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Without Purse or Scrip: First Tracting of the Argentine Countryside, 1931

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 13, 2010

Clive Stevenson Walker (1904-1982) and Niels Marcus Peterson (1911-2000) were missionaries in the early days of the South American Mission (it had been established in 1925). At the time of this 1931 incident, there were 135 members in all of South America; the only 14 Melchizedek Priesthood holders were the missionaries themselves. There were two organized branches on the continent: one in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and one near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

At first, the elders worked chiefly with European (mainly German) emigrants to South America. By 1931, however, the elders had learned Spanish and were interested in reaching out to the native populations. On March 30, 1931, Elders Walker and Peterson set out from Buenos Aires on a four-day walking tour. They reached Lujan, about 40 miles northwest of downtown Buenos Aires, then returned to Buenos Aires. It was the first LDS attempt to travel without purse or scrip, to preach the gospel by depending on the local population for hospitality, in South America in this dispensation.

(Left to Right: Elders Jones, Walker, Bagley; Mr. R.G. Kaiser, former Salt Lake business man then in Buenos Aires; Elders Peterson and Woodbury. I have not taken the time yet to fully identify anyone other than Elders Walker and Peterson.)

Elder Peterson recorded his trip:

… Elder C.S. Walker and I were awarded the privilege of being the first to preach the gospel of repentance in such a manner [i.e., without purse or scrip] under the Argentine flag.

Filling our brief-case with our toothbrush and such tracts as we might need, we left the capital on a brisk walk, Monday, March 30. Of course, at this season the hot weather is past tense, and we quite enjoyed our walk until we became fatigued. After resting a few minutes in the shade at the side of the road, the dog of the place got wind of us and gave us a welcome; so we paid the people a visit, gave them a tract, and asked for a drink of water. They very kindly served us; but they were firm Catholics and we were not afforded an encouraging opportunity to discuss religion.

One of the peculiarities of the Argentine republic is that outside of a small radius of the capital the density of the population is slight. The people have a tendency to crowd together in the larger cities. As a result, there are very few homes in the country, and no form of education or religion.

We continued on, giving out our tracts, and had several conversations. A passing motorist offered us a “lift” which we declined inasmuch as we were enjoying the walk very much. But toward evening when there were no houses in sight and we were offered another ride, it was gratefully accepted. An hour before sundown we arrived at a small village of flat-roofed, adobe houses, crowded into a few narrow streets. After tracing the place, we attempted to find something to eat as we had had nothing but a loaf of bread since morning, and a place to sleep. A couple of loaves more tasted pretty good; but we were continually directed to the next house for a bed. Finally a farmer satisfied our desires with all the milk we could drink and a deserted cabin in which to rest for the night.

Rain threatened before the dawn; but we were on our way two hours before we got wet; and then we found refuge in another abandoned cabin. The next farmer entertained us with lunch of hard Argentine bread and a cup of hot milk. Later, in the afternoon, we arrived at a hacienda and were served soup in Gaucho style. Our host was dressed in the long, knicker-type Gaucho pants that are worn, with sash and gaucho knife. At every place we were greeted by a pack of dogs.

That afternoon we rather wearily dragged into Lujan, one of the meccas of the Catholic pilgrim. It is there that the famous cathedral in honor of “Nuestra Senora de Lujan” is under construction. It has been in the building for 400 years and is now nearing completion. The devout worshipers purchase stones and have their names chiseled on them to be placed in the walls of this great edifice. For miles before we arrived, the towering spires served as our guide through the trackless “prados” (meadows). The majority of our remaining tracts and time we devoted to that vicinity.

There were several things we learned during this interesting experience: The rural people are with considerable difficulty approached on matters of religion because of their ignorance of anything in addition to Catholicism and their lack of education (many being unable to read and write), although we had several interesting conversations and have since received a request for more literature. We also found that these haystacks of the southern hemisphere are not so good to sleep in; and undoubtedly the missionaries from Australia will bear us out in this statement. We will say nothing of the “beeches colorados” (chiggers) so prevalent here.

MARCUS N. PETERSON

(Note: The photograph of the elders is contemporary to the 1931 tracting trip; all other photos are merely representational of the scenes reported by Elder Peterson.)



7 Comments »

  1. That is a great story. I served as a missionary in the same place. We rode the bus from Buenos Aires to Lujan. Now it is city streets with skyscrapers along most of the way. The Catholics still make a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Lujan. It was interesting to hear about the first missionaries there. Thanks.

    Comment by Carol — October 13, 2010 @ 8:52 am

  2. An interesting read. I suppose this statement:

    It was the first LDS attempt to travel without purse or scrip, to preach the gospel by depending on the local population for hospitality, in this dispensation.

    refers to the first LDS attempt in the country or continent? I’m pretty sure the sans-purse-and-scrip approach was the standard operating procedure for most of the 1800’s.

    Does anyone know when was the practice discontinued?

    Comment by Clark — October 13, 2010 @ 9:13 am

  3. Armand Mauss told me he went “without purse or scrip” in New England when he was a missionary in the late 1940’s.

    Comment by Jacob B. — October 13, 2010 @ 9:58 am

  4. I should add, though, that during the winter months this wasn’t required. He also said that it was his impression that not all missions at the time were doing this, that his might have been one of the few.

    Comment by Jacob B. — October 13, 2010 @ 10:00 am

  5. Cool, Carol. I scan every news article I run across from my old mission area hoping to connect with some place I’ve actually visited.

    Clark, yeah, I should edit that so it’s less ambiguous: this was the first such attempt in the South American Mission (which then covered the entire continent, although there weren’t yet missionaries in very many places).

    Some missions, notably the New England Mission, tried without-purse-or-scrip proselytizing at least into the 1950s, usually for relatively short periods in the summer, in rural areas. I think the practice of a missionary’s depending on that kind of support all the time all during his mission ended in the early years of the 20th century, and I don’t know that it was ever tried in urban areas.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 13, 2010 @ 10:02 am

  6. (I cross-posted with Jacob B., whose comments always end up in the moderation queue for some unknown reason.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 13, 2010 @ 10:04 am

  7. I’m too young to have served without purse or scrip, but their summary sounds similar to my time serving in the Chilean campo.

    Comment by queuno — October 13, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

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