Busenbark had once been a 270-pound offensive lineman; now he was a 215-pound missionary. After a month in Brazil, he couldn't even lift the giggling brown children over his head the way he had during his first few weeks there. He stared at this stranger's body in shock.
"Look," he says, grabbing a handful of loose polyester at his waist, "they need to be taken in by the tailor again. I'm under the weight I played at in high school. The Americans here are joking that I'll return as a wide receiver." He smiled weakly. In a football player's mind, mass and muscle become linked with manhood. Busenbark felt his dissolving. Did everything have a cost? Did he have to forsake his old sense of physical control to gain this new feeling of mental control?
"I feel more vulnerable," Busenbark says. "I'm nervous about going back. I have visions of getting taken apart. All my friends will laugh at me. They'll think I'm some little kid. I've laid in bed thinking, I may never play football again."
He couldn't share his fears; the Brazilians would never understand that this big gringo felt small. One night two Brazilian missionaries with whom he was living kept insisting that soccer required far more skill and finesse, that American football was just a series of random collisions among large and irrational men. He tried again and again to explain. They chuckled. In blind frustration, he slammed his fist into the door. The door cracked. The missionaries fled. Silence fell over the apartment.
Busenbark had a steady headache the entire first month, so hard was he concentrating on comprehending and speaking Portuguese. Many people didn't understand why he had come. Some said it was because he was afraid to go in the army. Some were spiritualists who left lighted candles, cooked chickens and wine on the curb for the spirits, and warned people a curse would be put on them if they joined the Mormons.
During his third week in Nova Friburgo, seven of his eight white shirts were stolen from a clothesline. No store had his size, so he wore the same shirt for a month. It became the same shade of red as the clay surface of the streets.
One morning he awoke covered with flea bites, his underclothes bloodstained from unconscious scratching. One night he lay down to sleep and the bed collapsed; termites had eaten through the slats. The shower and the toilet didn't work. The sink faucet refused to be shut off. He reached up to fix the electrical wiring to make the shower water hot, and shocked himself badly. Back home, his teammates were posing for pictures for national magazines.
"What am I doing here?" he wondered. The answer didn't always come easily in an age when causes were dying from lack of oxygen. He had been all-state both offensively and defensively in Washington, had suited up for home varsity games as a BYU freshman and was projected as a starter in his junior and senior years. He had hopes of becoming a pro. Neither of his parents was a Mormon—he hadn't become one until he was 16—and they couldn't understand why he would leave his studies. He had never thought much about becoming a missionary until the day his girl friend brought it up.
"Girls want to marry ex-missionaries, that's what mine told me," he says. "They think it makes guys more mature. A lot of my friends were going on missions, too. So I decided it was the right thing to do. Except now I don't know if I have a girl friend. I haven't received a 'Dear John' yet, but...."
It took months for Busenbark truly to know why he had come. At Christmas he handed out toys to poor children, and they swarmed over him with joy. The poor always seemed to invite him in to talk and eat. The rich usually shut the door. Some people actually agreed to be baptized just so they wouldn't hurt the big gringo's feelings.