Monday, February 29, 2016

Week Nine

So this was a crazy long week with a lot that has happened. 

I don't know if I mentioned it last week, but last week Mario proposed to one of the Hermanas in our district (via a note) for when she gets back to the states. Because of that, our mission president told us we had to talk to him and tell him that as missionaries, we are not allowed to be in a relationship or anything like that, and can't even think about that until after the mission and misisonaries have to be looked at like monks/nuns. We would have told him on Monday but it was his Birthday (and he made some really tasty chicken dish with potatoes, etc.) so we visited again on Tuesday and had to break it to him. He seemed to take it really well at the time though he was really kind of down about it, but when we tried to stop by Wednesday-Saturday to see how he was doing, he wouldn't answer or wasn't there. This last Sunday then he wanted to talk with my comp and the branch president and wouldn't let me in the room with my comp because the problem he had was with my comp and not me (I hadn't spoken at all during the visit on Tuesday because of Spanish and because my comp would have had more experience to be able to deal with it) but he proceeded to chew my comp out for 30 minutes (calling him a disgrace to his ancestors, arrogant, and a list of other false accusations) while my comp just thanked him for his advice and told him he would try and improve. Obviously we can't pass by anymore, but that was something that nobody expected and the important thing is that Mario is still going to church so over time I'm sure things will clear up as he isn't so hurt anymore.

In other happier news though, we got to go to the Capital on Tuesday, then sleep overnight in the Sky Pench on the 13th floor (Pench = Pension = Apartment) with a bunch of other missionaries (I slept on the balcony with a view of all the city) because the following morning Elder Bednar (one of the twelve apostles) was coming to speak in a conference where all 4 Buenos Aires missions would be together, and it was broadcast to all of the South America south mission area as well (Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay if I remember correctly). It was way awesome, as there were two South American members of the 70 there as well and we got to ask questions, be asked questions, and learn together. It was awesome, and the rest of my MTC district was able to see me on their big screen when the person behind be asked a question, and then I was also able to see and give a hug to my MTC companion there who is in the Buenos Aires East mission, which was an awesome experience. We then heard some from our mission president (back in the mission offices) and then left back to Chivilcoy that Wednesday night. 

Thursday was fairly normal, but Friday was my first time doing divisions (splits) where you have a different companion for a day from a different area, which helps both of you find ways that you can improve. I would have expected to go to a different area and be somebody elses companion but my comp was actually the one that left so I had to navigate around and find all the appointments on my own, and the most awesome part was that my comp was from Chile so speaking English was not an option. I got a lot of spanish practice that day (both with him and in lessons we had without Elder Groen there, and when we had to get a few things from the store) and it gave me a lot more confidence and I'm able to understand and speak a lot better from just that one day, and converse a lot more with people. The lessons that day were super awesome as well, but from that day comes my fun bike story for the week, though my bike has been fairly well behaved. (We got the handlebar fixed on Wednesday night) On the day of the divisions, we had to make it to the bus station quickly to meet the other companionship where we would swap and where they would get on the bus to leave almost right after, but we got out to the street and were about to go when I realized my bike had a flat, so we had to walk all the way there, quickly, but we made it. Me and Elder San Martin (the elder on divisions with me) took it and got it fixed just after study time and then went to grab a couple things from the store for lunch/for the pench. I had all the groceries in my backpack thankfully for the next part, but as we were leaving we had to go up on the sidewalk and to do so you kind of pull up on your handlebars so that you can get the front wheel up more softly/easily and the back just follows. Well after the new handlebar, the grips didn't fit so well, so the both slid off when I did that and I hit the curb (thankfully at a very slow pace) with no hands on the handlebars at all. I was able to leap off and land it but I had no clue what had happened until I looked down and saw the grips in my still closed hands. It was pretty entertaining to be honest.

Most important item of this week though: I HAD MY FIRST BAPTISM OF THE MISSION!

