Missionary Focus:
What a Riot

by Jeff Manookin

Print Share

    After bouncing down a dirt road in a packed bus for four hours, I finally arrived in Concepción del Uruguay, Argentina, and was met by two other missionaries. I was to play a piano recital that night in the auditorium of the Colegio del Uruguay.

    After checking the auditorium’s piano and making sure everything was in order for the recital, we returned to the apartment for a short siesta.

    That evening as we left for the concert we heard noise and shouting down the street. One of my companions told me he had heard that an “anti-Yankee” demonstration was scheduled, stemming from the death of Chile’s President Allende that had occurred that very morning. The elder said we did not have to worry because the demonstration was taking place in a plaza on the other side of town. We avoided the crowds by walking an extra block out of the way.

    Soon after we arrived at the auditorium we heard a noise through the backstage window. A mob carrying torches, communist flags, and banners was coming toward the auditorium. We barely had time to bolt the backdoor to keep the mob out.

    Ten demonstrators managed to get in the half-filled auditorium before the management could lock all the doors. The other half of our audience was unable to enter.

    We later learned that the mob had read in the newspapers that a U.S. pianist was presenting a concert. They had planned to drag the yanqui from the auditorium and make him—me—the climax of the demonstration.

    Outside the auditorium’s locked doors the mob began to shout and chant, “Fuera yanqui, fuera yanqui!” (Yankee go home!) and “Hallar, hallar, en la lucha popular!” (Become part of the common fight!) They strung up an effigy and set fire to it, and the demonstration continued for an hour and a half before the police could break it up.

    The sponsor of the concert came backstage and asked me if I wanted to go ahead and perform, even though half the audience was still outside.

    At the end of the evening, after I had finished performing, three of the demonstrators who had come into the hall came up to talk to me and my companions. In our conversation I asked them why they had come.

    “We seriously came to kill you,” one answered bluntly. He then asked us who we were.

    “We’re Mormon missionaries.”

    “I’ve never heard of the Mormons before.”

    We asked him the Golden Questions. Later this 18-year-old youth invited us to his house to explain the gospel. A month later he was baptized. His family was converted also. The last I heard, our demonstrator-convert was preparing for a mission.

    Illustrated by Ted Nagata