elder Manzo, was about how to share personal experiences with investigators. There were several parts to every zone meeting, the training being the most prominent. Whoever was in charge of the training for the evening usually took his material from the Guía Misional, although this was not a “set in stone” rule. The other major portion of the zone meeting was the Christian Attribute, in which the assigned elder would prepare a brief lesson on one of the ten attributes listed in Doctrine and Covenants 4. The zone meeting began and ended with a hymn and a prayer. Before beginning the more substantial parts of the meeting, the entire zone recited the mission scriptures—3 Nephi 5:13, and D&C 4. I love my new companion; he’s awesome. We’ve been together now for two weeks, and we’re still going strong. I hope we’ll have a good companionship and hopefully a friendship.

Extracts from a Letter to my Parents

“My first split was a good experience for me. I know I can be senior comp some day. And I hope that day is a long way off. Being senior has a lot of responsibility, which I don’t know if I want. On the other hand, I want to push myself, see how far I can go. I want to challenge myself and my abilities and maybe gain some self-confidence in the process. “Another exciting occurrence in Matamoros the other night. Some guy, drugged up on something, tried to stop us in the street. We just kept walking. He grabbed my arm, and in his drug-induced haze mumbled something. My companion told him we didn’t have any money, which was a lie I’m willing to forgive, and we moved on. That was sort of scary. Elder Van Slyke, the elder who was mugged last week, now leaves the house an hour early and comes home an hour early, as per the advice of President Goodman. His area is kind of dangerous after dark.”

Tuesday, November 19, 1996

I learned a profound truth today. Even good ole American spaghetti can get old after the third helping. We had a great American meal today; it was absolutely fabulous. Once again the incomparable Hermana Carrillo delivered a wonderful meal. It flattered her that I asked for so many helpings. This was also the first meal I drank horchata and actually liked it, maybe because I had someone who was willing and able to explain to me that it was a rice and cinnamon drink. When Elder Lopez had given me a glass to drink two months previous, its milky-white color had created in me a reluctance to try the strange new drink. But, other than that, the day wasn’t exceptional. It was really hot, we taught two first charlas, and the open sewers were really smelly—more so than usual. It seems to be getting harder and harder to write daily in my journal, but I’m over a fifth of the way there; I’m not going to stop now.

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Wednesday, November 20, 1996

I went on a split today with a very unfun elder. He was stern, stone-faced, and silent. His name was Elder Shaw, of the same generation as Elder Van Slyke. The irony here is that Elder Shaw became one of my best friends in the mission. He had a mass of light blond hair, and underneath that he carried a dark, heavy eyebrows. He was at this point still very stiff and impersonal, and thus we didn’t get along well on that first split. Eventually, we both relaxed, and he became one of the best friends I had in the mission field. All our appointments were no- shows, but that’s all right. I had fun, but I don’t think Elder Shaw did. There was a big festival today. There was a parade, which I didn’t see. I only saw the preparations thereof. November 20th is the day Mexicans celebrate their revolution, which unlike the United States, occurred a full century after their war for independence. We were in the Centro (downtown area) looking at air conditioners and piñatas when we saw the parade preparations. Little children were dressed up like Pancho Villa, a hero of the revolution here in the north. We gave a second charla today, but it was the worst I’ve ever done. I just couldn’t get into it. I learned how to sing “Las Cucarachas.” What a stupid song. My charla confirmation is coming along fine, better than in Soto la Marina. I should certify the third charla by the end of the week. In order to be eligible for senior companion, an elder had to memorize each charla and then pass it off to a district or zone leader. I had passed off the first charla to Elder Allen, while still in Victoria, and surged forward with the process once I got to Matamoros.

Thursday, November 21, 1996

How can a day in which I did nothing seem so full? We had a great conference with Presidents Goodman and Madsen. Elder John Madsen, of the Quorum of the Seventy, was the president of the Mexico North Area of the Church, and was visiting our mission that week. Throughout my mission, I had the opportunity to visit with several general authorities, and learn at their feet. However, this conference with Elder Madsen has always been my favorite. His plane arrived late, and so we waited in the chapel for two hours. When he finally arrived, we were well rewarded for our patience. President Madsen talked for two hours, but it was awesome and interesting. I expected to spend most of tonight talking about the conference. However, I received letters today, ten of them. One of them was from Zach. He has returned to full activity in the Church, and is in love with Annie Murray. Could anything have been more startling or pleasing? I am absolutely thrilled with this turn of events. My only worry is how Satan will react and how Zach will counter-react. Here I should like to insert an editorial comment about the city of Matamoros, which also applies to all of the big cities I later served in—Tampico, Madero, and Victoria. Many of the images that have stayed most clearly in my mind are of the poorest elements, the colonias with no electricity or the muddy

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squatter settlements on the banks of a receding lagoon. These images, however, were never representative of the city as a whole. As my luck played out, I was usually assigned to the poorest sectors of the big cities. The chapel in which we met with President Madsen is a case in point. Located in an upscale neighborhood, it was situated on the corner of Sixth and Ocampo. We usually went to the chapel by taking a micro into Matamoros’s centro and then walking up sixth avenue. This wide avenue was divided by a broad, grassy alameda in its center, with statues of heroes of the Mexican Republic spaced evenly down its long length. I never worked the affluent areas in any of the large cities I served in, so these memoirs may give the false impression of universal poverty throughout the land of Mexico.

