You can’t escape urban myths and legends even on a Mormon mission. Some legends are ubiquitous and unverifiable…like the one where Elders leave their mission to attend a sporting event and are spotted on TV by the mission president. Legends are, however, sometimes true and mission-specific but they usually include a missionary who wildly breaks the rules or who crazily behaves so un-missionary-like that it becomes the stuff of hushed gossip during zone conferences or loud laughter during P-Day activities.
I lived one of these legends in my mission. This is not 2nd hand. This happened to me. My first mission companion eloped one night with the girl who lived upstairs.
Landing in Brazil as a fresh Mormon missionary, I ended up in the car driven by the mission president and his wife on the way to the mission offices for orientation. He’d apparently taken to the insane Brazilian driving like a fish to water. As soon as we left the airport and headed out onto the roads that first day, I was in a culture shock; it stayed with me for the first several months. This wasn’t my first time away from home, nor was it my first time in a large major world city but it was my first time in a foreign country. I’d spent the previous year happily all alone at college in New York City. But I can’t describe the gloom that hovered over me as we winded our way through Sao Paulo to the mission offices.
I don’t remember much of that orientation meeting other than having the distinct feeling that this mission operated on a whole different planet than what we were prepared for in the MTC (Missionary Training Center, Provo, UT). We got a full binder of rules and policies that varied from the material we received in Utah. I remember one of the new Brazilian elders arguing with the mission president over the worth of souls; we were told there were some extremely poor people who weren’t aptly prepared for the gospel and we were not to teach them. I also remember being told we must challenge everyone without exception to be baptized and set a date during our first meeting with them; if they failed to commit then and there, we were to drop them and “not waste our time.”
I was interviewed by the mission president that first day, probably the gazillionth time in the previous 6 months that I’d been queried on my worthiness by a virtual stranger.
At the end of this orientation, we enjoyed dinner with the mission president’s family and were given our new assignments. I remember being last of the 15 to be told where I’d be going and who would be my companion missionary in that new place. The mission president solemnly concluded by telling me that he had assigned me to stay in the city together with “the most spiritual missionary in the mission,” Elder Ferreira. The Assistants to the Mission President agreed by nodding their heads and telling me how lucky I was as they drove me through the city to my new assignment that very night.
I was still overwhelmed and depressed about it all.
When we got to my new digs, my new companion wasn’t there. There was only a family who lived in the home above our basement apartment. I was left in their care for several hours while waiting for my companion to arrive. The conversation was halted. I couldn’t understand ANYTHING they asked me and they couldn’t make out any of my responses either. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die.
Eventually Elder Ferreira arrived with his current companion who was told right there that he’d be leaving, replaced by me. He pulled his stuff together and left. I moved my stuff in and so began my mission.
From the beginning I didn’t like my new companion or our living conditions. My journal talks about how dirty everything was and how depressed I was. I successfully couldn’t communicate much and when I could it wasn’t pleasant. Elder Ferreira seemed to see me as a liability and I failed to sense any sign of powerful “spirituality.” Once, after teaching a discussion with an investigator family he’d gotten upset at me because I’d lost my place in the discussion and had forgotten the words.
“Just say it in your own words then!” he yelled at me.
“But those were the only Portuguese words I know!” I replied.
Our tiny apartment was a shit-hole and I swear that’s not an exaggeration. It had the essence of a busy whore’s den, one too busy to ever clean up. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner with the family that lived above us. The family were LDS but only the 20-something girl, Marisa, attended church with her 9 year old brother, Alessandro. The Mom and her “husband”(We learned later that they weren’t married) were inactive. During meals there was always a lot of conversation and I understood little to none of it. I just ate. I don’t remember hating the food, but I didn’t love it either.
Eventually Marisa began to really take an interest in missionary work and she began accompanying us to the homes of her friends to teach them the discussions. This wasn’t all that unusual. As I mentioned there were several ways that my mission didn’t adhere to the white bible rules. Things were unconventional. I mean, we weren’t supposed to live in members’ homes, let alone with a single girl in the home but the officials in the mission home obviously knew we were there. We also diverted from the standard Salt Lake version of the discussions as I mentioned. We regularly stayed out later than white-bible missionary curfew and we thought nothing of it. But when Elder Ferreira began to offer Marisa his hand as we walked up a hill…and it lingered there a little too long I began to suspect that something was odd.
I brought up this concern with one of my fellow missionaries, but it was brushed off.
