I don't talk much about my mission. People don't ask and I don't bring it up. I'm very aware of the stereotypes and the stigmas surrounding returned missionaries, and I am bound and determined not be be clumped with them. But regardless of whether I choose to begin every Sunday School comment with, "Well, on my mission ...", there are some things worth sharing about my time with the tag.
I want to tell you about Manuel.
Manuel is about 75 years old. He can't quite remember what year he was born, and it really doesn't matter in the end. Manuel lives in a temporary, one-room house behind the homes of his daughter and his son. His own house fell down during the earthquake in 2010 and he hasn't been able to rebuild it yet. He was baptized the Sunday before I got to Til-Til, and was the first lesson I got to help teach when I arrived. He didn't understand a word I said, but instead of making me feel foolish, he sat back, patted his weather-worn face and simply said, "Que lindo, que lindo." He didn't care about words; he cared about the feeling they brought.
Manuel was in the military as a younger man. He traveled all across South America, breaking hearts in every country, and leaving a few illegitimate children behind to prove it. He owns a dog named Satanás (Satan), who is always tied up behind his house. He would yell, "Sále! Satanás!" when the dog would bark incesently. In other words, "DEPART! SATAN!"
Manuel came to church every single Sunday, riding the bus 20 minutes to get there and spending what little money he had to do it. That man wears a suit well, and a sweater underneath his suit coat even better. One Sunday he came, his tie dangling from his outstretched hand, and asked if I could help him tie it. I think it was that same Sunday that he gave the prayer in Sunday School and concluded with the words: "... Please bless the missionaries. Please bless the members of this church. They are so good and so beautiful. And please bless my neighbor, who's a little rude, but ...... oh well."
(I guess it might be less impactful in English, and even less so by the fact that you can't hear him say it while holding you're breath during the long pause before he finally finished the thought about his vecino. "Pero ....... bueno.")
Manuel is also the man I shared a hymn book with when the power went out during General Conference and we all sang hymns to fill the time until conference came back on. I had arrived in Chile just a week or so earlier. I didn't know how to communicate with him, or anyone, in Spanish, but sitting next to him in that pew, just me and him and a hymn book, I didn't need to say anything. We just sang. And it was perfect.
I don't feel this way about many, and I say it about even fewer, but Manuel is a kindred spirit. And he demonstrates faith and love of God in all he is. I never want to forget him. So that part of my mission is worth sharing.