It was Diego, the investigator that had been passed to us by the Hermanas. He is such a capo (stud in spanish, used all the time here) - he finished the Book of Mormon, soaks all the lessons up like a sponge, and has already practically completed his family history book and one of the first things he asked after he was baptised was when the next temple trip was. I'm super excited for him. We had to spend some time cleaning the font on Saturday, and then had to wait around for an hour while it filled. Because of everything going on with Mario though, I was the one that got to baptize him, and it was an awesome experience - especially when we hugged afterwards and all he said was "gracias". While we were waiting for people to show up though we had kind of a funny exchange: He asked me "So this is your first time?" (performing the baptism) I thought for a second then said "Yup - and you?" He smiled and said "Equal then I guess." He was confirmed the next day in Church and we have an appointment with him tomorrow to put all his family history names in the computer so that he can go to the temple and do baptisms for the dead for them on the next temple trip, which will be awesome for him and which is something that really helps people to stay active in the church as well.

Last cool thing: Yesterday we contacted somebody that was referred to us by an inactive member that had a dream about two men visiting her and speaking with her but had no clue what it meant until we showed up and she realized it was us. Her husband had died 4 months previously though and because of that she had grown a lot closer to God and her faith in Christ had grown a lot as well so I am very excited to teach her, but she will be out of town all this week so we can't until next Sunday. It should go really well though.

I think those are the biggest things - I suppose I could include another random Argentina fact for this week: they call the Falkland Islands "Las Islas Malvinas" and on any map say they belong to Argentina (they lost them to the UK in the 80s) and there is a memorial to them in every park (and there are way more parks here than in the states - at least one major plaza in every city even if it is only a few hundred people) as well as pictures of them on some of the money, and just in random places. It's kind of interesting/bizarre since it'd be kind of like Mexico claiming that it still owns Texas even though they clearly have no claim to it at all.

Anyways, talk to you all next week!

Elder McCollum

Monday, February 22, 2016

Week Eight

First of all, my camera is broken so no pictures this week, sorry :/ I took it apart and found the problem - the circuit board the shutter button is connected to was seperating from the main circuit board so the shutter button wasn't working. I'm hoping that I can take it into a shop this week and get them to resolder it back on but I don't know if that will fix it for sure. I hope so though because I bought the camera for $70 on Amazon (Nikon S2800) but the same exact camera here costs $250 (Nikon S2900) so a replacement is not necessarily possible. :/

Other than that, it has been an awesome week. We've gotten a decent amount of new investigators that we can try and make appointments with this coming week and were able to teach 2-3 lessons a day. I'm getting way more comfortable and confident with the language but this coming week I have a goal to really push myself in contacting new people so that I make it outside of my comfort zone and am able to better my language skills. I am understanding more and more but I still miss some things and still need to speak more so I feel as though that will help me a lot. We might pray for god to help us with something (in this case it's the language) but we also need to have faith to act on it and help make it happen, so that's my goal.

Most exciting event of the week though is that one of our investigators (Diego, the one that was passed to us by the Hermanas) had his baptismal interview and passed, and so there will be a baptismal service for him this next Saturday, with Mario (the convert from December) being the one to perform the baptism, so that'll be way exciting. He finished the Book of Mormon this last Wednesday as well and has started re-reading it and every time we teach him something he reinforces it himself with what he has been reading so I have high hopes for him staying an active member. I too am starting to read the Book of Mormon again but I'm starting in Helaman so that I can get a running start into 3rd Nephi where Christ visits the Americas since that is the part that I feel would be the most useful to help teach investigators now and is one of the areas I am the least well versed with. 

For my birthday as well we actually ended up just ordering Argentine Empanadas (so good) and eating neopalitan Ice Cream (which here is Chocolate, Vanilla (tastes like Vanilla tootsie rolls) and Dulce de Leche instead of strawberry. It was way good and I also found out that you can get a sour cream sized container of actual Dulce de Leche for just under $1 USD so I have been eating that with crackers for snack food. It's way good.