Friday, November 22, 1996

I developed my photos of Soto la Marina today. I didn’t get a very good yield. I only got forty-eight pictures out of a possible sixty. Some of them were double-exposed, too. However, I think I’ve figured out the problem. I have the worst luck with cameras. Ana Isabel didn’t show up for her appointment again. She had a date to be baptized last week, but for lack of a sixth charla, she wasn’t. It looks as if it may have to wait yet another week. Ana Isabel never did show up to any of her remaining appointments. She never did get baptized and she never did tell us why. We taught a first charla to some old people who didn’t hear too well. It was halfway comical. They had no idea who we were or what we were saying to them, but they were so happy to have visitors that they bought us some cookies and Coke. We rode a crowded micro, and they seem to get more crowded by the day. I was glad to get off because some really cute Mexican girl kept looking at me and smiling. I tried to ignore her.

Saturday, November 23, 1996

Now is the winter of our discontent. These are the days that try men’s souls. Or, in other words, today sucked. It didn’t start out that way. In the morning, we hopped on a micro and went to the bank to get our quincena. Across the street from the bank, there was a large open-air flea-market. My companion needed new shoes, so we took a quick trip through the famous Matamoros Tianguis. I found a pair of sandals I liked a lot; the price tag listed them for a cheap fifteen pesos. I pulled out my wallet to pay for them, only to discover that the proprietor of that particular booth was a member of the Church, so she gave me the sandals for free. I was thinking, hey, today is not going to suck. Our lunch appointment was also darn good. It was a fried tuna torta. It was breaded tuna with tomatoes deep fried in olive oil, and served with beans in a tortilla. This ambrosial meal was served to us in the home of Hermana Baez, wife of the first counselor in the ward bishopric.

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From there, the day went downhill. The afternoon started out with Julia Salazar rejecting our invitation to be baptized, and continued through a constantly interrupted third charla to the two young women whom Elder Trejo and I had invited to baptism the previous week. The charla was a lost cause from the beginning. In addition to the constant interruptions, they hadn’t prayed to know if the Book of Mormon is true. As we concluded the discussion, I looked at them, and asked them very directly if they would pray that evening. One of them looked me square in the face and said, “No.” Elder Ramos tried to figure out why not, but she wasn’t forthcoming. The frustrating day ended with yet another no-show courtesy of Ana Isabel. Throughout all of this was a growing weariness. Upon arriving home, I collapsed into bed. I honestly don’t think I could have walked another step.

Sunday, November 24, 1996

Well, gee, nothing happened today, and that’s no exaggeration. We

attended our meetings, which were fine and dandy. We visited investigators, but no one was home. This included our lunch appointment, so needless to say, I’m starving. I guess one cool thing happened and that was I got to be a witness to a baptism. Three baptisms, really. They were Elder Trejo’s and Elder Messervey’s. Elder Trejo and his companion had been working pretty seriously with a part

member family who lived in our neighborhood.

her life, and her brother was a former stake president. However, this sister’s husband hadn’t been a member of the church, and thus, her children had never been baptized. They were teenagers now, had been attending church meetings with their mother for many years, and no one had known that they were not members. Elder Trejo discovered this oversight, swooped in, and rectified the situation. That was quite a bit of fun. The rest of the day was spent working on the play and a few minutes in a meeting with the stake president. In my personal studies I just started the book of Ezra. I’m about to start 4th Nephi in the Spanish Book of Mormon, 3rd Nephi 21 in the English one, and Mark 3 in my New Testament. Some notes from President Madsen’s talk on the 21st: The Atonement was a reconciliation, a redemption, and a ransom. It was brought to pass through suffering, shedding of blood, death, and the resurrection of Christ. On that same day, I was called upon to administer to Magda, who was feeling very sick. I am so appreciative for the opportunity that I have to serve. That God would grant us this power is an evidence of His great love. I shall always live so that I am worthy to serve, bless, and minister.

She had been a member all of

Monday, November 25, 1996

Only thirty shopping days left until Christmas. I got a great nap in today, as well as listened to a few good talks by Truman G. Madsen about the Prophet

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Joseph Smith. Tonight, a member of the ward, Hermana Huerta, made us flour tortillas with stuff in them. We dined on bean tacos and spaghetti tacos.

Hermana Huerta lived with her grown children in a large, though rundown home, located on a dirt road within sight of the plaza at the intersection of Guerra and Periferico. Before being baptized five years previous, Hermana Huerta had been very active with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. She had since transferred her zeal and energy to the work of the Lord. She especially loved feeding the Mormon missionaries. We did laundry, and I continue to love the laundromat. In the mornings, I would grab my laundry bag, an old Ensign, and off we would go. No more scrubbing, wringing, or rinsing. There were three laundromats along Lauro Villar, all of them within a walking distance of our home. If one laundromat was

too crowded, we would proceed to the next.

aspect of big-city missionary work. I wrote a few letters—to my parents, Ryan, Zach, and Ady. We had a zone meeting in the evening. It was cold today, so cold in fact that I wore my overcoat. Others were wearing sweaters and winter coats. I love it. Except in the morning when my room is a fridge and the shower is an icebox. It’s a part of life, I suppose. I love it!

I instantly fell in love with this

Extracts from a Letter to my Parents

The buses (micros) seem to be getting more and more crowded every day. I found myself in some very uncomfortable positions. For example, one evening, I was pressed in between Elder Burch on my left, Elder Ramos on my right, the windshield behind me, and a big fat Mexican lady in front of me. You have to see it to believe how crowded it can get.

