The unique and developing history
of the Nivaclé communities
descending from Mistolar
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The First Nivaclé Saints

Ricky Loynd

This personal history of my first experiences with the Nivaclé is based on my writings in Paraguay (journals, notes, church reports, letters, timelines, and a detailed chronology) plus a 200-page first draft that I wrote soon after my mission there.

Background:  Introducing a few characters

Walter Flores:  The first Nivaclé convert

Trip to Filadelfia:  The Mennonites

Trip to Yalve Sanga:  The Nivaclé

First trip to Mistolar:  Walter’s testimony

Second trip to Mistolar:  With Siriaco

Third trip to Mistolar:  Confessions

Fourth trip to Mistolar:  Baptisms

Background:  Introducing a few characters

Tuesday, June 19, 1979, Asunción & Zeballos Cué

My first day in Paraguay!  We met President Mearl Kay Bair and his wife LaPriel at the mission home, then had a brief orientation in the mission office, then got right to work.  I rode a small bus with one of the president’s assistants, Elder Michael Ballard, to Zeballos Cué.  We taught a family discussion, ate some greasy food, talked a lot about missionary work, and slept in a rented house.  I was in heaven.

Tuesday, June 26, 1979, Pedro Juan Caballero

Transferred to my first permanent area, Pedro Juan Caballero, the most distant corner of the mission at the time.  (Mistolar would be even more remote, and much harder to reach.)  I felt isolated and frustrated.  There were about 100 members in town, according to the records.  My companion was Elder Neil Stout, a wise and patient veteran of the mission.  He was the branch president.  On Sundays we would stand outside the gate of the rented chapel, 15 minutes after meetings should have started, praying for anybody at all to show up.  I hadn’t yet grown to appreciate the laid-back Paraguayan sense of timing.

Tuesday, July 31, 1979, Pedro Juan Caballero & Asunción

Transferred back to Zeballos Cué with Elder Ballard!  He inspired and motivated me like no other.

Monday, August 6, 1979, Asunción

Elder Ballard was going to speak at a conference on my favorite topic at the time:  baptismal goals.  But he was ill, so I gave the talk for him.

Wednesday, August 15, 1979, Itá

We drove the mission van to Itá and extracted the elders.  Sometimes branches failed and had to be closed. 

Thursday, August 16, 1979, Zeballos Cué

Elder Ballard had me start taking the lead, deciding where to go, managing the discussions.  This showed me how much I was relying on him.

August 20, 1979, Asunción & PJC

Elder Ballard was still not feeling well, so I accompanied the other assistant, Elder Steve Barham, on a two-week swing through Pedro Juan Caballero and Concepción.  Engineers at heart (we would both pursue computer engineering at BYU), Elder Barham and I were always trying to figure out new ways to make missionary work more productive. 

September 13, 1979, Zeballos Cué

Elder Ballard was released as assistant.  His replacement, Elder Ronald Long, became my proselyting companion, at least in theory.  But the assistants were spending more and more time in the office, so in practice I would often spend each week with a different temporary companion, sometimes even newer to the mission than I was.  Effectively in charge of Zeballos, I struggled along.

Sunday, September 30, 1979, Zeballos Cué

First meetings of the newly created Zeballos Cué branch.  Attendance was very high (50-60).  Zeballos had been growing faster than any other area in the mission for a couple months.  With few members available for fellowshipping, we encouraged positive interactions among families of investigators through group discussions where possible, such as neighborhood showings of the First Vision film.  (Group discussions would be the norm in Mistolar.) 

Wednesday, October 31, 1979, Asunción

Called as district leader for Zeballos Cué and Luque.

Tuesday, November 20, 1979, Zeballos Cué

Elder Long officially moved out of Zeballos, cutting my link with the office.

Wednesday, November 21, 1979, Zeballos Cué

Received my first official junior companion, fresh from the States.

Tuesday, December 18, 1979, Zeballos Cué

After giving it his all, my greenie left the mission.  I saw him off at the airport with President and Sister Bair.  We were one sad and tearful bunch. 

Missionary work was hard, at least it was for me; I occasionally felt confused and lacking motivation.  During the first few months I sometimes felt like I was drowning. 

After the airport they took me to the mission home for dinner.  For such a homesick elder, Sister Bair’s dining room was heaven on earth.  Her presence alone made it feel like the temple.  From that night on I somehow felt more grounded and comfortable as a missionary.  Discouragements continued, but the drowning feelings never returned.

Wednesday, January 16, 1980, Fernando de la Mora

Transferred to Fernando de la Mora as zone leader with Elder Daryl Stevenett.  The ward was the largest in the mission at the time.  Great support from the members led to solid baptisms. 

Elder Stevenett was better with people than I was, which helped the work as well.  But he and I argued constantly, so I made sure we split up often with the elders in our zone.  That’s how I got to know Elder Bruce Blosil.

Monday, March 3, 1980, Asunción

Called as assistant.  The other assistant, Elder Long, would become my proselyting companion again. 

President Bair said my biggest assignment would be to assist the incoming mission president through the upcoming transition in July.

Thursday, March 20, 1980, Asunción

President Bair received a phone call from Gerald B. Quinn, newly called to be Paraguay’s second mission president. 

March, 1980, Chaco

My first trip to the Chaco, where no missionary had gone before!  President Bair drove his Peugeot station wagon with Sister Bair in front and me in back.  We crossed the Remanso Bridge, took the paved road to Pozo Colorado, then turned off onto a dirt road to Concepción.  At the first big stretch of mud I got out to search for a detour.  There was no way around it, so the president floored the gas and plowed right through.  Mud covered the windshield. 

Yes, President Bair taught me all I needed to know about driving in the Chaco.  (Little did I realize, he only took me along to push the car out of the mud if we got stuck!)

Hours later we took a small ferry across the river to Concepción.  After a couple days there we drove all the way back through the Chaco to Asunción.

April, 1980, Asunción

As we planned the monthly changes, President Bair announced his intention to call Elder Stevenett as the new assistant to replace Elder Long.  I alerted him to the fact that Elder Stevenett and I had not gotten along well as companions.  Frustration flashed over the president’s face.  My pettiness was showing. 

So I proposed giving each assistant an external proselyting companion, which I had been for Elder Ballard.  This kept assistants active in proselyting and sustained their investigators when the assistants had to travel. 

President Bair seemed pleasantly surprised to hear anybody defending this old arrangement, and asked which promising elders I would recommend.

Wednesday, April 23, 1980, Asunción

Elder Blosil became my proselyting companion.  Over the months to come, his unique dedication to the people we taught kept me productive as a missionary, baptizing instead of vegetating in the office (a job hazard for assistants).

Walter Flores:  The first Nivaclé convert

Monday, May 19, 1980, Asunción

As usual, I spent most of preparation day in the office monitoring the pulse of the mission by chatting with missionaries as they came through to collect their mail.  In the afternoon as I finished up some paper work, President Bair emerged from his office and asked if I had a few minutes to spare. 

I thought we were just headed into the other room, but he led me out the front door and into his Chaco-tested Peugeot.  As we drove away the president explained that he wanted to introduce me to a special contact he had made.  Further down the road I mentioned that we were driving through the proselyting area where Elder Blosil and I worked.  Near Jardin Botanico we stopped at the headquarters of API (Association of Indian Groups).  President Bair asked the secretary if Walter Flores was in, and she passed us through to his private office. 

Walter rose from his desk to shake our hands.  He seemed reserved, occupied, even a little tense, and I wondered why.

Of course, President Bair and I were characteristically reserved ourselves.  One accountant and one programmer, we ran a tight operation.  But as soon as we sat down, the president dropped his accountant’s disguise and turned into…  Elder Stevenett!  He lit up like a light bulb, radiating warmth and charm, bouncing around at the shoulders and chuckling at memories of shared jokes, managing to squeeze a reluctant grin or two from Walter. 

As Walter kept glancing at and pawing over papers on his desk, the president talked about Walter’s experiences with Indians all over Paraguay, then asked whether we might see a particular film of some Indians which they had previously discussed.  Walter rose and tinkered with a projector but couldn’t get it to work.  He said it should be fixed in a few days and reclaimed his seat.

President Bair plunged forward boldly, explaining that he was about to leave Paraguay, and suggesting that this particular missionary and his companion could visit him.  Walter replied that he had already been visited by missionaries.  Not to be dismissed so easily, the president pointed out that those missionaries must have been from some other church, which Walter conceded.  I asked where he lived, and Walter waved in the general direction of the river, “Straight down this street” (the customary set of precise Paraguayan directions). 

In just a few minutes the meeting was over.  As President Bair drove us back to the mission office, I reflected on how Walter didn’t seem to be a particularly promising investigator.  But the president clearly saw more in Walter, and I couldn’t let him down.  Besides, I had already witnessed President Bair’s legendary foresight in action on other occasions.  So when he asked what I thought, I replied that Walter looked like an important contact, and I promised to do my best. 

I returned to Walter’s office a couple days later with Elder Blosil and asked whether the film was working yet.  Walter suggested that we come back in a few days to see it.  I asked again for directions to where he lived, and he divulged a few more details for finding his house. 

When we returned on the appointed day to see the film, Walter was out of town on a trip.  As the general coordinator of API activities, he traveled frequently to all parts of the country.  The secretary wasn’t sure when to expect him back.

We decided to find his house and try to catch him there.  Few houses in Paraguay had numbers, so after reaching the general area he had described we had to ask around.  This was a great excuse to get acquainted with the neighbors (some of whom we later baptized).  They directed us to Walter’s house, but nobody was home.  It was just inside our area, on a corner facing the river and a large stand of trees at the end of the road dividing Puerto Botanico & Antelco from Santa Maria. 

We returned to the house looking for Walter every few days.

Saturday, May 31, 1980, Asunción

Elder Robert E. Wells of the Seventy attended our mission conference at the Moroni chapel, where Elder Blosil presented what we were calling the Mini-Zion program.  This style of proselyting was proving successful in our area, as it had before in Zeballos Cué where it was largely developed, and it would later prove essential in Mistolar.  It involved concentrating on one small community at a time, living inside that community, becoming well known and accepted as missionaries there, helping investigators fellowship each other in the absence of members, and teaching in groups whenever practical. 

Sunday, June 1, 1980, Asunción

Elder Wells split Paraguay’s single stake into two.

Tuesday, June 10, 1980, Asunción

On one of our routine checks of Walter’s house, we met his mother (who was ill) and his half-brother, Alberto Santa Cruz, who lived a short distance away toward Zeballos Cué. 

A few days later we finally found Walter at home resting in a chair on the front lawn.  (This was a hard place to sit for long, with so many mosquitoes coming from the stagnant water between his house and the river.)  He seemed an entirely different person at home than at the office: totally relaxed, all smiles and appreciation.  Chairs were produced and we chatted for a few minutes, giving him a Book of Mormon and some pamphlets.  We couldn’t stay for long, but he was gratified by the visit and thanked us for the reading material.  He was about to leave on another trip.

A couple weeks later we found him at home again.  He mentioned that he had just been to Diez Leguas, and had taught the people there a little about the church based on the reading material we had given him and his previous conversations with President Bair.  He was finally done with trips for awhile, so we set up an appointment for a longer discussion.

Friday, June 27, 1980, Asunción

Elder Stevenett and I had our final session with President Bair.  It was a warm and inspirational meeting.  The mission was packaged up and ready to hand off to the new mission president.

