So my sister Rachel, having graduated the MTC, has just had her first real transfer. After a few months in her greenie area, Rennes, she’s now a junior companion in Versailles, a lovely place, I hope, for her to pass the holidays. Rachel is different in temperament than any of her older siblings who have served missions—less voluble than I, less task-oriented than another, more guarded than still another—so her letters, delightful as they are, don’t yield much information. But from what I can cull, the shift in scene has been a bit rough on her.

The first real transfer of my mission occurred about this time of year, nine years ago. It was rough on me too, leaving a family of beloved converts in a tiny branch halting under the burden of a dysfunctional leadership and a disobedient elder. Here’s how it happened in my journal:

October 15: I was praying at about 7:15 AM when the phone rang and I instantly knew it must be about transfers. A tiny part of me had been expecting (hoping?) for a transfer, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when I heard that I’d be going to Coimbra II to be comps with Sister S., Elder B. would be going to Famalicao (coitado), and Sister D. and Elder H. would be coming to take our places. The next two days were a blur of saying goodbye to people and packing my things and trying to take care of my sick companion, hardly worth going into. … A difficult moment came late Wednesday night after an exhausting session of saying goodbye we went over to C.’s. [a recent convert I had taught], where I wanted a loving, gratifying, comforting, satisfying ending to my time with them. It went somewhat worse than that. As we walked out the door she was yelling at [the branch president’s wife] with more anger than I’d ever heard in her voice. I was desolate. Then we got home, I was signing [a teenage girl’s] book, and I found an incredibly inappropriate entry to her from Elder X [which I then reported]. I hope she doesn’t leave the church. That kind of stuff simply cannot happen.

October 17: My first transfer! I got up early and got to the bus station by 7:00 AM, and boarded the bus safely. Turned out C. was going to Coimbra by the same bus, so I had three more hours to talk with her and try to resolve her concerns. … I think I was able to do some good in those three hours—at least I hope and pray every day that I did. Anyway, we finally got to Coimbra and after a very very long and very tearful goodbye with C., I was off to my new house. I was met by Elder W., the new zone leader here with whom I am very impressed, because the sisters had just moved house and I didn’t have the new address. We drove through the rain through lovely Coimbra (how excited I am to serve here!) to our little house right at the foot of the university, got my bags into the house and myself collapsed securely onto my new bed, and so my time in Coimbra began. …

I like Sister S. a lot, and I think we’ll have a good companionship. she works differently than Sister R. [my trainer]—we spend more time in the house, and are a little more lax on lunch hours and the like—which is a little distressing to me. But she’s a good misionary and I think she really does want to do good work, so I’m not worried. But when I’m senior I do want to be quite rigorous with my schedule—I don’t want to get tired—and I hope that during this time with her I don’t forget how it used to be. But don’t get me wrong—I like her very very much and am excited to serve with her. …

I’ve been struggling a little bit with who I am and how I act when I’m suddenly thrust into this missionary mecca—there are TWELVE missionaries in Coimbra alone! I was born in Castelo Branco, and this new situation is confusing and difficult for me, and I’m never happy with how I am around the missionaries. The elders from Porto came to give the much-talked-about serao musical [musical fireside] on Sunday night, which proved to be a grand success. I was very impressed with their musical jeito—apparently Elder Bell and Elder Griggs are quite talented. I suffered from the usual stupid side effects of feeling jealous when somebody else is better at something than me, but I’m trying to get over that. I’ve NEVER seen so many missionaries gathered at one time and place. I like it, and liked getting to know some of them, but like I said I have a hard time knowing how to act around elders especially, still. I really enjoyed talking to Elder Bell afterwards—he’s extremely cool, in my judgement.

So that was my first real transfer, and my last regular one: all the rest of my mission transfers occured to address some exigency. I was transferred away from Coimbra five months later to preempt a personal situation with the Elder W. above, and over the next chaotic six weeks or so I was transferred many times in an ongoing effort to protect the mental health of my new (and much beloved) companion. I then finished out my mission with five more months in Matosinhos by the sea.

Transfers were difficult: reconfiguring the companionship, mastering the geography and demography and choreography of the new area, these were all hard things. And yet every transfer morning there was that tiny part of me—a weak part of me, I think—that hoped for a new scene and a new start on the other end of the telephone line.

So let’s hear about your first transfer, or your best one, from your journal or from memory. What were the transfer rituals in your mission?

69 comments for “Transfermations

  1. November 4, 2005 at 4:52 pm

    Big party. Everyone went to the mission home to drop off/pick up their companions, and many more stopped by just to see old friends.

  2. Adam Greenwood
    November 4, 2005 at 4:55 pm

    Sitting in the bus or the train station, waiting to leave. Greeting other missionaries who were passing through from someplace to someplace else. And then long hours looking out the window at the dead countryside and the olive trees.

  3. Boris Max
    November 4, 2005 at 5:05 pm

    My transfers usually went something like this: a companionship gets into a fight. One of the elders takes off on his bike and crashes into a telephone pole. {Of course, the jokes about the difference between Elder X and Lot’s wife–telephone pole and pillar of salt–go around the mission} This elder’s shoulder is seriously injured and, since he only had a few weeks left to serve, he is given a medical release. Boris, minding his own business in another zone, gets a phone call from one of the APs. Boris is informed that in addition to solo bike rides, many interesting things are going down in that zone. The list includes, but is not limited to missionary pool parties held at members’ houses when members are out of town, investigators baptized who have no idea who Joseph Smith is, zone leaders traveling outside of the political entity the mission boundaries inclose in the company of two bikini-clad nonmembers in order to go to the beach, and skinny-dipping in baptismal fonts. Valiant Elder Max is told to fix the problem. Elder Max, who wasn’t doing anything that important anyway, agrees to try. At his first district meeting in his new area, his district leader arrives with his girlfriend. Fair enough, since he’s driving her car. The girlfriend attendes the meeting and, to her credit, is polite and attentive.

  4. jimbob
    November 4, 2005 at 5:19 pm

    Rosalynde: I served in Evora about the same time you served in your branch up north. Interestingly, our little branch there was pretty dysfunctional too. Suicide, adultery, witchcraft…it had it all. Also, I have visited Coimbra on vacation, and I think it may be as beautiful a city as any in Portugal, particularly if you like libraries made of gold. That said, I remember distinctly being very grateful that I never had to serve there as the streets seemed like they were straight up and down.

  5. Rosalynde Welch
    November 4, 2005 at 5:19 pm

    Bryce, I’ve heard of missions like that, where transfers are a sort of carnival—usual routines and rules temporarily suspended, merry-making, etc. Ours were the opposite: everyone was supposed to be in lockdown, except for the in-transit missionaries, with no telephone calls or gathering of any kind. I’m wondering: did party-transfers work all right, or were they a needless disruption?

    Adam, the Iberian olives from the window of the bus or train were a big part of my transfers too, especially since most of them involved long journeys. For some reason I never made myself contact or even talk to anybody else on transfer trips—it was a sort of liminal, out-of-time experience that, honestly, I greatly enjoyed and looked forward to.

    Boris the Valiant, wow! I witnessed a few crazy transfers, but nothing quite that bad!

  6. Rosalynde Welch
    November 4, 2005 at 5:29 pm

    Jimbob: Well, hmm, if I had a better memory I could probably figure out who you are! Coimbra is indeed a lovely, lovely place—I was devastated to learn a few months ago that huge fires were sweeping through the area. I got to spend a few hours in that amazing library, doing research for a history presentation at zone conference (we traipsed into this huge, historic library and requested, through its arcane and immensely complicated system, nothing more than a children’s book on Portuguese history!). And our house was half-way up one of those up-and-down streets, right below the campus.

