Story by William Lundquist Photos courtesy of Alex Rosenberg
What Alex Rosenberg gained most during his two-year mission in Uruguay was the knowledge that people don't need a lot of possessions to be happy.
In fact, said Rosenberg, people in Uruguay often offered him the few treasured items they did possess.
"It opened my eyes a lot," he said. "It changes your whole outlook. It changed my whole perspective on life."
Though those in Uruguay have few material possessions, said Rosenberg, they are happy, fun-loving people. He now believes Americans could do without a lot of the things they consider necessities, and still be happy.
One of the things Rosenberg had to do without during his two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) was a car.
Though Uruguay is the size of Washington state, Rosenberg reached most parts of it on foot.
Some people in Uruguay can afford bicycles, motorcycles or mopeds, he said, but few have cars.
"They get by without luxuries," he said.
Still, Rosenberg did not consider them poor. They have the company of wonderful people and enjoy fresh, natural, unprocessed food.
Top quality beef, in fact, is the country's main export. Rosenberg said ranchers are proud there is no mad cow disease in Uruguay. The country also enjoys pure tap water, something unusual in Latin America.
Uruguay has 3 million people, though Rosenberg said a recent depression has caused many to leave the country to look for work.
The situation was just the opposite after World War II, he said, when many people immigrated from Europe to Uruguay.
The result was a culturally diverse society, said Rosenberg, and a diverse menu of meats, vegetables and pasta. The food, he said, is not spicy.
Rosenberg said he would recommend such a mission to any young person. He would love to visit Uruguay again, and recommends the resorts of Punta del Este to tourists.
Rosenberg's adventure began with two months of training in Provo, Utah. He learned a little Spanish there, but it still took him six months in Uruguay to master the language.
The people, he said, speak a Castilian form of Spanish, quite different from the Mexican version West Coast residents are used to. There is also an Italian influence in Argentina and Uruguay.
Though he experienced culture shock on arriving in Uruguay, Rosenberg said he experienced more on his return to the United States.
Besides being shocked by the amount of possessions in America, he said, he spoke only broken English at first, and still speaks Spanish in his sleep.
From Provo, Rosenberg flew to Texas, Miami, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then across the Rio De La Plata to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.
The coastal city, he said, has modern parts, but also some third-world neighborhoods. Historic buildings include a cathedral and an old fort. Nearby beaches at Punta del Este, he said, are great for swimming in the summer.
Rosenberg needed a place to swim. He found himself in a humid country of rolling hills and pastures, broiling in the summer and bone-chilling in the winter.
Paired with other missionaries from Chile and America, Rosenberg served people and taught the gospel in five areas of Uruguay.
That meant walking the dusty roads and talking with everyone he encountered. If a lawn needed mowing or a roof needed fixing, that was all part of the job, too. Rosenberg said he enjoyed helping.
Local families always provided lunch, he said, but missionaries do not work for pay and must learn to budget.
Rosenberg had long paid into a "pot" to help missionaries, and when he volunteered for his own mission, the fund provided him with a meager allowance.
He lived on his own, not with families, though the apartments he rented were sometimes attached to homes.
He sometimes played soccer with the locals.
"Everyone plays soccer there," he said, "even little kids in the street." All it takes is a ball, and rocks for goals, he said. Uruguay, he said, won the first two world cups in soccer.
"I met some great people there," said Rosenberg. "They don't have a lot. They live in scrap metal homes with grass roofs. It was quite an eye-opening experience. I would definitely say it changed my life."
"I miss, more than anything, the people there," he said. "I saw lives changed as people saw the gospel."
Uruguay is officially Catholic, he said, but there are also many Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Rosenberg said he even spent time in the most dangerous part of the country, where police fear to tread, and was treated well.
The war in Iraq was in full force while Rosenberg was in Uruguay, resulting in some anti-American sentiment.
"People would yell stuff," he said, "but it helped being a missionary. We were there to serve people and teach the gospel. They knew we didn't mean any harm."
A few people, he said, thought he might be a spy. After they learned he was a missionary, everything was OK. He still corresponds with several people in Uruguay.
Rosenberg wants to continue a life of service, probably in law enforcement. It may not make him rich in the conventional sense, but said he's learned what makes people truly rich.