Saturday, June 28, 1980, Asunción

We had our first full-length gospel discussion at Walter’s home.  We were there for over an hour, yet managed to cover only part of the restoration.  Near the beginning Walter explained that he had investigated several religions, each claiming to have the truth.  But he compared these experiences to dead-ends, illustrating with the fingers of one hand outstretched:  “I follow one path, and soon it ends.  I backtrack and try another, but it drops off as well.  I hope and feel that this time I am finding the truth.” 

Walter’s wife spoke little Spanish, and sat in the adjacent room during most of our discussions.  Walter was Nivaclé but she was Toba, so they communicated in Guaraní.  After a discussion Walter would explain it all to her.  (The repetition involved in translation seemed to help solidify concepts.)

We hadn’t mentioned the Word of Wisdom yet, but right after this discussion Walter committed to his wife that he had smoked his last cigarette.

Tuesday, July 1, 1980, Asunción

Elder Stevenett and I accompanied the Bairs to the airport to pick up President Quinn, his wife Libby, and their wonderfully large family. 

Wednesday, July 2, 1980, Asunción

Elder Stevenett and I met with President Quinn in his home office.  We talked about our individual backgrounds, then he spoke of his plans for the mission.  In setting him apart to this calling, Elder McConkie had referred to carrying the gospel to all parts of Paraguay.  President Quinn felt that a significant part of his purpose in Paraguay was to open up new areas outside of Asunción.  He specifically mentioned the Chaco as one place to be opened if possible, and said that President Bair had talked about wanting to visit Filadelfia.  I mentioned that Elder Blosil and I were teaching a Nivaclé Indian from the Chaco who had initially been contacted by President Bair.

Thursday, July 3, 1980, Asunción

A farewell lunch at the Hotel Guaraní with the Bairs, the office staff, and Carlos Espínola, the first stake president in Paraguay.  I mentioned to President Bair that Elder Blosil and I were finally teaching Walter the discussions.  We saw the Bairs off at the airport that night. 

Thursday, July 10, 1980, Asunción

Good discussion with Walter.  He kept the literature we had given him spread out on the living room table for easy access.  After the discussion we offered to leave a blessing on their home.  He agreed and reflexively knelt with us for the blessing. 

Friday, July 11, 1980, Asunción

His baby boy, Eugenio, took his first steps, which Walter attributed to our blessing the night before. 

We reviewed the restoration and bore our testimony of what we had taught him.  Then unlike any investigator I had ever seen, he immediately volunteered his own testimony, explaining how he too knew that all of this was true. 

We felt sure he would be baptized, and I kept the president posted.

Saturday, July 12, 1980, Asunción

Walter left on a trip to the Chaco.

Saturday, July 19, 1980, Asunción

Walter returned from the Chaco.

Tuesday, July 22, 1980, Pedro Juan Caballero

Elder Stevenett and I accompanied President Quinn on a series of tours and conferences throughout the mission, starting with Pedro Juan Caballero (which was thriving by now).  Meanwhile, Elder Stevenett’s proselyting companion split with Elder Blosil to continue teaching Walter and the other investigators.

Thursday, July 31, 1980, Asunción

After our discussion with Walter, I asked how he was progressing in his preparations for baptism.  He remarked that he had already been baptized as a child into the Catholic Church.  We already knew this, and explained again the importance of baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ.  He became very thoughtful. 

Friday, Aug 1, 1980, Asunción

Elder Stevenett and I finished planning the monthly changes with President Quinn.  We were opening six new towns outside of Asunción.

At night Walter asked me and Elder Blosil about the relationship between baptism and remission of sins.  He seemed content with our explanation.

Saturday, Aug 2, 1980, Asunción

We made plans with Walter to attend church the next day.  He had been reading a lot from “Gospel Principles” and explaining it to his family.

Sunday, Aug 3, 1980, Asunción

We walked to Walter’s house in the morning, then he drove us and his wife to the Mburucuyá chapel.  (This was our first ride with Walter in a jeep.)  Bishop Ríos greeted us warmly, and Walter told him he would be coming to church whenever his job permitted him to be in Asunción. 

In the afternoon we all attended a baptism at the Moroni Chapel.  Walter’s wife told him “Let’s be baptized next Sunday.”  He replied to her “Yes, I’m also planning on it soon.”

Monday, August 4, 1980, Asunción

We discussed the commandments including the Word of Wisdom, and learned that Walter had quit smoking one month earlier.

Wednesday, August 6, 1980, Asunción

Walter told us for the first time that he was preparing for baptism. 

Sunday, August 10, 1980, Asunción

Walter attended church again at Mburucuyá with his family, and set up an appointment to talk things over with his neighbor Julian Corrales, whom we had recently baptized.

Elder Blosil and I dropped in on Alberto (Walter’s brother), and as we left the house noticed a dramatic partial eclipse of the sun on the horizon. 

At Walter’s house we offered to answer questions or review any of the previous discussions.  He spoke of having interpreted for Mennonite missionaries in the Chaco.  He had been interested in their church, but then they offered him money to join.  This, along with other bad examples from those missionaries, caused him to lose interest. 

He told us that his wife and teenage son (Amado) were preparing to be baptized as well. 

Wednesday, August 13, 1980, Asunción

We presented the discussion on the priesthood.  Walter was enthused by this message, and he elaborated on how the priesthood would enable him to carry the gospel to his people, the Nivaclé, in the Chaco.  He talked at length about this, which caused me to start wondering exactly how and when it might come to pass.  Up until this moment I had given the question no careful thought at all.

Friday, August 15, 1980, Asunción

After a discussion with Walter, as Elder Blosil and I walked home, I asked him how long he thought it might be before the gospel was taken to the Chaco.  We tossed ideas back and forth and reached several conclusions.  Clearly, Walter would need help from missionaries.  In fact, two missionaries needed to be assigned to the Chaco.  Furthermore, we were the logical ones to go.  Finally, the time to do it was now. 

I felt convinced that within a month or so we would be out there, probably in some remote community on the periphery of the Chaco, far from the Mennonites.  By the end of our two-hour discussion, this new calling had become my life’s focus, and would remain so from that night on through the end of my mission.

Saturday, August 16, 1980, Asunción

We told Walter about our plan of going to the Chaco.  He said that the Indian settlements clustered around the Mennonite colonies (of which Filadelfia was the largest) would be the best place to start, and he agreed to take us out there as soon as possible.

He also gave us the date for his baptism:  one week from Sunday. 

Sunday, Aug 17, 1980, Asunción

Walter attended the Mburucuyá ward with his son, Amado.

Monday, Aug 18, 1980, Asunción

Elder Blosil mentioned certain mixed feelings about going to the Chaco.  His concerns were hard for me to grasp.

Tuesday, Aug 19, 1980, Asunción

In the morning Elder Stevenett and I met with President Quinn.  I reported Walter’s upcoming baptism and invited the president to attend.  Then we discussed the opening of the Chaco.  We concluded that Elder Stevenett and I should go out to Filadelfia as soon as possible to look around.  This was the type of thing that assistants did, and I was reluctant to take Elder Blosil if he was feeling unsure. 

But later that day Elder Blosil was disappointed and said he actually did want to make the trip to Filadelfia.  So I agreed to change the plan if possible. 

We met with Walter in the afternoon and asked whether he and his wife had been legally married.  (Since divorce was illegal in Paraguay, many chose to live together instead.)  He said that he had never been legally married, not even to his first wife.  So this had to be remedied before their baptism.

Wednesday, Aug 20, 1980, Asunción

We held a combined family night with the Flores and Corrales families.

Thursday, Aug 21, 1980, Asunción

Walter said he planned on leaving API at some point to have more time to spread the gospel in the Chaco. 

Friday, Aug 22, 1980, Asunción

I recommended to President Quinn that Elder Blosil accompany me on the trip to Filadelfia instead of Elder Stevenett, since Elder Blosil already knew Walter, and since Elder Stevenett didn’t have much time left in the mission anyway.  The president agreed that this made sense. 

In the evening Elder Blosil and I accompanied Walter and his wife to the home of Sister Paez, the attorney downtown who was always so gracious about legalizing marriages as necessary.  On the way there Walter told us of the personal changes he had been going through.  He felt more patient at work, and his associates there had begun to call him ‘the prayer person’, because he had led them all in prayer when faced with trouble in the office.  His secretary asked why he had seemed so happy the last few weeks, and he told her it was because he had found the truth.

Saturday, August 23, 1980, Asunción

We brought other elders to Walter’s home to interview him and his wife for baptism.

Sunday, August 24, 1980, Asunción

The baptismal service took place at the Mburucuyá chapel in the evening.  President Quinn and Coronel Luis Ramírez were both in attendance.

Walter’s son Amado failed his first baptismal interview that night because his Spanish wasn’t quite up to the task.  But with Walter acting as interpreter he passed his second interview.

Besides the Flores family of three there was another family of seven being baptized by two other elders, bringing the total to ten.  The mother of the other family had previously had a dream about ten people dressed in white, which she recounted in her testimony. 

Elder Blosil baptized the Flores family.  He said that upon returning to the dressing room, Walter was jumping around light-heartedly. 

The baptisms were followed by confirmations in the chapel.  I performed our confirmations.  At the end of the service Walter bore his testimony describing how he felt unburdened and light as a feather after leaving the water.  He expressed his desires to carry the gospel to his people in the wilderness.

Trip to Filadelfia:  The Mennonites

Wednesday, August 27, 1980, Asunción

In the evening, Elder Blosil and I sat expectantly in Walter’s living room.  He was scheduled to drive us out to Filadelfia in his jeep the very next morning. 

Then Walter arrived and said he couldn’t go after all.  Last-minute events had tied him up at the office. 

Elder Blosil and I trudged home, deflated.  Then we came up with a bold plan:  We raced downtown and caught a NASA bus just before it pulled out at 9:30 pm.  It was full of Germans.

Thursday, August 28, 1980, Filadelfia

It was dark and bitter cold when we arrived in Filadelfia.  We checked into the Hotel Florida and slept.  The sun rose on a beautiful and hope-filled day.  We donned our white shirts and ties, polished our shoes, and sallied forth to survey the prospects.  We planned to look things over, meet the Indians, talk to the authorities, find a place to live, and maybe even a chapel to rent.

But the town was like nothing we had seen in Paraguay.  It was flat and spread out, with wide, dusty streets, and wooden houses straight from rural America.  Picket fences were everywhere, coming right up to the road in residential areas, where there were no sidewalks.  We felt out of place and on display as the pale-skinned people stole guarded glances in our direction. 

Indians came and went on the streets, but it was obvious that they were just passing through and lived somewhere outside town.  Gloom settled over us like the powdery dust on our shoes.  Everyone seemed busy while we wandered aimlessly about.  How could the gospel possibly take root in a place like this?  We sorely missed our laid-back, approachable, loveable Latinos back in Asunción. 

We returned to the hotel room and collapsed onto the beds.  Neither of us could see any prospects in Filadelfia.

That afternoon we ventured out again and visited the well-supplied co-op store.  We even got up the courage to meet with the Colony Administrator in his office to discuss our future missionary activities in the region.  But we ended up leaving after having only chatted.  He gave us a nice map of the town.

Finally to our dismay we discovered that the next bus back to Asunción was sold out.  And I was coming down with a bad cold and sore throat after the extreme cold that morning.  Condemned to two more bleak days in oblivion, we were half asleep when somebody knocked on our door to announce last-minute vacancies on the bus. 