  7. Ben S.
    November 4, 2005 at 5:34 pm

    First one-

    I started in glorious two-wards-with-a-real-building 24 missionary beautiful cosmopolitan Strasbourg, France (on the German border,) with an excellent trainer. I was there about three months. We were doing some teaching, playing Ultimate Frisbee on the weekends, and learning Es Ist Ein Rose Ent’Sprungen in ward choir (a favorite of mine). It was glorious. Two days before Christmas, I got transferred.

    My new city was Verviers, Belgium. The city was small and very very grey. It got dark around 3 PM, and I think I saw the sun twice while I was there. The branch was small, had lots of infighting, and the mission president was seriously considering closing it (I believe it’s now closed.) My companion was depressed. The other two missionaries in our district lived 40 minutes away by train. I don’t think we taught more than a discussion or two during my three months there, but we did meet some people who told us we should be hung. I had some real personal struggles there. On the bright side, I read through all of Mormon Doctrine and discovered some great doner-kebab places. Ironically, I finished my mission 14 months later as the DL in the other half of the district, Herstal, older by far than the other 3 missionaries combined.

    I later learned that I’d been in several places that had played a roll in the big French Missionary Apostasy, and that my second mission President, Ray Hart, had been the greenie of the ringleader. One of the things that pushed them over the edge was studying 8 hrs/day and tracting 2, so I now understand why Pres. Hart was so concerned when he met me over the fact that I had a 40 volume library of books and more ordered :) There’s a good Dialogue article on it. “The Trial of the French Mission ” Dialogue 21:3 (Fall 1988). (Link to issue not article. Can one link to a specific article?)

  8. November 4, 2005 at 5:48 pm

    Ours weren’t carnival-like — they were centered around the mission home, after all. Still, there was plenty of stuff to do near the mission home — shopping and lunch were popular, as I recall. Everyone always had a companion. I thought they were a welcome time of the month.

    It was kind of like when all of the missionaries gathered at the temple on P-Day. Lots of catching up and socializing before and after the session, but with appropriate decorum and reverence.

  9. Wilfried Decoo
    November 4, 2005 at 5:51 pm

    Fascinating stories – and I was for a few decades in mission presidencies, occasionally helping to puzzle the transfers according to needs in branches. Who could play the piano? Where were there no young women waiting for an American missionary?

    Please mention also the years you were out, that helps understanding the era and the traditions of the time.

  10. jimbob
    November 4, 2005 at 5:59 pm

    Rosalynde: Only if you or I had been very disobedient would you remember me. I served in the southern mission, and only got to see some parts of your mission during various vacations I have subsequently taken. Every few years or so I get an itch to go back, and try to convince my wife we need to spend money on a vacation there before she gets, e.g., a functional toilet in the second bathroom. It’s worked so far, but I think those days are over. Anecdotally, I still find it funny what fubecas we thought you Porto mission folks were, what with your no policy about always speaking Portuguese. Maybe it was just an Elder thing. Seems silly now, but it was quite a tangible feeling at the time. Saudades, nao e?

  11. Rosalynde Welch
    November 4, 2005 at 6:05 pm

    Oh, right, jimbob! Different mission, got it. Actually, I did have to go to Lisboa a couple of times with a companion. And Castelo Branco, my first area, was not far from the border, I think.

    Did we not have a policy about always speaking Portuguese? Ryan Bell will have to confirm, I can’t remember. We certainly didn’t always speak Portuguese, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we didn’t have a policy against it… Fubecas, huh? Those are fighting words! But sim, saudades, com certeza.

  12. November 4, 2005 at 6:18 pm

    The only transfer of mine which really stand out in my mind was my first, after four months in my greenie area. I was being sent to a relatively small city, to work with a Korean companion. There had been a Korean ZL living in our apartment for a couple of months, so I hadn’t entirely dwelt within the American missionary bubble up until that time, but it was close. I was comforted by the fact that there was an American elder assigned to the same apartment. What I didn’t know was he was receiving a greenie that transfer, and was put in a threesome elsewhere in the mission for that first week following transfers, while he awaited his companion to arrival in the country. So I met my Korean companion at a train conjunction, road out with him to the end of line, walked with him to our apartment, and it gradually dawned on me that there were no other English-speakers anywhere. For a week I tracted, studied, went to our small branch where I was introduced, streetboarded in the snow (it was December), and never heard nor spoke a word of my native tongue. Not the hardest week I’ve ever had in my life, but certainly–for an extrovert like me–the most eerie.

  13. Ben S.
    November 4, 2005 at 6:27 pm

    Addendum: Served ’96-98.

  14. Doug
    November 4, 2005 at 6:29 pm

    First time poster, long time lurker.

    I served in the US American Sign Language program from 1990-1992: I traveled out to the field alone, transferred to six different missions (all but twice) alone, and went home alone. Each of my transfers (except one) was to a different area code and time zone. While I remain in fairly good contact with one, I never saw my other six MTC mates again.

    My first transfer (which, like Rosalynde, also took place in November) happened when my mission president (how does one put this nicely: “forcibly”?) removed us from Tacoma to Seattle.

    Four months later, I was transferred to Honolulu.

  15. Adam Greenwood
    November 4, 2005 at 6:42 pm

    “Adam, the Iberian olives from the window of the bus or train were a big part of my transfers too, especially since most of them involved long journeys. For some reason I never made myself contact or even talk to anybody else on transfer trips—it was a sort of liminal, out-of-time experience that, honestly, I greatly enjoyed and looked forward to.”

    Yes, ‘liminal, out-of-time’ is well put. I can’t express it well myself, but there was something both immense and unreal about the dry land through the window and the quiet.

  16. Frank McIntyre
    November 4, 2005 at 6:59 pm


    I served in Lisbon North. This included the Azores where I started my mission, and ended in Abrantes, just over the mission border from your stomping grounds. One time we got on the wrong train and ended up spending a P-day in your mission waiting for the return train. We tried to keep a low profile.

    As for transfers, I spent large chunks of my mission in historically troubled areas serving with great companions. Good times.

  17. Frank McIntyre
    November 4, 2005 at 7:00 pm

    “Yes, ‘liminal, out-of-time’ is well put. I can’t express it well myself, but there was something both immense and unreal about the dry land through the window and the quiet. ”


  18. Mark B.
    November 4, 2005 at 7:06 pm

    My first transfer–not really a transfer, just the trip from the mission home to my first area–was in November 1973. I had to wait at the mission home in Kobe for Elder D. to arrive from somewhere in Osaka, and then we traveled together on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Okayama. All the sights and sounds were new–I’d been in Japan for three days–and it was intensely interesting.

    We arrived in mid afternoon in Okayama, but then had to escort Elder D. to Tamano, on the Inland Sea, where he was to catch the ferry to Takamatsu. So, off the modern, shiny Shinkansen and onto a three car local train that wound through the countryside down to the little port village of Tamano, and then back again to Okayama.

    Then it was onto a bicycle, with all my luggage (thanks to my companion for taking more than his share) and riding through the now dark streets to our apartment. It had been two years since I had been on a bike, and I had just sold my motorcycle before entering the mission home, so the bike felt awfully thin and wobbly. A few blocks of the way to the apartment were on a path next to a large canal–mostly dry except right after a big rainstorm–and there was no guardrail–nothing to stop me, riding a bike for the first time in two years, holding my heavy suitcase on the rear rack with one had while steering with the other, from falling in. I was relieved to make it.

