I am serving a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Brazil, Porto Alegre North Mission. I post on this blog every week, so check it out to hear about my life as a missionary!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Week 78

Early in the week we became a trio as the elder that had just arrived a week ago was transferred away. It was difficult to take care of 2 areas with 3 elders this week, especially when my companion was sick for a few days. But even still we were able to see many miracles.

Integration night was a hit as always and we counted 46, the majority being youth investigators. We themed the activity on the iron rod. We blindfolded everyone and they had to make their way to the other side of the room by holding on to a rope. However, we were there to convince them to let go and follow us, which many did. Afterwards we shared a message about the iron rod.

Henrique told us on Friday how he'd run home after the Integration Night. When he got home all tired from running he remembered what we'd invited him to do so he kneeled down and said a prayer, asking to know if God actually exists and if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church. After saying the prayer he got up and saw a picture of Christ on one of the pamphlets we'd left with him and all his tiredness left immediately. He told us how that was all the answer he needed! He went to his third Integration Night this Thursday and to church for the first time this Sunday. According to him, all he needs to do is talk to his dad that he can be baptized this next week.

We contacted a young woman named Michele this week. I'd contacted her in the street one day and we were able to visit her. When she asked us how she could know if the Old and New Testament were true and we were inspired to teach her the Book of Mormon along with the Restoration. When we invited her to be baptized she said something I'd never heard before. She said, "Yes, I want to go to the United States so that I may be baptized in this true church." We were happy to tell her that this true church is worldwide, and that the closest church building is here in Canela.

This Sunday we switched to Sacrament Meeting first, and everyone noticed a difference. It was a lot better spiritually. Lucas showed up all fancy with a tie, white shirt, black pants, shiny shoes, and complete with a leather bag to hold his manuals and scriptures. I was super impressed. He was able to bless the sacrament for the first time too. He helped out the other Elder a lot during the week as he didn't have a companion anymore.

The best part of the week was Suana's baptism! She was super excited the whole week and afterwards she got a journal from her new young women's leader. Afterwards she told us how she wrote down her feelings after her baptism so that she wouldn't forget.

Saturday night Iraçí made a super good dinner for us. She is most on-fire recent converts I've ever seen. She also received a calling this Sunday.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Week 77

This was my first week in the new area, even though I'd already been serving in Canela, I am now working on the other side of the city. We spent some time visiting the people that had been baptized last week and through them we got to know many of their friends and family. Gabriel was baptized last week by the others and this week we got to know his older sister Carol. She hadn't been paying a lot of attention before, but this week she was different. We invited her to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it as usual and the next day when we returned she said, "last night I was reading the Book of Mormon with my brother and all of a sudden I looked up and told him, 'Gabriel, I want to be baptized.'" We were very excited for her experience and determination to change her life to be in line with the gospel.

Right after that Gabriel took us to his friend's house, a young man named Henrique that had already been to 2 of our integration activities. As we taught him he told us how he liked the church because he felt at home. He said, "I feel like I'm part of a great big family. Everyone is respectful, has fun together, and has good values. I felt something different inside." We helped him to recognize the Spirit and invited him to read the Book of Mormon as well.

Iraçí, who was baptized last transfer and who is like our grandma here in Canela took us to her oldest daughter's house. Andréia has an interesting story, 2 months ago an older married couple serving as missionaries entered her shop. They ended up having a 3 hour conversation and at the end the couple gave a Book of Mormon to her. When we visited her she had already read until Alma 19 and we marveled at how she held the book close to her and protected it at all costs. I was struck by how the Lord works in sharing the gospel with everyone in different ways. This married couple isn´t serving in our mission and we have no idea who it was, but it was a miracle.

On Thursday as usual, we held the weekly integration activity. One of the activities we did was called the cat and the mouse. Everyone sat in a circle and two participants on opposite sides were given ties. Then the 'cat' tie had to be tied once and passed to the right, and the 'mouse' tie had to be tied twice before being passed to the right. When the cat tie caught up with the mouse tie, the person caught had to step out of the circle. As always, it was a success and everybody had a lot of fun.

Iraçí has been very busy making food for us and giving out refferals left and right. Last Sunday she'd taken her little grandkid Gabrieli to church and this week we taught her, preparing her for her baptism. One day when we showed up she sat down and told us, "Man, I'm super anxious for my baptism!" She is so innocent and pure we knew she was meant to be baptized so that she could grow up in the church. She loved learning about Joseph Smith especially and remembered everything we told her about the prophet of the restoration. Iraçí then told us how she was already talking with another of her grandkids, Felipe, to take him to church too. She's on fire!

Eduardo was another young man we prepared to be baptize this Sunday. He was so excited that he went around telling everying he met that he was going to be baptized and that they were invited to be there. What surprised us is that when we got to church, there was a woman in the front that told us that she is Eduardo's teacher and had been invited! Even though the baptism was going to be after church, she decided to stay for all three hours and enjoyed it thoroughly. In total we had 13 investigators at church, all the friends and family that Eduardo and Gabrieli had invited to watch.