Friday, August 29, 1980, Asunción

We reported the trip to President Quinn, explaining that we would have to wait until Walter could accompany us to the Indian settlements outside of Filadelfia. 

Elder Blosil took it all in stride, but I was dejected.

Trip to Yalve Sanga:  The Nivaclé

Wednesday, September 3, 1980, Asunción

We arrived at Walter’s house planning to leave with him early the next morning.  Once more his work kept him from leaving Asunción.  But then Walter told us about his friend Siriaco Pérez, a fellow Nivaclé who lived in Yalve Sanga, a cluster of Nivaclé colonies near Filadelfia.  Siriaco offered to accompany us and show us around. 

Furthermore, Siriaco just happened to be organizing the migration of several hundred Nivaclé from Yalve Sanga to Mistol Marcado (Mistolar) on the border with Argentina.  This historic return to their native land along the Pilcomayo river was to take place within a few weeks, and Siriaco would be glad to have us along! 

As we discussed these wonderful prospects, Siriaco arrived and confirmed it all. 

Walter proposed accompanying the people down to the new colony, then spending about two weeks teaching, followed by a “general baptism”.  We all smiled at this comment, although for different reasons.  Walter was just expressing the enthusiasm of a new convert.  Elder Blosil and I knew that more than two weeks would be required.  And only Siriaco knows what he could have been thinking.

Thursday, September 4, 1980, Asunción & Filadelfia

Elder Blosil and I had a prayer with President Quinn, then drove away in the mission’s VW van.  We picked up Siriaco then had another prayer with him.  Elder Blosil drove while I discussed the restoration with Siriaco.  He listened attentively, but didn’t show any signs of actual interest in the gospel.  Still, I wanted to prepare him to act as our translator.

The paved road lasted for about four hours, then gave way to a decent dirt road.  We first visited the Sanapaná and Angaité Indians at Diez Leguas, the colony administered by API where Walter had already mentioned the church.  But communication was difficult since they spoke little Spanish and Siriaco spoke little Guaraní.  They were a miserable looking group in general. 

We dropped Siriaco off at his house in Samaria, then proceeded to the Hotel Florida in Filadelfia. 

Friday, September 5, 1980, Filadelfia

We picked up Siriaco and his family in the morning, then spent the day visiting small communities in and around Yalve Sanga.  Our circuit ran first through Campo Nuevo and Galilea, where Siriaco said most of the migration would come from.  We continued to Sandhorst, then finally to Campo Alegre.  The people seemed happy to see us, but we weren’t sure what Siriaco was telling them since they conversed in Nivaclé.  It seemed that he was introducing us as the missionaries who would accompany them to their new colony. 

Much later the people themselves told us that while they were planning the migration, they were concerned about leaving the Mennonites who had introduced them to Christianity.  Several Nivaclé had become preachers in that faith.  So they asked Siriaco to find missionaries who would visit them in Mistolar.  Siriaco had responded that missionaries would be unnecessary there, since the people were already well-grounded in Christian doctrine.  But the people persisted in their request for missionaries.

In Sandhorst, Siriaco interpreted as we taught a small discussion about the Savior.  Someone there mentioned Walter, and apparently made a negative comment.  Siriaco told them of Walter’s recent conversion, then told us briefly what had been said.  As we drove away he advised us that since the people did not trust Walter yet, it was fortunate that he (Siriaco) was the one to accompany us on this first trip.

We dropped Siriaco and his family off at their home in Samaria.  He would not be returning with us to Asunción.

Saturday, September 6, 1980, Filadelfia & Asunción

The shock absorbers on the van gave us trouble.  We made another visit to Diez Leguas and tried to present the restoration to about 26 people.  But there was no connection. 

Elder Blosil and I reported the trip to the president.  Our plans were to make another trip to Yalve Sanga, but with Walter this time, and to await the migration to Mistolar.  We needed a jeep, but it would be impossible to buy one until the first of the year. 

Friday, September 12, 1980, Asunción

Elder Stevenett and I closed the door and took our seats in the president’s office.  Then President Quinn announced that after careful consideration, he felt it was time for the assistants to move into the office, and he asked for input.  Elder Stevenett kept quiet, sneaking glances in my direction. 

Living in the office implied losing our external proselyting companions.  So my first inclination was to preach my old sermon about the value of having assistants be baptizers instead of office plants.  But our missionary force had nearly doubled over the past year, new cities were being opened, and the president needed more help from us assistants.  Secondly, Elder Blosil and I had just baptized the family we lived with, so we had to move out of our rented room there anyway.  Thirdly, a transfer would do Elder Blosil some good, since five months was a long time to spend in one area with one companion.  Fourthly, living in the office would give me more time to engineer the opening of Mistolar.  And fifthly, once in Mistolar I would be released as assistant anyway. 

So I said the plan sounded fine to me.

Later that day Elder Blosil let me know that if the Chaco ever did open up, he wanted to go.

Wednesday, September 17, 1980, Asunción

We vacated our rented room.  As we drove away from the office in the Isuzu pickup to retrieve the bunk beds, we heard gun fire and an explosion.  Moments later we turned onto España and saw haze on the road with traffic beginning to back up.  Anastasio Somoza, the former ruler of Nicaragua, had just been killed in his Mercedes.  The bazooka left a foot-wide crater in the pavement.

Thursday, September 18, 1980, Asunción

Elder Blosil went to his new area, and Elder Gary Phelps (the financial secretary) became my proselyting companion. 

Friday, September 19, 1980, Asunción

How do full-time missionaries raise their level of dedication?  I usually did it by sleeping less.  I began getting up at 5:00 am in the mornings to pray, study, plan, and ‘exercise faith’ in opening the Chaco.

Saturday, September 20, 1980, Asunción

Elder Phelps and I found Siriaco at Walter’s house.  They were in jolly moods.  The tour through Yalve Sanga had caused quite a stir.  A Mennonite missionary followed up with one of his infrequent visits to the Indians, claiming that those Mormons were neither missionaries nor Christians.  The people shrugged off his comments and told him to take the matter up with Siriaco (who was known for being anti-Mennonite).  Siriaco was greatly amused by the whole story.  I asked him how the people felt about our visit.  He said the people were very content with our visit, and close to beginning their migration to Mistolar. 

We then reviewed part of the Plan of Salvation.

Monday, September 22, 1980, Asunción

Combined family night with the Flores and Corti families, who lived next door to each other, plus a few others.

First trip to Mistolar:  Walter’s testimony

Monday, September 29, 1980, Asunción

Walter came to the office so that Elder Phelps and I could follow him to his new home in Herrera.  He said that Siriaco was back in Yalve Sanga and would soon call to give us five days’ notice before the migration.  The plan was to accompany them in the Isuzu pickup. 

I began making detailed lists of equipment necessary for the trip (storage boxes, gas stove, gas lantern, beds, dishes, food, medicine, water tanks, etc).

Wednesday, October 1, 1980, Asunción

Elder Phelps helped me design a mosquito net/hammock combination to try out in the Chaco.

Thursday, October 2, 1980, Asunción

Elder Stevenett’s final day in Paraguay.  After working together for so long, we had become friends.  He said that he had let himself be drawn away from proselyting toward the end and regretted it.  I sympathized with him, as the comforts of the office had always been a sore temptation for me.  That knowledge increased my determination to get out. 

Tuesday, October 7, 1980, Asunción

Walter said Siriaco was in town at Alberto’s house, so Elder Phelps and I went to visit them.  Siriaco announced that a group of men had already departed for Mistolar.  I mentioned my preparations for the upcoming trip.  Alberto and Siriaco offered no direct response, but they seemed humored and skeptical, which I didn’t know how to interpret.  Siriaco seemed to act differently around Alberto than he did around Walter.

Wednesday, October 8, 1980, Asunción

I asked President Quinn to let either Elder Blosil or Elder Phelps accompany me and Walter on this trip.  But the president suggested that Walter and I go alone.  This made sense, because Walter’s schedule would only let him stay in Mistolar for a couple days.

Thursday, October 9, 1980, Asunción

Bought lots of equipment that I had planned out for the trip. 

Friday, October 10, 1980, Asunción

Finished spending several hundred dollars on equipment. 

Monday, October 13, 1980, Asunción

We had meant to set out, but the Trans-Chaco Route was closed by rain.  (Walter tracked the weather and road conditions by radio.)

Tuesday, October 14, 1980, Asunción & Filadelfia

I loaded up the blue Isuzu pickup with supplies, then donned my Chaco outfit:  leather boots, Levis, white shirt, and no tie.  After prayer with President Quinn and the office staff, I drove to Walter’s house.  Walter and Siriaco arrived at 3:00 pm, then Walter and I left.

We talked all the way, about our lives, about the gospel, and the impact it was destined to make in the Chaco. 

We stayed the night at the Hotel Florida in one of the cheaper rooms with no private bathroom.  (One mistake I never repeated.)  We studied the scriptures, prayed, then talked about old Nivaclé legends before falling asleep.

Wednesday, October 15, 1980, Filadelfia & Mistolar

Walter and I stopped at Sandhorst to pick up a Nivaclé escort, Anibal Ortiz, to show us the exact site of the settlement.  At Platanillo we ran into trouble.  Walter was driving and plowed confidently into the first stretch of mud, just like I had seen President Bair do.  After a few yards we were stuck solid.  It took us ten minutes of digging and pushing to get the pickup backed out. 

Just then a large truck came by on its way to Pedro P. Pena.  They jerked us through with a long cable.  This twisted part of the turning mechanism below, since there was no other attachment point for the cable (eventually costing several hundred dollars to fix).  The yank also destroyed the speedometer cable and one tire.

Within minutes we were stuck again.  After much pushing in vain we paused to eat our sack lunches, and were soon pulled out by another passer-by.  This time the front bumper and left blinker were damaged. 

Walter later confessed that he hadn’t seen how we could ever make it through those mud holes in Platanillo in a low, two-wheel drive pickup with no treads on the tires.  But he trusted that the Lord would see us through on this important trip.

The rest of the road was fairly dry.  We continued through Pozo Gloria, then Pirizal, passed by Silencio, and finally Fortin Buenos Aires.  I slept for the final hour or so and awoke in Mistolar at midnight. 

The air was cool and completely free of mosquitoes.  The sky was clear, the moon high in the sky, and there was a distinctive spicy aroma to the landscape.  I noticed a post marking the border with Argentina.  Our arrival had awakened the people, so they came and greeted us.  They recognized me, and in speaking to Walter referred to me as ‘our missionary’. 

Then we drove a little ways down the road to the river.  There were no insects, so I didn’t bother with the mosquito net.  I tried to sleep in the hammock.  It was very uncomfortable.

Thursday, October 16, 1980, Mistolar

On Thursday morning we got a better view of the place.  We were just yards from the Pilcomayo river, which was very low at the time.  We had parked by a corral of horses between the shore and a shack belonging to an Argentine Gaucho and his wife.

We had a brief meeting with some of the men that morning.  Very few women or children had come with this first small group.  Walter applied some medications I had brought along.  (My assistant’s briefcase had been converted into a hand-held clinic.)

The important meeting was held in the afternoon, attended by most of the men in the camp (40-50).  I recorded this meeting in which Walter explained his wayward past and his recent conversion.  His testimony was well received.  Pinto Corvalán and Isprond Tolerito spoke briefly, expressing their satisfaction with Walter’s example for any who had not yet repented.  The meeting covered other subjects as well, and lasted about 90 minutes. 

I was impressed with the Nivaclé; they seemed so calm, thoughtful, and friendly. 

