Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Dec. 25, 2012 "Merry Christmas!"

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!! Feliz Natal, Feliz Navidad...that´s about all the languages I know. Haha. This week we got to skype with our families instead of email...an absolute treat :) It´s amazing how time flies. The only disadvantage of that is we don´t have time to send out emails this week...just a really quick one.

I hope each of you has an incredible Christmas and that remembrance of the birth of our Savior is a huge part of your holidays. It´s been a really different, but neat experience to be celebrating Christmas in a different way this year. As a missionary, ideally, every day carries with it the spirit of Christmas. I´ll keep telling myself that when tomorrow comes and I need to get back to work. And in the many moments when I miss all of you and am thinking of you. God bless you all and once again, Merry Christmas :) I promise that I will respond to the emails I received this week in the email to come. Until then!

Love, Elder Sears 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dec. 17, 2012 Missionaries at the Campinas Temple

'Tis the Season! Elder Sears and his fellow missionaries 
at the Campinas, Brazil temple

December 17, 2012 Committing a Family to Marriage and Baptism

Well, I´m back! And happier than ever. Not that anything amazingly marvelous happened this week (actually it did, I´ll get to that later), but I´m finally starting to feel like I´m settling in and really making a difference out here--whether that be within myself or my companion or the people I´m teaching or other missionaries. One of the sister missionaries mentioned that while she was at some sort of meeting with President Perrotti he talked a little bit about me. I think what he said was mostly positive--I hope! Haha. Either way, it was really cool to hear that because it means that out of 170 missionaries he knows my name. He´s an incredible man and it´s really easy to want to give my all to help the mission over which he´s presiding progress.

I hope you all are getting my MissionTies letters. I think you are. On my end of things I continue to be blessed with packages and letters of all sorts :) I was reading in Alma 56 in the Book of Mormon the other day and smiled when I came across verse 27. There, Mormon describes how the families of the 2,000 stripling warriors sent them provisions and reinforcements. That´s how I feel out here in the field, so thank you for being my line of support! Dad, Mom, and the kids, I got your Christmas package and have been exercising every ounce of patience I have not to open it. It remains unopened. I forgot to attach a picture in my email last week of me with the Greenie package you sent, so I´ll try to remember to include that at the end of this email. I loved it, along with the package I got from the Idiart´s and the Shell´s. I´ve blocked out a significant amount of time later in the day today to write some letters in response to those I´ve gotten so far. I don´t know if it´s coincidence or what but so far all the letters I´ve received have been hand-written. I love getting those, so I´ll try to send some hand-written ones in response through mail instead of missionties. If there are missionties letters from you all that have been sent, I hope they´ll make it to me soon. 

In an email that my mom sent last week, she recommended that I make I list of things that are different about Brazil as compared to the States. Soon I´ll probably get used to all the differences and forget them. So, I wrote some down. I had my fair share of laughs doing so. Here´s a sampling of the list I came up with:

You Know You´re In Brazil When...

actual roosters wake you up before your alarm clock (our neighbor has a boatload of them wandering around the yard)
you are wetter in the summer than in the shower
every major street has its own soccer field
breakfast doesn´t exist, and lunch and dinner are rice and beans with Guaraná (a very popular, highly caffeinated soda around here)
stray cattle pick through the public trash cans (unfortuantely I didn´t have my camera on me when I saw that happening)
Sewage streams in the middle of the neighborhood are more common than freshwater ones
Complete strangers offer you water if they can tell you´re melting
there are 4 people on a bus for one seat
traffic laws basically don´t exist
you see the same old man sitting in the same chair at the same time everyday
every house is boxed in by a gate and a concrete wall (including ours, so don´t worry about theft!)
there´s a bar and a church on every corner
every day is the 4th of July (they use fireworks down here for every excuse imaginable, but especially during the football games)
it´s a very good day when you wake up with less than 10 bug bites
you can start an hour long conversation with any stranger if you can get them started about their family, and a 2 hour conversation if you get them started on their religion

your next-door neighbor (not the one with the roosters) blasts American Pop music until midnight, singing along in a language they think is English but really isn´t
tone-deafness runs rampant
even the rudest of people have a level of decency and respect I wish were more common in the States

So there you have it. I asked Elder Alcântara for some help and he provided the following: the streets are filthy, the houses abandoned, the sun not very nice, the mosquitoes everywhere, and on and on and on. I think--think--he was joking. I asked him what was GOOD about Brazil and he said, "Coca Cola." I laughed :)

