Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Our calling as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is specifically to find ways to support the members and leaders of the church in the local area where we are assigned.  This boils down to providing service in whatever way that we can.  Many times this has not been just service that we can provide ourselves, but finding ways to support the local members in providing service to one another and the community.

The LDS Church is known for its welfare system and its ability to take care of people.  In areas where the church is strong there are storehouses where people who are in need can go and receive food and necessary supplies.  Here in southern Argentina we don't have that luxury, but we still have families that struggle and are in need.  

One Sunday in Rio Gallegos, the branch president stood up and explained that he was calling for an Almacen del Obispo or Bishop's storehouse.  He explained that since we don't have a physical place for a storehouse, each person's home becomes the storehouse.  In addition, each individual's abilities should be available to aid those in need.  He went on to explain that we have families in our branch that are really in need.  In order to provide for these families, he asked each family to donate what they could. Tonight we, along with some other people, stopped by those families who said that they had things to donate. Others simply dropped off their donations at the church. Then the Relief Society President divided the donations between the two families, and we delivered the items.  People donated flour, sugar, lentils, rice,  pasta, milk, oil, tomato sauce, canned meat, potatoes, onions, salt, toilet paper, infant formula, paper towels, and laundry detergent. When we delivered the items, the recipients were very grateful for all the help. It was a humbling experience. But most humbling of all was the realization that two of the families who donated the most probably could afford it the least. Yet out of their want, they found an abundance and shared with those who had less.

We attended a fireside on "Autosuficiencia"or self-reliance.  The brother presenting the fireside explained that while we all know that missionary work is being accelerated, so are the welfare efforts of the Church.  He taught that part of being self-reliant is also knowing how and when to appropriately ask for help.  He also taught that receiving help requires that we demonstrate that we are willing to do our part and not just assume that it is something that we "deserve."

Here in El Calafate we have had numerous opportunities to serve people that had real need.  We have one recent convert who set up a shack on a friend's land, only to find out later that the friend had been squatting there for 15 years.  The city came with equipment to evict them and move them to land that the member had been able to start to buy.  The land is not that expensive but at about $320 USD per month for a year, it will extract a significant portion of his meager income.  The city came to evict him and the missionaries were there to help.  We had to help tear down the shack he had built, move the materials, and then rebuild it.  The materials are whatever he could scrounge up, old pallets, pieces of scrap wood, cardboard, pieces of scrap tin . . . literally whatever.  We were there until after nightfall, because we couldn't leave until he had a roof over his head.

I did feel it was important for him to have a good roof, so the branch bought 5 pieces of new corrugated tin for his roof and some new nails to hold it down.  As you look at some of the materials, think about the winds in the Patagonia (sustained winds over 60 mph with higher gusts) and below freezing temperatures in the winter.  This is a man that wants to be self-sufficient, and he is doing what he can to reach that goal.  He has changed his old habits, and he now has money to buy land and over time improve it. He now has a wood stove that he built out of an old water heater. We helped him with some of the parts for that, and the hut stays quite a bit warmer and drier than the outside air, but Hermana Merkley and I still worry about how he stays warm. We checked up on him frequently.

It was also a great missionary activity.  One of his neighbors was very curious about who all those people were that were helping him. The police and the city workers that were there to evict he and his friend knew who we were and that he had support in a difficult time. I told the missionaries that this was some of the most important work that they would do in their two years of missionary service.

This is what we started with.
The demolition process.
Loading the truck.

Cleaning up the old property.

On the move!

Somehow things don't fit back together like they did at first!  Do you think the demolition process might been part of the problem?

Aren't the holes in the walls a problem? They are for me but not so much for him!

Getting things firm and more or less square.

We were blessed with a beautiful, calm day, and a clear evening. I can't even imagine trying to do this on a normal, windy day!
We also organized activities with the youth.  In one of them, we went to a playground and adjoining plaza and started picking up trash. We finished that area and then along the pathway that people use to walk to school.  It was a cool, wet morning, but we worked until we ran out of trash bags!  We figure we easily pulled up 200 kg of trash in about an hour and a half. We had a number of people stop and ask us who we were, and why normal people, even teenagers, were out cleaning up the community. The city does a pretty good job in the tourist areas.  They don't do very much in the areas where the people actually live!
There's just a little bit of trash in this area . . .

Our cleaning crew!
We also had a number of opportunities to help people around their homes. Everyone's goal is to own a piece of ground and stop paying rent.  The official government inflation rate was over 20% for last year.  (We won't even talk about the unofficial figures!) Rent prices increase much faster than salaries, so it makes sense to own and live on your own property, even if the house is a work in progress!

We are grateful for the opportunities that we have had to serve! We are grateful for a church that teaches us that we should be self-sufficient, but at the same time acknowledges the need for help. We are also grateful for the blessings that come from serving one another. We love all those that we have had the opportunity to serve!

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