Back at our camp, Anibal and Walter listened to parts of Walter’s opening statements from the tape.  Anibal agreed with what Walter had said about the Mennonites, and Walter was quite pleased with his sermon.

Friday, October 17, 1980, Mistolar

I spent most of Friday with Alfredo Ibáñez, who was a few years older than I was and spoke fair Spanish.  (Few of the men there could express themselves well in Spanish, although their understanding was better than their ability to speak it.)  Alfredo and I studied the books I had brought along for learning their language, and we discussed the history of the Nivaclé and the history of the Church.  We also sang from their hymn book and from ours.  I gave him a Book of Mormon.

That night we had another meeting.  The small choir of young men sang very well, directed by Nicodemo Aniceto, who spoke Spanish better than the others.  Pinto led the congregational hymns, and I followed along from their hymn book without understanding the words, which were in their language.  The Nivaclé sang just as well or better than most congregations back in Asunción. 

Walter translated as I reviewed the Life of Christ, touching upon His visit to America.  The people knew we were leaving the next day, so they sent their greetings to the church members in Asunción and to President Quinn.  They all shook our hands again, and Walter was very encouraged by their warmth and attention.  I taped the whole thing, but later lost that tape.

Saturday, October 18, 1980, Mistolar & Asunción

It started to rain in the night, so Walter woke me up and we left around 3:00 am, with four of the men hitching a ride in the bed of the pickup.  I fell asleep, then after a few hours we came to a stop, which woke me up.  Through the windshield I saw dozens of dusty white faces up in the air looking down.  I sat up and saw that they were standing in a large trailer pulled by a tractor.  Behind this was another tractor pulling yet another load of people.  Walter explained that this must be the main migration to Mistolar, moving a bit earlier than anticipated. 

The tractors stopped and the people jumped down to greet us.  Covered completely with dust, they looked whiter than I did.  They spoke with Walter, calling me ‘our missionary’.  One that I did recognize beneath the dust was Ramón Martín.  He shook my hand and said how glad he was that I would be returning to Mistolar.  “There is much work to do” he gushed. 

After a few minutes they climbed back aboard the trailers and continued on their ponderous journey, taking one of our riders with them.  We were much encouraged by their enthusiasm.  In fact, meeting them had already made a deep impact on me personally. 

Walter and I had many more discussions on the rest of the trip.  As we neared Asunción, he mentioned that during these first weeks after arriving in Mistolar, the people would probably be low on food supplies, and he wondered whether the mission might send some food out on the next trip.  I agreed that this seemed like a good idea, but I did nothing to make it happen.

After driving straight through from Mistolar, we arrived in Asunción around 8:00 pm that evening. 

Sunday, October 19, 1980, Asunción

I reported the trip to President Quinn, and recommended that Elder Blosil make the next trip to Mistolar with me. 

Second trip to Mistolar:  With Siriaco

Monday, October 20, 1980, Asunción

I asked President Quinn whether he was ready to bring Elder Blosil back on board.  He gave the go-ahead, so I called Elder Blosil, wished him a happy 20th birthday, and gave him the good news.

Tuesday, October 21, 1980, Asunción

Elder Blosil moved into the office first thing in the morning.  Then we started shopping, spending hundreds of dollars for all kinds of supplies. 

Wednesday, October 22, 1980, Asunción

In the morning Siriaco Pérez made an unannounced appearance at the front door of the mission office.  Elder Blosil and I spoke with him in the reception area.  He announced the recent formation of an organization called the Nivaclé Brotherhood, of which he was the vice-president and Alberto Santa Cruz was the president.  This organization was to exercise political and economic jurisdiction over the new colony at Mistolar.  (For instance, his organization planned to buy the land at Mistolar from the government and start a cattle-raising enterprise there.)  He asked us to agree that the church would limit its involvement to religious matters only, leaving political and economic issues to his organization.  In return, his organization would stay out of religious issues.

We assured him that the mission had no interest in the colony’s politics or economy.  We led him into the president’s office where Siriaco repeated the same message and President Quinn gave him the same response.  Siriaco seemed satisfied.

Thursday, October 23, 1980, Asunción

We picked up four large wooden cabinets from a carpentry shop.  I had designed them to fit into the bed of the pickup and hold our supplies in Mistolar. 

Friday, October 24, 1980, Asunción & Filadelfia

After some last-minute running around in the morning, Elder Blosil and I had a prayer with President Quinn, took a picture, and drove away in the loaded Isuzu pickup, which now carried treaded tires and two spares.  Walter was unable to leave work, but Siriaco was anxious to visit Mistolar, so we picked him up at Alberto’s and said goodbye to Walter who was also there.  It was already late in the afternoon when we stopped to eat in Villa Hayes.  Siriaco was especially happy and talkative along the way.  Late that night we dropped him off at his home in Samaria and continued to Filadelfia. 

Saturday, October 25, 1980, Filadelfia & Mistolar

We tried to obtain vaccinations against tuberculosis in Filadelfia, but were unable to.  We bought supplies and fuel, then picked Siriaco up.  We also took Marcos Ortiz, who rode in back on top of the tarp.  Siriaco didn’t want us to stop at Sandhorst, but I persisted because I had promised Anibal Ortiz a copy of Walter’s testimony which I had recorded on the previous visit.  We stopped in Sandhorst but couldn’t find the tape.  Then we lost the keys to the pickup.  Fortunately we had a spare key on hand.  Later in Mistolar we found both the tape and the keys.

The road was better than on the previous trip.  We didn’t get stuck once, and damages were limited to one flat tire plus a broken horn and speedometer cable. 

Elder Blosil drove most of the way.  Our driving styles were incompatible.  He strove to maintain an absolutely constant, conservative speed and direction, as if touching the breaks or tipping the steering wheel would spin the vehicle out of control.  At Pozo Gloria I eventually persuaded him to let me drive.  I hit the gas and drove like a maniac, dodging bumps and hitting the brakes whenever necessary.  We were making good time, but as night fell the road got harder to see and I started hitting too many bumps at high speed. 

Large sink holes would occasionally appear on the final stretch of road, some big enough to swallow the pickup.  I had slept through this part of the earlier trip with Walter.  Confidently speeding along the winding trail, I narrowly missed one of the sink holes, but a back tire hit the next one with a loud bang.  We jumped out to inspect.  Fortunately there had been no damage.  Elder Blosil held out his hand and I surrendered the keys. 

The last obstacle was a small swamp in the road, which Siriaco explored on foot before we drove through.

By the time we got to Mistolar, Elder Blosil’s back was sore and we were both stressed.  Then scores of happy Nivaclé came to greet us and shake our hands, which cheered us up.  There were still no insects in the air, so we spread our cots in the open and slept without mosquito nets.

Sunday, October 26, 1980, Mistolar

In the morning the people invited us to their Sunday meeting.  There was much singing, and they asked us to speak.  It was the first time that most of them had heard us teach anything, so we reviewed the Life of Christ and focused on His visit to America.  This was translated by Nicodemo.

After the meeting we deliberated over where to set up our campsite.  I wanted to check out the spot closer to the river where Walter and I had stayed on the first trip.  But Elder Blosil was satisfied with our current spot and didn’t want to see the other place.  I got upset, which sparked an argument.  Finally he agreed to at least take a look, and I asked Isprond to show us where that campsite was. 

Noticing that our spirits were down, Isprond tried to cheer us up saying “Don’t be discouraged; the gospel of Jesus gives us happiness and strength.”  Well, that was the advice I needed to hear.  And the way Isprond said it, his smile, his gestures, showed that he was already taking a fatherly liking to us.  In fact, they all treated us like family right from the start.  Not that we were anything special, it was just their way.  Family to them was a much broader concept than our own, embracing everyone in the community; they all treated each other like family.

And yet where arguments are common in many of our families, they were rare exceptions among them.  In all my time with the Nivaclé of Mistolar, I never heard a single angry word, not a single raised voice.  As far as I could tell they never even disciplined their children physically or verbally, and yet their children never misbehaved. 

After spending time with them, I can’t imagine a more deeply Christlike people.  The marvel was not how so many of them could accept the gospel; the marvel was how they could accept it from a flawed messenger like me.

It turned out that the previous campsite was infested with fleas.  So we headed back closer to the people and our spirits soon lifted.

Since Nicodemo had the best command of Spanish, we felt that he would be the best translator, so we asked him to meet with us later that afternoon.  Isprond, who happened to be his father-in-law, also came along.  We discussed the Book of Mormon with both of them in preparation for our presentation that night.  Isprond said that they were pleased with the Book of Mormon, and would use it to teach their children.  Nicodemo said this showed we were truly Christians, contrary to what the Mennonites had said of us.  They told us there were 15 young people, not yet baptized, whom the people had decided we could baptize, although we had not said anything about baptism yet. 

At night we stood in the light of the gas lantern we had brought, surrounded by the people.  Being the only light for miles around, the lantern always attracted hordes of exotic insects which we had to constantly pick off our faces and clothing.  The trick was to speak without swallowing too many! 

Most of our discussions to come would be presented in nightly meetings like this one.  The people gathered close, and voices carried easily.  The Nivaclé always listened quietly, even the children.  Their friendly faces were easy to read, and delivering the discussions to such an attentive crowd always uplifted us. 

On this first night with all the people in attendance, we presented the Book of Mormon. 

Monday, October 27, 1980, Mistolar

Yulante Ortiz Jr. came to us in a panic on his bicycle and asked us to go help his father, Yulante Sr., who had collapsed while hunting for honey.  We drove down the road and found him apparently suffering from exhaustion.  We drove him back to our campsite, set him on a cot, and gave him water and a bit of food.  Many of the people gathered round, and after a few minutes Yulante got feeling much better.  He smiled, shook his head, and got up to walk. 

We continued experimenting with how to manage our tiny campsite in the wilderness.  We tried washing some clothes by hand.  A total disaster. 

Alejandro Romero brought his infant daughter who was sick and coughing.  We wondered whether she could be suffering from tuberculosis, and gave them a little soup for her nutrition. 

In the afternoon we had another preparatory discussion, this time with about a dozen of the more prominent men, most of whom had held some church position back in Yalve Sanga.  We taught them about Joseph Smith and the First Vision.  Immediately after the discussion, Andrés Villalba asked if he might have a copy of the Book of Mormon.  This about depleted the small supply we had brought on that trip. 

Isprond waited until all the others had left, then he approached us with a question.  He seemed to be asking if we could bring some rice for the poorest in the community.  (Apparently his church calling in Yalve Sanga had involved taking care of the poor.)  We were still getting accustomed to Isprond’s accent, so communication was a bit difficult.  I said we would discuss the request with President Quinn.

Storm clouds were rolling in, and we were told that the rain could close the road for weeks.  This made us nervous about staying, especially since we still didn’t have tuberculosis vaccinations.  The final burden on our minds was Isprond’s petition for rice. 

Adding all of this up, we decided to leave right after the nightly meeting which was just about to begin.  We hastily tossed everything into the bed of the pickup and drove to the meeting.  When Siriaco saw that we were all packed up, he asked if he could accompany us out of town. 

That night we repeated our afternoon discussion on Joseph Smith and the restoration.  The people volunteered to look after our supplies, so we unloaded the four cabinets and most of the stuff, then said some quick goodbyes and raced off to beat the storm. 

Not far down the road we sustained a second flat tire, which would have stranded us if we hadn’t brought two spares.  Once the roughest part of the road was behind us, we stopped at Pirizal and slept for a few hours. 