Seriously though, although Brazil is different as is any other country, I´m really growing to love it here. This past week has brought with it lots of memories--most of them fun and relatively painless. I got to use the medical tape in my first aid kit for the first time after Elder Alcântara accidentally punctured his pressurized spray deoderant can during personal study. I have no idea how he managed to do that, but he didn´t want to lose all the liquid in there so I grabbed the medical tape and wrapped it around the hole to stop the steady stream of spray. It worked at least! Saturday our ward had an activity to celebrate the end of the year in the place they call the "chácara." It was a blast. I got to play a little bit of pool there and stuff myself with something kind of like a shiskabob (spelling?). We brought two of our investigators with us and they really, really enjoyed it. So that made me happy as well. All the young men played soccer in the pouring rain and mud--I was once again reminded, just by watching them, why I gave up soccer when I was 8. I think I´ll be sticking to my basketball and volleyball. They are SO talented, even down to little Junho (Cristiane´s son who´s 11). Saturday night all the missionaries close to the Campinas Temple (my zone included) headed to the temple for a Christmas Cantata. We sang "Noite Feliz" (Silent Night) and "I Wonder When He Comes Again" on the temple grounds in front of a pretty good crowd of members and non-members huddled under their umbrellas. The Spirit was so strong. Sister Perrotti, our "mission mom" was sobbing by the time we finished. So I´d say mission accomplished. It was incredible to be there. I took some pictures of the temple (which every missionary in the CTM told me is the most beautiful temple in Brazil) and will try to send some home. Being there was even more exciting knowing that next week my district will be able to go and do Endowments there. I also saw Elder Johnson, my companion from the CTM, and caught up with him a bit. And, I had an excuse to buy a Santa hat for the presentation (all the missionaries had to wear one while we sang) so there really is no room to complain!

As for the teaching side of things, this past week we´ve mainly been working with a 15 year old named Lucas and a couple named Lena and Reob (I think I´ve mentioned them before...?). Lucas is Henrique´s best friend and he´s progressing really well. He´s coming over tonight for a family home evening with Henrique and his baptism is scheduled for this coming Sunday. I marvel when I think about how we found him and starting teaching him...I was on an exchange with Elder Johnson (Henrique tagged along too) and wanted to try to visit a lady we´d met the day before. But, for the life of me, I couldn´t remember where she lived. I knocked on the wrong door and felt pretty stupid for not remembering. Before I could feel sorry for myself though, Henrique thought he saw Lucas headed down a nearby street and wanted to talk to him so that the two of them could get together later that day. We tracked him down and I, rather casually, invited Lucas to come to church with us and Henrique. He accepted and came and since then committed to be baptized. If I hadn´t have knocked in the wrong place, it´s quite possible Henrique never would have thought to mention Lucas to us and we never would have taught him. It´s fascinating the way God works with us sometimes. I´m so grateful that He makes up for my mistakes and weaknesses. 

Lena is Cristiane´s cousin and has been meeting with us for the past 3 weeks or so. She´s expressed several times her desire to be baptized but has been held back by Reob who, initially, wanted nothing to do with the missionaries and who is living with her outside of marriage. We talked to our ward mission leader about the situation and he decided to pay the two of them a visit. I have no idea what he did but our next lesson with Lena, Reob was there and was extremely interested and receptive. We spent a good 2-3 hours (technically not recommended but he was full to the brim with questions) teaching him everything from the Plan of Salvation to the Word of Wisdom and the Law of the Fast. During the lesson I felt that I should start talking with Lena about her plans for baptism and what she needed to do to be worthy to do so. So, in my limited Portuguese, I did. I told her, using the context of the Plan of Salvation, that our purpose in this life is to have joy and prepare to meet God. I promised her that baptism is the first step for us in accomplishing both of those purposes. I told Reob the same thing and Elder Alcântara reinforced the Law of Chastity. The Spirit in that room was, without a doubt, there in full force. Reob told us he wanted to be baptized with Lena and that the two of them would get married so that they could. I just about jumped out of my seat when I heard that. We worked with them to set a goal to get married on February 9 and baptized, together on the 10th. And, after talking about the temple, scheduled their temple marriage for one day later. I was ALL SMILES that night, and for the rest of the week as well. We´re working with Irmã Neo, the Bishop´s wife, to plan their marriage and I confess that I am enjoying it all too much. I feel like Frank from Father of the Bride... haha :) Needless to say, I´m super excited and super grateful for their decision, and the role that the Spirit played in changing Reob´s heart. 

I think that about does it for this week...can´t believe next week will be Christmas Eve!! Happy Holidays to you all! Know that I will be working as hard as possible to bring the spirit of the season and the Savior to everybody that will listen here in Brazil. I love you,

Elder Sears

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dec. 10, 2012 Scriptures Answer a Prayer

