Sunday, September 23, 2018

My Double-Date As a Missionary

It's time to tell this story. . . .

My missionary companion and friend gave me his permission some time ago. My policy remains to avoid naming names to preserve some privacy, at least to avoid my friends' names turning up on an internet search linked to my blog. And it does protect the innocent as we all were in this unusual circumstance.

Mormon Missionaries are supposed to be celibate for their missionary terms of service which is nearly always successful. We aren't even supposed to date or socialize with romantic intentions as our time is totally dedicated to the Lord's work. This is quite an amazing accomplishment for young men and women in their late teens and early twenties as they learn that the spiritual aspects of life can be more powerful than natural, human behavior.

Language Training Mission (LTM) and Provo Temple, Fall 1976
In the preparatory Language Training Mission ("LTM" now, Missionary Training Center) in Provo, Utah, they drilled into us how we needed to be cautious because young women in Brazil could be very, uhm, tempting and some would be interested in snatching up a young North-American if they could. My companion friend was "snatched."

Still, it was all innocent if some of it slightly outside of regular missionary rules of decorum.
My companion, Elder L, and I had been in the same district in the LTM. We began and ended our two-year missionary term together. We had some personality conflicts in the LTM in the long months we waited for our visas to appear allowing us to finally depart for Brazil. But we did become friends. Our extra time in the LTM honed our language skills so that we hit the ground running in Brazil and the Elders in our group were soon called to be senior companions and then district and zone leaders within our first year.

The month Elder L and I spent together as companions in Alegrete, the heart of Gaúcho Brazil, was amazing! We worked hard and had fun. As zone leaders, we traveled the Pampas in inter-city buses for hours and days to visit with the other Elders in our zone and usually to interview their candidates for baptism.

It was in Alegrete, however, that I was "touched" by a girl. A group of attractive, teen girls approached us on a city center sidewalk one day. As we passed, one of them stroked her fingers along my bare arm as we were allowed short-sleeved, white shirts without jackets. As the electrified hand connected, she softly, sweetly said, "fofinho!" A word I understood but can't really be translated. It was still all innocence even with the voltage surge on my arm. The girls all giggled as the passed. Elder L and I went on with our missionary labors.

My last transfer was to the beautiful, little town of Guaíba across the lagoa from Porto Alegre. I replaced Elder L and inherited his junior companion. Elder L was all excited to tell me that Elder E had a sister at home in another part of Brazil which whom he was corresponding. As she was in another mission, this was technically within missionary rules. Elder L showed me a photo. He said, "If her testimony is as good as she looks, I'm going to marry her!" Still not out of the rulebook, but getting a bit odd.

And, there was more. My new companion, who did not bear the slightest resemblance to his beautiful sister, let me know that he was all excited for the happy couple as Elder L had been talking to his sister by phone and they were engaged to be married.

OK. Now, we were definitely outside the little white bible of missionary rules of decorum.

This was still in the days when missionaries were not discouraged from taking little tours on the way home from a mission. Brazil was a tempting country in many ways with the blessings of tropical sun and cities in the most gorgeous settings where mountains and flowery jungles met the sea. Before that last transfer, Elder L and I had already arranged to be traveling companions home. Missionaries remained under missionary rules and even dress until arrival back home where we would be released from our service, hopefully, still honorably. Elder L and I were scheduled for quick stops in São Paulo and Rio to arrive home by my 21st birthday and meet some other plans of Elder L. Others of our group were spending a few more days of sight-seeing on their journey home.

Elder L eventually told me that on our afternoon and evening stop-over in São Paulo, we would be meeting his fiancé. Shocked!

My terrible regret is that I was a horrible, judgmental person in those days. I was disgusted with Elder L beyond measure. The heavy beams in my eyes, along with the little white bible, blinded me to his innocent, if a bit unorthodox, splintered intentions. I should have been more charitable. Still, it got stranger and more uncomfortable.

