During December of 2005 I had been a missionary in Argentina for about a 2 months. It was more difficult to adjust than I had anticipated. I didn't have a hard time speaking but I couldn't understand much of what people said to me. My trainer didn't really like Americans (I was her only American companion during her entire mission). Often we split up to cover more of the area.
**As an aside I will tell you that the first time we split up (went on "divisiones") was when I had been in the country for 2 days. She gave me a list of addresses and sent me off with a 17 girl named Cynthia who wore an Avril Lavigne backpack (that detail isn't important, I just thought it was funny). I had no idea who these people were and what I was supposed to say to them; I didn't know if they were members, less active members, investigators or street contacts. We wandered around the neighborhood as I tried to find the addresses and I cried about 5 times in 3 hours because I didn't know where I was and what I was supposed to be doing and couldn't understand what anyone told me every time I stopped to ask for directions. It was that day that I realized my trainer was hard core or crazy or maybe both.**
That was mid-October. By mid-December I had been emergency transferred (5 days into the mission), survived giant cockroaches crawling in my shoes and on my neck, been kissed by a drunk man, been admitted to the hospital twice for blisters/rash/foot fungus/who-knows-what that wouldn't disappear from the tops of my feet and toes,witnessed 3 investigators be baptized, learned how to ride a bus, learned how to shop with Argentine pesos, worn out/melted a pair of shoes, gagged down all sorts of nasty food and gone on "divisiones" several more times. I was starting to adjust to life in the mission field. Each day was getting hotter than the next and it didn't really feel like Christmas to me without cold rainy/snowy weather and without any familiar faces. But I was enjoying Argentina and the funny people
One December afternoon my companion and I split up again to cover more ground. This time I planned the afternoon of work all by myself. I was feeling more confident in my planning abilities and my ability to understand "Castellano" Spanish. This time I went with Lourdes Orlandi. Lourdes was 21 or 22 and I felt more confident with her because she was older and not afraid to speak up and talk to people in the streets and help me teach during lessons. Also, Lourdes was waiting for her mission call. She had been waiting for about 8 months and was getting very anxious to find out where she was going. Lourdes was from the ward where I had been emergency transferred from after 5 days in the area. That area was extremely poor. Lourdes herself lived in one of the humblest areas with her father and a brother. I had been to her house only once and I remember that it had either cement or dirt floors. The only furniture I saw in the main room was a sink and a table and chairs. I was impressed that even after working all day long (putting away all the money for her mission) she was willing to come help us.
The afternoon that Lourdes and I worked together went well until I completely ran out of stuff to do. I was feeling discouraged that after all of my careful planning, nothing had worked out. I decided to talk to people in the streets as we walked back to the apartment. Lourdes turned to me and asked if we could make a quick stop before going home. I said yes and followed her into a party store. I watched her pick out a little 1-foot tall tree and then some tinsel, ornaments and large red star for the top. It was fun to help her decide which colors would look best and I didn't mind helping her shop because I knew she didn't have too many chances to come to the shopping district of our town (she lived in the outskirts). I was surprised that everything came to 20 pesos, it seemed like a lot of money for her to spend when she was trying so hard to save all of her money to pay for her mission. I reminded myself that these were probably the only decorations she and her dad and brother would have--to Lourdes it was probably worth the sacrifice to part with some of her hard earned money to buy a few nice things for her humble home.
We got home about 20 minutes before my trainer would return and so Lourdes turned to me and said something to the effect of, "well, let's decorate, let's set up your tree." I wish I could have seen my face at that moment when I realized that she hadn't picked out this tiny little tree for HER Christmas, she had sacrificed some of her mission money for MY Christmas. Here she was, with all of her own problems, anxious over the 8 long months she had been waiting to receive her mission call, worried about how she would be able to pay for it all, worried about who would take care of her dad and brother while she was gone, she had no money for shoes or clothes or luggage and she was concerned about me and my happiness as a new missionary in foreign country. I will never forget how surprised and humbled I felt. It was such a simple thing but it meant so much because I knew how much of a sacrifice those 20 pesos were for Lourdes. The following quote by Elder Ballard describes this kind of sacrifice,
Opportunities to serve others in meaningful ways, as we have covenanted to do, rarely come at convenient times. But there is no spiritual power in living by convenience. The power comes as we keep our covenants. (Found in THIS talk)Service is not often convenient. Sacrifice is not convenient. But there is power in following Jesus Christ's example. Lourdes knew that the best way she could celebrate Christmas was through unselfish service. I pull that little tree out each Christmas and it reminds to serve, love and sacrifice regardless of whether it's easy or convenient.
Sometime between the 25th of December and the 1st of January Lourdes received her mission call to the Argentina Resistencia Mission. She came over and my trainer cut her hair, we scavenged through our storage room (where missionaries would leave stuff that they didn't plan on taking with them back to the states) and found a large duffel bag, some old shoes and clothes for her to take on the mission.
Me and Cynthia (the 17 yr old with Avril Lavigne backpack) after I had cried 5 times in 3 hours.
Our little Christmas Tree.
Lourdes (a few days before she left for the MTC in Bs. As.) getting her hair cut.