Gabrieli and Eduardo
Even though I haven't been able visit Lucas anymore, I've been following up with his progress at the activities and church. I am impressed more and more each time, he's made accounts on the church site and the FamilySearch site. His dad helped him in getting the names of his grandparents and greatgrandparents. He's excited to take these names to the temple soon. He has begun saying the closing prayer at all of the baptisms. He always shows up early to everything and even went to an Elders Quorum activity on Saturday that I hadn't even heard of. He's a very excited and involved convert.

Sunday afternoon we had a very spiritual experience with Eduardo's aunt who had been to church with him yestderday. Her name is Suana and we had been teaching her for a week. At first she hadn't been very interested but when we returned after church she opened up a lot. She had begun to love the Book of Mormon and was calling it "My Book". She listened atently to us and we felt inspired to share 3 Nephi 27:19-20 with her. Élder Clark read verse 19 with a short explanation, and I was moved to do the same with verse 20. As I began to explain afterwards I felt words being put into my mouth. The Spirit spoke through me about the importance of Christ's Atonement and how we must all use it, being baptized and repenting daily, to live with Him again. I can't even remember everything I said but I remember having everyone's attention and feeling the Spirit very strong, one of the times on my mission that I have felt Him the strongest. After testifying Élder Clark then spoke, inviting her to be baptized. Without hesitation she responded,"I want to be baptized this next Sunday." The Spirit had touched her and everyone there, and we saw the difference it had made in her.

We then said a prayer and left their house letting them wonder at the Spirit they´d felt. We discussed how it had been and we marveled at how much the Spirit had used us as instruments. We reflected at how we each said exactly what the other was thinking and said what they needed to hear. I will never forget that experience.

Iraçí's kitten loves me

Monday, February 15, 2016

Week 76

This week tested our patience and faith as we worked with some investigators that "didn't have time" or didn't want to progress and keep their commitments as we wanted them to. We'd found many new families with potential this week and even though they loved our visits, they couldn't bring themselves to commit to go to church on Sunday.

One such family was a woman named Ana Paula, and her 17 year old daughter. She had problems smoking and drinking coffee, and her daughter had a few problems drinking alcohol. Each time we visited them they listened intently, and even though her daughter Eduarda is super shy, we got her to say the closing prayer after one visit. We helped them both start the process in keeping the Word of Wisdom and we saw progress in them both. Ana Paula had been smoking 40 per day, and at the end of the week she was down to 19. She also drank 3-4 cups of coffee daily and brought it down to 1. Eduarda told us how she only drinks alcohol at parties during the weekend so we set a goal for her to forgo the parties and instead read the Book of Mormon. It worked and when we visited her on Saturday, she hadn't gone to any party Friday night.

We also had found and taught 4 young men many times throughout the week. One day we returned to follow up on their reading of the Book of Mormon and as we'd only been able to give one copy to them, they told us how they had made an agreement that each one would spend a week with it before passing it on to the next. We were impressed with their desire to read it and were able to give a copy to each one.

Thursday night we continued the integration activities and held a hat competion. For the activity we made a circle of chairs with a table in the middle. Then everyone took turns drawing a die to try and draw 1 or 3. If they did so, they had to put socks on their arms, pick up two spoons, and try and unwrap a chocolate candy and eat it as quick as possible. While the person was attempting to unwrap, everybody continued to try and draw 1 or 3 and when someone did, the person unwrapping had to drop everything, sit down, and the new person would begin where the other left off. Like all the other activities, everyone had a great time. Unfortunately it hadn't been announced very well so there weren't very many members present. But as far as our investigators and recent converts, there were quite a few.

Sunday morning President Campos called me and told me how he was in Passo Fundo for a meeting with the Stake President and all the bishops. He told me how bishop Melo from Lagoa Vermelha had come up to him to ask that I be transferred back to his ward! So then President said to me, "So I'm doing just that, you're being transferred back to Lagoa Vermelha." I was super surprised and just as I was about to respond he chuckled and told me that he was joking, that I was actually being transferred in the same area from Canela-B to Canela-A, to be companions with Élder Clark. To this I was really happy, as we'd already spent a transfer living in the same house I know him well and know that he works hard, so I know it'll be a good transfer. Then President told me that there would be a Brazilian that would be coming to live with us and be my old companion's new companion. As there had been only Americans the last transfer he said joking, "the party's over, now get to work!" He's hilarious.

Lucas showed up at church an hour early to be interviewed by the branch president and after church he was ordained a priest! He's very excited to bless the sacrament next week.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Week 75

For P-day we played basketball with some investigators:

During the week we had a leadership meeting in Porto Alegre so we lost almost two days to work in our own area. The meeting was really good, President Campos gave a really good training and we implemented 2 new changes in the mission: with the divisions between missionaries and their leaders, and transfers. We felt the Spirit very strong and we left with more determination to work harder and effectively. I was able to see many Elders I hadn't seen in ages.

