Monday, May 3, 2010

District 37-A

Elder Hugentobler and Elder Elder Lindley’s prank was a little lost on me. Sure, I was surprised when they popped out from behind the door, but not as much as they were hoping—no scream and only a small jump at that.

“You okay?” Elder Hugentobler asked half in jest. He was a stout guy about 5’10”. His blond hair was short—too short even for clean-cut missionary standards, and his face embodied a potential for innumerous expressions—currently it registered something along the lines of mock remorse.

“Yeah. Sorry, man,” Elder Lindley (who had a more reddish complexion, thin black hair and blue eyes) said. “You’ve got to admit that was pretty funny, though.”

“It’s all good,” I said—unaware that I was already beginning to sway from my somewhat uptight attitude. I might see something like that as an attack or teasing before, but not knowing me and being united as missionaries, I found no ill will in their little prank.

“So where are you from?” Lindley asked.

“Utah. Most boring answer ever. I know,” I shared.

“We both flew in from Boise. We grew up just outside of town and figured out we had a few common friends on the trip down,” Hugentobler (later informally abbreviated “Elder Hugie” and then “Elder H”) explained.


“Rival high schools and everything,” added Lindley, putting an arm around Hugentobler. “I guess we’re only missing your comp now.”

“—Elder Koontz. I wonder how you’re even supposed to pronounce that one.”

Rather than getting any actual sleep, though we were all dead-tired, we talked to each other from our bunks about our families at home and what it would be like to learn a foreign language in the coming weeks before going out into “Real Brazil.”

Before we’d realized, it was time for the big beginning to the Mormon missionary’s equivalent of boot camp.

All of the newbies—around three dozen of us on that particular day—were rounded up and taken to the gymnasium like something out of a middle school built in the 1950s, except the floors and other wood features were noticeably defined in color and tone—a distinct and beautiful mahogany. There was a stage with a green curtain pulled, a podium with 5 chairs along side. To the right of the stage was a simple, upright piano. A woman in her early sixties sat opening her hymn book and reviewing the program. To either side were stacks of chairs off in darkened wings, laying dormant until a larger meeting we could only imagine at that point.

Hogentobler, Lindley, and I took our seats as far back as was possible at that point before the meeting began. Also in attendance were Sister Ballenger, Elder Rockefeller, and Elder Alan.


A white-haired man rose to the podium. “Welcome, Elders and Sisters. I hope you are adjusting to these titles quite well. As you all know, this is the Centro de Treinamento Missionario. I am President Ostegar and this is the lovely Sister Ostegar and you will be in our care here. As President of the CTM, it is my charge to prepare you for missionary life outside of these four walls. I use the word life purposefully because every aspect of your life will be concerned with the work of the Lord for the next two years (or in the case of you Sisters, 18 months)—you will speak and share the Word of God, you will feast upon the Holy Scriptures, and you will depend upon your diligence and faith for the gift of tongues to understand and speak in Portuguese.”

The next half hour consisted of introductions of the rest of the CTM Staff (Vonaldo, the de Paulas and the Oblads), a review of a map of the building, and several tips for our time in the CTM and in Brazil from the Ostegars:

  • “Don’t pet stray dogs.”
  • “For those of you that didn’t not hear the announcement earlier, this section is reserved for the Sister missionaries.”
  • “All of you are encouraged to participate in the CTM Choir led by Sister de Paula. Practice is held each Sunday afternoon.”
  • “Only the CTM-contracted barber is allowed to cut anyone’s hair in your stay. He is here for an hour before breakfast every morning and you must sign up 24 hours in advance.”
  • “Food should remain in the cafeteria. Please get your fill during dinner because it is a long time between the end of dinner and breakfast the next morning.”
  • “Do not buy meat or fruit from street vendors.”
  • “No climbing the trees in the courtyard.”
  • “We practice S.Y.L. to ensure you learn Portuguese. Speak Your Language from the moment you start learning so you can.”
  • “You will be responsible for keeping the CTM clean with weekly service.”
  • “Wash your hands several times each day.”
  • “Keep the Sabbath day holy by reverently studying and resting.”
  • “You’ll be responsible for any broken or lost locks and keys.”
  • “The Sisters will be having their own set of orientation for ‘women’s health issues’ every few weeks.”
  • “Gym time is three times a week. There’s a track, a footsal court, and exercise equipment.”
  • “At lunch you should always eat at least five different colors of food to ensure balance in your diet.”
  • “Do not forget the two names on your nametags—that of your family and that of the Lord.”

Writing Journal

Following this barrage of tips and furious note taking in the notebooks they’d provided us at the beginning of the meeting (I still use mine for writing projects—as evidenced by the picture above), Pres. Ostegar announced, “I will now read your names off as this week’s new districts 37-A, B, and C are formed. You will then meet with our staff for additional orientation. 37-A, your instructors will be Irmão dos Santos and Irmão Andre please come to the front of the hall as I call your companionships. “Elder GMB and Elder Lindley.”

We made our way up eagerly, only slightly phased by the realization of constant coupling we were now facing.

“Elder Hugentobler and Elder Koontz.”

A blond, blue-eyed 6’3” missionary in the back of the room made his way to the front of the room having arrived on a delayed flight from Wisconsin.

“Elder Carter and Elder Laramie.”

Carter was beaming, though still awkward, as he rushed over. Laramie, on the other hand, would be more aptly described as “jolly.” He also took a more metered stride not because he was shorter or Latino. He simply emanated a mellow presence.

“Elder Rockefeller and Elder Frazier.”

As they made their way to the front, I noted that Frazier was the Laurel to Rockefeller’s Hardy. He was stronger, taller, and together. The kind of support Rockefeller needed to keep him grounded in reality.

“And finally, Sister Willis and Sister Ballenger.”

While Sister Ballenger was sporty as could be, Sister Willis gave off a very different vibe—something along the lines of “Valley Girl” on first read: blond, volleyball player’s build, tan.

For the next 2 months we had our own sort of Breakfast Club… we’d eat, learn, and sleep together—same rooms, different beds, the Sisters on a different floor—preparing for our own big adventures outside of those four walls.

CTM District


seandmc said...

Have you seen "Sons of Perdition"? Just wondering as i saw it on and I think I'm going to order it. I'm interested to know what happens to these kids. Sean

Horizon said...

Man, I had totally forgotten about the barber. I remember one word they teasingly taught you to tell the barber how you wanted your hair done: "cereca." (It means bald.)

And that had to have been the most expensive gymnasium in the world with its mahogany floor. I remember mopping and waxing it over and over as part of our service duties.

I can't wait for your next installment!

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

@seandmc: Even though I don't know the FLDS culture very well (mostly via "Big Love"), that looks very interesting. Thanks for keying me in on that one.

@Horizon: Your careca comment reminds me of that old "gravida" joke they tried to pull on greenies in the field. I'll get to that eventually.

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