Tuesday, October 28, 1980, Mistolar & Asunción

We dropped Siriaco off at his house, enjoyed some grey water from his well, and continued directly to Asunción.

On the Trans-Chaco Route, we had a bizarre encounter with two men who anxiously flagged us down and commandeered the pickup.  They had captured a young runaway of some kind, and were dragging along the body of a fourth man who had just waded into a pond and died, apparently from heat stroke.

Wednesday, October 29, 1980, Asunción

We reported the trip to President Quinn.  We had introduced a few of the major themes of the gospel, and were encouraged by the positive reactions of the people and their general receptivity.  The big question was how they would react to the need for rebaptism of those who had previously been baptized by the Mennonites.

Third trip to Mistolar:  Confessions

November, 1980, Asunción

On one of his visits to the mission office, Elder Wells asked me and Elder Blosil many questions about Mistolar.  His counsel was to concentrate on the men so as to build a branch on the priesthood instead of the relief society or the primary.

Rain kept us in Asunción for a couple weeks.  We received our tuberculosis vaccinations and made many other preparations for the trip. 

I had been replaced as assistant, so this gave me extra time to study the Nivaclé language.  President Quinn called Walter as Special Assistant for the Chaco. 

Saturday, November 15, 1980, Asunción & Filadelfia

We loaded six used church benches into the bed of the pickup, along with our other supplies.  Walter was unable to leave work, so we bid him farewell at the API office and headed out unescorted.

Mosquitoes were thick along the Trans-Chaco Route.  We encountered three Paraguayans in a small van that had run out of gas.  Using one of our tow ropes, we pulled them along for several miles.  We continued to Samaria to see if Siriaco wanted to accompany us the next day to Mistolar.  It was very late and he wasn’t home.  They told us he had left to take the bus into Asunción. 

In Filadelfia we reviewed our goals for the trip.  We planned to review the restoration, explain baptism into the true church, discover their feelings about the need for rebaptism, and hopefully set a baptismal date for later.

Sunday, November 16, 1980, Filadelfia & Mistolar

In the morning we administered and partook of the sacrament in our room at the Hotel Florida.  The clouds in the sky looked ominous, and every place was closed for the Sabbath.  We left around 11:00 am and bought diesel from an acquaintance who owned a station in Neuland.  We returned a machete to Anibal Ortiz at Sandhorst, along with the promised copy of Walter’s taped testimony, and Anibal gave us a letter for his brother. 

We were driving into the thickest and darkest banks of clouds, which kept getting heavier.  We stopped at Pozo Gloria and prayed to know whether we should go on and risk getting rained on and stuck.  We continued.  With about 60 miles left to go, it started to sprinkle on us. 

Elder Blosil was driving as usual, and at a daring speed this time.  The road suddenly dropped a foot or two and we sailed off into the void, then landed with a crash and bounced a couple times.  (We had forgotten about this part of the road.)  Elder Blosil broke into laughter, and I ran out to check the heavy load of benches.  Everything seemed to be intact, but we later discovered that our reserve can of fuel was leaking.  Further down the road we stopped to siphon its remaining contents into our tank.  Priming the transparent hose in the dark, I couldn’t see how far the diesel had reached, and got a mouthful of it.  (I had never managed to find any simple fuel spouts in Asunción.)

We finally arrived at Mistolar only to find it deserted.  Siriaco had said the people might split up into 3 different colonies, but we had no idea where to look for them.  We drove down the road that ran generally parallel to the river, honking the horn like fools, and eventually drove right into camp.  Those who were still awake helped us unload the benches and supplies, and we had a small bite to eat.

We tried to sleep, but it was raining, the benches were wet, and the cab was hot and uncomfortable.  Eventually the rain let up enough that we could sleep outside on the benches. 

Monday, November 17, 1980, Mistolar

I got up at the first sign of dawn.  We were at the intersection of two roads which seemed to be generally aligned north-south-east-west.  The road west led to the earlier site, from where we had driven the night before.  The road north led to Fortín Buenos Aires and the Mennonite colonies.  The road south led to the river.  The road east led to a lagoon (which I wouldn’t learn for several months). 

Seeing that I was up, several men came and set to work with machetes.  In no time they had cleared away the brush from the northeast corner of the intersection.  They brought a cart which held the cabinets and supplies we had left, covered by the tarp from our previous trip.  This tarp was destined to be our tent, so the men quickly strung it up over a rope. 

We went to work organizing our campsite, including a water purification system which I had designed with advice from a Mennonite.  It involved three large but luggable tanks which we filled with brown water from the river, aluminum sulfate to drop the sediment, baking soda to neutralize the acid, pH strips to test it, siphon hoses to move clean water from one tank to the other without disturbing the sediment, and chlorine or halazone tablets to kill any germs.  This gave us a constant source of pure water without much investment of time.  We even set up a shower room using four tall tree branches, blankets for the four walls, and an overhead water bag with shower head. 

We laid sleeping bags on cots under rectangular mosquito nets strung over ropes.  A propane tank and gas stove served to heat water for soup and hot chocolate.  On this trip we were followed around by tiny fleas that made it hard to eat or study.

In the evening everyone gathered to sing and hear our message.  Meetings were held in a clearing across the street northwest of our tent.  Four of the benches were dedicated to seating the choir.  We felt worn out and unprepared for a long discussion.  We played the recording of Walter’s testimony from his visit the previous month, since most of the people were not yet in Mistolar at that time.  The tape only lasted 15 minutes, then the choir sang another hymn. 

Isprond told us that the people were hoping to hear more from us.  Ferreira Flores nodded agreement, with acute disappointment on his face.  I spoke for a few minutes about prayer, the Holy Spirit, and personal revelation, suggesting that they prepare themselves to learn new things on the next day.  The meeting ended and it began to rain, so we dragged our cots under the tent to sleep. 

Tuesday, November 18, 1980, Mistolar

In the morning we finished organizing the camp.  In the afternoon we prayed and planned out the details of the special discussion we would give, tailored to their situation.  As we were finishing, ten or so men gathered by our tent as we had asked.  They seemed to be the most religiously minded of the colony, preachers and such.  We all sat down in a rough circle and the discussion began about 4:00 pm. 

Many of those present understood Spanish reasonably well, but Nicodemo translated everything anyway.  Here is a condensed version of the discussion.

I began:  “As you know, Siriaco Pérez and the Nivaclé Brotherhood are in charge of political and economic matters in Mistolar.  Our church is not involved with political or economic matters, but religious matters only.

“When we were here last time, Isprond asked if we could bring some food such as rice for the poor, and we told him we would discuss this with President Quinn.  But I may have misunderstood Isprond’s request.  If it’s a question of transportation, we could use your money to buy food and bring it here.  Beyond that, any requests for economic aid need to be directed to Siriaco and the Nivaclé Brotherhood.

“We also told President Quinn that we had taught you about Jesus Christ’s visit to America, the Book of Mormon, and about Joseph Smith.  We also told him that many of your people had already been baptized by the Mennonites, and some of you were preachers in that church back in Yalve Sanga.  President Quinn is pleased with all of this and has sent us to continue teaching you.  He sent these benches and hopes we can eventually build a chapel here.  He hopes to come next month and form a branch of the church here for those who choose to join the Church of Jesus Christ through baptism.”

Elder Blosil continued:  “As you know, we are missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  This church is different from all others because Christ himself is at the head of this church.”  He drew the organization of the church in the sand.  “There is a living prophet on the earth today.  His name is Spencer W. Kimball, and Jesus Christ has chosen him to direct the affairs of His church.  There are also twelve apostles who live today, similar to the original twelve apostles of Jesus in Jerusalem.  We testify that these men have truly been called by the Lord to lead the true church in all parts of the world. 

“Below the apostles are the mission presidents, like President Quinn in Asunción.  He is responsible for all of the missionary work in Paraguay.  Walter Flores is a special assistant to President Quinn, and has been called to assist with the work of the church here in the Chaco.  When a branch is formed next month here in Mistolar, President Quinn will call one of you to be the branch president, and he will have two councilors.  Those who are baptized here will be members of the true Church of Jesus Christ and will receive divine counsel through the living prophet and apostles.”

Elder Loynd:  “Remember our earlier discussions of Christ’s visit to the Americas.  After His death and resurrection, He descended here and taught the gospel to your ancestors.  Many of them already believed in Him and had been baptized, but Jesus called twelve apostles here and authorized them to baptize everyone again.  He taught that all men should repent and be baptized into His church, so that they could receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

“A similar situation developed in Jerusalem.  Jesus called twelve apostles there and commanded that they should baptize everyone who had faith in Him.  Many had already been baptized.  In Acts 19:1-7 we read about twelve men who questioned the need to be rebaptized by the apostles, saying they had received the baptism of John.  But the apostles knew that they had not received the Holy Ghost and their baptism had not been correct.  Once they understood, these twelve men were rebaptized by the apostles into the Church of Jesus Christ, and then they received the Holy Ghost.”

Elder Blosil:  “Years after Christ’s resurrection, the people in Jerusalem rejected the gospel and killed the apostles.  There was nobody left with authority to baptize and direct the church.  This also happened here in America.  Many churches arose which taught of Jesus Christ and baptized people, but without proper priesthood authority.  When a baptism is performed without proper authority, the person baptized cannot receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

“We now live in the last days and Christ is about to make His second visit to the earth.  To prepare the inhabitants of the earth for His coming, the Lord appeared to the prophet Joseph Smith, as we have explained, and through him the true Church of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth.  The living prophet today and the twelve living apostles have been called to preach the gospel, and all who believe and repent should be baptized into this church, even if they were previously baptized into another church.”

Elder Loynd:  “I will tell a story and then explain what it means.  There once was a father who had a very young son.  The father was about to die, and his son would be too young to remember him.  Because of his great love for his son, this father wanted to do something special to demonstrate that love.  He had a gold ring which was very precious.  He wanted to give this ring to his son, but couldn’t because his son was too young and would lose it.  Instead, he gave the ring to his best friend, then died.  Much later when the son had grown up, this friend gave him the ring and told him it was from his father, saying “This precious ring is a token of your father’s love and concern for you”.

“The gold ring represents the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  The father represents your ancestors of long ago, and we are the friend who was given the ring to keep for you.  Your ancestors received the gospel from Jesus Christ himself, but they knew the apostasy would come.  They hid up the Book of Mormon, which contains the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness, and the Lord called the prophet Joseph Smith to translate it in the latter days.  And now Jesus Christ, through his living prophet, has sent us to bring you the true gospel, which your ancestors wanted you to have.  We testify that we bring you the true gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Elder Blosil concluded:  “And so we see a great difference between baptisms.  Most are just baptisms of men, because those who perform the baptism do not have the proper priesthood authority.  But in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, those who baptize have received the proper authority to do so.  Therefore, when a person receives the true baptism he receives the Holy Ghost, which gives him the strength to keep the commandments.  But the Holy Ghost cannot come through baptisms of men, so those people do not have the strength to remain faithful.

“We hope you will all desire to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

We invited the group to ask us any questions.  Pinto asked if this new baptism would constitute a rejection of their previous baptism.  We explained that it was only recognition of the fact that the previous baptisms were not fully valid, and that only baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ by proper priesthood authority can give the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

Someone asked about the role of confession in preparation for baptism, because among the Mennonites a prospective member had to confess all sins, large and small, to the entire congregation.  We explained that most sins need only be confessed to God in prayer, or to any person or persons offended.  But certain grievous sins should be mentioned to the elder who conducts an interview prior to the baptism.