    We had one transfer where most of the mission gathered in Kobe. It was June of 1974, just two weeks before President Shimizu went home. We met on a cloudy morning–it was June, and tsuyu, the Japanese version of the monsoons, were just beginning. The mission had rented a gymnasium at the American School, and we had a party–mostly. I think it gave my new companion, just over from the US, the wrong impression. After the party ended and we had a meal and, I suppose, a testimony meeting, the four of us serving in Sakai, Elder S, Elder B, my new greenie companion Elder H and I headed across Osaka to our apartment. First the bus to the Kobe station on the Hankyu line, the Hankyu train to that wonderland of a station, Umeda (any station named “Plum Field” has got to be impressive), then down to the subway for the ride across to Namba, and then the Koyasen to Higashi Sakai (I think). By the time we left Kobe, it was raining, but we didn’t have to go outside until Sakai. When we got out of the station there, it was pouring.

    Elder H had seen less of a bike than I had when I arrived in Japan, and he was 30 or 40 pounds overweight. So the ride home in the dark, in the rain, was an adventure. And we were soaked to the skin when we arrived, sometime around ten.

    There was really only one thing to do then, and Elder S. led the way to the public bath across the street.

    “Sorry. Closed.”

    “Please. We just got in, and we’re all wet.”

    After five minutes of pleading, the proprietor agreed to let us in.

    When we were almost naked, the proprietor sent his 20-something daughter in with the carpet-sweeper to clean the floor. Elder H. seemed to have a real problem with a young lady seeing him in the altogether–the jaded oldtimers didn’t pay her any mind: you got used to it.

    But then into the bath–soap up and scrub and rinse off while standing/sitting outside the bath–and then into that wonderfully hot water to soak. All the cold, the aches (lugging heavy suitcases on transfers would make your arms ache for days), the exhaustion from the long day were forgotten. Then it was back home, futons spread on the floor, the sweet smell of the tatami mats.

    “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

  19. Jonathan Green
    November 4, 2005 at 7:19 pm

    I’ve talked to Bryce about this before, but his transfer experience is utterly foreign to me. I hated every transfer, from beginning to end. If I wanted a new companion, there was the fear that I would be stuck in the same bad situation. If things were going well, there was the fear that everything would come to an end. I loved all my cities and all my wards and I hated leaving every one. Plus I was transferred both the Decembers that I was a missionary. One worked out well, one did not.

    My best transfer story, omitting all the really good details:
    “Scott” was a year ahead of me in high school in Southern California. Varsity football player, student body president. Not a member, but he got a scholarship to BYU. My senior year, I heard Scott had been baptized, which was surprising, knowing what I knew of him, but not inconceivable.
    Two days before I entered the MTC, I heard that Scott had been called to the same mission I was going to. I even saw him once just before I left the MTC.
    The mission had just split, so there was a ton of new missionaries arriving every month. After three months, most missionaries were newer than I was. I got called as a senior companion in a new area. Junior companion: Scott. All my nonmember friends at home who only knew Scott from high school had their minds completely blown by the idea of me and Scott spending three months together.

  20. Greg Call
    November 4, 2005 at 7:54 pm

    I spent my first five months in Valencia, a newly built middle-class suburb of Los Angeles. We lived in a members’ nice home, drove a nice car, and had a Sunday dinner every night. My first transfer was to Lake Isabella, a tiny cluster of mobile-home communities in the high country of Kern County, halfway between Bakersfield and Ridgecrest. Missionaries hadn’t been there in years, and Elder D, who had served 24 months already and was transferred in with me, was champing at the bit to open up a new area. I don’t remember much about the transfer itself, but I do remember meeting up with the the faithful ward mission leader, Brother Bernstein. He drove us far out into the desert, past Canebrake and Onyx and Weldon, until he found a suitable thicket of Joshua trees, where we formed a small circle and re-dedicated the area for the preaching of the gospel. Great memories. I need to get back to Lake Isabella.

  21. John Mansfield
    November 4, 2005 at 8:11 pm

    “2 December 1985 Monday 11:54 AM
    “Yesterday seven people were baptized in the Rio Neuquen near the house of the Olvera family. [Two pages of descriptions of the people and ordinances follow.]

    “Since I started to write, the plane I’m in took off. I left Centenario last night and now I’m headed for Rio Gallegos. It was pretty tough saying good-bye to everyone, especially the Morales family and branch president Ruben Alvarado.

    “When we got on the bus last night at about 11:40, I was thinking of so many things that at least a half-mile down the road it came to me, so suddenly that I said “hey,” that I had just left Centenario for the last time.”

    The rest of the day was mostly passed in a turboprop marked “Fuerzas Aereas Argentinas” that zig-zagged down the Patagonia. I lost track of how many landings there were. Maybe five. There was as much time spent on the ground as in the air. Two months later, my companion received the telegram with transfer instructions and we went around for him to make his farewells. At some point he said “I’ve done this so many times it doesn’t even matter anymore.” I thought it a rather jaded thing to say, but in time I would come to understand his words.

  22. November 4, 2005 at 9:05 pm

    Doug: When were you in the MTC? I was there the end of August through the start of November, 1990… and the ASL elders were in my building. I loved hanging out with them, and practicing what little ASL I knew.

  23. November 4, 2005 at 9:13 pm

    I arrived in Cap Rouge in the early days of the winter of 1990. My trainer, Elder L was wonderful… I sent him home the first week of January, 1991. My next companionship was hard. Very hard. So in the early spring of 1991 (I think it was March), I was relieved to get the call.

    I packed my suitcase and hopped on the bus heading to Montréal.

    The Montréal central bus station was littered with transferring missionaries and thier luggage… it was surreal. I was met there by Elder P. He was a super star… quiet, with a certain depth-of-soul you rarely see in a 20 year old. From there, we drove through the industrial wastelands of Eastern Montréal, across the river, and home — to Répentigny.

    Man. What a trip! I haven’t thought about that in ages.

    Thanks, Rosalynde.

  24. Chad too
    November 4, 2005 at 9:17 pm

    When I arrived at Narita Airport, I was too exhausted to pay much attention but so intrigued by all that I was seeing on the nighttime drive to the Tokyo South mission home. The highway takes you through the electric districts on Tokyo on your way to the western suburb of Musashino.

    My first companion took me far down the coast to a small branch in a seaside city called Numazu. It was early December 1986 and the airlines had lost my bag with my coat in it. I wore a lot of sweaters until it caught up to me.

    I didn’t know it, but we could have taken the bullet train most of the way. Elder J, as I was to learn, was notoriously cheap. 5 hours on regular trains saved a lot compared to 1 hour on the bullet train.

    I desperately searched for anything familiar as we traveled. The farther we got from the capital city, the fewer signs I saw along the road that had English on them. Soon all my eyes had to inspire hope were cigarette ads I’d see in the stations where we stopped that wanted me to “Speak Lark.” I noted the irony.

    Elder J transferred one month later and Elder P came along. He was a crack up. Though I’ve completely lost touch with him, I really admired him.

    Four weeks later, my first transfer. I was called to the mission home to be the mission secretary. I was the one frantically trying to deliver things to Elders and Sisters in the midst of the chaotic gathering Bryce described above. I was in the Mission Home 10 months, 5 with my first President, 5 with my second, and all 10 with the same companion. We could finish each others sentences by the time we split!