Tuesday, November 26, 1996

I woke up this morning and I was freezing. I wasn’t prepared for this. Mexico is NOT supposed to be cold and I don’t have a very heavy blanket. The shower was cold; Elder Van Slyke’s shampoo was frozen. My bedding consisted of a single, body-length blanket that I bought at Chedraui my first day in Mexico. It was slightly heavier than a bed sheet, and I bought it thinking that I would not need anything heavier. I was wrong. Thankfully, however, Magda gave us two heavy blankets this evening, and I think I’ll finally sleep well. I walked out of an appointment into the brisk evening air, a faint smell of wood smoke on the night breeze, Christmas lights flashing in the window across the street. It brought back some tender memories. I ate well again today with Hermana Carrillo at lunch, and then Hermana Huerta shoved some scrambled eggs into us later. She used flour tortillas, so it wasn’t that difficult for her to convince me. I taught a first charla and made a number of contacts. I’m soaring to new heights of happiness.

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Wednesday, November 27, 1996

Moments like tonight make the mission all worthwhile. Today we gave four charlas—three first and one third. One of the first charlas was to a fat lady with a huge club foot. I tried hard not to stare at it. The second first was to a young woman, Karina, her mother, and her grandmother. She has an amazing testimony of the Savior, which nearly moved me to tears. She is a strong Catholic, but seemed genuinely interested in the Book of Mormon and wanted to pray about it. Her mother and grandmother were disinterested, but Karina looked me squarely in the eye and said that she wanted to find out for herself if the Book of Mormon was truly a book of scripture. We have a few hurdles yet to overcome, but it was the absolute most powerful charla that the Lord has allowed me to be a part of. I was on top of the world. I was still young and idealistic, and believed that any charla wherein the spirit testified would lead to a conversion of the individual. That was not always the case. Karina felt the spirit, but felt confused in her loyalties. She felt good about our message, even prayed about the Book of Mormon, but whereas these new feelings were novel and exciting, her deep-rooted faith in the Catholic Church was stable and firm. In the end, she chose to stick with the safe bet instead of venturing into a new and untried territory. In the back of my journal, I kept a tally of all the charlas I taught on my mission. During my two years in Mexico, I taught over 1200 first charlas. Of these, one in ten resulted in second charlas. Many people heard us willingly, but very few were brave enough to challenge long-held beliefs and learn for themselves that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I taught over fifty third charlas, or roughly 40% of those who listened to a second charla. Less than half of the people we invited to baptism felt the spirit strongly enough to set a date and continue meeting with the missionaries. I taught 35 fourth charlas, close to 70% of those who listened to the third charla. I taught 25 fifth charlas, again a 70% retention rate. I taught 21 sixth charlas. I had more baptisms than sixth charlas, because we often taught groups of people. Based on these statistics, one can see how we lost families after each new discussion, though after the third charla, the retention rate increased to over fifty percent. I could expect that roughly 2% of all first discussions would lead to a baptism, or one new family would enter the waters of baptism out of every fifty taught.

The days are slipping by altogether too fast; I hate it. I slept very soundly last night, better than I’ve slept in a weeks. Tomorrow is going to be tough. It’s Thanksgiving, my first holiday away from home. I guess I’ll just try not to think about it, lose myself in the work.

Thursday, November 28, 1996

Well, my first big holiday away from home, and I was sick most of the day. My companion went out working with Elder Manzo and I stayed home with

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Elder Burch. I slept most of the day. I was feeling better by the evening, so we, Elder Burch and I, met up with Elders Belengheri and Chavez and went to the “Viejo del Oeste” and had a hamburger and fries, my Thanksgiving dinner. These missionaries were in Elder Trejo’s district, and since Elder Chavez was from the border region, he spoke fluent English. It was an enjoyable evening, but we finished with our dinner a little late. We had to walk home because the micros stop running at 9:00 p.m. The other three elders spent the evening talking about music, and guitars, and bands, which did not interest me at all, and I fell into a moody silence. I thought about not only my spiritual yearnings, but the fact that I could think of nothing better to do on a beautiful summer day than to spend it reading a book under a shady tree. I would like to know why it is that I ended up different from my peers. Why does my mind turn easily to spiritual matters? Was it something from my childhood? From a time earlier? From a time later? Why did I grow up different?

Friday, November 29, 1996

Christmas lights are out, and it’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas. It’s Christmas time in the city. This morning we cleaned house from top to bottom:

our backyard, living room, and so forth really needed cleaning. We then went to the bank, withdrew 2,000 pesos, and then bought some very necessary items for various elders in the zone. These included replacements for broken hot plates or fans. This was also the day we bought a Winnie-the-Pooh piñata for the Christmas zone conference. We then went to lunch. All said and done, we didn’t get started until 4:00 p.m We went to Zacarias’s house this afternoon. We taught him a first charla a few days ago. I didn’t think it was anything special. Was I wrong! The Lord has prepared this man. Years ago, he had found a Book of Mormon in the garbage. He has known for years that it is the word of God. Tomorrow we invite him to baptism. Often times we would teach people, and the spirit would testify in their hearts that it was true. They burned with the knowledge, and reveled in the love that they felt from their heavenly Father. However, when they learned that with knowledge came the responsibility to act on that knowledge, they began to falter in the path upon which they had so recently embarked. Zacarias was no different. When that sure knowledge of the spirit had burned itself into the hearts of our listeners, we asked no small commitment from them. We required that they forsake the traditions of their fathers, that they change their lifestyle to one more in accordance with the will of the Lord. Often times acting in harmony with the dictates of the spirit resulted in an alienation from friends and loved ones. It was not an easy choice for many to make, and despite the reassurance from the spirit that, yes, our message was true, they still could not make that giant leap of faith into the silent unknown. Zacarias did not go on to baptism.

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Saturday, November 30, 1996

Well, I spent the entire day on a split with Elder Burch. Seeing his teaching style opened up new doors for me and I first caught a glimpse of the kind of elder I could be someday. We taught a first charla, and that was about it. It was a wet and rainy day, and while walking down the Avenida del Maestro we stopped to watch hundreds of small crab-like animals walking the streets of Matamoros. We wasted a few minutes in our grotesque fascination, and then continued on our way.