Isprond said that it had been necessary to study the Mennonite faith for years before one could be prepared for baptism.  He wondered if baptism into this church should not take at least that long to be understood properly.  We answered that personal preparation was the key issue, and that until one understands and is prepared, he should never be baptized.  But most people do not require a great deal of time to prepare.  (We didn’t mention the fact that in the rest of Paraguay, the time between an investigator’s first missionary discussion and their decision to be baptized was often a matter of weeks or even days.)  We suggested that there be baptisms in Mistolar in December, but only for those who felt that they did understand and were prepared to take that step.  There was no need for hurry, and others could always choose to follow later. 

Ramón Martín spoke up and proclaimed his heartfelt enthusiasm to be rebaptized.  This was the first positive comment from anyone that day!  But Ramon just seemed enthusiastic by nature, in comparison to most of the other Nivaclé who tended to be much more thoughtful and calm.  Missionaries become accustomed to seeing some degree of initial resistance to the gospel message, and this helps validate the investigator’s sincerity and understanding later on when they begin to accept the message.

Hours had gone by, and it was time for the nightly meeting to begin.  So we closed by saying that this must be an individual decision above all, for each person to reach through sincere prayer and the promptings of the Spirit.  They all nodded in agreement to that word of counsel, and we adjourned.

We repeated nearly word-for-word the same presentation to all the people that night.  This was by far the longest discussion we had presented, and the crowd was packed as usual.  The people seemed particularly pleased with our message.  We never had question and answer sessions after the nightly meetings, but we looked forward to seeing how the people would respond over the coming days.

Immediately after the meeting, Nicodemo told us that several people wanted to confess to us that night.  But we were exhausted after teaching for so many hours without rest, and we assumed these group confessions were just a holdover from Mennonite tradition.  We repeated our previous explanation that confessions should be saved for the interview just before the baptism, assuming that the person did decide to be baptized after all. 

The rained woke us up and forced us back under the tent.

Wednesday, November 19, 1980, Mistolar

In the morning, Nicodemo helped me carry a tank of river water to our campsite for treatment.  Then he spent a few minutes helping us study their language.  Somebody dropped by and spoke with Nicodemo, who then translated the message for us saying that a group of women were planning to drop by that afternoon to confess.  We saw no point in resisting this misunderstanding any longer, and decided to just wait and see what it was all about.

A couple of Mataco Indians (neighbors from Argentina) came by and were conversing with Isprond just outside our tent.  Eventually the Matacos passed on, and Elder Blosil and I seated ourselves there with Isprond, Pinto, and Sigfrid Gervacio. 

Isprond announced that a number of men in the colony who had been baptized with the Mennonites had since fallen away into such sins as playing cards on Sunday.  These men were repentant and wished to be rebaptized into the Church of Jesus Christ.  (Of course, we wondered whether this was a positive sign or not, since we didn’t want to be seen as mere replacements for the distant Mennonites.)  We welcomed this news, and added that baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ would be a blessing not only for such backsliders, but also for those who had remained faithful after their earlier baptism.

Pinto begged to differ on this point, saying that he had understood baptism to be only for repentance.  We explained again that it was also for becoming a member of the true Church of Jesus Christ, and to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  We repeated that they themselves (the community’s faithful preachers) should consider the blessings of being baptized.  Isprond smiled (perhaps at our insistence), and commented that they were also considering this step for themselves.

Lunchtime had arrived, the visitors left, and we warmed up some soup.  We were in a downtrodden mood.  We certainly weren’t expecting everybody to accept the message right away, but we did hope for confirmation that at least some of them were feeling touched by the spirit and wanting to be baptized for the right reasons.  As we sulked over our soup, a group of men (rather than the women foretold by Nicodemo) began assembling on the benches in the meeting area on the other side of the road. 

We felt apprehensive about this meeting, because we didn’t understand why group confession was so important to them, and it didn’t fit into our plan.  I went behind the trees and knelt to pray that all would go well with the meeting, whatever it turned out to be.  I instantly felt a calm assurance that everything would be fine.

We crossed the road and sat down in front of about forty men.  Isprond stood and reviewed the topic of rebaptism.  Nicodemo followed by expounding upon the passage from Acts which told of the twelve men being rebaptized by the apostles.  By now this had clearly become one of Nicodemo’s favorite scriptures; we seemed to be converting our translator, if nobody else!  We answered several questions and rehearsed the process involved in forming a branch in Mistolar.  I related John 15 to the necessity of being an actual part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The meeting lasted a little over an hour, and no confessions were involved.  In fact, this meeting just seemed like a question and answer session following up on the previous night’s discussion.  The members of the group were clearly interested in our message, and were responding in every way like investigators typically did.  They agreed to think and pray and bring their wives to another such afternoon meeting on the following day.  We were relieved because it now seemed clear that there were enough sincere investigators and potential leaders to actually form a branch, even if the preachers themselves were hesitant.

At night we presented the Plan of Salvation, from pre-existence through mortality and the hereafter.  The people seemed to understand and appreciate this message.  Nicodemo approached us after the meeting and asked us once again if we would let some people confess to us that very night.  He seemed greatly worried that we would turn down this second request.  So we agreed to meet with them right away.

About ten men of mixed ages gathered by our tent.  They spoke in turns, with Nicodemo translating in both directions.  A small number of the things confessed were what we would call consequential, a case or two of stealing, or a rare act of infidelity or violence long in the past.  The confessors on this first night seemed to be those who were carrying the heaviest burdens, and they were clearly desperate for relief.  But even so, most of the sins they mentioned seemed small or trivial to our way of thinking, such as arguments or feelings of jealousy.  Even though they seemed slight to us, such sins clearly weighed down on them.  The Nivaclé weren’t perfect after all, just very nearly so, at least by our standards.

After confessing a particular item, the speaker would pause and Nicodemo would translate.  We would then offer a few words of encouragement or a bit of advice, and ask if there was more that he wanted to say.  Almost always the answer was ‘yes’.  Then we would ask the speaker to continue and he would move on to the next item. 

After each confessor had finally unburdened himself of everything reaching back for as many years as he could remember, he would smile in relief (and so would we) and it would be someone else’s turn.  As the night wore on we gave less and less advice, listened more and more, and eventually struggled to just stay attentive and awake.  Even though they wore us out, their sincere contrition was touching. 

Thursday, November 20, 1980, Mistolar

Isprond arrived early in the morning and took us on a tour of the families in Northern Mistolar.  Even though virtually every member of the community would greet us on each arrival to (or departure from) the colony by shaking our hands, and nearly everyone was in attendance at each nightly meeting, we had not actually visited very many of their huts.  This tour gave us a better understanding of how the people lived.  It was Isprond’s idea.

To our dismay, a whole band of Matacos from Argentina crossed the river on a fellowshipping mission.  They were always friendly and courteous, but their evangelical traditions were much noisier than those of the conservative Mennonites, and they intended to sing and preach that night at the general meeting.

The promised group of women assembled on the benches, joined soon afterward by their husbands.  Once again, this felt like a question and answer session following up on the nightly discussions.  Once the meeting got rolling we didn’t have to say very much.  When anyone in the group would raise a question, somebody else would jump in and answer it, repeating and elaborating on what we had taught them over the previous days.  Nicodemo translated for us, trying to keep up with their conversation.  They were teaching each other now, deliberating these decisions as individuals and as a community. 

During my mission I had often wished I could somehow listen in on conversations within a family of investigators, to find out what they really thought and felt about our message.  Of course that was never possible, but something very much like it was going on here in front of us.

The subject of receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost was a recurring theme in their discussion.  Everybody’s questions seemed to be getting answered to their satisfaction, smiles were sprouting up all around, and the group appeared to be reaching a consensus.  Then to wrap it all up, Ferreira stood and asked the group how they felt about baptism.  Responses of “Tajulhey! Tajulhey!” rose from the crowd.  (This word translates as “Wonderful!”)

Shortly after this climactic afternoon meeting, Isprond found us alone at our tent.  He seemed very sad and downcast.  He said our message had touched his heart, and that he wished to be baptized.  (Despite his low spirits, we were thrilled to hear this news.)  He understood that we didn’t want to hear long confessions of trivial sins, but there were a couple things that he just had to get off his chest.  First, he made some reference to an error of his from years past.  His voice was shaking, so it was hard to understand, and we weren’t interested in the details anyway. 

Then he moved on to the affair of the petition for rice.  He seemed to say that he felt his request had been inappropriate, and he asked for our forgiveness.  I wanted to jump in and say that he had done nothing wrong by asking, but then he expressed his hope that we would show them how to help the poor in Mistolar.  We said that there was a church program called fast offerings where members of the branch donate some of their surplus for the benefit of other members of the branch who have less.  We didn’t go into details, but assured him that there was much orientation and explanation to be given in forming the branch.  He seemed relieved and managed to smile. 

August, 2008, Redmond, Washington

I pause the story here to add some commentary from 2008.  Because when I reflect now on Isprond’s confession, something about it pricks my conscience, and it’s taken me considerable soul-searching to understand these feelings.

With all my careful preparation for the trips to Mistolar, should I have taken along a simple bag of rice for those who were too weak to hunt or forage or fish for themselves?  It’s easy to reach that conclusion now.  But back then I was going to great lengths to make sure the people didn’t view the church as a source of food.  Their conversion needed to be real, uncompromised by any anticipation of material support.  Distribution of food at an early stage would have cast a cloud of doubt over their motives. 

Was I too harsh with Isprond when I publicized his petition for rice, emphasizing that we would only be able to bring food if they could pay for it?  Probably so; surely I could have handled that more tactfully.  At the same time, too much tact might have left the issue unclear, leaving room for some to expect assistance in exchange for their joining the church.  Such a misunderstanding had to be avoided at all costs, so it was safest to err on the side of clarity. 

Of course we knew the church would never let them starve.  We knew that fast offerings and other temporal aid would be provided to avoid such disasters.  But we didn’t say anything about it.  This omission might be viewed as a type of deception.  Is that why I feel guilty now?  I don’t think so, because again, we had to make sure they were being baptized for the right reasons.

Would the inevitable fast offering assistance violate the agreement we had reached with Siriaco about division of responsibilities?  No, because there’s a big difference between a rudimentary safety net, like the church’s welfare program, and the economic development programs that Siriaco’s organization was responsible for.  In fact we took great comfort in Siriaco’s proposed division of responsibilities because it clarified the simple truth that the church could not be held responsible for the economic development of the community. 

What is it then about Isprond’s confession that makes me feel as if I’ve done something wrong at some point along the line?  I have finally realized that it’s related to the events that the people went through after I left.  The details are unnecessary here; the subsequent history of the Nivaclé saints can be summarized in a single paragraph:

Pioneers reaching nearly 600 in number, they had never known anything but poverty, so they found themselves depending on help from the church.  They did want to improve their situation in life, but their most fervent desire was simply to be gathered in and counted among the other faithful members.  Great distances and harsh weather conspired against them, leading to disease and death through exposure.  Yet through it all they supported each other and held onto their faith, refusing to complain about their hardships.  Most members of the church at large would learn about them from talks over the pulpit at General Conference, or from one of the church publications, and were inspired by the story.  When trouble arose, a few saw this group of saints as an inconvenience, while others simply ran to their rescue.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of the Nivaclé saints.  It’s also the story of the Martin handcart saints.  When the early pioneers were emigrating to Utah from Europe, those who could afford it came by wagons pulled by oxen or horses.  Those who couldn’t afford it had to wait until the church instituted the cheaper handcart method in 1856.  The Martin Handcart Company suffered the most, and could have been wiped out entirely without a massive rescue effort mounted by the saints in Utah. 