I also promised to tell about our bikes so here goes: They are both single speed bikes with pedal brakes only and when brand new were solid black but now have patches of somewhat rusty bare metal showing through as well. Since being here I have had a series of things break in just two weeks though: Week one I had a pedal randomly shear off the right side while I was riding, leaving the threads in the crankarm (the thing the pedal screws into) so I had to ride it back to the shop with just one pedal. After that they put two new pedals in (they only come in pairs) as well as a new seat (the old one was in rough shape) and a few days later the right crankarm broke off (but the new pedal held up so it was still attached) at a time when we were a good mile or so from our pension down rough dirt roads. Because of that I couldn't pedal either, so we locked the bike lock onto the back of my companions bike (which had issues of it's own - the pedals would just spin and spin for a good few seconds to a minute before they finally grabbed and he could start moving forward) and I held on to it while he pulled me back. We got both bikes fixed then (I needed a new crankarm, and they replaced the bottom bracket at the same time which they figured was causing some of the issues, and my comp needed a new rear hub). These last couple days though my handlebars broke (they would bend and flex a lot before), so I am riding around today with just the right handlebar until I get it into the shop again today or tomorrow. Good times though haha. I'm also pretty sure that neither of my wheels is 100% straight but that's not a big deal.

I'm doing good though and loving it here in Argentina. There's not really that many new experiences I've had other than eating at Daniel and Claudias house where they cooked up a pasta with Chicken and all the Chicken innards too. I don't know exactly what all I ate but I'm pretty sure it included multiple hearts and some livers, as well as other things and after I was done I definetely saw a set of lungs sitting there on top of the serving dish so I probably got some of those too. It was definetely interesting... Elder Bednar is speaking to all 4 Buenos Aires missions this Wednesday though so tomorrow afternoon I get to take a 2-3 hour bus ride back to capital and make the same trip back on Thursday so there won't be that much work this week. 

Time is up for me though so love you all and talk to you again next week!

Elder McCollum

Monday, February 15, 2016

Week Seven

Hello all!

First a little about the area I'm serving in: It´s big, spread out and flat. There is an inner city where people live in small houses/apartments and where there are a lot of store fronts but once you get out of that there are dirt roads (laid out in grids just the same) that are the same situation (minus the stores). So far, the nicest place that I have been in has been our own pension (apartment) - income isn't as high here as in the states and so people generally live in what we be considered poorer homes in the states but you don't even think about it with all the other cultural differences and with how nice the people are in general. I made a goal to myself to not try and compare things here to the States, but for the sake of weekly emails I might make comparisons for the sake of clarity. Supposedly it´s the nicest area I´ll likely serve in (according to my companion) though so it´s one of the wealthier areas for Argentina in general.