Élder Ribeiro
Élder Lopes (and Élder Burgos in the background)
Canela's Cathedral

It was very rainy and wet during the week as well, so we often woke up to fog and mist. One night we saw this cool effect on the cathedral:

On Thursday we had our second integration night. Because it was raining there were a few less people than last time but we still had a great turnout as far as our investigators goes. Everyone brought their favorite Torta de Bolacha and then our recent converts judged them to nominate a winner in taste and design. We tried something new and for our Torta de Bolacha we made it with a peanut butter flavor and put reese's on top. It was something no one had ever seen before!

While they were judging the Tortas de Bolacha we taught everyone a game where there are two equal groups, each one sitting in a line facing each other. Everyone in their respective lines holds hands and there is one person at the beginning of the line holding the hands of the first players in each line. When he squeezes both hands then each line passes the hand squeeze on to the next person and so on until it gets to the last player in each line. As soon as the last player receives it, he has to run as fast as he can back to the beginning and dive to grab a beach ball. The first to do so wins and then the line rotates to do it again. Everyone loved it and there was some pretty funny competition.

On Friday my companion and I decided to fast to find more families to teach. The effects of our fast were so fast we were quite surprised. As we left to work a man called out to us and motioned for us to come to his house. We did so and got to know a really cool family. His name is Elton and he lives with his wife, son, and mother. His son's friend and his neighbor also were present. We taught them the Restoration and felt a special spirit during the lesson. We then went on to knock on other doors and the same thing happened. At the end of the day we realized that at all the houses that we knocked doors, not one rejected us! We saw many blessings for our decision to fast.

Sunday morning as we arrived at the church we were pleasantly surprised. Two of our recent converts, Anderson and Lucas, had arrived earlier (30 minutes before church starts) and had come biking or walking. As they waited for church to start they read from their copies of the Book of Mormon. We were very impressed and happy. However, it didn't end there. Anderson became good friends with the Young Men's president and sat with him during sacrament meeting. Then to everyone's surprise and happiness, after Anderson was confirmed a member, he bore his testimony! It was quite a good Sunday experience for us.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Week 74

There were two highlights of the week, the first being what happened Thursday night. We had been planning for 2 weeks to organize an integration night in the branch to get the members excited again and help our investigators feel welcome and build more friendship. As we are 4 americans here and it´s super rare for this to happen, it´s obvious what theme we chose: American Night.

A member helped us to make the invites and we gave them to all our investigators, the members, people we met in the road, etc. We also posted a few big posters around the town. The invite was so well done that people kept asking us if they had to have the invite to get in as if it was a ticket or something! We planned to have 3 activities in stations, and they´d rotate every 20 minutes. My companion did an English game of Jeopary and they had to look up the words in the dictionary the fastest.

One of the other elders created a relay race with basketballs and footballs. For the second station. They had to dribble around the 'cones' with the basketball and then after that they had to pick up a football and hit a hanging target.

And finally at my station I divided my group into two teams and gave each team a blanket. They all grabbed the edge of the blanket and on the count of three launched a full water balloon in the air over to the other team. Then the other team had to receive the water balloon without bursting it, in other words, catching it in their blanket. We switched it up by separating the teams further to make it more difficult, launching 2 balloons at the same time, and at the end seeing which team could launch the balloon the highest. Many of us came out of the activity soaked including me.

 In total there were 90 people that came, which was a huge turnout. After the stations, we all went into the church to eat pancakes with maple syrup and chocolate chip cookies. I made more than 130 cookies to have enough for everyone! Everybody enjoyed themselves and the members became very excited with the turnout and success. At the end we already announced the next integration night the next Thursday, when everyone will have to bring the most criative Torta de Bolacha to be judged by our recent converts and investigators, and come in blue (shirt, pants, tie, etc).

During the week we worked a lot with two of our investigators that had been to church last week, Cinara and Anderson. Cinara had been super blessed for making the changes in her life and going to church and so we were very happy especially after she passed the baptismal interview. Anderson as well made a lot of progress, leaving behind many habits and addictions. He was very excited to be involved with everything and in his interview he told the other elder how he'd read until the seventh chapter of the Book of Mormon. Not only that but he continued to give a detailed description of what had happened in those chapters. We were all impressed with his understanding.

On Sunday we were very sad when Cinara gave up on her goal to be baptized. She unfortunately gave in to the temptations of her friends and what they were saying to her. However, it was a very good day still. As I sat with Anderson during Sacrament Meeting he turned to me, took off a small earring/gage he was using and gave it to me saying, "I won't be needing this anymore." I was very impressed because no one had said anything to him about it but after feeling the Spirit to strong he did it on his own accord. Not only that but he brought his friend to church as well.

After his baptism while we were in the bathroom changing into dry clothes he said to me, "Elder, I feel free."