Those rescuers saved hundreds of lives, including that of a particular ten-year-old boy from England, Richard Loynd, whose great-great-grandson would serve a mission in Paraguay.  This missionary helped bring the first Nivaclé saints into the church.  They called him one of ‘our missionaries’.  They called him ‘our tall white father’. 

Then their missionary went home, and over the years lost contact with the Nivaclé.  When floods wiped out their village and chapel (twice), he heard about it eventually, but by then it was all in the past, too late to do anything.  When he read about lives lost to exposure on a temple expedition, he was distraught.  But once again it was already history, too late for anything but belated sympathy. 

This missionary owed his life to the rescuers of the Martin handcart saints, but he was not counted among the rescuers of the Nivaclé saints.  That’s why it hurts to remember Isprond, his voice choked with emotion, apologizing for having sought a bit of rice for the hungry.

If only Isprond could hear my confession, and wipe these tears away.

Thursday, November 20, 1980, Mistolar (continued)

A few minutes after Isprond, Pinto found us alone, greeted us in his ever cheery way, then with a sheepish grin and a quiet voice confided that he in fact had many sins and wished to be baptized. 

After Pinto, Ramón Lezcano came by and delivered a similar message with great solemnity. 

These specific requests for baptism from the community’s religious leaders were the final indication to us that the branch would be a success.  And Isprond’s sincere concern for the poor also made it clear that he was an ideal candidate to be the first shepherd of the new flock.  Our goals for the trip had been achieved, and more positively than we could have hoped.  We had explained the need for rebaptism, set a general baptismal date for December, and the people were showing unmistakable signs of heart-felt conversion. 

This left us with two priorities:  1) to continue teaching all that was necessary for those who were preparing for baptism, and 2) to report all of this to President Quinn and bring him out to Mistolar for the baptism itself. 

We were sure the road back to Asunción had been rendered impassable by the recent rains, but we had planned to explore the Argentina route anyway.  This required wading through the river, which was rising rapidly.  So we decided to leave on the next day.

The young men from the choir gave us about $150 in argentine pesos to buy the choir a cassette player in Asunción.  (As things turned out, we ended up needing most of that money just to make it through Argentina.)

Our discussion that night focused on the four principles of the gospel.  It was a challenge to create the proper atmosphere alongside the spirited Mataco singing, praying and preaching.  Although their musical abilities were not up to Mistolar standards, the Matacos sang and banged their guitars with fervor.  Even the horrific Spanish grammar of their songs was endearing, and the jingoistic tunes grew on you after enough repetition.  Elder Blosil recorded them. 

The meeting was followed by more confessions, less anguished than the night before, but still heartfelt.

Friday, November 21, 1980, Mistolar & Potrillo

First thing in the morning, Isprond took us on a tour of Southern Mistolar (closer to the river).  This completed our visits to the huts of the people.

We spent most of the day securing our camp in preparation to leave.  There was plenty of clear water left over in the tanks.  We treated the visiting Matacos to some of it and left the rest for the people.  We gave Nicodemo a notebook and asked him to collect the names of everyone in Mistolar by family, along with whether they were already baptized, and whether they were preparing for the first baptism in December.  Just from the reactions of the people in the meetings, we expected the number to be over 100.

Around 4:00 pm we walked to the river.  It was noticeably higher than a day or two before and came just over the waist.  We removed our boots to wade across, and several young men steadied us through the rapid current.  No piranha bites.

Ferreira came along to show us the way.  First we walked to San Andrés, a building abandoned by Anglican missionaries, where we delivered a letter to the brother of Anibal Ortiz.  We had hoped to rent some bicycles there but none were available.  We continued walking, and after a total of about four hours we reached Potrillo at dusk.  This outpost consisted of a sawmill, a school, a store, and a few other buildings.  The few non-Indians there included a Catholic priest and a school teacher.  We were amazed to see this tiny bit of civilization so close to Mistolar.

Upon meeting the priest (a young guy who didn’t even look religious), we asked for a ride to Ingeniero Juarez.  Fortunately he was driving there the very next day and agreed take us along.

We met the school teacher, a very congenial young lady who did everything to make us comfortable.  They prepared beds for us in the middle of the schoolyard since the school building had just been fumigated.  We had no mosquito nets, and the night was too warm for anything heavier than a sheet.  Elder Blosil played a music tape sent by his family.  I enjoyed watching the clouds chase past the moon with Pachelbel’s Canon in the background.  But the mosquitoes got to be too much, so we hauled our beds into the chemical protection of the school. 

Saturday, November 22, 1980, Potrillo & Ingeniero Juarez

The school teacher brought us a nice breakfast.  As we finished the meal, the priest drove up in a large pickup and announced his immediate departure.  The brewing storm caught us just as we left Potrillo.  The pickup slid and fishtailed wildly on the muddy road. 

At one point we passed a military outpost.  We wondered about having our passports stamped there with a proper seal of entry.  But apparently the priest assumed we had no visas and waved his way past them.  (Which might have been our salvation, since the officials at the outpost might not have let us through.)

After three hours of sporadic rain we arrived at Juarez just in time for another downpour.  He dropped us off at a small motel (the only one in town) attached to a gas station just outside the city.  We checked into a room, then walked through the mud on the road into the town where we found a bus stranded by the storm.  The driver didn’t think there was much chance of leaving for a day or two.  We walked to the train station, but it was closed and no train was scheduled to come through for a couple more days.

So we were stuck in the motel.  Fortunately we weren’t entirely without entertainment.  Elder Blosil played his recordings of the Mataco’s greatest hits until we couldn’t get them out of our heads. 

Sunday, November 23, 1980, Ingeniero Juarez

We prepared and partook of the Sacrament. 

We were concerned about how to quickly get a jeep ready for the next trip out.  The people were waiting for us, but the rains were making the Chaco roads worse.  We considered sending a telegram to Asunción. 

We would have been in trouble without the extra money from the choir in Mistolar. 

Monday, November 24, 1980, Ingeniero Juarez & Formosa

Around 11:00 am we boarded the bus to Formosa.  The seats were uncomfortable, the road was rough, and the bus stopped at every little town.  About twelve hours later we arrived in Formosa, tired, hungry, and very sore.

Tuesday, November 25, 1980, Formosa & Chlorinda & Asunción

We tracked down the missionaries in town and woke them up around 3:30 am.  After talking to them for a half hour, we left to catch a bus to Chlorinda. 

Around 6:00 am we arrived at Chlorinda, directly across the river from Asunción.  Tired of buses by now, we crossed the Paraguay river on a small boat full of Paraguayans headed into Asunción for work.  On the Asunción side we discovered that foreigners were required to cross the river by bridge.  They made us take another boat back to Argentina, where we caught a bus going to Asunción by land.

We got off at the border and had difficulty getting out of Argentina.  Even though we had the right visas, our passports had not been stamped on entry, and the guards doubted our story of wading through the Pilcomayo.  Finally they let us cross without applying an exit stamp.  Then we had to confront the officials on the Paraguay side of the border.  They couldn’t see how we had gotten out of the country be begin with.  Our bus had left us behind, but we were eventually waved through, then we took a taxi to the mission office.

We were covered with mud and obviously excited to be back.  The office elders were anxious to hear all about our trip, but we saved the news for President Quinn, who was ill and resting at home.  We called and set up an appointment to see him that afternoon. 

In his home office, President Quinn began in a weak voice, saying that the brethren had asked him to slow down.  At first I feared that this referred to our work in the Chaco.  But then he explained that he needed to not push himself so hard physically, and that’s why he was resting at home. 

We recounted our arrival at Mistolar only to find the colony abandoned.  The president’s jaw hit the floor.  We had plotted to break it to him this way just for fun, but then we felt sorry and hastened to add that the people had just moved down the road a ways.

We explained all that we had taught the people and their positive reactions.  We estimated over 100 baptisms on the next trip, and would need several days to continue teaching and to handle the baptismal interviews.

We had been hoping for a more resoundingly positive reaction from the president.  I didn’t realize how much this must have added to his burden.  Here were two young missionaries who had made a few trips to people they communicated with primarily through interpreter.  Now these elders were predicting an unheard of number of baptisms.  What if the Indians had misunderstood something?  What if they were looking to the Church for financial support?  All of these considerations must have weighed down on the president.  He had far more experience than we did and took his responsibilities seriously.

But we had come to know the people and had witnessed the sincerity of their conversions, so we were untroubled. 

Regarding the need for a jeep to return quickly to Mistolar, President Quinn did not seem hopeful, but said he would do everything possible.

That night we visited Walter at his home.  Alberto and Siriaco were both there, which put a damper on any talk of conversions or baptisms.  (Siriaco alone would have been fine, but Alberto made me uncomfortable.)  As we left, Elder Blosil cornered Walter alone outside the house and quickly mentioned the baptisms.  Walter expressed amazement and said he would have to make a trip out there right away.  (He later admitted that he found it hard to believe the trip had been so successful.  He assumed there must have been some misunderstanding, and this made him especially anxious to go set things right if necessary.)

We made several preparations over the following days.  President Quinn called Elder Wells, who suggested that we use the mission vehicle rental fund to purchase a used jeep.  Walter said a Suzuki jeep was available from API, his former employer, and we bought it. 

Elder Clyde Wall, who had overseen the construction of the Moroni Chapel, was now back in Asunción on a welfare services mission with his wife.  Sister Wall sewed dozens of sets of baptismal clothes of all sizes for the people. 

To avoid the risks of baptisms in the river, I sketched a baptismal font to be dug into the ground.  We rounded up sacrament supplies for the new branch.

Fourth trip to Mistolar:  Baptisms

Sunday, November 30, 1980, Asunción & Filadelfia

Elder Blosil and I left Asunción with Walter in the small Suzuki jeep.  Walter was driving and I sat in back.  We stayed the night in Filadelfia.

Monday, December 1, 1980, Filadelfia & Mistolar

We continued on to Mistolar.  The rough road and exhaust fumes made me sick.  The clutch was gone by Pirizal.  The mud and water would have been very difficult for the pickup, but the jeep came through fine even with no clutch.

In the evening we arrived at Mistolar covered with dust.  All the people came to greet us warmly as always.  The notebook Nicodemo had put together held the names of over 120 people who wished to be baptized.  In the nightly meeting Walter commented on the obvious happiness of the people, and bore his testimony.  We spoke and outlined the preparations for the baptism to be held three days later.

Tuesday, December 2, 1980, Mistolar

Walter spent most of the day trying to fix the clutch on the jeep.  He gave up in the afternoon, took several men to push if needed, and drove away in the pickup to meet President Quinn in Filadelfia.

We conducted the baptismal interviews by family, usually through Nicodemo or some other interpreter.  The interviews ran long for anyone who had not previously confessed, because most of them continued to be extremely thorough in their confessions.  We came to dread crowds of people waiting to be interviewed.  I struck a deal with Elder Blosil where I would handle the other chores like cleaning camp if he would handle the interviews.

Another challenge was the frequent absence of conventional names or known birthdates.  Fortunately, most of this information had already been decided upon and printed by the Mennonites on personal identification cards which most of the people carried.  But then there were cases where the identification card didn’t exactly match the name that the person wanted to go by, so it got complicated. 