We had several no-shows and I was contending with diarrhea for a good part of the day. Late in the afternoon, I had to frantically run down the streets of a neighborhood filled with prefab houses, searching desperately for the homes of the three members I knew lived in the area. I finally found Familia Sobrevilla, and gratefully used their toilet. While I was using the toilet, Elder Burch was charming the Familia Sobrevilla, telling them about our exploits and regaling them with the story of two clueless Americans trying to preach the gospel in Matamoros. When I emerged from the loo, I talked with them briefly and invited this less-active family to the ward activity. That evening we were going to perform our play. The play was based on a popular Mormon myth, and was performed in

two acts.

The first act takes place in the pre-mortal life, when one friend

promises another that he will find him and teach him the gospel. In the second act, he fulfills that promise. Imagine my surprise when, later that night, I saw that Hermana Sobrevilla actually accepted my invitation and came to the ward activity that night. I was learning that I could have an effect on the lives of real people.

The day ended on a high note when I had a phone conversation, in Spanish, with Elder Sandoval. This is an accomplishment because it’s ten times harder to understand Spanish when I can’t see the lips moving. I received my first letters through Brownsville today. On Monday, I should get some more through the pouch.

Sunday, December 1, 1996

I spent most of November in Matamoros, and yet it hardly seems as if a week has gone by since I left Soto la Marina. I’ve almost been out for six months! Time is doing some very screwy things with my mind. Tomorrow is the Christmas conference. It seems like I had my entire holiday season in a single week. Thursday was Thanksgiving, and tomorrow is Christmas. We did a lot of preparatory stuff for tomorrow’s conference. We secured two grills from a non-member we had contacted a few weeks previous. He lived near Oscar’s house and though he wanted nothing to do with the missionary lessons, he was more than willing to lend us his large barbecue grills. He even loaded them into his truck and brought them to the church for us. Then Elder

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Ramos and I spent the afternoon washing and cleaning the grills, and then setting up tables, chairs and chalkboards. I’m really looking forward to the conference. In my scripture studies, I’m in Esther, Mormon 9 (English), Ether 3 (Spanish), and Luke. In his letter yesterday, dad said he was going to send my books. I hope so. I’m still awaiting the package they sent a month and a half ago. I waited in vain for that package to arrive, and it never came through the Mexican post. From that time forth, my parents were loath to send packages by ways other than through Magda. After leaving Matamoros, I only received two more packages—one for my birthday, and one for Christmas and they both came to me by way of Matamoros. We got very little else done today in the way of missionary work; all our appointments were no-shows. I wonder if there is something we can do to reduce the number of those. For this Christmas conference, every missionary was to buy a present, costing no more than ten pesos, wrap it, and bring it to the conference for the gift exchange. I wrapped my present tonight—a gun with three plastic suction cup darts— using several pages from the Church News. Elder Van Slyke looked on, coveting my gift, and planning his move for the next day. The wrapping job was far from professional, and it looked extremely sad when placed beside the presents wrapped by the sister missionaries from Valle Hermoso. These Sunday entries are beginning to ramble, but it gives me a chance to throw together some thoughts I’ve had throughout the week. I think my feet have finally arrived. I think they are as tough now as they’ll get. They don’t hurt anymore, and gee, it only took three and a half months.

Monday, December 2, 1996

The Christmas conference was today. It rocked. First we listened to five hours of talks from President and Sister Goodman and his Assistants. Part of this time was used in watching a video about the birth of the Savior. Afterwards, we mutilated a four-foot-tall Winnie the Pooh piñata. President Goodman barbecued burgers on the grill. I will never forget the sight of President Goodman in his shirt and tie, apron around the waist, red Texas Rangers ball cap perched jauntily atop his bald pate, flipping burgers in a manner which bespoke of years of experience. He was a man who took his grilling seriously and the burgers were fantastic. Then we exchanged presents. The Matamoros and Valle Hermoso Zones sat in a circle on the stage in the cultural hall, and all the gifts were placed in a large circle in the middle. We then drew random numbers out of the red Texas Rangers ball cap. The number determined the order in which a person would participate. On each missionary’s turn, he or she could choose to either open a new present from the pile, or steal an already-opened present from another missionary. When a missionary had his present stolen, he had the same options, with the exception that he could not steal a present already stolen that round.

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As the game progressed, and as the pool of opened presents grew larger, the mayhem increased. At one point, an elder stole a present from Sister Goodman, and the President hinted that nasty things would happen during the next transfers if anyone tried that again. Sister Goodman ended up in a grudge match with three other elders, each vying for two coveted gifts. That was a lot of fun. Elder Van Slyke ended up with the dart gun. I walked away with a box of assorted chocolates and my companion with a Nerf basketball and hoop. The gift that Elder Ramos received that day was the same gift he had brought to the exchange. I received letters from home, and I’ll write back tomorrow. Tuesday is our P-Day this week. I accidentally addressed Elder Rico in the familiar “tu” form this evening. Earlier that very day, President Goodman had stressed the importance of using the formal address among and between missionaries. When talking to Elder Rico, with President and Sister Goodman standing beside me, the “tu” form slipped out, and a hush fell over the listening crowd. I blushed, and apologized. It was rather funny. All in all, it was a great Christmas. I had my entire holiday season in less than a week.