  25. Mike B
    November 4, 2005 at 10:43 pm

    I’m sure this will seem a little odd, but I’m relieved that Rosalynde is female. Somebody somewhere must have made a typo when referring to her, because they referred to “him,” and I thought it odd that a “him” would have that kind of name. The journal entry from her journal straightened me out. I feel so much better.

  26. Mike B
    November 4, 2005 at 10:49 pm

    There was one particular transfer day which I was awaiting with great anticipation because I had an EXTREMELY difficult companion with serious emotion/mental problems. No other missionary had lasted more than 3 weeks with this person because of his problems. I sent the mission president a letter informing him that a transfer must occur because the challenge was affecting my testimony. President called me the night before the transfers and told me he would like me to help Elder Challenge to finish his mission. He had another 2 months to go. I can look back now and laugh (not at Elder Challenge, but the situation), but it was hard at the time.

  27. Adam Greenwood
    November 5, 2005 at 12:47 am

    Her bio photo also looks somewhat female, to me.

  28. Suzanne A.
    November 5, 2005 at 3:47 am

    Have the missionaries been issued any special instructions what with all the rioting, burning, shooting, et cetera happening in the Paris area this past week?

  29. Suzanne A.
    November 5, 2005 at 3:53 am

    I was just wondering since the rioting is now spreading out of Paris. It’s kind of odd that the Church hasn’t issued a press release about precautions for the missionaries and so forth. They are usually very good about that sort of thing as soon as something happens.

  30. Justin H
    November 5, 2005 at 4:23 am

    Ritual: The Span-Ams in LA (94-96) who were being transferred would all drive to a house rented for the elders located nearest the center of the mission (which consisted of most of LA County at the time–it’s smaller now). We’d swap suitcases from car to car then all head off again to our new areas. It was pretty great fun to see and briefly catch up with whoever showed up.

    Best transfer: Back to the area I’d been trained in (Koreatown) for my last six months. I loved getting to work and commune again with the wonderful members who had helped and loved me so much as a greenie. Amazing, amazing people–and the zone I was in was incredible too.

  31. November 5, 2005 at 9:20 am

    Mark B.–

    That’s a great story. I really miss those baths. Hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced something like that.

    Even my wife, who served in the same mission with me but never went to a sentoo doesn’t get it.

  32. Jim F
    November 5, 2005 at 10:05 am

    Threadjack: I assume that Korean baths were similar. I loved them, but they had nothing to do with transferring. They were just the only option for bathing in most districts when I was in Korea.

  33. annegb
    November 5, 2005 at 11:51 am

    Rosalynde, Elder W? Is that Elder Welch?

  34. November 5, 2005 at 1:02 pm

    I think I may know who that Elder W is. And despite having heard hints, I’ve never heard the story– wonder what happened there!

    I’m really sad I missed this thread until now. So much fun to read your thoughts about those transfers, Rosalynde. I had the exact same mixtures of excitement, anticipation, and saudades on leaving any area and companion, no matter how dismal or joyful my service there. And there were some dismal places.

    As to whether the Porto Mission had a rule about only speaking Portuguese: I spent two months in Gaia (95-97) with my trainer and never heard that rule mentioned once. We never spoke Portuguese together, and I had never even conceived of a need to do so. One day, the Mission President decided to come spend some time with us. The moment we left the apartment with him, he scolded me for not speaking Portuguese in the street. Had no idea why, but quickly figured out that I had been left in the dark on what was, to him, a rather important rule. I think under President West, though, that emphasis may have waned, although I can’t say for sure.

    Rosalynde, it was also fun to see us passing and interacting a bit in the shadows of your journal. I remember that Coimbra performance very well- particularly the guilt I felt about spending so much proselyting time in rigging up a glorified road show (Elder Sullivan still derides me for that, and hated the productivity loss at the time). By the way, I can assure that was the last time anyone has ever said I was musically talented. Never happened again. (And whatever was accomplished with that traveling circus was quickly eclipsed by a Frandsen musicl tour that the President still raves about).

  35. November 5, 2005 at 1:26 pm

    Anyway, my transfer story:

    Braganca, distant outpost of Portugal, where civilization is rare, let alone Church members, Americans, missionaries, or friendly faces. Companion– a Portuguese man seven years my senior with emotional problems and a God-complex, who frequently uses comparisons to Corianton in his weeping rebukes of my nasty habit of opening and reading letters sent to me by a girl back home (yes, after one particularly lengthy letter, I was instructed to prayerfully read Alma 39, which I obediently did). The nearest missionaries were miles and miles away in Chaves, and they were slackers, but at least they understood me. (A year-later when I was doing my ultra-obedient thing, I came across an underground newsletter published by one of those Elders– a grave violation of a lot of our rules. Perhaps out of gratitude for the weekly district meeting reprieves this slacker missionary gave me during that time, I never said a word about the newsletter to anyone else, and was later chastised for keeping my mouth shut.)

    My guess, in hindsight, is that this companion of mine was bipolar. And as a very young, very lonely, rather malleable young man, I did a lot to enable him, as he was the closest thing I had to any company at all. But he was a perpetual scold, starting major conflicts when I used a dishrag instead of a sponge, or dropped a laundered garment on the floor. In the tradition of enablers throughout history, it was difficult for me to understand that relationship was unhealthy and near-abusive. I labored along under the cloud of his dominion, and did my best to be a good missionary.

    Regardless, I knew I was miserable, despite my best efforts to keep a pleasant spirit going. Finally, the day came. I was headed off to Porto I. He treated me as if I were a disciple of his, and having taught me everything he could, he was releasing me to spread his word elsewhere. We parted as if we had been friends, with more tears from him, and I acted the part just fine. In later companionships I realized that companions could be friends, equals, and partners. Hadn’t ever imagined such a thing in Braganca.

    The bus rides are much as you describe, Rosalynde, but far less relaxing for me. They were an out-of-body, out-of-mission thing. But the music was always loud, always electronica. The diesel exhaust fumes always seemed to pervade throughout the passenger area, inevitably making me sick by the time I arrived in any new area. But still, I remember that late-night bus escape from Braganca. It was a release from chains I hadn’t known were there. The choking fumes and smothering club music couldn’t keep my spirits down as I shed the oppressive gloom of Elder C. and Braganca.

  36. annegb
    November 5, 2005 at 1:38 pm

    Jillian Pruitt down the street served in Portugal, I think in about 1997. Anybody know her?

  37. Mark N.
    November 5, 2005 at 3:54 pm

    My first real transfer came in September of 1975, a mere two months after my arrival, in Rouen, France (where Joan of Arc met her fate). I was the newest missionary arrival in Rouen, and out of all of the missionaries serving there at that time, the first to go. I was tremendously disappointed, because I loved the city, loved my companion, loved all of the other Elders and Sisters serving there. I don’t remember a darn thing about actually leaving Rouen, except for maybe a few moments of the train ride back towards the Paris metropolitan area. I do remember the anxiety I felt upon arriving in Rosny-sous-Bois, not knowing where to go, hoping that somebody would show up at the train station to take me to the new apartment. Fortunately, someone did show up, and when I stepped into the apartment, who else should be there but one of my best friends in high school, Elder B., who had just arrived from the U.S., Rosny being his first city.

