Sunday, June 8, 2014

Winter in Rio Gallegos

San Benito Muñeca de Nieve.  This is kind of dark because we are only getting 8 hours of sunlight right now.

Here is another of Hermana Merkley's emails.  I'll make some editorial comments afterwards.
Winter has struck with a vengeance. Last Wednesday we were out making visits in the mud wearing or jackets, enjoying the balmy temperatures in the high 30's or low 40's. On Thursday morning a winter storm moved in. Elder Merkley and I bundled up in our winter coats, gloves, and scarves and walked to Centro to do our errands. While Elder Merkley got a haircut, I headed off to buy a few things and pay a bill. The snow was falling and sticking to the roads and sidewalks. I was fascinated at the number of people who came outside just to take pictures of the snow.  They haven't really had snow on the ground in Rio Gallegos since 2006, (though all the people here don't agree on that date.) By the time I finished my errands, I was slipping and sliding my way down the sidewalk. A thin layer of ice had formed under the layer of snow. Cars were sliding all over the roads. By the time we walked home, Elder Merkley and I were very happy that we had decided not to drive.

That evening we started seeing snowmen, muñecas de nieve, all over the city. We watched our neighbors make one with their children at 10:30 at night.  The next couple of days we watched the children running and playing in the snow, having snowball fights and loving the novelty. Many of these children have never really seen snow on the ground.

Now the snow is all crusty and icy. The roads and sidewalks are treacherous. We've tried to limit our driving to give everyone here the opportunity to first practice being on hazardous roads. Yesterday while walking back from Zone Conference we watched a car rear-end another that was stopped at a light. All day and night we hear tires spinning on ice. On the plus side, the potholes in the dirt roads of San Benito are all filled with ice, which makes for a much smoother ride. And the mud is frozen so our boots stay clean!

At church today we only had about 50 people show up.  Many didn't want to make their way to church in these conditions. The missionaries asked us to give a ride to one of their investigators and her three girls, ages 10, 11, and 12. The investigator is pregnant and she didn't want to hazard walking in the icy conditions.
 When we arrived at the chapel, the power was out. While the heating in the building is gas, the blowers are electric, thus no heat in the chapel. (Thank goodness the gas heaters in our apartment work even without electricity.) Outside the temperature was -5º C or about 21º F.  During sacrament meeting, the building was growing colder and colder. The speakers were at the podium wearing their coats and talking in the dark while the congregation was trying to stay as warm as possible. Shortly before the end of the meeting, the power came back on. Still the branch presidency decided to dispense with the other meetings because it would take awhile for the building to warm back up and everyone was cold. Just another adventurous day here in Rio Gallegos.

So now for my editorial comments.  Most missionaries have one day a week, typically Monday, as their preparation day or P-Day.  It's not really the whole day; it just lasts until 6:00 pm and they are out working again.  We have found that our schedule can't be quite that regular.  We have some people who have one day off a week which may just happen to be Monday, and the only time they have available is before 6:00 pm.  We go visit them when they are available.  Our personal time gets jostled around into odd times during the week.

Most missionaries are also supposed to never leave their companion to go do something like run errands.   Our mission president told us that as an experienced married couple we could split up as long as we each know where the other is at.  In general, that is how we have worked our married life as well so this is not a big change.  The advantage is that here in Rio Gallegos as a missionary I get to spend a whole lot more time with my wife than I have in the last 29 years, and that is something truly beautiful.

The other thing Hermana Merkley left out is how much courage it actually took her to go off and run errands by herself.  She still struggles with the language and we constantly run into people with odd accents that even I can barely comprehend.  She acted like Paul counseled Timothy, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love" (2 Tim 1:7).    In the end, missionary work requires a great deal of courage.  We meet people that we have never met before and just assume that they will open their doors to us, let us in, and share the deepest thoughts of their hearts.  That takes a lot of courage.  I'm grateful that I have a companion that exemplifies that for me.

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