Tuesday, December 3, 1996

We had our P-Day today. I wrote letters to my family, Grant, the Andersons, and Jason. I also sent out Christmas cards. Today, Magda called my mom at the shop just to let her know I’m doing fine. My family owned a small yarn and knitting machine business, and since they had customers all over the United States, they had a toll-free number that we kids often used to communicate with them from pay phones. I told Magda about it, and I figured it would be nice for them to hear from my mission a little more directly. While she was visiting Brownsville that day, Magda called my mother and had a nice chat with her. I now have a very clear, quick, and easy line of communication in case of an emergency. I also found out that I have a package waiting for me in Brownsville. It’ll be my first since the MTC. It was a very relaxing day. I started reading the Ensign conference report that we received yesterday. How I love our leaders! How I love the prophets! I love reading their words and feeling their spirit. Other than this, I slept a lot. I needed it. This mission thing is quite a bit harder than I originally thought. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing. We once more tried to visit Zacarias, who had been avoiding us lately. He wasn’t at home this night, or perhaps he was hiding from us. We talked to his neighbor who was working in a garden under the light of a half-obscured moon. We thus taught a first charla in a dimly lighted garden.

Extracts from a Letter to my Parents

To what degree did I choose to be in the mission field? Did I just make one decision my freshman year in high school (to become active) and then, because of lack of opposition and adversity, it carried me to Mexico? Or was each step towards

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this end a conscious and deliberate choice? I've been thinking about this off and on for the last six months. Now that I have a companion I really enjoy, I’m having a ball. However, there is a potential problem. Every night he talks with Magda, the stake missionary, on the phone. This is unauthorized, and against mission rules. Should I say something? And if so, how? Should I let him finish his last two months on his mission, making sure he doesn’t step over any more lines? Or ask him to step back and not cross the line that he already has? I’ll probably figure this one out on my own, and end up saying something to him this week. I’m just so timid in my dealings with other people, and I don’t want to sour a companionship that is the best I’ve had so far.

Wednesday, December 4, 1996

What an absolutely wonderful day. We finally got the gas problem fixed in our house, and so, this morning, I took a HOT shower. For three months, I had been taking cold showers every morning. However, on this morning, the bishop of the Matamoros First Ward, who was a plumber by trade, visited our home, and fixed our hot-water heater. I was so happy that I took a twenty-minute hot shower.

Our day ended with a trip to a burger joint courtesy of Magda. As we were driving around searching for a restaurant, Magda asked me, “what would you like to eat?” I replied, in my typical smart-aleck manner, “well, hmmm, let me see. Mexican food sounds good.” It was in Matamoros that I began my love affair with Mexican hamburgers, which I could only find in the big cities. The prices were always very reasonable, and the hamburgers were large, greasy affairs. Most Mexican hamburgers, as a matter of course, had toppings that would have cost extra in the United States: guacamole, ham, bacon, and so forth. They must have been extremely unhealthy, but I passionately devoured them nonetheless. The day yielded two first charlas and one second. But there were some down moments. Hermana Laredo broke down into tears and told us she was having marital problems and suspected that her husband was seeing another woman. The Familia Laredo was a young less-active family who lived in our area. I had met them during my first week in Matamoros and thought that they were wonderful people. We ate lunch with them regularly, and after lunch on this particular day, Hermana Laredo broke down into tears and asked our advice on problems which were way out of our league. I was not prepared for something like that. But I think things will work out. One of our first charlas was to a very open, thoughtful, and frank young woman. Her name was Elisa, and she lived with her husband and son near the water tower located just north of the prefab neighborhoods, and a little south of Avenida Guerra. She did not answer our questions with what she thought we wanted to hear, but honestly told us what she found interesting and what she considered beyond belief. She was, however, willing to investigate the matter further. I liked her because she spoke her mind, and I had found too many people

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thus far who would say one thing while hiding their true thoughts from us. It was one of the best charlas I had the opportunity to give.

Thursday, December 5, 1996

As of today, I’ve given 32 first charlas, 11 second charlas, 5 third charlas, 2 fourth charlas, 2 fifth charlas, and 0 sixth charlas. I hope those numbers get higher soon. I recorded these statistics at each of my six month markers, and it is interesting to note how my charla rate greatly increased towards the end of my mission.

Not a lot to the day. I received a package from home today and a single letter from Ryan. But they sent stamps, so it’s all well and good. I wonder if Shawn is ever going to write back. I received some church books. My parents had sent me the five books I had requested: Mormon Doctrine, We Believe, Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and two books from the Foundation of Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. I can’t wait to jump into them. I don’t have as much time now as I did in Soto la Marina, but it’ll work out. I’ll have Sundays and P-Days. I can’t wait to expand my mind again, progress once more. I’ve always been happiest when I’m learning.

Friday, December 6, 1996

The days are absolutely flying by. Every now and then there are moments that hit me as strange. For example, tonight. I was walking down a dark and dirty Mexican street having a conversation in a language that wasn’t English. There was a light drizzle misting the air, as I walked home with Elder Manzo that evening. We were talking, laughing, understanding each other, when the unreality of the moment smacked me in the face. Who would have thunk that I would some day walk home in the rain in a Mexican border town. We had two lunch appointments today, and I nearly exploded. One was with our regularly scheduled appointment at the Baez home, and the other was with Elisa, a new investigator. We spent the morning giving service to Familia Flores. We painted a fence. Afterwards, Hermana Flores gave us each a cup of atole. It was a different kind than the type I had previously encountered; it was brown instead of white and was even more unsavory than the regular kind. When the sister left the room, I removed myself to the bathroom, and dumped it down the drain. I felt rather bad about it, but my companion and I had a good laugh. When Hermana Flores returned, she insisted on paying us for the job, but we could not accept her money in good conscience. She got angry at us, so we reluctantly accepted money for a job that we should have done for free We taught two second charlas, both accepted baptismal dates for the 22nd. One of them was while I was on a split with Elder Manzo. The great charla on the 4th of December was one of the charlas today. After lunch with Elisa, we taught her the second charla and invited her to baptism. ¡Bien potente!