Bom dia amigos e familiares! :)
Time is, unfortunately, really short today so I´m going to try to fly.
First of all, this past Tuesday our zone had a choir practice (we´re preparing for a "cantata" at the temple this coming Saturday as a Christmas celebration) and while I was there I got to pick up  2 more packages and what I think was 6 letters! A huge, huge t hank you to the Idiart´s and to my dear family for each of the  packages, and to Sister Helsing, the Larsen´s, the Fife´s Grandma Sears, and  Andrew for the letters that I got as well :) For good or bad, I am currently the Elder Van Pelt of the di strict right now pertaining to   the amount of mail I´ve been getting.  I consider it 100 percent good. It makes my week every ti me I have a chance to open something from home, so please know how very much I am grateful. Two Elders from the district stayed the night on Saturday because of a "divisão" and we had a feast with the Hot  Tamales I´ve been accumulating. I did not however, tell them I had more candy stowed away :) Seriously though, t hank you  so much for your love, your prayers, your  letters, your packages, and most importantly, your examples to me. It is so much easier to serve with a solid foundation of so many people that  love and support me and have shown me the way  throughout my life.
 This past week probably has been the hardest of my mission so  far. The sun has been merciless as has been the opposition. We  taught two golden families this week the first lesson and both committed without hesitation  that they´d come with us to church yesterday.   At the last minute, of course, both backed out .  We have some following up to do this week! Tuesday and Wednesday I came down with some strange sort of the flu ( insp ite of my extensive water-drinking,  vit amin  -taking, and sunscreen -applying) w hich made it really difficult t o w ork effect ively and with the right attitude. As soon as I got better Elder Alcântara came down with something similar. Both of our baptisms (VIctor and Cristiane) have had their own difficulties this past week and we missed both of them at church yesterday. Nobody accepted the invitation  to be baptized and we have a l ot of work to do to find  more  investigators that will actually progress. But, I´ve been trying. And I know that God is very mind ful of my situati on and my efforts to endure.  On  Thursday I t hink it was I pleaded with Him that He´d let me know in some way that He was there. During the lesson  I taught during Sunday School the previous  Sunda y I challenged everyone there to write down one thi ng t hey could do in the coming week to apply/use the Atonement in their lives. I had wr itten down that when I felt like I wanted to give up I would remind myself that  Christ had already walked my path , that  He would walk it w ith me side by side, and that it definitely was not impossible. As I was praying I remembered t hat commi tment I´d made and prayed that I would find something during my personal study that would help me keep going and believe in the power of Christ´s inifinte sacr ifice. I was studying in Preach My Gospel about what th ings I could do   t o impr ove my te aching and  one of the suggested references was Alma 31:  34  - 35. I do n ´t know why but I f elt t hat I should look up t hat reference in English instead of in Portuguese as I normally would. I did, read the scripture and enjoyed it, but noticed a different scripture I had marked in my English scriptures next t o it. In  verse 30 Alma is praying that God will re move his afflictions from him perta ining to the wickedness of the Zoramites, As he prays, however, his request changes until he asks that God´s will be done in all things. I had marked that change in attitude because my dad had pointed it out during a Sunday school lesson that he taught t his past summer. I enjoyed how he pointed out t hat prayer should always be  an alignment of our will with the wi ll of the Father . I´m so glad I chose to mark those verses be cause I really needed to read them this past week. I  needed to be reminded that Heavenly Father is in char ge and that it is His will, not mine, that matters. I read on until verse  38. Mormon comments t hat because Alma prayed in faith and submitted his will to a much greater one, every single affliction that he was called to pass through was swallowed up in the joy of Jesus Christ. That verse was an u nquestionable answer to my prayer, using almost the exact wording that I had prayed w it h an hour before and that I had used when setting my goal to use the Atonement this past Sunday . Going forward fr om Thursday mor ning,  the w or k was not any easier but I felt so much more determined and supported t o do it.
And, God gave me some reasons to smile after that prayer that I´d offered as well. Saturday we did a companion exchange. I stayed w ith Elder Johnson in my area w hile Elder Alcântara went to his companion´s area. I learned loads w ith him and loved watching how an other missionar y t aught. He t ook the t ime to pract ice tea ching with me and  offered  feedback that I ´ll be certain to apply in the coming week. He ´s really good at making peo ple laugh and we did a l ot of t hat .  Sunday I finally got to play the piano in sacra ment meet ing--yet another reason to smile! I took advantage of the opport unity by playing a postlude that pr obably lasted a good half hour or so :) Haha.
Well, gotta go, but I love you all and hope you know I´m thinking of you. Until next week! And  15 more days until the call home!
Love, Elder Sears     

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Monday, December 3, 2012

December 3, 2012 Performs First Baptism!

Hello again!

I guess one advantage of having to wait until Tuesday to email last week is that there were only 6 days between emails instead of 7. No complaints there. Is everyone getting the weekly emails I send? Just want to make! I heard from my mom that the missionties letters I sent last week went through, thank goodness for that! I´ll try to send them as often as I can, but I really do think email is going to be the most efficient way to communicate weekly. Of course, everytime I get a letter or package or something of that sort I will do my best to send a response in return :) As a head´s up, my companion and I will usually send our emails between 12 and 1 p.m. our time (9-10 a.m. Eastern time) on Monday´s, so if you´d like to send an email off in time for me to read it, that´s when we´ll be doing email! This past week I got a very nice email from my mom (thank you mom) and, to my delight, a package from the Shell´s! From what I could tell it was sent just a few weeks ago...I was shocked it got here so fast. I didn´t know it was supposed to be a Christmas package so I opened it. I hope I´m forgiven for my impatience :) I think even if I did know I would have opened it because there were Hot Tamales inside along with 2 awesome ties, two fans, a letter, and a notebook for recording sheet music. I was able to pick it up because my companion and I took a trip to the Mission Office to get all of our monthly finances and missionary allowance stuff squared away. Thank you so, so much for sending that. It came at just the right time when I needed a lift.

My week this week...