Imagine not feeling comfortable in your surroundings and not being able to communicate clearly with anyone. Mondays were our “P-days” (preparation days). We would travel about 30 minutes away to spend time with neighboring missionaries on these days and try to have some sort of fun. On about my 3rd Monday in Brazil we traveled longer than normal and showed up at the mission home at what was apparently a mission-wide conference complete with sports activities. Only, I couldn’t participate because I hadn’t brought a change of clothes. My companion hadn’t told me anything about it. That’s how clueless I was and how stilted our communication was. He was an ass and I remember being embarrassed that day.
On my 5th Monday in Brazil as our P-day was winding to a close, Elder Ferreira was a bit more agitated than usual. I’d written a letter to the mission president that day telling him that I thought something was wrong. Like a good guilt-ridden Mormon I found a way to somehow share the blame by saying, “I’m probably just as much at fault at times for not saying something to him.”
Just before dinner Elder Ferreira began packing his bags telling me that he was going to ask the mission president for a transfer to another area.
“YEA!” I thought. I actually said, “But you haven’t asked yet, right? So why are you packing already?”
I got no answer that I could discern, and so we went upstairs for dinner. As usual the conversation hovered far above my head. I just ate. At some point in the meal my companion excused himself to go to the bathroom. Then, Marisa excused herself. Then, the Mom excused herself and soon I realized I was the only one left at the table. I was in someone else’s home so my first reaction was not to go off searching for people, but when I heard a commotion outside at the front gate, I got up to see what was going on. As I exited the house I saw my companion and Marisa putting their bags in a Taxi.
I asked what was happening and Elder Ferreira said something that sounded like this:
“Parafkjr rnfo que jfkieo nmsakorgj nerfirjgrij. I will call the mission president tonight. Knmdfoero mjeknmfrgr mmeoe. Mpocek. You call him later. Goodbye knjeogmm.
The taxi drove off and I felt….good…. for the first time since I’d stepped foot in Brazil.
I went to bed that night and planned to call the president in the morning. At that time, most families, let alone missionaries, didn’t have telephones in Brazil. You had to call from a pay phone which was usually at the corner bar. Marisa’s Mom gave me some telephone tokens and pointed me in the direction of the nearest bar.
The mission president’s wife answered the phone. It just so happens that they had been hosting a Brazilian Mission President’s Conference in their home the previous night when Elder Ferreira had called. He wasn’t all that pleased to talk to me.
“Sister X, I need to talk to President X”
“Well he’s really busy right now. Is it an emergency Elder DPS?”
“Yes it is.”
“OK hold on”……..
“President X, this is Elder DPS, my companion Elder Ferreira ran off with a girl last night”
The phone went dead. I redialed and Sister X re-answered and we went through the same routine.
“Elder DPS, how many phone tokens do you have?”
“Uh one more”
“Before anything else, go in the bar and buy 10 more and come back on the line”
Once back on the line, I related my experience of the previous 12 hours and was instructed to join the missionaries in the next area. When I found the other missionaries I heard that one of them had actually been at the mission president’s home the previous night. He was the pianist for the high level meeting that night. I joined up with one of the companionships in that area and we became a threesome for a few weeks.
Elder Ferreira and Marisa did get married that night and they even returned to that same home and lived with that family and attended the same ward. I saw them at church each Sunday.
About a month after the elopement I got a handwritten memo in the mail from my mission president. It said, “My good brother – You are your brother’s keeper. If you would have only sounded the alarm maybe we could have saved him. My heart is almost broken. I hope you can feel and read between the lines. This is perhaps my saddest day in Brazil. Please feel and watch your companions.”
Somehow it was all my fault?
About 4 months ago Elder Ferreira “Friended” me on Facebook…27 years after the events above. We’ve instant messaged back and forth a few times. He felt terrible guilt about leaving his mission and being such an ass towards me. I said I’d moved on and wished him only the best. He and Marisa are divorced. His two kids from that marriage can’t stand him. He’s been ex-communicated and rebaptized in the LDS church…twice. He is active in church now, remarried, and has 2 other kids with this 2nd wife. I also learned that Marisa’s younger brother had actually been Marisa’s son, but they pretended otherwise. It was a Jerry Springer-worthy white trash story, the Brazilian version. I guess you could call it a lusciously bronzed trash story.
I’m just glad to be out of the church, but oddly enough I’d love to return to Brazil.
Next: my new homosexual companion joins a dance troupe in Brazil and there’s a flood.