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I finished reading the October conference report (November Ensign). Now I’m starting into the first of my new Church books tonight. I can’t wait. I’m practically drooling. I love my job. It is rad, and there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.

Saturday, December 7, 1996

Three words: food, folks, and fun. That’s right. We went to McDonald's today. We had some extra money, so we went to heaven, with bacon, fries and a soft drink. We paid for this extravagance with the money that Hermana Flores

had insisted on giving to us the day before. Perhaps it was a bit superfluous, but

it provided a boost to my sagging morale. McDonald’s is a rare treat for the

common Mexican worker. The prices are American high, and most people cannot afford that type of hamburger on a Mexican salary. As missionaries, we had even less spending money than a common laborer. So, that morning, my bacon cheeseburger was ambrosia to my taste. However, the rest of the day sucked. No one was home. I went on a split with Elder Messervey in the evening, to teach a second charla. He was Elder Trejo’s companion, and still fairly young in the mission, though still several months older than I. Elder Messervey was very thorough in his teaching, and would exhaust the conversational potential of each principle before moving on to the next. The investigator turned down our invitation to baptism, and it only took us two hours to get that far. He just kept talking and talking without saying a thing. And he was slow and boring. His annoying habit of babbling on, coupled with Elder Messervey’s interminable teaching style, caused us to be late in reconnecting with our respective companions. We were already late when the gentleman turned down our invitation to baptism, and I had thought to end the charla and pack it up, but my companion du’jour had other ideas. He finished teaching the last two principles, and then we hopped on a micro heading towards our rendezvous point on Lauro Villar. Elders Ramos and Trejo had begun to worry about us. They had called Magda, who owned a car and they were about to go looking for us when we finally arrived at 10:00 p.m., an hour late.

Sunday, December 8, 1996

This morning, Elder Van Slyke was called upon to give a talk in sacrament meeting. I was rather excited about hearing him talk, because we had become close friends during the last month. As I noted before, Elder Van Slyke was a large, loveable elder, whose only fault was a lack of sophistication. He launched into his talk about missionary work without much delicacy or tact. He told the ward members rather bluntly that they needed to do better at preparing references for the six of us. I guess there’s something to be said for the direct approach. My own style was more circumspect; I preferred to present my message in

a more roundabout way. It wasn’t until later in my mission that I learned to

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confront people with the directness and audacity that Elder Van Slyke showed that Sunday. Neither of our styles was inherently superior to the other, they were just different strategies for attaining the same goal. Oh well. I shouldn’t complain or nit-pick. I should be positive. His Spanish was very good. I wonder what I would have done had I been called upon to speak at the last minute. We gave another second charla this afternoon. We sure did give a bunch of them this week. Sylvia accepted a baptismal date of the 22nd. It was awesome. She told us that she has studied the Bible, but she has never felt the feelings she has been feeling before. The Book of Mormon, and its power, are beginning to enter her life, and she is very aware of it. I am so excited for her and the choices she is making. Sylvia turned out to be another example of a seed planted in thorny ground. I would like to think that in years to come, she will once more encounter the elders of the Church, and remembering the positive feelings she once experienced, try once more to follow the Savior and learn of His gospel. We reap what we sow not, and we sow where others reap. We had no investigators in church today and I wonder what we can do to change that. I received a letter, a note really, from Jeff. I wonder what happened to Shawn. He’s usually so prompt in replying to letters. Likewise, I’ve yet to hear from Weston and Suzie. However, I’ve made the decision to only write to those who write to me. I am hoping to hear from them soon. Personal studies are progressing. I’m learning again.

Monday, December 9, 1996

Today was a good day. I have found harmony and happiness here. Contentment. Peace of mind. It’s amazing, and I can’t explain it, but I wouldn’t go home even if I was offered an honorable release tomorrow. What I’m doing here absolutely fills me, lifts me, and I can’t seem to get enough.

I read over 100 pages today in one of the books I received on Thursday.

I’ll finish it tonight or tomorrow. Being the companion of the zone leader, I had ample time after the zone meetings, while Elder Ramos was interviewing

companionships, to read my books.

I learned a lot tonight about the duties of a district and zone leader.

During our evening proselyting, my curiosity about leadership responsibilities buzzed out of my mouth, and Elder Ramos answered all of my many questions. He explained to me the responsibilities of both district and zone leaders, showed me how to properly fill out the weekly reports, and gave me some advice applicable

to all levels of leadership.

companion.

I still claim that I will finish my mission as a junior

I took a nap, had a weird dream, did laundry, sent a fax, and got kicked out

of my own room. Elder Ramos had to talk to the assistants in private on the phone. I wrote this entry while sitting on Elder Van Slyke’s bed, and I feigned indignation at the ignominy of being exiled from my sleeping quarters. So, life is good. I’m a little homesick due to the Christmas music at the supermarket. Oh well.