Well, gotta start with the highlight. This weekend I was able to perform my first baptism (Victor) and, a day later, confirm Cristiane as a member of the Church. I was nervous before the start of each but that all went away as soon as I opened my mouth. I didn´t feel an overwhelming spirit as I was expecting, but a very serene peace in the knowledge that what we were doing those days was 100% right and of God. I wrote in my journal that I have a solid testimony that, truly, "in the ordinances the power of Godliness is made manifest." I definitely do have a testimony of that. It doesn´t matter what happens during the week; a baptism washes everything negative away in the joy of knowing that one more soul has entered the straight and narrow way on the path back to Heavenly Father. Victor is not the type to express a bunch of emotion but I know he was excited and I gave him a big hug after his baptism--partly because I´d managed not to drown him but much more so because he and I both knew that he was completely clean. He may not understand much more than that about his baptism right now, but the step he took will open the door to so much more knowledge. I am absolutely thrilled for him. I´ll try to send a picture at the end of this email or in a separate email.

As for the confirmation of Cristiane, tons of things came together in just the right way to help her make it there. First of all, as we began teaching Lena (her cousin) this past Thursday night about the message of the Restoration, we invited her to read in The Book of Mormon and pray about its truth. As we did so, Cristiane (who was in the room as we were teaching) jumped in and asked if she could share how she gained her personal witness of The Book of Mormon. She said she had read a little and prayed but was waiting for an answer for a while. My first or second visit with her she shared a comment a pastor had made to her about his doubts pertaining to The Book of Mormon. She asked me what she should say. I remembered from my seminary days a scripture mastery in Ezekiel about the stick of Judah (the Bible) and the stick of Ephraim (The Book of Mormon) coming together as one (Ezekiel 37:15-17 I think it is) and I read it with her. She liked it and thanked me and I didn´t really think much of it. Cristiane mentioned that experience as she talked about how God had answered her prayers. She said that as I read that scripture she somehow knew that The Book of Mormon was true. She told us she has the reference I gave her "gravado no meu coração" (recorded/graven upon her heart). I beamed ear to ear when I heard her say that. When I shared that scripture with her I had only been in the field a day or two. We were all sitting at the dinner table and I was having a really hard time understanding the Portuguese conversation going on. When I heard and understood her question about the pastor and The Book of Mormon, I latched onto it mainly as an opportunity to participate and actually say something. I had no idea the short verse I shared would be a critical moment in the development of Cristiane´s testimony. But it was. THere I was thinking one miracle (Victor accepting baptism) was sufficient for the first week, but God blessed me with at least two. I was lost and clueless that second night, feeling silly and inadequate, but I was trying to be the best missionary I could be and God blessed me immensely for it.

That answer to Cristiane´s prayer turned out to be critically important. Elder Alcântara and I decided to stop by her house Sunday morning to make sure she´d be coming to church and that she didn´t have any questions about her confirmation. She told us that the day before she had heard some rumors about the Church from a friend and started researching on the Internet. My heart took a dive when she said that. You can imagine the garbage she found. She had all sorts of questions for us, and the morning of her confirmation no less! We reminded Cristiane of the testimony she had expressed to us about THe Book of Mormon the other night. We answered her questions, but always with the focus being on The Book of Mormon and her witness of it as proof that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that God did appear to Him as he said He did, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God´s church on the earth. That rang true for her and although I´m sure she still has some questions, by the Spirit we resolved her concerns and solidified her desire to be confirmed. I had the opportunity to give the Confirmation blessing and I don´t think words have ever flowed so easily for me in Portuguese. I knew what to say and had the words to say it. I know the Spirit was working with me because afterwards Cristiane asked me if I´d read the blessing from sort of script--my grammar and pronunciation managed to get to that level for the minute or so while I was giving the blessing. So to put it simply, Cristiane´s confirmation was yet another miracle in the first 2 weeks of my mission.

In other news, I have found some more things in the States for which I can be grateful: 4 part harmony and the dotted-eight note. Haha! I´m convinced that at times our ward manages to sing 17 part harmony in 12 different keys at the same time, with an average of 2 key changes per verse inspite of the piano. And, everytime the hymn has a dotted eighth note or dotted quarter note it magically becomes just a quarter note. I find it quite amusing. I´m not complaining at all though, the Spirit is still there and I´m growing more and more appreciative of my ability to sing on key. 

Thursday I had my first District Meeting. It is always so refreshing to be around other missionaries and see the ways they teach. It´s a very comforting reminder that Elder Alcântara and I are not the only ones burning up down here! (I´m doing my best with sunscreen and have managed, so far, to maintain my ghostly white complexion; my companion is eager to change that). I´ll try to send a photo of the district as well--there´s just 6 of us. 

Well, I think that´s all. Probably not, but I think so. If (and when) I leave details out and questions unanswered or thanks unsaid, please let me know what you are thinking and wondering! I love you all. You give me so much strength and so many reasons to smile. I hope each of you are well and enjoying the spirit of the Christmas season. 22 more days until I can call home!

Love, Elder Sears

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November 27, 2012 Christiane: First Convert Baptism

Elder Sears and Elder Alcantara's room. Can you guess which desk is Brad's??

First Convert Baptism!: Elder Sears, Cristiane, and new companion, Elder Alcantara

Elder Sears at Cristiane's baptism, with family, friends and Elder Alcantara

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November 27, 2012 First Letter from the Field!