    Having Elder B. there made the transfer almost bearable, but I imagine the Mission President decided that Elder B. needed me more in Rosny than I needed to stay in Rouen. I stayed in Rosny for the next six months, and became a senior companion there. Every transfer after that seemed to become more and more routine. I think the thing I hated about transfers most was the pain of being completely lost in the new city for a few days until I was able to start figuring out the territory.

  38. Seth Rogers
    November 5, 2005 at 4:21 pm

    My first transfer, I remember being ticked-off that I had the rotten luck to transfer right before Christmas and therefore, wouldn’t get any gifts from some of the better-off families in our area.

    I had a lot of growing up to do.

  39. Adam Greenwood
    November 5, 2005 at 10:30 pm

    You bring back the old times, Seth Rogers. My first transfer was two days before Christmas. I was unexpectedly yanked out of my first area, and put on a bus with four missionaries who’s missions were ending. They were all going to get home on Christmas Eve. That was the only transfer where I traveled with other missionaries. It stank. They kept comparing Christmas notes.

  40. November 5, 2005 at 11:46 pm

    Errr . . . I just remembered there was another Elder Bell in that performance group. I feel a little stupid for assuming I am the character in your journal (but who wouldn’t want to be a character in Rosalynde’s journal!). Please forget I took credit above.

  41. Doug
    November 6, 2005 at 1:44 am

    Re: #22 Silus:

    I left in June 1990. Several of the ASL missionaries that you knew in November of that year are good friends of mine today, and I was even the “semi-trainer” (long story…) for one of them.

  42. Rosalynde Welch
    November 6, 2005 at 11:16 am

    Of course it was you, Ryan! That’s why I left your name in, but abbreviated the others. I never knew the other Elder Bell very well—he seemed like a nice enough guy, but you were the one I was so impressed with. After all, you’re the one I gave that FARMS article to—and I didn’t go handing that stuff out like candy, you know!

  43. November 6, 2005 at 11:56 am

    Let’s see – first transfer from the MTC to the mission provides background to my other transfers:

    Well, I got into the Denver north mission, was taken to the Lao elders apartment (I was called Lao speaking). The immediately stripped down to swimsuits (no garments) and played poker for the rest of the night. They went to bed at 2 a.m. and didn’t get up until noon. Then they played poker all day. I was sure this was some “play a joke on the greenie” game. Nope. (Occasionally we did leave the apartment so the Elders could flirt with Lao women). A few days later, as I valiantly got up at 6:30 (or was it 6? I can’t recall what the official wake up time was), my companion threatened me with physical violence for waking him up. One of the other Lao missionaries smashed my Walkman as retribution for my keeping the rules and refusing to play poker with them.

    The Mission president was fully aware of all this, but did not have the tools to cope with it. There needed to be Lao Elders, as there was a Lao branch. He was a new Mission President, and for some reason the previous mission president had ordered two new Lao missionaires for no apparent reason – he didn’t really need us. Anyway, the other new Elder got a transfer out to partner with a native Lao who was serving an English speaking mission to see if they could start up a new Lao area on the other side of the mission. So I was now stuck in a threesome for the time being (all in all, I spent about half my mission in threesomes). I was finally transferred to an English speaking area because the other two Elders were getting violently angry and often would ditch me when out and about, leaving me alone for hours at a time.

    So, I was sent to an English speaking area. This was done on a late night Greyhound bus. Mt companion there was a zone leader who also barely prosleyted, slept in, visited members’ houses based on the cuteness of the daughters and thought nothing of taking the weekend off to go hiking with the other Elders in his zone.

    Eventually, the Chicago mission because it had requested some Lao elders, so two Elders from the Denver South mission and I went there. That transfer went something like this: Two members from our ward were going to Denver, so the mission president asked them to take me. They dropped me off at the temple, where the APs picked me up. Then we went to the airport and I flew to Chicago, where we were taken to our new apartment. I was in that area for 10 months. After that, we didn’t baptize “enough” so when the older Lao elders went home, I was sent for my last few months as far away from any Lao people as possible, so I wouldn’t be tempted to try and teach any of them the gospel.

    I didn’t really undergo any normal transfers in that respect. I never really had that straight transfer on transfer day from one area to another that most Elders experience. I also don’t recall much about them – I have a lot of unresolved issues with my mission, actually (and what I typed above hardly covers them).

  44. November 6, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    “I have a lot of unresolved issues with my mission, actually.”

    I used to say this a lot too, Ivan, but gradually over years I think I’ve come to recognize that I have a lot of unresolved issues with practically everything that I’ve ever done or has ever been to me, with the result that those two years way back when now seem to me to be characterized by a bunch of often strange, sometimes depressing, and occasionally inspiring events, but no more so than the two years which preceded them or the two years which followed. In other words, in my limited experience, processing crappy mission experiences basically comes down to recognizing that the mission really isn’t all that big of a deal. (Which isn’t to say that swapping horror stories isn’t fun.)

  45. November 6, 2005 at 4:18 pm

    #41 Doug: Ah. Well, I was hoping you were one of those great elders… instead, no doubt, you were some other great elder.

    : )

    Ivan: that is absolutely heartbreaking. I don’t imagine that you shared that with us for pity, so forgive me… but the idea that such behavior is looked-over brings tears to my eyes.

  46. November 6, 2005 at 6:49 pm

    RAF –

    likely true.

    I recall Orson Scott Card once said (in a speech I attended at BYU) that he would never write stories about his mission. If he did, he said, they would be his best-written, most heartfelt and most powerful stories – but they would almost certainly also hurt the missionary program of the church, and he doesn’t want to do that.

  47. Not Ophelia
    November 6, 2005 at 8:40 pm

    Transfers for most of my mission involved a trek to the mission home and then a companion swap. I did this a lot.

    I was in my first area for 2 months, which was pretty standard. I was then transferred. Three weeks later I was transferred again [an apologetic president said some other companionship had problems, and he felt I was the person to send in.] I was an easy-going sister; got along with native and non-native comp’s pretty well. Thus was my fate sealed — anytime there was an issue or a hole needing to be filled they sent sister NO. I even got the mentally unstable sister for her breakdown [heart-rending sobbing for days, a move to the mission home, treks to the MD.] Not fun. I transferred nearly every month for the next 3 or 4 months. I learned only to unpack what I really needed b/c packing it all up again became such a burden.

    Anyway, after several months of this I was made a senior comp and, in celebration [at last there would be stability] I unpacked EVERYTHING at my new apartment. Of course I was then transferred 4 days later . . . I think I cried when the call came.

    The result of all these transfers was that the entire first 1/2 – 2/3rds of my mission is one big blur. I remember teaching and baptisms, but scarcely recall faces. I know there were wonderful, lovely church members, but I never got to know any of them. I couldn’t tell you their names or the names of the bishops or branch presidents we worked with. I wouldn’t recognize any of them if I passed them on the street. And I was stressed. I don’t think I realized just how stressed I was until that last area where I got to stay put for 6 or 7 months. Heaven. I finally got to meet the members in our dysfunctional ward, watch converts grow or fail in the gospel and find a sense of place and purpose. Oh, and I got to unpack. I unpacked everything. Before that I felt more like a placeholder or a damage control worker than a missionary. I’m glad I could jump in and fill holes for the Lord, but man, it was hard . . .