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Extracts from a Letter to my Parents

“I think we taught five second charlas this week, and in every case I taught the odd-numbered principles. So, in every case, it was my task to invite the investigator to baptism. My first time I said, “Will you follow the example of the Savior by being baptized?” This is the standard baptismal invitation. She said yes, and I just sat there dumbly, thinking, “okay, now what do I say?” “When I invited Sylvia to baptism yesterday, I think it went a whole lot smoother. I invited, and she responded. “I want to be baptized, but I’m not sure if I’m ready.” I replied, “What can you do to prepare for baptism?” “Continue reading the Bible,” she said. Throughout the charla she referred to the Book of Mormon as the Bible. I also asked her to continue praying, attend church, and listen to the remaining charlas. Then Elder Ramos asked her to make a goal to be baptized on the 22nd. “My views of missionary work have really changed in the last year. When I left, back in June, I pictured missionaries as Bold Defenders of the Faith, confounding False Doctrines, standing firmly against the Forces of Evil, the Noble Hero who battles alone for a Cause Worth Dying For. It’s not like that at all. We are the humble teacher, the weary traveler, the speaker who wants more than anything that his message be carried on the wings of the spirit into the hearts of his listeners. I’m not fighting the Noble Fight or Questing the Impossible Quest. What I’m doing is far greater.”

Tuesday, December 10, 1996

No one was home today. Every now and again, we get days like this when appointment after appointment drops out. We taught the fourth charla to Celia, a fat lady who has a baptismal goal for the 22nd. She was Sylvia’s sister; they lived together, though we never found them at home at the same time. Thus we always taught them separately. They were older ladies, single, and with a couple of kids each.

Besides this, the only thing of note was that I finished reading the Book of Mormon this morning. It is my second complete time through as a missionary. I started reading on August 25th, over one hundred days ago. Hardly seems like it. I’ll start again from the title page tomorrow and see what new insights develop. This book is true. My convictions run deep, as does my love for this wonderful tome of scripture. It is the word of God preserved for our day.

Wednesday, December 11, 1996

We taught two charlas today, among them a fourth charla to the Rodriguez Treviño family. The husband and father is a member, and once he marries his wife, we’ll baptize her. Our other charla was a third charla to Elisa, the open, honest, frank, and questioning investigator from December 4th. She has a goal to

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be baptized, believes the Book of Mormon, but has yet to pray about Joseph Smith.

I soon became convinced of the logical necessity of accepting both Joseph

Smith’s prophetic call together with the work that he accomplished as a prophet.

I became discouraged with the logical inconsistency of a person’s acceptance of

the one without the other. Many people thought the Book of Mormon was great, but were much more hesitant to accept the prophet who translated it and brought it to light. I would often see the reverse as well. Some people would sigh at hearing the Joseph Smith story, telling us how beautiful it was, and then flinch at

the thought of additional scripture. The former view was frustrating for me because I believed strongly that the First Vision was immediately relevant in the

lives of every person on the planet. The latter viewpoint was frustrating because

it put limits upon what God can and cannot do.

I also received letters from dad, mom, and Evan. It’s always nice to hear from family. I’m looking forward to Christmas in only two more weeks. I finished the Book of Mormon in Spanish today. I started it in the MTC. It makes

for my eighth time through. I’ll now read the Pearl of Great Price in Spanish.

Thursday, December 12, 1996

Two years ago today saw the start of a new era in my life. On that day in December, I attended a Student Congress competition with my best friend Jason, and broke out of a shell of timidity. It was the beginning of a fulfilling high school career as a public speaker. I could never have imagined the course it then took me on, from a starring role in a one-act play, to my Senior Prom with Ady, to BYU, to Mexico. It’s been a wild ride. I wouldn’t trade a moment of it. Yet despite the significance of this day two years ago, today was relatively dull. I was half-sick and half-hearted the whole day. We taught a couple of second charlas, of which one was okay and the other wasn’t. The latter was a sad old lady in a very cluttered and dirty house. She only had enough electricity to run the fridge and the television. She kept interrupting me and going off on tangents.

Friday, December 13, 1996

What can be said about today? Very little. We did a lot of walking, and thus my feet are killing me. Elisa has solidified her baptismal goal, and she is very excited about it. So am I. Celia is less sure. She feels that she has yet to receive an answer to her prayers. She is going to say a special prayer tonight, a heart-felt plea to our Father in Heaven. We found some less-active neighbors of Elisa’s. One of them, Yuvia, was an amazing individual. She had stopped going to church several years previous during a bout with cancer at the young age of eighteen. The experience strengthened her testimony of the Savior, but weakened her relationship with His church, since very few people from the ward visited her during those trying months. She was older and wiser when we found her, and ready to return to

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activity in the church. In fact, her entire family was ready, and though we had to work with them several weeks before we saw fruits, they eventually did attend church meetings once again. This whole week has been slow for one reason or another. I guess there are just weeks like this, as there are days like this. I’m enjoying myself here in Matamoros. I don’t want to ever leave. My companion is great; I’ll sure miss him when he goes home in February.

Saturday, December 14, 1996

Holy boring day, Batman. Well, it wasn’t as bad as all that. We spent our entire morning in service to Magda, painting a room and demolishing her driveway. Elders Ramos and Manzo, who were old friends from their days in the CCM (The MTC in Mexico City) spent their morning together painting the room inside. Burch and I were assigned driveway duty. Magda’s family was buying a new car, and needed additional parking space, so we installed a curb, so that they could drive the car up to the front door. As we were working, I told Burch that one of the qualities that I admired most about the Mexican people was their resourcefulness. When something stopped functioning in its intended purpose, they would use it as something else. As we were cleaning up afterwards, we saw a television being used as a table and an electrical cord being used to hang curtains. We had a good laugh at the adept illustration to my point. We then ate lunch at her house, proselyted for an hour, and then went to the stake activity. It was fairly good, though no one was in charge. We had several less-actives show up, though no investigators were in attendance. Elders Van Slyke and Rico had appointments that evening, and so were unable to attend. We preformed our play, but without Van Slyke, who had portrayed Satan in the original. We thus had to find a replacement. The understudy was Elder Honorato, a district leader from the south side of Matamoros. His portrayal of Satan was very melodramatic, but the audience enjoyed his performance. Afterwards, we were treated to dinner by Magda. She was kind of down about something; I don’t know what. I felt impressed to read my patriarchal blessing. How I want to secure those blessings for myself.