Dear family and friends,

First of all, I apologize that this email is coming on Tuesday instead of Monday like it normally will in the future. My companion, Elder Alcântara, is the district leader and President Perrotti called a meeting for all district leaders Monday morning; that meant we didn´t have time to send an email yesterday and I had no way of letting anybody know! I am still alive and doing considerably well, so please don´t worry :) I´ll try to answer all (or most) of your questions here about my first week. We get an hour or so (no specific time limit but an hour is recommended) to write emails on P-day to Presidente Perrotti and to family.

First question: to what address do we send MissionTies letters?

Use the Mission Office address in Campinas (you have that right?). If you use the CTM address (I´m assuming that´s the one you´ve been using in the past right?) then my mail will go to the CTM and will take much longer to be forwarded on to the mission office. I am able to pick up my mail every time that President Perrotti comes to meet with us and everytime we travel to the mission office for meetings (approximately once a month--I know, that´s not nearly enough!). But, President Perrotti is coming this Thursday for a meeting so I´m hoping he´ll be bringing some mail with him :) It´s definitely going to be hard to get used to mail only once a month instead of once a week, but I will manage! Feel free to send as many letters as you like during that time; I will have a feast everytime they arrive. As for hand-written letters, the overwhelming advice around here is to use the mission office address as well. I don´t think the house we´re living in has ever received a single letter...but just in case you´d like my residential address, it´s Rua Madre Eduarda Shafers, 147, Campinas, Brasil. Once again though, use the mission office address!! I can send letters on P-day, the only problem is we don´t have a post office. So what I´ll do is have the sisters in our district (whose area does have a post office) take the letters I´ve written and send them for me. They´ve kindly agreed to do that. I´ll predominantly be using mission ties because that´s going to be so much faster. I´ll have the sisters send the letters I´ve written this coming Thursday; hopefully they´ll make it to your inbox by the weekend, or at least by the middle of next week. I have to send the letters to the São Paulo missionties address, where the member who operates it will email my letters to you. Please, please, please let me know when my letters get there!

I´ll have to try to figure out what is a good balance between letters and emails. Emails are great because I can read them and respond to them weekly as opposed to monthly. I can only receive emails from my family, but my mom can include notes/letters from anyone else in the email that she sends. Please feel free to do so :) I love, love hearing from all of you. The only disadvantage is that I have to pay to use the internet here (we go to a supermarket about a 20 minute´s walk away that has a computer lab-ish thing). The price isn´t bad though and is covered by our monthly allowance. Letters are so fun to receive, so please send them as well! Just keep in mind I only get to pick them up once a month or so. On my end of things, I´m going to try to be as detailed as possible in my emails so that I can make sure all of you are fully updated! I´ll definitely do letters too but probably not as much as during the CTM: 1) my time to write them is limited to a few hours one day of the week and 2) I feel bad asking the Sisters to send them for me time and time again. It is definitely a bummer I don´t have a post office in my area.

On to the fun stuff...my first week in Campinas!!

We left the CTM by van at about 7:30 Tuesday morning (there were 10 of us going to Campinas) and got to the mission home by 8:30. Not a long drive at all. I met  Presidente and Sister Perrotti and as a group we had lunch with them. They´re awesome and I look forward to getting to know them more. Presidente Perrotti said he´d send home a photo he took with each of us to all of our families...did he? After lunch and orientation we went to the mission office to meet our new companions. Mine is Elder Alcântara. He´s from Belém, Brasil, his favorite hobby is eating, and he refers to me as his "son" (filho in Portuguese). I´m the first missionary he´s trained because he´s only been in the field since April. He speaks absolutely zero English which is a good thing and a bad thing. He is, however, very patient with my Portuguese. He seemed excited to meet me and we are getting along just fine. It is, though, undeniably different to be living with just one other person all the time. It can be lonely at times, which is why I love it when we´re teaching a lesson to an investigator or eating with a member because their company is always uplifting. That first Tuesday night we rode the "onibus" back to our house from the mission office (about a 40 minute drive with traffic) and spent the rest of the day organizing, packing, and eating. I´m not sure what exactly I was expecting when we got to our house, but I was taken back by what seemed to me the poverty of it. We have it so good in the States. For Thanksgiving I wrote in my journal some of the things I´m grateful for--things I had there that I don´t here and things I have here that I didn´t necessarily have there. Here´s a taste of what I wrote:

Things I Miss But Am Grateful for Anyway:
Hot(ish) water during my showers, Carpet, AC/fan (our fan broke Thursday night), 3 guaranteed meals a day, a mirror bigger than 6 square inches, thick toilet paper, flushable toilet paper (haha--l´ll let your imagination do the work there...), English (and the ability to speak it without an accent), my piano, getting mail more than once a month, sports (they´re no longer alowed on P-day or any other day here--that policy went into effect the week before I got here), friends, and family.

