Copyright © Bruce A. Holt. All Rights Reserved. (Comments are welcome!)
I felt my proficiency in Spanish was good. I was raised speaking English (US version). However, I was yet unprepared for communication upon arriving in Sydney! Going through Customs I had to ask the official to repeat himself at every question! Australian English was foreign to my unaccustomed ears, as alluded to in the prior Chapter.
My first discussion in Spanish was the same. Book learning and practice don’t always accustom the ear in the presence of a native speaker.
But it didn’t take long to become accustomed to both Spanish and Australian English. My days were spent speaking English unless my companion and I had a teaching appointment or encountered a Spanish speaking person while we were tracting (in LDS Missionary parlance, this is the going door to door activity with the hope of entering the home to teach a “Discussion”) so my ability to communicate improved greatly. By the time my two years were ending, I was frequently complimented on my Spanish and was told I had an Ecuadorian accent (most of the Hispanics I taught or conversed with were from Ecuador; Argentines and Uruguayans followed). As a result, I was asked to translate for Church General Authorities at a Church Area Conference held in Sydney in April of 1976, just prior to my return home. Specifically, President Spencer W. Kimball and Elder William H. Bennett, an Assistant to the Twelve Apostles (a group later to become Quorums of Seventy).
My relationship with the other Elders (missionaries) and, later, two Sisters (female missionaries) was good. I enjoyed each of my companions (none of the Sisters was a companion, somewhat obviously!). I am connected to some of them on Facebook today. There were a half dozen or so, plus or minus at any given time during my mission, that were Spanish speaking like me. Eventually I became a District Leader (oversight over multiple companionships geographically close) and later a Zone Leader (oversight over multiple Districts). At no time did I get a car. I traveled by bicycle, public transportation (bus or electric train), walked, or some combination of these.
I greatly admired and respected my Mission President, Earl C. Tingey. He was/is the same age as my Dad and so, away from home and in a foreign country, it was easy to place a natural trust in him. It helped that I believed then and still believe now that he was and is an honest and good man by nature. He was and is deluded by the LDS cult, as was I.
Two years, less the two months in the LTM, were spent doing what I thought god wanted me to do. I was not a total goody two shoes, as my first “greenie” (new missionary) could attest (he was a strict by the book missionary at first but loosened up later). Life was easy. I would get a monthly check from my parents and would take it to the bank to exchange it for Australian currency, to pay rent for our”flat” (apartment/room), buy food, pay for transportation, repair/resole shoes, take care of any needs.
Oh, and to buy our cartons of Books of Mormon which we sold for 50 cents Australian each, or would give them away at times, if the situation warranted.
We met people from all over the globe and from all walks of life, mostly blue collar workers. We would assist Hispanics find work, get medical help, find housing. At times, anyway. Actually very few. Mostly, we tried to peddle our brand of religion in Spanish.
But the people were great! I loved the Hispanics I met, “member” and “non-member” alike. I loved the Aussies too. All in all it was a great experience for me as a 19-21 year old. I grew from a painfully shy introverted boy to a confident young man.
I returned home in April of 1976, to a new Ward, my family having moved into the new house built in Centerville, UT. Prior to returning home, I was interviewed by President Tingey. During that interview I was counseled to go home, maintain my standards acquired as a missionary, and to get married as soon as possible. Education and work were secondary to marriage.
I suppose it was good I had a girl, not exactly”waiting” for my return, but we had dated prior to my mission. And she was still “available”.
She would become my wife.