  48. Mark B.
    November 6, 2005 at 9:50 pm

    Jim F.:

    To finally give you a response to your question about Japanese public baths–

    They may be similar to the Korean public baths. Just inside the two entrances (male/female) there was a counter where you paid your 25 yen or whatever (I can’t remember). There was just one person at the counter, who took money from both men and women entering, and who could keep an eye on both dressing rooms.

    When you got all your clothing off and into a locker, you’d go through another set of doors to the actual bath. All soaping up and washing was done outside the pools–there were spigots along the wall, and plastic basins to put the water in (and to add cold water to the 97 degree Celsius water that came out of the Hot spigots), and short wooden stools to sit on while washing.

    Then it was into the pools for soaking. The water was incredibly hot, which made you wonder your unborn children as you got in, but it was absolutely wonderful on a cold winter’s night.

    There were some baths that offered specials: the denki (electric) bath. I don’t think I ever went in one, but there was a small electric charge in the water.

    You were forbidden to put your head into the water. (I don’t know who would want to boil his brains doing that anyway.) One elder in Tokushima apparently broke that rule, and was banned from the bath. The proprietor brought out what looked like a giant hanko, and stamped the offenders derriere. I really hope this is true–it ought to be–but I got the story second-hand. (BTW, a hanko is the stamp that Japanese use for their “signature.”)

    We didn’t go to the public bath often–there was hot water at our apartments so we bathed or showered there.

  49. GeorgeD
    November 6, 2005 at 10:03 pm

    My mission overlapped with some of those who have posted here. (Time and mission etc.) My most memorable transfer involved 4 trains and a ferry. It was my last transfer (I knew it was because I had only two months left.) In previous transfers I used a local shipping company to move one piece of luggage and carried the other. I had done so when I transferred down (four trains and a ferry) but knowing I was going home soon I decided to downsize before I transferred back up. I didn’t downsize enough. My suitcae was impossibly heavy and I was traveling in peak vacation season. I didn’t sit down once in my journey and I had to carry the suitcase up and down stairs almost endlessly. When I finally arrived my arm muscles were shot.

    Fortunately I have mostly forgotten my bad companions. My memories of my mission are very good. It was a great time of my life for testimony, maturity, commitment and intellectual growth as well.

  50. Ben S.
    November 6, 2005 at 11:48 pm

    The citation of Elder Oaks also appears in Robert Millett’s talk/article What is our Doctrine?

    Very nice collection, thanks.

  51. Ben S.
    November 6, 2005 at 11:49 pm

    Bah, how did this comment end up here? Editors, it’s supposed to be on Julie’s thread about OD-2. Can you move it?

  52. E Heath
    November 7, 2005 at 3:24 am

    My first change of companions was an incredible blessing. I arrived in Tandil, Argentina ready to work hard and baptize thousands. (like every missionary who leaves the MTC). My companion picked me up at the train station and took me to the biggest hole on earth. My first apartment was the back of some member’s home and we shared it with two other elders. I don’t know how these people lived like this but the place was disgusting. The missionaries also lived like animals. I am a firm believer that the Spirit does not dwell in unclean places and this place confirmed it. My trainer was a great person and it turned out we grew up in the same city. He even knew my future wife. The problems we had occurered right away however. He did not study. He woke up at about 8:30 or 9 am, and was pretty much burned out by the difficulty of the city. He spoke excellent Spanish and because of this he did not let me get a word in to anyone. This went on for about 4 months until I got fed up and we had a yelling fight in the middle of the street and I told him to let me talk. For the next few weeks he acted hurt and did not talk at all to investigators just to show me up. I actually loved it and my Spanish improved immensely during this time. We moved from the disgusting apartment at about the fifth month and things finally began to improve. He still slept in and would not have companionship study with me but we finally got into a few homes. In the end, I had been with my trainer for 7 months. Way too long in my opinion. My companion actually ended up moving on and I received a great second comp who loved to actually do the work. I spent two more months in my first area. One of the most difficult and prideful cities I served in. Luckily I have plenty of good memories to dwell on when I think of that time and the mission was all uphill from there.

  53. Adam Greenwood
    November 7, 2005 at 10:27 am

    Well, Ivan Wolfe,
    my experience was nothing like yours, but I did have some similar moments. The biggest trial of the mission by far is other missionaries.

  54. Rosalynde Welch
    November 7, 2005 at 10:29 am

    Thank you everybody, for your stories! What a wealth of personal detail and shared experience. Perhaps this can be the kernel for a database of mission-transfer folklore. Thanks especially to Doug, Silus, N.O., E. Heath, and other non-regular posters here at T&S; I appreciate your trust in sharing your personal stories here.

    So did any other missions have the “transfer book” rituals, wherein each missionary passed around a “yearbook” of sorts—just a blank book, really—for fellow missionaries and members to sign with (often long, detailed, and illustrated) personal entries? What about betting on transfers? Every district meeting before transfers, we’d each make (outlandish, often) predictions about the destinations and companions of each missionary in the district, and some especially enterprising district leaders would draw these up into elaborate charts. Bragging rights to the missionary who came closest; no actual money changed hands (in my districts, at least!).

    Now to answer a few questions:
    Suzanne, we haven’t heard anything from Rachel or her mission president yet; we’re speculating that missionaries have been confined to their houses, and that’s why we haven’t received her weekly email missive. We’d sure like to hear something from the mission office, though.

    annegb, no, not Elder Welch, a different Elder W. who is still a good friend, but married to somebody else! For the record, it was an extremely chaste and obedient personal situation.

  55. B.A. Coleman
    November 7, 2005 at 12:22 pm

    My mission was served entirely in one branch with anywhere from 6-10 missionaries at one time (Suriname, S.A.). So our transfers weren’t that big of deal, we still saw everyone at church, still saw our old companions a few times a week.

    However, my first transfer was rather eventful. I had been in the field for 4 months, and due to a disobedient elder, delays in receiving new missionaries, etc., I was made sr. companion and put in an area with an elder that had been out for only 2 months. Neither one of us spoke the language (Dutch) very well but we managed to do some great work. We both felt overwhelmed at the task at hand and spent a lot of time praying for inspiration. As I look back on it now it was an incredible experience that has drastically shaped my life.

  56. CS Eric
    November 7, 2005 at 2:52 pm

    Nothing spectacular about our transfers in the Seoul, Korea mission. Somebody from your area would go to the mission home every week anyway, since that is where we all got our mail. If you were the one being transferred, you got to be the one who paid for the mini-truck to take your luggage to the mission home.

    My most memorable transfer didn’t really happen. It was in the middle of the companionship that I enjoyed the least, and the mission president called me in. He knew that I was miserable, and his counsel consisted of three words: “Patience, Elder, Patience.”

    Apparently, I had a reputation for being able to get along with my companions, since I set a longevity record for each of my companions except my trainer, who I had only for his last month. We still worked hard, down to his last day. The best companion I ever had, and probably a better companion than I ever was–even to any of the other ones I liked.

  57. John Williams
    November 7, 2005 at 7:45 pm

    My first transfer was also to Versailles, France, and I also spent my first mission Christmas there. If things haven’t changed since 1997, it’s a choice place to spend X-Mas… the city is beautiful and the ward has rich Americans. If I remember correctly, we spent Christmas Eve at the home of one of these rich Americans, and we got spoiled rotten.

  58. November 7, 2005 at 8:44 pm

    On the one hand I had a very “normal” mission in terms of transfers and companions. I more or less got along with each of them, and the one technically-unscheduled transfer was into the mission office.