We arrived in São Paulo after a short flight. We were met by Elder L's absolutely gorgeous fiancé! She was not alone. She had an older, male friend as a chaperone, of course. And, she brought her sister who also looked nothing like their brother, my last companion. Full stop.

When they scared us in the LTM about young, Brazilian women, I had prayed and made one of those bargains with the Lord. "Lord, if you want me to marry a Brazilian, please introduce me to her after my mission is over." It was a good arrangement between the Lord and me. In spite of normal temptations of the carnal Elder, I was successful in disregarding occasional impure thoughts. And any idea of romance from my missionary contacts, even that electric charge in Alegrete, were way out of the question for me.

But it was clear. Elder E's other sister was to be my date for the evening in São Paulo.

I was beyond mortified. From relying on my little white book, I considered myself a missionary until the moment of my release back in the States. This beautiful young girl, set as a trap for me, could not be a love interest.

It was the most excruciatingly long hours of any date I have ever been on. Even more so than that prom night when my date was so mad at me, she wouldn't speak to me all evening because her mean friend had told her I said some unkind words about my date's performance at seminary scripture chase a few days earlier. (OK, that's another good, innocent story for another day.)

From the airport, we were scheduled to visit the São Paulo Temple nearing completion at the end of June for dedication that September. On arrival at the temple, we were informed that only the departing Elders were allowed on the special tour. The members from São Paulo escorting us (in an innocent way) were not allowed inside. We toured the temple in the final stages of interior decoration with some furniture wrapped in plastic close to being placed in service. It was spiritually moving and I was able to forget for a moment our "dates" waiting outside.

Interesting that the São Paulo Temple
was constructed over the same two-year
period of my mission and time in Brazil.
It was always the focus of our work
and a prompt for the Priesthood Revelation.
The São Paulo Temple under construction just before we were there.

After the temple visit, our evening commenced in earnest. Relieved to be at the end of my missionary service, anxious to return home, absolutely astounded by the modernity and immensity of São Paulo, mortified to be on a date . . . That was some recipe stirring.

It came out OK. The other sister and I walked behind Elder L and fiancé with my eyes glued on him. Yes, horror of horrors! They held hands. It wasn't the chaperone on the other side of the other sister that inhibited me. Neither the other sister nor I offered a hand. I walked along suppressing astonishment engaging in the politest conversation I could strain with the other sister. I didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable nor feel too comfortable with me or me with her or . . . . Maybe it was then that I began to hone my diplomatic skills.

And that was it. We had some bad São Paulo pizza. (Try Chicago or New York.) We rode the shiny subway popping up at this station or that to see the Praça da Sé and other wonders of expansive motorway corkscrew interchanges and artistic skyscraper swirls off to the horizon in all directions. It was late when we arrived at the home of one of our Brazilian companions to stay the night. We were up early for Elder L's farewell to his fiancé at the airport for our day in Rio, then on home.

. . . . The other sister did send me some letters after I was home. I must have given her my address. It was a circumspect correspondence that briefly got nowhere. Her letters were scented with tropical perfume. Mine were from Idaho.

Elder L returned to Brazil that September to marry. We socialized with them while attending BYU after I married. We kept some sporadic contact over the years. They sadly divorced and Elder L remarried a wonderful woman. He served as a mission president in a Portuguese speaking country.

Regrets remain. Not for the could-have-been of the other sister, but for my harshness with Elder L. I hope I in no way influenced any disharmony in their marriage. Things do work out. Elder L and I remain friends with great respect for each other in spite of differences of life circumstance and choices.

My heart left a large piece in Brazil. And it wasn't with any individual, certainly not with a tropical beauty of a girl, but more with all the Gaúchos, Paulistas, Curatibanos, Nordestinos, Mineiros, and Cariocas. And mostly with the Temples that now amazingly dot the country, including one in Porto Alegre which I never imagined in the time I walked those hot and dusty streets.

We helped the Lord build it. 1976-1978.

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