Things I Have That I´m Grateful For (And in some cases, things I didn´t have before my mission
A bed and pillow, electronic equipment that actually works w/ 220V without an adapter, a study desk, drinkable water, food market 30 seconds from our house, 4 hours of study time every day, Elder Alcântara, his patience, and his ability to teach, my tolerance for cold water while showering, the fact that God still hears me and lets me know He loves me, Preach My Gospel and The Book of Mormon, the letters and pictures of home that I do have, a stove and refrigerator, the Atonement, my testimony, my family, friends, and the power of their love and prayers, personal revelation, the gift of tongues, the patience and openness of the Brazilian people, my camera (and the fact that in the field I can email pictures!!), my mission call from a prophet of God, and yes, I am absolutely thrilled to say, 2 BAPTISMS (one that took place this past Sunday and one scheduled for the Saturday to come) IN MY FIRST 2 WEEKS!

So yes, that´s a very round-about way to describe my house and a little taste of my first week here. After tracting in some of the areas we´ve tracted, I realize how good we as missionaries have it just to have a roof that keeps out the rain and a bed. The people here are so humble and so incredible, even when they want nothing to do with the missionaries. God bless them!

My first meal in the field was a celebratory pizza that Elder Alcântara bought. Here lunch is the main (and sometimes only) meal of the day. The members provide lunch and dinner and breakfast is up to us. Lots of times Brazilians do away with breakfast and dinner, including my companion at times. When I got to the house there was nothing in the refrigerator or the cabinet that we have. My companion wasn´t planning on eating dinner but he could tell I was starving so he mercifully got me the pizza. Since then I´ve purchased some bread and some fruit for breakfast and dinner in the event that he doesn´t want to go to the market and buy something. So don´t worry, I´m eating well :) I´m learning to pack as much in as I can during lunch, offered by the members. They can take offense if I don´t. We have rice and beans every meal with some sort of meat and juice/soda on the side. I´ve never enjoyed rice and beans so much. It´s delicious. Our ward definitely has some talented cooks.

Wednesday, my first full day, was overwhelming and frustrating, I´m not going to lie. People in the CTM are used to Portuguese in an American accent but not here. Some people can understand me just fine and others not a word. Wednesday I seemed to find all the people that couldn´t understand a word. We didn´t have any lessons scheduled, Elder Alcântara wasn´t in the mood to do contacts, and I felt like I had so much to learn about being a missionary, i.e. the patience of it all, the paperwork, the iron will to press on, the right things to say during a contact, how to know who to talk to and who to avoid, how to teach fearlessly and with the spirit, etc. I was exhausted and ready for bed. Mom, I remember how you described the first few months of your mission: at the CTM, you were bursting with a desire to get out into the field; once in the field for the first few days, you longed for the comfort of the CTM again. That´s exactly how I felt. But, I kept going because that´s all I know how to do. I don´t know how to give up. I´d fasted that Monday that I´d be able to find someone that would accept the invitation to be baptized in my first week, and I said a pleading prayer Wedensday night that I´d be able to keep pressing on. Elder Alcântara decided we would stop by Victor´s house, an investigator who´s received all the lessons and who´s wife is a member, but who has in the past had zero interest in getting baptized. He and his wife invited us in for some dinner (for which I was very grateful). After about 30 minutes of eating and talking with them (nothing too doctrinal related, just getting to know him), Victor out of the blue told us that he wanted to be baptized. I looked at my companion to make sure I heard write and he raised his arms in the air and pumped his fists. I grinned and congratulated him. We set his baptism date for this Saturday, December 1. So far everything is going according to schedule. He´s already been interviewed and is still excited about his decision. On my way home to the house that night, I couldn´t help crying a little bit with joy (even the memory of it brings back some tears) as I thanked Heavenly Father for His mercy and His answer to my fast and my prayers. God is so, so good. It´s a good thing this is His work or I´d have no hope of succeeding.

The rest of the week flew by. We spent a lot of time with Cristiane and her family, an investigator whose 13 and 11 year-old sons were baptized last month and whose baptism was already scheduled for this past Sunday before I even got to the field. She is such an amazing lady and firm as a rock. Her baptismal service was after church on Sunday (church gets over at 6 p.m.) here and it was quite an amazing experience. The Spirit testified to all of us there of the validity and importance of it. Elder Alcântara performed the baptism and claims there weren´t any tears in his eyes before it (he´s not super fond of displaying emotion) but I saw them. I was tearing up a little bit too because I was so happy. I´ll be sure to send some photos of that day. Her confirmation will be next Sunday in Sacrament Meeting and she asked me to do it. I am so excited and a little nervous, but mostly grateful to God for putting her in my path so soon. We´ve stopped by her house every day since I arrived in the field and I love getting to know her and feeling like I´m making at least a little bit of a difference in her life. We had family home evening in her house last night which was an absolute blast.

Right now we´re working with 4 great-grandkids of a lady named Flora that have accepted (tentatively--we´re working on building their confidence and desire) to be baptized on December 9. They came to Sacrament Meeting with us on Sunday, along with 7 other investigators we´ve found (many of whom are friends or family of Cristiane who wanted to attend her baptism). Elder Alcântara told me it was the first time in his mission that he´s had that many attend all at once. I really feel like I´ve walked into an area of miracles, and I´ve only been in the field 6 days!

Our chapel is gorgeous and has a decent piano, although I didn´t have an opportunity to play it because I was busy getting things ready with my companion for the baptismal service! I look forward to sneaking in a few minutes on the piano this coming Sunday. The ward, Vila União, has 60-70 members that attend regularly, all of whom are very friendly and patient with me and my Portuguese. Now we just need to work with them to get some more references!

