Friday, February 28, 2014

San Benito

The outskirts of San Benito by evening.
So I need to tell you a little bit about one of the areas here in our branch.  San Benito was originally agricultural land outside of Rio Gallegos, but around 5000 acres of it got gathered up through allegedly nefarious means and purchased by an individual who wanted to subdivide it and create a new part of the city.   The city denied the permits because parts of it are boggy, it is too far away to provide any services, it is outside the city limits . . .  Well, this guy subdivided it and started selling lots anyway.  I think he probably made his money and took off leaving a pretty big mess.   The government "expropriated" (is that an English word?) the land and tried at first to drive away the people that had built there.  In the end, the government has had to accept that San Benito is going to exist.   Through the efforts of a Catholic priest, they have started to obtain water, power, gas, and maybe someday even a sewer system.  There is a beautiful school that has been built in the center of the area, but it can't open because there is no sewer. 

A San Benito house with the requisite DishTV satellite disk.

The place is an odd conglomeration of shanty town and really nice but compact homes.  Most of the construction is a work in progress done by the homeowners as they have time and money for materials.  The surrounding area  is all dirt roads, ruts and mud.  (We have to be very careful where we drive with our little car!)  The exterior of most of the houses is very unfinished.   The first clue that something may be different is the 1.5 meter DirectTV dish outside the home. (They may not have running water but they have to have their DirectTV!)  Inside the house things can be very nice.  Tile floors, granite counter-tops, 42 inch or bigger flat-screen TVs.  On the other end of the spectrum you have people who hold the land essentially as homesteaders.  As long as you can build and keep a permanent structure on land assigned to you by lottery it is yours.  Keeping the permanent structure is a little more difficult than you might think.   Remember the wind that we've talked about?  The structure has to be strong enough to withstand the elements.  Then there are the robbers who will try to steal the land or the materials used to build a house while it is still under construction.  Many of these homes end up being one room corrugated tin shacks that can be built quickly and have a lock on the door to protect the few meager possessions that they have.

We visited one of the families in a corrugated tin shack.  They have a three year old daughter that is absolutely precious.  She snuggled up to Hermana Merkley almost immediately.  The mother had surgery several months ago and is still recovering, but her biggest concern was that as part of the surgery they had removed a mass, and the results of the tests were yet unknown.  We went with her and her daughter to the doctors last week, and she found out that the tumor was not malignant.   They were in church for the first time in months on Sunday.  The branch president told us that he had never seen her glow like that before.

It is fascinating to visit the people in this area.  They live a long ways from the church, and the buses, especially on Sunday morning, are not very reliable.  It is a huge financial burden on some of them to make it to church.  As we talk to some of these less active members, we find that they have testimonies.  We asked to read a scripture with one of these families and all the kids went and grabbed their own scriptures to follow along.  They remember with great fondness the missionaries that baptized them, and they remember the day of their baptism as one of the best events of their lives.  We hope we can strengthen the people in this area so that we can have a chapel closer to them.

BTW, to all you returned missionaries, we have met people who were baptized 20 or 30 years ago that want to know what  happened to the missionaries that taught or baptized them.  If you put up a Facebook page and indicate that you served in a given area, they can probably find you now!  If you have their names try to find them.  It will bless your life and theirs.

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