In addition to filling out the baptismal certificates in triplicate, we gave each future member a small slip of paper with their name printed on it.  They were to keep this paper and hand it to us at the baptismal font, as a double check to limit the baptisms to only those who had been interviewed, and to make sure we used their full and correct names.  We also made a separate list of the families being baptized.

In the nightly meeting we reviewed some key points from discussions given earlier, and covered most of the remaining topics.  This was followed by more interviews and confessions.

Wednesday, December 3, 1980, Mistolar

Baptismal interviews continued all day long.  The men dug the baptismal font exactly as I had drawn it:  three meters long, one meter wide, and just over one meter deep, with four steps leading down from one end.  Then we lined it with a large sheet of green plastic to hold the water.

In the nightly meeting we presented the few details from the discussions that hadn’t been covered previously, and we reviewed the baptismal covenant.  This was followed by more interviews.

Late that night as we prepared for bed, Walter drove up in the Isuzu pickup, followed by President Quinn and Victor Aquino in Victor’s pickup.  All the travelers seemed very weary.  Walter was uncharacteristically quiet, and President Quinn seemed to be in a daze, blown away by the length and difficulty of the journey.

The president took us aside and began by saying that we would probably spend the rest of our missions out here.  He then told us of a meeting he had just had in Asunción in the office of Coronel Centurión, the head of INDI, the government official in charge of all Indian affairs in the country.  The meeting included Alberto and Siriaco as well.  President Quinn took along Elder Wells who happened to be in town.

In the meeting Coronel Centurión expressed opposition to any religious activity (such as baptisms) which might divide the people amongst themselves.  Alberto and Siriaco sided with Centurión.  Some kind of argument ensued.  After the meeting Elder Wells had to leave town and told President Quinn to do as he felt best.  So the president was praying continually on his arduous trip to Mistolar, and had received no answer yet.

We gave him our opinion that anything Alberto, Siriaco, or Centurión said was irrelevant, since they were in no legal position to prohibit the baptisms.  Furthermore, we were certain that none of them would cause trouble after the baptisms had been performed, because this was actually the decision of the people themselves, which would become apparent to all.  The president said we would wait and see how things looked in the morning before making a decision.

Thursday, December 4, 1980, Mistolar

We awoke very early, but the president was already up and around (assuming he had slept at all).  He was taken on a brief tour of the colony. 

When we raised the question of the baptisms scheduled for that day, he asked us to talk to Walter to see if he would defend our actions before his brother Alberto upon returning to Asunción. 

We found Walter and took him on a walk down the road to the west.  He still seemed more quiet than we had ever seen him.  Regarding Alberto, Walter expressed willingness to help in any way possible.  He didn’t foresee any problems, saying that the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion in the country, and people in Mistolar had clearly chosen to be baptized. 

(It turned out that Coronel Centurión, the director of INDI who had opposed the baptisms the day before, was soon driven into early retirement.)

As we returned to our tent, the people were beginning to gather for a meeting.  We reported our conversation with Walter, and President Quinn told us that despite his prayers he had still received no feelings one way or the other on whether to go ahead with the baptisms.  But he said he did feel good about relying on whatever decision Elder Blosil and I made.

There was no doubt in our minds about what to do.  The Nivaclé conversions stood out as particularly solid and convincing.  We assured the president that we knew the people were willing and prepared, and we recommended that the baptisms move forward as planned.  He nodded and told us to go ahead.

By then all the people had arrived and were standing just outside our tent, near the center of the intersection.  Their smiling faces and warm welcome seemed to lift the president’s mood.  Walter interpreted as President Quinn spoke, expressing his profound feelings upon their willingness to accept the gospel.  In tears, he talked about the Book of Mormon and the love of the Savior for this people.  Every face glowed.  Elder Blosil and I had just spent months building a repoire with the Nivaclé, but it seemed to take President Quinn just a couple of hours. 

Then the president proposed to the congregation that Walter be sustained as an elder and as district president for the Chaco.  The boldness of this announcement took me and Elder Blosil by surprise.  After everyone had manifested their approval by the uplifted hand, somebody brought a chair and President Quinn immediately ordained Walter an elder and set him apart as district president, while Elder Blosil and I and Victor Aquino stood in.  (The Chaco District included Villa Hayes and Benjamin Aceval near Asunción, both of which had recently been opened.)

Then Victor Aquino, representing the Office of the Presiding Bishopric in Asunción, launched into a rousing discussion of the chapel to be built as soon as possible.  He actually drew cheers from the crowd! 

After this meeting Elder Blosil began the final baptismal interviews while I made the final preparations for the baptismal service. 

Several girls had spent hours with their buckets filling up the font.  It was located a few yards from the river, in a clearing shaded by carob trees.  For sustenance, the Nivaclé would eat the carob pods from those trees.  They looked like large pea pods, and dozens of them had fallen into the font.  I knelt and lifted out all the pods floating on the top, then ran around making other arrangements.  Baptism was the beginning of the journey, and the Nivaclé would never have another day quite like this one, so it needed to be something they would remember for generations to come.

I had planned on organizing the branch presidency this same day, but that would have been too much.  President Quinn said we could organize the local leadership a little later. 

Elder Blosil and I changed into our white clothes and went to the river.  The people had already begun assembling at the font. 

The white clothing was hung out on lines in the two dressing areas behind bushes on either side of the clearing.  Around 1:30 pm, the first set of families changed into white clothing, and pictures were taken. 

After we explained and demonstrated the mechanics of the baptism process, Walter called the meeting to order and offered the opening prayer.  He then gave the customary discourse on the four principles of the gospel. 

Elder Blosil waded into the water followed by Alfredo Ibáñez, the first to be baptized in Mistolar.  Elder Blosil continued with baptisms while Alfredo changed clothes.  Then I confirmed Alfredo so he could leave immediately with the departing expedition.  President Quinn, Walter, and Victor said their goodbyes, then raced off to beat the impending storm.

Although President Quinn was required back in Asunción, his thoughts and prayers remained with us.  In fact, he needed sleeping pills for the next three nights.

Each person approaching the font handed me their slip of paper.  Two men helped them down the slippery steps, then I announced the name.  Elder Blosil performed the baptism, then I handed the slip of paper to Nicodemo, who copied the name onto a separate list as the individual was helped out of the font. 

After the first 30 baptisms, Elder Blosil and I traded places.  All the white clothing, all the immersions, and all the paper work reminded me of performing baptisms in the temple. 

Unlike many Paraguayans, the Nivaclé were completely comfortable in the water and had no difficulty being submerged completely.  There was only one man who needed a repeat, which later became a source of fun:  “He had so many sins, they had to baptize him twice!” 

After I had performed 20 baptisms, we changed places again.  The plastic lining started to leak, so the water had to be constantly replenished by bucket.  Clothing had to be used in rotation, and grew progressively darker with silt from the river water.  But the day was beautiful, and everyone serene as the baptisms continued. 

Elder Blosil performed 25 more baptisms, and we changed places for the third time.  The steps into the font disintegrated completely.  Our fingers shriveled up like raisons. 

Elder Blosil’s back was hurting, so I performed the final 64 baptisms, making 139 in all.  The session had lasted just over two hours.

After changing clothes we reassembled back at the usual meeting area.  Nicodemo marked each name as Elder Blosil and I alternated in performing the confirmations. 

The reverence and peace that attended the baptisms only increased during the confirmations.  The people seemed transformed, and I felt some portion of their spiritual experience carry over to me.  Something miraculous was occurring.  These people, already virtuous and saintly, were covenanting together with the Lord to become even better. 

How can the spirit of such a day be conveyed?  I wish I knew how.  But I perceived it all too dimly, and I lack the words to adequately describe the part that I experienced.  Like a carob pod, I felt lifted on the surging tide of forgiveness and redemption.  My own burden fell away, and like Walter I felt light as a feather.

After the confirmations someone offered the closing prayer.  I could never recall who it was.  It didn’t seem to matter who prayed, or what language was spoken; at that point we were all of one heart and one mind. 

Elder Blosil and I walked across the street to our tent and rested.  Soon, Isprond came by.  He said the baptisms had been absolutely beautiful, and that many observers were already saying they were preparing for the next one.  We suggested a baptism on Christmas day in three weeks.  We explained that the branch presidency would probably be organized at that time as well, and we encouraged Isprond to prepare to serve as branch president, cautioning however that the call would not be final until we had met again with President Quinn.

In the general gathering that night, Elder Blosil explained how to share one’s testimony, and he bore his own.  He turned the time over to the new members.  Several men, women, and teenagers stood in turn and shared stirring testimonies, as Nicodemo translated for us.  Elder Blosil would bow his head intermittently, in tears. 

Friday, December 5, 1980, Mistolar

Isprond and I translated the prayers for blessing the sacrament into the Nivaclé language.  This was a spiritual delight for us both.  I wrote the finished blessings in Nivaclé on large cards for easy reading. 

Walter returned with a mechanic who quickly fixed the clutch in the jeep, then they left just as abruptly to beat another storm. 

In the meeting that night we reviewed a few points from the missionary discussions, and elaborated on priesthood authority in preparation for the ordinations on Sunday. 

Saturday, December 6, 1980, Mistolar

On this day in the young branch, sin reared its ugly head.  Isprond delivered the bad news to us, and asked what kind of discipline or action was called for. 

He explained that the silt in the baptismal font had dropped, so some teenage girls who had been baptized began to wash clothes in the clear water.  They got into an argument over something, then one of them pushed another into the water.  The community was appalled that these girls would treat their baptismal covenants so lightly. 

As usual, Elder Blosil and I were underwhelmed at what qualified as transgression in Mistolar.  But it was reassuring to see how serious the people were about the covenants they had just made.  I tried to keep a straight face as we suggested that the families of the girls handle this matter among themselves.  Later on we saw the families seated together at Isprond’s place, where the girls apologized and made up. 

We explained the format of the Sunday meetings to Isprond so that he could conduct them, and at night we explained the meetings to everyone.

Sunday, December 7, 1980, Mistolar

There were more in attendance at the Sunday meetings than I had seen in even the largest wards in Asunción.  There was no Relief Society yet, so the women watched the priesthood meeting.  We reviewed the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, and the principle of priesthood line of authority, then ordained 62 priests, four teachers, and a deacon. 

We brought out the sacrament supplies (trays, cups, bread, white linen) then walked them through the details of administering the sacrament so they could handle it themselves from the very beginning. 

In the sacrament meeting that followed, newly ordained brethren performed the entire ordinance reverently and flawlessly, without any coaching from us.  This was a Fast Sunday, so the sacrament was followed by another testimony meeting, where testimonies were shared by many of those who hadn’t yet had the opportunity to do so.  Most of them commented on the beauty of the sacrament and the Holy Spirit they were feeling.


My mission to Paraguay lasted four more months.  The branch presidency was organized with Isprond as president, the elders quorum was organized with Ferreira as president, 67 more were baptized, and construction began on the first chapel. 

Over the years these faithful pioneers have inspired millions throughout the church.  They’ve always inspired me.  Walking with the Nivaclé saints at the very start of their journey was the greatest honor of my life.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008, Redmond, Washington

Tomorrow morning this old missionary flies back to Paraguay to see Walter, and Isprond (Ismael Toledo), and all the others still alive, and their hundreds of children born into Mormon families, and the children of those children…

Tajulhey!  Tajulhey!

(Photos of the trip.)

Video of the trip:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Part 4

Part 5