I finished my two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Rosario, Argentina in 1996. I had looked forward to serving the Lord as a missionary for most of my life. Right before leaving at the age of 19, I remember feeling amazed that something that always seemed so far away snuck up on me somehow. I believed that consecrating two years of my life full-time to teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ would not only be the most important thing I could do for others, but that it would lay the foundation for my own life as well (Matthew 10:39 – 39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.)
I won’t try to put into words here what those two years meant to me or what it was like to find my life by losing it in His service. Suffice it to say, the mission changed my life.
Last year marked my 20 year mission anniversary and, thanks to Jess, I returned for the first time with her and our three oldest — Madi, Caleb, and Lucy — over the holidays. Now, just one month later, it feels like a dream all over again. We spent the first 5 days in Rosario, hustling all over the city that I love to find and reunite with people I love. I lost contact with almost every one of them. Thanks to Facebook, I was able to find many of them and arrange for visits.
We arrived in Buenos Aires on a Saturday, rented a car, and drove the three+ hours up to Rosario. Here are some excerpts from my journal:
“These last 3 days have been some of the best of my life. After 20 years, I’ve returned to Rosario, to my mission w/ Jess, Madi, Caleb, and Lucy. I can’t put into words the feelings of joy and emotion I’ve felt to reunite with these dear people who have almost become more myth or legend than real.”
Each of the people you see below have unique and sacred life stories all their own. It’s not really my place to tell their stories here on their behalf. Let me just say, I love them and they know I do. There is one story I’ll tell because the Fagunde family has given me permission to tell it …
I was transfered to an area along with my companion. Since we were both new to the area, we decided to do splits almost every day to cover more ground. The first Sunday there, we got a ward list and asked the bishop who we should reactivate. He circled about 8 names. For some reason, I asked about the Fagundes who I read on the list but I didn’t recognize as a family I met that day at church. He said, “They haven’t been at church for years. We’ve all tried many times. They don’t want visits. Don’t waste your time.”
Well that evening as we were planning our week, the Spirit whispered to me to try and visit the Fagundes. So, I put them on my planner for every day. Someone finally came to the door after a few tries. It was their 14 year old son who said, “My mom says, ‘She’s not here.’” I told him to tell his mom that I’m going to keep coming back until she is there. Finally, on Saturday, the dad was home and he let me in. We walked through their home and on to their backyard. We turned over buckets and cinder blocks in a circle for a visit. They had 7 children from 14 years on down. I shared a brief testimony with the parents and recognized that the children were not that interested so I changed gears. I asked, “Who wants to be in a play?” They all shot their hands in the air. I gave them their parts and the play began with the opening scene … a terrible earthquake caused them all to die and now they were trying to get into Heaven. I had the tie on so I played God. The first one knocked (they actually clapped b/c that’s what you do in Argentina) and I said …
– Yes, what do you want?
– Can I come in?
– What were you when you were alive?
– A thief?
– A thief?!
– No, no you can’t come in :) Next!
This exchange/interview repeated with each character (Fireman, Missionary, married couple, etc.) Finally, I turned to the couple and said, “Life is short brother and sister Fagunde. You have some children here over the age of 8. You need to come back to church and baptize your children. Will you come to church tomorrow? They said yes. But, the next day, as all missionaries are accustomed everywhere in the world, they didn’t come. I stopped by their home and they gave me their excuse and said they’d come the next Sunday. Great. The following Sunday … they came! I remember Bro. Fagunde walking in the church with his 14 year old son. The Bishop and ward members were shocked. Two days later I was transferred.
As I took the long bus ride north to my next area, I was excited for the future, but I also puzzled at why I was sent to that area for 2 1/2 weeks. 5 months later I learned why. And some 21 years later, I understood more …
5 months later, I returned to that city for a mission conference. A big missionary (David Howell) came up to me, read my name tag and said, “You’re Elder Sedgwick!” Yes. He gave me a big hug and lifted me off the ground and said …
– “Thank you!”
– Thank you for what?
– Thank you from Bro. Fagunde!
– What do you mean, who!?
– No, sorry … who’s brother Fagunde?
– Don’t you remember the play you put on in their backyard?
– Oh yeah, did he baptize his son?
