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