    On the other hand, I’ll bet no one else here can say he drove his MTC companion–being sent home with some others in disgrace, about a year in the field–to the airport, complete with having to make sure firsthand that said elder actually got on the plane!

    On the gripping hand, there *was* one oddity about my service. I got transferred into the office 10 months out, then spent the next seven months there. This resulted in my always having been a junior companion (if only by a month or two) for the first 17 months of my mission. When I returned to the field I thus instantly jumped from having been a technical junior companion to a District Leader spot (as a senior companion, of course), then a Zone Leader a month later, as which I finished the last quarter of my service.

    My dad never sent a missionary home early during his presidency. Sick missionaries stayed in the mission home to recuperate, and he worked with problematic missionaries as best as he could. He came close to sending home at least one but managed to avoid having to do so.

  59. kneight
    November 8, 2005 at 5:26 pm

    You replaced me in Repentigny. Wasn’t that the coldest bathroom ever. It was in January, at least. I remember being able to see your breath in the morning. Elder P was one of my coolest comps.

  60. Mike
    November 8, 2005 at 7:10 pm

    I don’t think I had a normal transfer. Here is an account of the first. Maybe later I will write of the others.

    Long flight from Utah to SF then Tokyo and then Fukuoka. The Mission President and his AP’s and assorted other monkeys picked us up late at night. It was raining hard. Short interview with a tired and strict Japanese mission president who spoke English with a very strong accent. MP gave all 20 of us our assignments on little slips of paper with departure times the next morning. Mine was very early. I slept on the floor behind the MP’s desk because our group was so big and they had nowhere else to put us. I got up a few hours later, grabbed a couple of mikans (little sweet oranges) and was rushed off to the train station. A missionary put me on a train and said get off at exactly 10:45. Don’t get off at 10:40. These trains run like clocks. Sayo-nara.

    I was hungry and for the first time the reality of the mission hit me hard, looking out the window at the beautiful sunrise over a very foreign & exotic countryside. I found a business guy who was going to the same place and I gave out three Books of Mormon. At 10:45 I got off the train and no missionaries were in sight. Two attractive young women walked up and told me that I had been assigned to a threesome with two sisters and they were my new companions.

    At first I thought they were from some other church and were going to disgrace me. But I caught a glimpse of a white shirt crouched behind a fruit stand and I realized that this was an initiation prank. I had heard about these pranks and I had also been told how they function on a powerful psychological level, binding the initiate to the group. So I cheerfully went along with it. They lead me to a taxi and I saw a couple of bicycles far in the distance in the mirror, although they were not going the same direction.

    We went to a local Shinto temple. My two female companions took me up the front steps and taught me the proper way to pray in Japan; �first ring bell to wake gods up, then clap hands twice.� This I did and my real American companion appeared from around the corner dressed in a beautiful Shinto white robe. I liked him immediately, he was so charismatic and open and obviously delighted at the success of this stunt. I couldn’t figure out who the missionaries were and who the Shinto guys were. They were all Shinto except four of us and they seemed to enjoy it.

    We went back to our house where six of us missionaries lived and it also functioned as the small church on Sunday. Several of the female members had prepared a very elaborate meal with the most exotic food I would eat in the entire two years. Loud American rock music, I still remember the tune “wild thing.� I was so hungry and not the least bit squeamish when it comes to eating. Raw horse meat. Rubbery squid. Seaweed. Dried gold fish. I heard they eat placenta in Korea and if they had served any of that I would not have known the difference.

    Our DL made some mugi-cha. I knew that “cha� meant tea and I would not touch it. Mugi-cha is a wheat based drink and not actually against the Word of Wisdom. This DL could make it so that it smelled exactly like coffee; because he was slipping a little coffee in it on the sly. I never would drink any of his mugi-cha. Then they broke out the bottles of Orion beer from the frig. I thought this was going way too far and refused to drink any of it. Until this one Elder was laughing so hard he slobbered some of the “beer� on his shirt and it was the distinct red-purple of grape juice. So I took a swig of it and I had to say something funny. I couldn’t think of anything to say in Japanese so I just said , “this isn’t what I thought beer would taste like.� I really never had tasted beer but I knew this was grape juice and this cracked everyone up.

    Next were language pranks. They told me that “baka� (idiot) was a term of honor. I could call the president of the church Kimball-baka, and the branch president Shimizu-baka, and the mission president Yamada-baka. I soon learned that baka is about as close as you can come to swearing. So this was sacrilege to the extreme. There were others, but the worst was when they had me play act giving out a Book of Mormon and asked me to challenge the investigator to read it. They had me do this three times with three of the sisters and the key words were “o-yomi ni natte kudasai� which means please read this. But they changed the word “yomi� to “yome� which changes the meaning of the whole phrase to: “will you marry me� or “will you be my bride.� I found out later that there is quite a bit of missionary folklore surrounding the use of this particular obscure term and they had undoubtedly heard some of this lore and made it come true again that day. I asked three of the sisters to marry me and they all eagerly agreed and everyone was laughing so hard. They told me that the word for church (kyokai) was temple (shinden) and so I was next asking them to come to the temple with me the next week. I actually understood that one so it wasn’t as funny.

    Later that evening, when I thought the pranks had settled down, was a visit to the “issho o-furo.� This is an old fashion co-ed bath house. Most of the bath houses were like this originally and have more recently had walls built down the middle to separate the sexes. But in some ancient obscure neighborhood my companion found one where the wall had not yet been built. He took me there, without any of the other missionaries or members to rat on him. We went into a large room with several pools of hot water where many mostly elderly people, probably myopic, were undressing or naked. All of the women were on the right side and the men on the left side but no wall separated us.

    We Americans are very tall and bony and have much more hair on our bodies than is typical in Japan so we were quite a spectacle. But the Japanese people are so modest, my companion explained. They do not look where they are not supposed to look. This is how they can be the most modest people on the face of the earth and still bath together, as men and women. We stripped down, sat on a bucket and soaped up and washed our hair. Then when we were completely clean we could enter the large pools of scalding hot water. So far it was no worse than the first day in 7th grade PE class when we had to take showers.

    After a few minutes a couple of 20ish girls entered the bath house and my companion mentioned to me that they were in our English class. He had invited them to this bath house and they were daring enough to do it. They were the only young women in there. He told me not to look at them as they undressed and thoroughly washed themselves. Eventually they were completely clean and came over to the larger pool and got in right next to us and began to talk to us. At that time I had very little physical attraction for Asian women, but it was still uncomfortable beyond description to have a fairly cute skinny little girl, buck naked sitting so close to me in the pool that she would frequently brush the side of her hip or her thigh or knee against me. She was playing the dictionary game with me but we didn’t have a dictionary so she was just trying to teach me words and I wasn’t remembering them very well.

    My companion told me after about half an hour that if I was not used to the hot water, that I should only stay in about 10 minutes or it might make me pass out. He said that other green missionaries had passed out their first trip to the bath house. He also told me that it would be impolite if we didn’t get out first. But to not worry, they would not look at us. I admitted to myself that I had to get out but I procrastinated it until it was too late.

    The next memory I have is laying naked on the tile floor some distance away from the pool with several naked elderly Japanese women pouring cold water on my head and body. My companion was kneeling beside me with a worried look on his face and the two girls were standing there concerned and seemingly entirely unaware of their nakedness. Apparently he and the two young girls had hoisted me out of the pool when I began to laugh loudly and jabber incoherently. I had watched a church film in Japanese earlier that week and the only place I could comprehend was where the Savior says to the disciples “Peace be unto you.� I was saying it , “yasukare� over and over. I barely managed to get myself dressed and ride a bike to a nearby noodle house where we had supper with the two girls and then went home to our warm futons. For weeks after that these two cute girls would come to English class and they never failed to mention the word “yasukare� to me and giggle to themselves. And I would chuckle to myself every time we showed that film to an investigator for the next two years.

