Almost every missionary has a story about the collectivos. It is very entertaining to hear them and occasionally quite inspirational.
The drivers of the collectivos own their buses in practice, if not actuality.
For example, they personally collect the fares or monitor the machines that collect the fares, and they do not give change. Over the course of a mission, the missionaries will eat dozens of alfajores in an attempt to get change to pay the driver. Occasionally a specific driver in a certain area will tell the missionaries that they are doing a good work and does not collect money from them.
Normally, however, the fare is about a quarter, which is how much an alfajor costs at a kiosko. Argentine bills start with $2 pesos, so the missionaries can use their two peso bill to get a treat and have the change for the bus. (It should be noted that sometimes this plan goes awry when the kiosko owner tells them that they don’t have change, but they are welcome to another alfajor!) Starting today there is going to be a change on the collectivos. The machines will no longer take coin, but scan refillable cards for payment. That should make life a little bit easier for the missionaries, but may not be that good for the kiosko owners.
The drivers often do interior decorating on their collectivos. The most common embellishment to the buses are ornately acid-etched mirrors. There might be many in one bus depending on the time the driver has in service. There may also be other hanging items including insignias of the soccer team that they support.
When Elder Aidukaitis came to visit the mission before our service began, he suggested that the missionaries do group contacting on the buses. In order to do that, the missionary must first ask permission from the driver. Once gained, they make a loud announcement and say something like:
We are missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have an important message to share. We will pass by each of your seats and if you are interested, we will take your name and address and pass by your house. If you are not interested, we will move on.
Then they go through the bus asking the riders, individually, if they would like the missionaries to come by their homes. Most of the missionaries accepted Elder Aidukaitis’s challenge to contact in this way and have done it at least once. However, normally, the missionaries talk with the people they are standing next to or sitting next to and through the course of the journey move through the bus and try to talk with everyone.
Moving through the bus has its own set of challenges. When describing the ride itself, words normally associated with a theme park ride, come to mind. One missionary from Florida said it was a lot like surfing as you try to keep your balance, so he felt like he had an advantage. Other missionaries have nearly been and even actually been sick after their first experiences. One missionary said that it reminded him of the scene in the Knight Bus on one of the Harry Potter movies, including bumping parked cars.
Nevertheless, it is the most convenient and inexpensive way to get around the city, and all of the missionaries use the collectivos.
The buses do not run on a schedule, but they seem to come by about every 15 minutes or so. When the missionaries have an important event to attend, they will often arrive quite early rather than being late, caught out by the fact that the collectivo broke down, which happens surprisingly often, particularly during a “rush hour”. In the rush hour you will also find that the collectivos that normally accommodate about 70 riders in the seats, are carrying 200 or more people.
There are several stories in the mission of people that were baptized after having been contacted on a collectivo. One of my favorite ones was given to me by a Chilean elder and is therefore written in Spanish. The original version follows, but here is a non-literal translation:
Elder Parker was with his trainer contacting people on the bus when they met a woman who was a member of the church. She asked for the address of a chapel that was not in their area. They didn’t know it, but they took her phone number and told her that they would find out and call her. After several months, Elder Parker got transferred to the area the woman had asked about, but he didn’t recall the experience at that time. One day he received a reference for a doctor. He was a little bit intimidated to go visit him. After about a week, however, there was going to be a General Conference, so he and his companion called and invited him to come. The investigator did come and after that they began teaching him. It was then that the investigator told them about missionaries that his friend had talked to on a collectivo one day. The doctor was baptized, and, of course, the lady from the bus, so many months ago came to the baptism. She was his best friend.
Elder Parker said that maybe if he had not talked with everyone, including the woman who was already a member, he might not have been part of that great miracle.
Cuando iba viaja do a Ramos Mejía con mi entrenador, contactamos a una señora que era muy amable. Nos comento que conocía la iglesia y asistía a Catan3. En mi mente pensé, "bueno, solo saludare para continuar hablando con otras personas." Sucedió que me pregunto la dirección de una capilla en Ituzaingo 3. Le conteste que no sabia y mi compañero tampoco. Nos digo que consiguiéramos la dirección y que le llamemos. Anotamos el teléfono y seguimos el viaje. A los 3 meses me mandaron con mi compañero nuevo a Ituzaingo 3. No recordaba nada de la experiencia en Catan con esta señora, pero la recordé y pensé que ya tenía la dirección.
En fin un día llamo Elder Page (secretario de materiales) me comento de una referencia y que era muy buena. Me dijo que el era doctor y que se quería bautizar. Pensé que oportunidad mi compañero y yo animados pero con un poco de miedo. Esperamos 1 semana y le llamamos para invitarle a la conferencia general. El asistió y empezamos a enseñar le. asistió desde ese día y fue muy bueno todo. Hasta que nos contó algo muy especial. Me dijo que hablo con su amiga de Catan y que ella había hablado con misioneros en el colectivo hace mucho. Que les pregunto por una capilla y que quedamos en darle la dirección.
Resulto que esta persona con quien hable en mi segundo traslado de mi misión era la mejor amiga de este gran investigador. Fue emocionante saber que Dios estaba siendo el medio tan fuerte para lograr el milagro de que este hermano. Carlo Giancotti, Doctor, en traumatología se uniera a la iglesia. El se bautizo el 11 de septiembre de 2010 en Ituzaingo 3. Vino su amiga de Catan para acompañar le en el servicio.
Aprendí que debemos hablar con todos. Dios siempre tiene algo especial. Quizás si no hubiéramos hablado con ella, Dios no nos hubiera dado tal milagro a nosotros. Pense que estamos haciendo nuestra parte, el sigue siendo un Dios de milagros.