I think I got all the details from the week...if not I´ll add them to the MissionTies letters I´ll be sending through the Sisters this Thursday. Mom, thank you so much for the Thanksgiving update and for emailing. I sincerely apologize I was not able to send my first email from the field off sooner!

If any of you have questions or advice or updates about your lives or would like to write, please send them to my wonderful mother so that she can forward them to me for next week´s email. I love you all muitíssimo. Don´t forget: use the MISSION OFFICE address for hand-written letters and Mission Ties. I can´t wait (really, can´t wait) to hear from all of you. I´m going to try to send some pictures now in some separate emails...


Love, Elder Sears

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Nov. 20, 2012 CTM Final Farewells

Pres. Degn, Elder Sears, Sis. Degn 
(CTM Mission president & his wife)

Elder Sears with one of his companions, Elder Carter, 
in the classic MTC map-pointing pose! "Campinas, here we come!"

Sister Cook, Sister Fenn, Elder Sears, Elder Carter and Elder Johnson

Saturday, November 24, 2012

November 20, 2012 Goodbye CTM, Hello Elder Alcântara and Vila União Area

Oi minha família e amigos,

I managed to get permission to send a really quick email from the mission office to let you know I´m doing just fine! Presidente Perrotti (my mission president) told all of us we´d all have time to send a quick email home but we ran out of time so I have to make this really short. I´m headed to an area called Vila União, about 30 minutes away from the mission office by bus, and my new companion is Elder Alcântara. He´s probably about 6 foot 4 and at least 200 pounds, but he´s super nice. I´m still alive and missing you, but oh so excited. My p-day in the field is Monday, so I´ll have to wait until then to read the emails you sent and reply in full (and write some letters home!). I did get the Mission Ties letter from the 16th, so thank you very much! Eu amo tudo de vocês. Vocês são ótimos! 