Next I suppose could be our investigators; they are way awesome. First is Daniel (and his "wife" Claudia) - they have been investigators for over a year and both love the church (Daniel comes every Sunday) but the problem they have (which I've been told is going to be the biggest/one of the most common problems here in Argentina) is that they are living together but aren't married. They were both married before and both were separated but neither is legally divorced because the paperwork is so long, hard and expensive here in Argentina. They're working on it but they both love reading/learning about the temples and so they both really want to get sealed there after they are baptized. Next is Diego; he used to be the Hermana's investigator in our district, but they had to pass him on to us because he was starting to develop feelings for one of the Hermanas and so this last transfer (when I came in) that Hermana was also transferred out, and then Diego got passed to us. He has read almost all the way through the Book of Mormon though (he is already in Ether) and he has a baptismal date for the 27th, and so he'll have to attend this next Sunday (you have to have 3 Sunday attendances and then you can be baptized) and he can make it. This last time we visited his parents listened as well (Their last name is Roja, so I´ll refer to him as Papa Roja) and Papa Roja came to church as well. We visited with them on Saturday and Papa Roja had some massive stubble going on, progressing towards a beard but he shaved in the morning in prep for church but got called in to work so he went there but nobody was there and as he was sitting waiting he felt terrible (for not going to church) and so he said screw it, left, and came to church. It was awesome. We've also contacted some more people and taught a few lessons but most of the time we have spent trying to make appointments with investigators that existed before I got here but none of them make it (even though they´re set up beforehand) and so we might end up dropping a lot of them. My favorite investigator thus far has been Teresa though. She is an elderly Japanese lady that lives on her own on a large, nice (and clean - that´s another thing about Argentina, there is litter everywhere and people don´t really maintain their yards all that well) property with large pretty gardens, two of the best looking dogs I have seen in Argentina (both really friendly and love to play, but dogs also don´t tend to be as well taken care of here, but hers looked better kept than even some stateside) and a well kept house. Apparently she came here from Japan and through the mountains when she was 17/18 with her family and then got married and raised a family here. She has since been back to Japan for a period of about 10 years for her husband´s work, but came back to settle down because it is more tranquil and peaceful here (and her husband has since passed, but her son visits her often and helps take care of her). She has a Japanese Book of Mormon though and reads from it but can't attend church because her son says it's too early for her (we meet at 9:00am) but missionaries still visit her once a week. She has all the missionaries that visited her sign her Book of Mormon and then she writes their name in Japanese (see attached picture) and she always brings out a big bottle of Sprite and drinks with them (but you have to toast together before you start drinking) while just talking and getting a lesson. She is super kind and loving though and looks forward to the visits once a week, and always gives the missionaries small handcrafts that she makes out of beads or thread (some of them traditional Japanese) so I'm hoping her son is there at some point when we visit so we can talk to him about letting her get to church because though she is Elderly she is still in great physical shape and health, so there´s not any reason she couldn't go.

Next I suppose I can talk about the branch - it's about 70 people on a good day, and so it could be made into a ward but the surrounding areas don´t have big enough branches to make a stake yet (which you need to make it into a ward). The members are all super nice and caring though, and I had my first lunch with members this last Sunday where we had traditional Paraguan food (the member used to live in Paraguay as well as Chile - a lot of people in Latin America hop countries a lot it seems because a lot of the people we have met have lived elsewhere before; That or Argentina has a lot of immigrants). My favorite member is name Mario though; he is a recent convert (December) so we still have to teach him the lessons again but he is super friendly, loves the missionaries, and jokes around/talks to us a lot and always stops if he passes us in the street. He's making us Chicken Malanesa with a special sauce and French Fries tomorrow (he told us he was going to do that when he found out tomorrow was my birthday, so that'll be what I'm doing for that) and we have plans to go fishing with him next P-day. He is neighbors with Daniel and so Daniel had already been telling him about the church when missionaries contacted him. They knocked on his door but he was around the corner in his garage/yard and so he stuck his head out and said "Sunday,9:00, (address of church), right?" The missionaries responded yes and he said he'd be there and hasn't missed a Sunday since and blesses the sacrament every week. There are other cool members too but more on them when I have more time.

A little more about the mission in general to wrap up though:

Our district includes 4 Hermanas, my companion (who is district leader) and myself.

We get around on highly worn out and somewhat unreliable bikes - more stories on them whenever we have time. I already have some.

And random Argentina trivia for the week:
Mayonnaise is the number one condiment. They eat it on more things than people in the states eat Ranch and Ketchup on combined (the same things as those and then some). It's pretty entertaining and my companion even saw a kid eating it straight once. 

That's all for this week though. Take care all and I'll talk to you next week!

--- Elder McCollum

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Week Six

So I hadn´t planned on being able to write today, but since my companion missed his P-day to get trained and such to be a trainer, he gets to email today (but it´s not a p-day, so we´ll be working later) and because of that, I get the opportunity to write home as well. I can start back with this last Monday though to tell about my trip.