– Did he baptize his son? Yes. But … last month, Bro. Fagunde and his wife and children were all sealed in the temple. He said if I ever run into you to hug you and thank you from him and his family.
I was surprised and touched. What was at first a 2 1/2 week transfer that made no sense to me, now became, in a way, the most successful area of my mission. That was my memory of the Fagundes when I reached out over FB to try and find them for my trip. I found a Victor Fagunde in Rosario, Argentina who looked like a 30 year old LDS guy. I sent him a message and his response was,
“Hello, the truth is, it will be a great pleasure to see you again! We are still active, but we live in Godoy neighborhood. It would be very good to see you again. Thanks to you, my family become active again and has remained faithful ever since. My father became bishop and has been dedicated to the Church. He sent three of his children to different missions and there are some getting ready … I hope we get to see when you come. My father remembers you well and began to cry when he learned you were coming.”
Our second day in the country, we drove to the Fagundes. I barely stepped out of my car, when brother Fagunde embraced me and began to cry. Then, the same with Sis. Fagunde. I was not prepared for the emotion they showed me. We sat down in front of their home and shared our memories of what now has become a sacred visit for them and me. Bro. Fagunde told me that the he remembered the play but it wasn’t the play that got him back to Church. It was my testimony. He said, “You bore your testimony to me right when we sat down and I felt the Spirit and knew I needed to return to Church.”
We moved into his home for lunch. A traditional Argentine lunch of Asado (grilled beef/chicken). During lunch Bro. Fagunde told me that he served 6 years a bishop. He talked about his children serving missions. He talked about dozens of people he has reactivated and blessed through his ministry.
All of a sudden, it hit me why he was sharing all of that with me — he wanted me to see the ripple effect of my service. And just as suddenly, I began to weep. I was overcome with gratitude and love.
We shared our testimonies with each other one last time and visited with them and their now 10 children a bit longer and then said goodbye.
What a gift.
I taught the gospel to Mario Manfredi, with my companion Leandro Sanchez. Mario was baptized on Christmas Eve 1994. A smart, loving man. He had a ton of questions about the doctrines of the Church and studied the gospel for a long time. I wasn’t able to find him on FB before the trip. Fortunately, he was at the first church we attended Sunday morning. It truly was a joy to see him again in church and attend sacrament meeting with him! I still have the old, light blue Book of Mormon he gave to me as a gift (I also still have his cigarettes :)
Almost everyday, I/we filled up on empanadas (pictured here), alfajores, pastries w/ dulce de leche, ice cream, choripan (whenever I saw it), milanesa, & steak w/ chimichurri sauce. We may have gained a few pounds.
Veronica Galvan … She was a teenager when I taught her and her brother and mom (Alejandro & Ester). She’s now married with 2 children of her own. Argentines LIVE off of Mate, the herbal tea I’m drinking here, but missionaries weren’t allowed to drink it. So, Veronica introduces me to the national drink — finally. More sugar, please!
Lucy played with Flavia’s daughter while her son showed us his love for playing rock & roll on the guitar. That boy is going to be a star! I taught Flavia in one of my first areas in the San Martin/Las Delicias area in 1994. So nice to remember old times together. She looks the same! Beautiful family.
Josico Oviedo is a dear friend from my time in Reconquista, the northern most area of the mission. He was a young man, preparing for his mission at that time and we worked together a lot. He was called to serve in Steve and Dixie Oveson’s Buenos Aires South Mission. He’s now married with two great children. We also got some ice cream with their family another night in Villa Gobernador Gálvez.
Nara and Paula are the daughters of a couple I taught who have both since passed away. One regret from this trip is not being able to spend as much time as I would’ve liked with them both. I’m hopeful that we can keep in touch for years to come.
The Cuesta family … Hugo & Sandra and their boys Pablo, Franco & Jonatan and daughter Brenda. This was the last family I taught before returning home. Their story is special and has had a profound impact on my life. I’m hopeful to return to Argentina soon/pronto to attend the temple with them in Cordoba, Argentina. I remember telling my family that I loved this family as my very own. When I saw and embraced and talked with them again, those feelings resurfaced. I wish we could’ve spent more time together.
If anyone deserved a nap, it’s this remarkable woman. Jess planned the whole trip, allowing the rest of us to have the trip and memories of a lifetime. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.