Submitted by Ned Flanders
Nineteen-year-old males aren’t paragons of learning and
wisdom. Sequestering them with other nineteen-year-olds probably isn’t a recipe
for much improvement. Despite these serious handicaps, they are the primary
representatives of our church. (I am setting aside the sister missionaries for
a moment, since they are much more mature, educated, and scarce.)
Unfortunately, we but ill-prepare these boys for their service. Sure, we shovel
a lot of language and scripture-sharing into them, but we don’t provide any
cultural background for the place they’ll be living for two years. The sum
total of the Argentine culture I was exposed to in the MTC was a three-page
fact sheet about exports and demographics and one "culture night."
During culture night, returned missionaries showed us slides of their mission,
passed around a soccer jersey, and taught us a supposedly Argentine song. (We
all learned it fastidiously, and then never heard it again.) That’s it.
We hit Argentina knowing the name of the President, and that we should never,
under any circumstances, bring up the Falkland Islands in conversation. Is it
any surprise then that many Elders don’t learn much more than that during their
mission? I had to wait until I was back at the university to read any
Spanish-language literature or learn about Argentine history. When I was
finally exposed to these things, I realized that I had been missing out on
whole levels of understanding. It felt like I had squandered a chance to fully
experience the Argentine culture.
Why can’t the church assign one short work of the native culture as a reading
assignment? It would help missionaries’ language skills immensely to read
something NOT translated directly from the English Correlated Mormonese. It
would provide insights into the culture that they will soon be immersed in and
would give them a common reference point to draw on when interacting with
people. Half the fun would be deciding what story or novella to assign for each
As it stands now, I lived in Argentina for two years, and returned without ever
having read anything by Borges. That just doesn’t make sense. And I can’t even
remember how many old men we met who wanted to talk to us about the gaucho
classic Martin Fierro.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with well-rounded missionaries.
Cross-posted at VivaNedFlanders.