So there were two planes going to Atlanta from SLC (mas o menos 11:00 & 2:00), but we were all supposed to be on the same plane from Atlanta to Buenos Aires. To make that trip, you were split up into different travel groups (I´m pretty sure it was separated by mission) and you were to travel with them. Nobody in my travel group was in my district and my paper said to report to the travel office at 8:30am though I was scheduled for the earlier flight, which I thought was kind of weird but no biggie. The rest of my room had to report at 6:00 though so they left the door open so it´d be easier for me to get up and so that the person sleeping in the room next to ours (also from our district and also by himself) and I would be able to hear each other (missionaries are supposed to stay in sight and sound of another missionary if at all possible (travelling is really the only exception). Well about 15 minutes after they left, someone with a BYU Police name tag on (not an officer) stuck his head in and asked for Elder McCollum. I stuck my head out from my bed and said I was him, and he told me that I needed to report to the travel office immediately so that I could make my flight on time, so that is how Monday started. I got dressed pretty quick though and was at the travel office by 6:30 and even made it onto the train to the Salt Lake City airport with the earlier group of missionaries. The train ride was interesting though because we were in a double decker car and the bottom half was completely full of luggage (except for the isle), and we had to unload it in less than 3 minutes once we got to our stop. We did; we were like a machine, and it was pretty cool to watch.

The flight from SLC was pretty uneventful though and it was nice to get to call everyone during the four hour layover before the plane to Buenos Aires. We got on the plane then though, and at that point we were about 60 missionaries strong. Seating for the plane was two seats on either side with 3 in the middle, and I lucked out and got a window seat on the right side, which was beyond awesome. I was super excited for it and got some awesome views - as we were leaving, as we passed over Cuba, of lone ships out there in the open ocean (dots of light), and when we first entered South America, as well as the huge expanses of darkness in between major cities (not even car headlights), some awesome stars, and finally a really pretty sunrise and a view of Buenos Aires as we entered the city. I got 2-3 hours of sleep out of 10 hours of flying and the rest of the time I was staring out the window. The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful though.

Airline food is airline food, but we got breakfast and dinner. Funny story about that though is that there were 3 shrimp as part of the dinner and I don´t like seafood but I figured I´ll be eating some foods that I don´t like in Argentina so I might as well start there. I open the cocktail sauce packet and as I was putting some on the first shrimp, it sprayed all over my white shirt (which was the same one I was going to have to wear to meet my mission president. I did not eat the other two shrimp, but I was able to clean the sauce out immediately in the tiny airplane bathroom sink.

We touched down in Buenos Aires at 8:30 local time and as soon as we were off the plane and into the airport the air was insanely humid; you could probably cut it with a knife. The airport blocked most of the heat though, and so as soon as we were out of the airport into a big open room that was open to the air outside, it hit even worse I (and every other elder in our group) immediately broke out into a sweat just standing there. By the time we got onto the air conditioned bus that took us to our mission president´s home, my sleeves were already plastered to my arms. On the short bus trip though, we picked up some Latin American Missionaries from the Buenos Aires MTC and stopped at the temple just across the street to get some pictures, and it was way prettier than it looks even in pictures by a long shot.

We went to the mission president´s (President Roberts) home after that and his wife gave us a short session about how to go through our first few weeks and we were interviewed by President Roberts for about 3 minutes each so he could determine who our companion would be. We were then fed lunch and taken to the church, where we got explanations of where we would be living, about mission finances, and afterwards we were assigned to our companions.

My first companion is Elder Groen (from Bountiful Utah - he´s been out about 18 months and is a really cool dude with a decent amount of similar interests), and my first area is Chivilcoy, which is about 2-3 hours outside of Buenos Aires the city. Last night I stayed in the city, on the 13th floor of an apartment with all the other missionaries who weren´t going to be in the city and got an awesome view of the city with all the lights, traffic, buildings, people, and things going on. We left to our area this morning though and I had the chance to unpack and now here I am emailing, and I will start going out and teaching/meeting people soon. A few last things before I wrap up though:

1) The Spanish is going awesome. I´m not the best, but I can understand and speak it plenty well enough to more than hold my own so it can only get better from here which is awesome.

2) When you are not in Buenos Aires the city and a couple to a few hours out, we call it the campo and we ride old single speed pedal brake bikes since things are more spaced out, which is interesting haha.