    I think we learned our lesson and didn’t frequent the neighborhood “issho-furo.� We did go into some other bath houses later that were worse, more young people doing other things, but that is another story. The initiation pranks work. I never had a closer feeling of brotherhood than with this companion, even though we disagreed strongly as to what we were supposed to be doing. He had very unconventional ideas and an unorthodox approach to missionary work which eventually got him sent home. At the time I thought he was frankly wicked, but as time has passed I have wondered if he wasn’t right about many things. And we had and will always have nothing but the strongest feelings of charity and love for each other as missionary companions.

  61. gst
    November 8, 2005 at 7:36 pm

    I served in San Francisco. We avoided the bathhouses whenever possible.

  62. gst
    November 8, 2005 at 7:38 pm

    I was joking about serving in San Francisco, by the way.

    Not Ophelia: Even if I’m staying in a hotel for only a single night, I unpack everything into the closet and dresser.

  63. Seth Rogers
    November 8, 2005 at 9:37 pm


    Shinjiraren yo!

    I went dumpster diving for day old doughnuts at 2:00 am while serving in Japan, but I never did anything like that! We were prohibited from visiting bathhouses anyway except when there was a drought.

    But yeah, Japanese culture is sometimes just so pervasive that a bit of the wierdness rubs off on you.

    I served in the Fukuoka mission too. Mostly rural villages. That raw horse meat was great! I’d go for some of that right now actually …

  64. annegb
    November 8, 2005 at 9:38 pm

    Yeah, Ivan, I’m with Silas. The mother in me is absolutely livid that we would put a young man in that situation.

    Although what Russell said is also true. Life isn’t fair. I so resent that, too.

    Mike, that has got to be one of the most interesting mission experience I ever heard.

    gst: why?

  65. Brian G
    November 9, 2005 at 1:48 am

    Rosalynde writes, “I was transferred away from Coimbra five months later to preempt a personal situation with the Elder W. above.”

    These are the mission journal excerpts I really want to see. Who’s with me? C’mon, RF, change the names to protect the innocent, that is, if anyone was innocent. Your fans demand it.

  66. Brian G
    November 9, 2005 at 3:12 am

    I loved my third companion, but he was what those of us who did our time in Chile refer to as “bien chueco,” roughly translated, very crooked. When my transfer to Chaiten was announced in a zone meeting the first words I heard were, “Dude, what did you do to deserve that?” Chaiten, all the vets gathered around to explain to me, was a castigo sector, a place so remote and removed that unreformable Elders were sent there to limit the damage they could do. They also informed me my new companion was known mission wide by the nickname Elder Hand for reasons that are best left unexplained–a total headcase.

    It wasn’t long and I began to ask myself what it was I did wrong? Was it the time we ran into the zone leaders at 11:30 at night? Was it the schoolgirls we helped with their English homework? Because those were legitimate new families. And why couldn’t the President use his gift of discernment to see all my leadership ability?

    Chaiten is a military outpost deep in Southern Chile that exists primarily in case bloodthirsty Argentians come running over the mountains. To get there I had to get into a two-seat plane and fly out of Puerto Montt and over the sound that surrounds the island of Chiloe. One such plane had dropped into the drink a month or two earlier. I remember sitting next to the pilot and thinking isn’t this where the co-pilot was supposed to sit, but ha-ha, guess what, I was the co-pilot. There were pilot controls in front of me and when the pilot banked left, this giant joystick apparatus above my knees would turn left all by itself, and if he pulled up it would raise up in front of me like there was a ghost in my lap. I kept asking myself if this man next to me has a fatal stroke do I have the balls to grab onto this thing or am I just going to accept my fate and hope the stories about Elders who die on their missions going straight to the Celestial Kingdom are true.

    We landed on a grass runway next to a hut and I felt like Indiana Jones when I stepped out of the plane. Elder Hand was there waiting for me. I miss him now more than all my other companions combined. I would give anything to see him again. He was a head case with a heart of gold, but life with him was no picnic. Life in Chaiten was no picnic. Five months went by and I never saw another Elder, American or otherwise, that entire time. The isolation began to creep into my brain and make me do funny things.

    Transfer after transfer went by and my prayers were never answered. I had rituals I’d do on transfer days. I’d go into the lime green bathroom and flick any slugs off the mirror and stare at myself and reassure myself this transfer was the one. I’d spend nights before transfers sleepless, hopped up on yerba mate staring at a blue ceiling and wondering when it would end.

    It did end when they closed down the area and took missionaries out of Chaiten. Both Elder Hand and I were transferred out. When we told the Branch President the news he was so upset he asked us to get out of his house. We were in the middle of a family home evening at the time.

    I love Chaiten so much, but I hated it. It was so hard there and so hard to leave. It destroyed me. I figure God had to have room to rebuild.

  67. Nate Oman
    November 9, 2005 at 10:59 am

    My first transfer was from the heart of Pusan, where I had been a greenie, to a small city on the other side of the mission named Kyung-Ju. Pusan is a fairly modern city. Not super exotic or Korean looking per se. Kyung-Ju was the capital of the the Shilla dynasty, which was the first united kingdom of Korea. My trainer was from N. Va. My second companion was from Kimpo, up around Soeul, and didn’t speak English. As the train pulled into the Kyung-Ju, I saw the ancient burial mounds of the Shilla kings, the tiled roofs of centuries-old traditional houses. (Kyoung-Ju managed not to be leveled during the war and has lots of traditional architecture.) Then I met Elder Hong, who quickly figured out the extent to which I was pretending to understand what he said. I thought, “Ok, NOW, I am really in Korea.”

    I absolutely loved serving with Hong Jung Whan.

  68. November 9, 2005 at 12:28 pm

    Though I was called to serve in Brazil, I spent the first three months of my mission paying for my sins as a “visa waiter” in Texas. I was transferred five times in those three months using every mode of transportation from the infamous Mission Transfer Van to a Greyhound bus taking me from Midland to Abliene.

    To this day I will not ride a Greyhound anywhere. I’ll walk first.

    I arranged most of my Brazil transfers with members. This was actually quite comical as in those days the official mode of transport was a VW Bug. I’m not a small guy, so me, the member and my luggage left little room for anything else but air.

    I’m sure to take some heat from the sisters in the audience, but I’ll never forget the strange looks I got while my companion and I helped Sister G (her three suitcases, two dufflebags, and several other smaller bags) on her transfer from one Sao Paulo suburb to another. I’ve moved entire households with less trouble than than transfer turned out to be.

  69. gst
    November 9, 2005 at 12:55 pm

    annegb, I presume you’re asking me why I always unpack in hotels, not why I avoid San Francisco bathhouses.

    The answer is that I don’t know. I think it just makes me feel more civilized to get dressed out of a closet and dresser than out of a suitcase. And I’m not one of those people that brings pictures and other amenities to make a hotel feel like home–I’m a very light traveler. I got into the habit when one day I checked in and didn’t go up to the room immediately but rather just sent my bag up with the bellman, who unpacked it for me. It was a great feeling to find everything unpacked.

Comments are closed.