Sunday, December 15, 1996

Well, another Sunday. How many is that now? I lost count some time ago. Sacrament meeting was normal. We had the inactive Silva family in church today. Our eyes nearly popped out when we found out that Hermana Silva isn’t a member of the Church. All this time we thought she was. She attended Gospel Essentials class, for new members and investigators, and she knew more than any of the other students. She even corrected the teacher when he absent-mindedly forgot repentance in a list of the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel. I think she should be baptized.

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Hermana Silva was from one of three less-active families that lived in the government-funded prefab neighborhood in our area. In working with Familias Lastra, Sobrevilla, and Silva, we spent many hours working in this neighborhood. Hermana Silva was the mother of a little girl named Abish, who I had met in my

first week in Matamoros. Felipe Silva, the father, was legally married to someone else, from whom he had separated many years ago. He was devoted to his current “wife” and was raising three children with her. However, she could not be

baptized because legal divorces in Mexico are almost

impossible to obtain. He

would never be able to marry the mother of his children because of a youthful indiscretion, and hence, Hermana Silva would never be baptized. Of the three families previously mentioned, I remember Familia Silva the best. One afternoon, we saw Felipe playing a lone game of basketball in the park. We stopped, played with him for half an hour, and afterwards he bought us Gatorade, which is very expensive in Mexico. We walked back to his home together, and visited with his family. I loved this family very much. Throughout the rest of the day, we visited families. I caught pieces of the Broncos-Raiders game; Denver was up 24-3 at the half. I got letters tonight. I love it when that happens. I got letters from dad, Blake, and Rob Orser. I also received a Christmas card from Shawn’s family. In my personal studies, which I haven’t reported in some time, I’m in the following places: Psalms, 1 Nephi (English), Moses (Spanish), and the Gospel of John. I’ve also started reading Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It’s rad. He was rad. He WAS a prophet of God. I know this to be true, and I’ve given two years of my life to bear testimony of him and of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Life is so sweet. It was at about this time that I became concerned about my legacy. I had been hearing members and other missionaries talk of certain elders with fondness, and it set me to wondering about the legacy I was leaving behind. I decided that I wanted to be known as a reader, a scholar, one who can ask intelligent questions about the gospel and find answers which would strengthen the testimonies of those around him. I thus set about to be that kind of missionary, and in large part, I was successful. While I admit that this was a semi-deliberate campaign to create a reputation for myself in the mission field, it was not a campaign of obfuscation or deception. I was not trying to paint myself as something I am not. I was simply trying to gain a reputation for a characteristics I already possessed.

Monday, December 16, 1996

Transfers were today. Elder Van Slyke is leaving. I’m really going to miss him. He and I had a really good friendship. Six months later, Elder Van Slyke and I would share a house in Huejutla de Reyes, down south in the Huasteca. Elder Van Slyke finished his mission as a zone leader in Ciudad Valles.

His companion is also being transferred, and their area is being divided. Barrio 1 used to have six elders (three areas), but now will only have four elders

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(two areas). On the good side, Elder Hoover is coming to Matamoros to be a district leader. He traded places with Elder Honorato, who went to Soto la Marina to be companions with Elder Watkins there. It sure will be nice to see Elder Hoover again. Our big six-person house will only have four people now— myself, Ramos, Manzo, and Burch. The rest of the day was fairly normal—Laundry and so forth. I wrote letters to my family plus Kelli, Rob Orser(who is on a mission in Canada), and Shawn’s family. I’m excited to be staying with Elder Ramos for a few more months. By the time he goes home in February, I’ll have been with him longer than any other companion. Which is cool, because he’s cool.

Extracts from a Letter to my Parents

“After a hiatus of two weeks, El Norte has returned. El Norte is the name of the strong, cold wind that blows through Matamoros. It had been hot the last few weeks, and now it is cold once more. I’m not complaining because we have hot showers. “Well, the problem with my companion has been solved. It solved itself, really. In our zone, there is another elder who was getting a little too close to a divorced member. She was buying him ice cream, cookies, and so forth. It got to the point that his companion found him sitting in a car alone with her one night. Nothing untoward was happening; they were just talking. But still, the situation was not good. President Goodman got wind of it, and called Elder Ramos. He was told to take care of the problem. I Imagine he felt kind of guilty about his own peccadilloes. All questionable activities have stopped. “Only ten years ago, the three-fold focus of missionary work was: Find, Teach, and Baptize. Recently, the First Presidency changed this to what is called the “Balanced Effort.” Now we focus on: Conversion, Retention, and Activation. If you think about it, there is a big difference between baptisms and conversions. In this balanced effort, missionaries work closely with members and ward leaders.”

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M ATAMOROS A self portrait of Elder Barrett and his companion, Elder Ramos Breakfast in Matamoros

A self portrait of Elder Barrett and his companion, Elder Ramos

Breakfast in Matamoros Elders Manzo, Ramos, Burch, Rico, and Van Slyke

of Elder Barrett and his companion, Elder Ramos Breakfast in Matamoros Elders Manzo, Ramos, Burch, Rico,

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W ALKING THE D USTY R OAD President Goodman preparing the piñata with assistants (Sandoval and

President Goodman preparing the piñata with assistants (Sandoval and Lingard)

Elder Barrett surveying the piñata carnage

Goodman preparing the piñata with assistants (Sandoval and Lingard) Elder Barrett surveying the piñata carnage 154

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