3) There is no AC indoors, it is way humid, and it gets into the 90s. It is very hot. It is very sweaty. Very much of the time.

4) They use Bidets here and not Toilet Paper. Bidets are awesome, I have been converted.

5) Capo (pronounced cop-o) is pretty much the word out here. It more or less means ''Stud'' in English, but it is used way more often than just that and is often used as a short filler word or a short response to something, as well as in it´s intended context. It´s pretty cool.

I believe that is all - If I remember anything else, I will include it in my email on Monday, but it will be awesome. Pictures inbound (we got one last picture of our MTC district together, and the rest are of travels) but they will likely have to be in separate emails because of the size of the images from my camera and because I have no way to downsize them. I´m sorry....

All is well though and I´m loving it here, so I´ll talk on Monday. Bye for now!
-Elder McCollum

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

He's Arrived!

Matt has safely made it to Argentina!  We received a couple pictures along with the following information on how to keep in touch with him.

Writing to your missionary

Missionaries love to hear from home. They love you and are uplifted by your encouraging letters. Your letters or emails on a weekly basis can be very helpful as you share good news from home. Be sure to ask them about the work they are doing and the people they are teaching. They will love hearing about your spiritual experiences, gospel studies and efforts to share the gospel. Occasionally a friend or family member requests that the missionary go to a site other than "" to view family photos, etc. Please remember that your missionary is not allowed to visit any other site.

To send letters via mail:

Your missionary's name
La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Últimos Días
C.C. No. 92
1702 Ciudadela
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Dear Elder letter service:

Letters can be sent, free of charge, through:

Church pouch mailing system:

They will only accept one single piece of paper with your letter written on one side. Fold the paper in thirds and tape it shut with one or two pieces of tape. (Do not tape the sides). Mail it to the following address and they will send it to us in the weekly mission pouch. 

Argentina Buenos Aires West Mission 
Your missionary’s name
50 E North Temple 
PO Box 30150 
Salt Lake City, UT 84130-0150

With President David P. Robertson and Hermana Julie Robertson

The new arrival group in Matt's Mission

Friday, February 5, 2016

Week Five

Well, this will be the last time that I send out a group email from the MTC (and I suppose that means the USA as well). Next time I get a P-day will be Monday the 15th in Argentina since I head out this Monday (P-day for every missionary in the field is Mondays, it's only at the MTC that they vary).

Again, not much new this week. We haven't taught investigators all this week with all the other things we had to do (in-field orientation, other lessons, etc.) but last Friday night we taught Marco for the 6th (and last) time but committed him to baptism so that was a pretty cool note to end on though I think he was an acting member and not an actual investigator. It's really kind of surreal though because I've only got one day of classes left (tomorrow, and we all elected to have them just load us up with mission stories for those classes if possible) and that'll be the last I get to see them. Sunday then will just be sacrament meeting, our departure devotional, and then I leave first thing in the morning on the following day. It'll be way trippy.

I got a really cool picture of the Provo temple though that I attached and I'll try and get a picture of Buenos Aires too so they can be compared. One will probably have much less snow than the other. I don't really have that much else to share, but I do have two jokes, one in english and one in spanish:

1) Why do all of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon have sore knees? Because of all the Nephites!

2) This one will take some explaining, but it's good I promise.I have to keep it in Spanish though because it's a play on words.

Que es la diferencia entre una pera y la novia de un misionero?

(es = is, una pera = a pear, la novia = girlfriend, un misionero = a missionary, so: what is the difference between a pear and the girlfriend of a missionary?)

Una es pera, el otro no espera!

(espera = wait/waits, so: one is a pear, the other is not a pear/ one is a pear, the other doesn't wait [if said out loud, it can be taken either way because the space between es and pera would be indistinguishable]). Drawn out because of the explanation I know, but I enjoyed it haha.

Anyhow, I'll get the opportunity to call people at the airport so if you get a call from a random Utah number this Monday, it is probably me. I'm sure I'll have much more to write about next week though from Argentina, so bye for now and bye USA!

Elder McCollum