Com amor, Elder Sears

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

November 13, 2012 Three Hours and 30 placements of the Book of Mormon

Dearest family and friends,
I cannot believe I'm headed for the field in just 7 days now! It is quite a strange thing to realize that next week I'll be sending my email either from a computer in the mission home or one in a library close to my apartment in my first area. Exciting, right?! Last email I mentioned the mysterious lack of mail...I still don't know what was going on but that Tuesday (a few hours I sent the email) I got several Mission Ties letters and a hand-written one from Kirsten! Mom, did you get that note I scribbled towards the end of last P-day about the letter you sent on the 5th of November? It cut off for some reason after the first paragraph and the cliff-hanger has been gnawing at me since! Haha. Maybe the rest of the letter is waiting for me to pick up today; if not, could you maybe resend it? If you have already, thank you much :)
To answer some questions you all have had really quickly...
The weather has actually cooled down here significantly. We've gotten a decent amount of rain, including some pretty amazing thunderstorms. The view from our 6th story window at night of the lightning is something else. I'm very grateful for the change because it makes sleeping at night loads easier! I hear it's starting to get chilly both in the East and in the West. This past week our district was able to be investigators for TRC (mom, you wanted to know what it's called--it stands for "Teaching Resource Center") and the missionaries who were teaching us happened to be our Brazilian roommates. It's kind of a funny scenario when the investigators know less of the language than the missionaries do, but I really enjoyed the experience. The Spirit that was there when they quoted The First Vision was very powerful. If my investigators can feel that way in the field I'll be in good shape. "What do I do to prepare for the temple?" Good question, and the answer is I probably don't do enough! But I'm sure it helps to be living a lifestyle that is completely dedicated to worship, study, and testifying. Every P-day morning we pray as a companionship that we'll be able to be blessed with specific impressions that will improve our missionary service or answer some particular questions that we have. Today I felt that I really needed to review my Patriarchal B|essing again, so I will be doing that soon. "How are your P-days?" Honestly, P-day is probably the most stressful day of the week! In a good way. It just throws me off my rhythm a little bit when my to do list is comprised of things to write and buy as opposed to people to teach and lessons to study. The attempts we've made as a companionship to proselyte for at least 30 minutes have been so worthwhile, as I'm sure I've stressed plenty in previous letters and emails. I'll be interested to see how different P-day is in the field, including if it gets switched to Monday or not.... Mom, I will try to share some of the lessons I've learned so far in the letter I send home later today, and then maybe you can post that to the blog if you'd like? Or whatever works...
One more reminder for hand-written letters: it's that time to start using the Campinas Mission Home Address! I'll be able to pick up letters there once a month (stinks, I know). Once I get my individual apartment address I'll email that home, but there's always the risk that letters will get there after I've already transferred. I'm not sure which is better at the moment...I'll give it some more thought.
Spiritual Highlight of the week:
Yesterday our district had 3 hours on the schedule to go out and proselyte. 3 hours! We had to stay within some pretty limited boundaries, but our district set a goal to place 30 copies of The Book of Mormon collectively in that time. It started out pouring when we left which made things a little difficult, but the rain let up after a while. Our companionship probably spoke with at least 30 people, many of whom already had a Book of Mormon and were reading (or, encouraged rather enthusiastically by us to start reading :) ). Elder Johnson, Carter and I placed 9 copies which was close to a miracle! So many people here are open to our message, and I will continue to pray that they act on it. The three of us were headed back to the CTM for dinner when we saw 2 young men (probably 20ish) that we felt we should talk to. I said hi and shook their hand (that's pretty much a sure way down here to ensure people will stop and listen to you), and we started talking a little about their religion and their families. Elder Johnson started to testify about The Book of Mormon and the 2 boys could tell he was struggling, so when of them said "Dude, just speak in English." Best Two Years all over again! Haha. Elder Johnson was so excited to be able to bear his testimony in English and have them understand it. They accept the 2 copies we gave them and seemed really interested in beginning to read. Our visit with them probably lasted a good 15 minutes because of all the questions they had (which we were more than happy to answer). It did make us five minutes late, but no matter, because those last two copies of The Book of Mormon made number 29 and number 30 for our district. We met our goal EXACTLY. Coincidence...I think not! I loved the experience I had yesterday because it reenforced for me the fact that missionary work really is not at all about numbers, it's about people, and also the fact that God knows how to do His work. We are helpless without Him but oh so blessed to be working with Him. I can't wait for more experiences like that. We have 3 hours scheduled for proselyting next Monday as well.
Other highlights:
Friday I convinced some Elders to play 2 on 2 basketball with me during gym. It's probably the first "real" game I've played since BYU, and I was very pleased to see I can still shoot! Elder Nuttall played with us (the Elder I knew from BYU who played with me often there) and told me the nickname "Wonderboy" that I earned at BYU for my 3-point percentage still stood. Yay! Also, I found out this week that my Brazilian roommate Elder Batista brought banangrams with him! We were able to play for 15 minutes Friday night which brought back many good memories. Mom, I hear Sister Shell is catching up to you in that game and that she almost beat you??
Oh, another crazy thing...while we were proselyting we saw a motorcycle crash straight into a car. Scary. Both drivers were okay though. We happened to be speaking to a man standing by his own motorcycle at the time and he barely even flinched watching it...he said it happens all the time in Sao Paulo.
In other news, as part of my preparation to get ready for the field in 1 week, I set a goal starting this past Sunday night not to speak ANY English. It's been an adventure, but I have succeeded so far! It's fun to be learning so many new words every day, and it's also fun to see that I am at least capable of survival using only Portuguese.
The EFY medley that I accompanied last Tuesday (I think I mentioned it last email) went really well. President Degn loved it so much that he invited us to sing it again this week. I was just fine with that because I love the arrangement. But then I learned I'd be accompanying the choir for Elder Costa who is coming tomorrow! (he is the Presiding Area Authority for all of Brazil). No pressure! I'm also working on three other songs which I've been asked to play in the coming week. Good thing I like to play :)
Kirsten, thanks for the short note you sent as well. I didn't even realize it's been 3 years now in Georgia for my family, but it has! Louco! I'll be sending a much more detailed letter shortly.
I love you all. Eu amo tudo de voces. Until the field!
Love, Elder Sears

November 13, 2012

A note from the editor (Mom). I wanted to share a piece of a handwritten letter Brad wrote. I asked him to share some of the lessons he's learned in the CTM and this is his inspiring response.

"1) God knows what He's doing, and I know what I'm doing much more when I let Him do things His way than when I don't. I'm an instrument in His hands. He's molding the people He wants me to touch but He's also molding me as His tool in the process.

2) President Hinckley's dad was very wise to say "forget yourself and go to work." I, of course, am not always in a perfect mood, but I am so much happier when I think outward and set aside everything else. I am truly finding my life as I am losing it.

3) I was called to speak Portuguese, yes, but more importantly to speak the tongue of angels. And angels "speak by the Holy Ghost" (2 Nephi 32:2-3). For whatever amount of Portuguese I don't know, the Spirit fills in the gap. I always need to be worthy of it.

4) Preaching the gospel is fun!! It is hard work, but it is fun work.

5) I really am nothing without charity. The work is much easier for me and much more enjoyable when I'm doing it out of a sense of love as opposed to obligation."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Nov. 6, 2012 Five BYU Freshman Ward Friends Reunited

Brad with 4 friends from his BYU Ward who are 
all in the Brazil MTC together!
Elders Gunn, Sears, Hansen,
McKean and Nuttall

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

November 6, 2012 Gaining New Roommates, Losing a Favorite Instructor

Hello again! My first and most pressing question is...is everyone still alive back home?? I don't know what's going on with the mail around here, but not many North Americans have been getting mail this past week. Only 3 letters have come for our entire district and I haven't been one of the lucky ones :( Dad, thank you so much for your email. It was the only letter/message from home I got this past week! Are you all okay? I continue to think of and pray for you daily, and I will look forward to the letters that I hope will be trickling in soon. Mom, I'm sending home a pretty big letter via Mission Ties later this afternoon (I also am sending it to Kirsten and the Shell's as well) that should explain thoroughly what's been going on this week. I'll probably repeat some of those things here so that everyone else can know how the past week has been. Did you get the Mission Ties letters I sent last week? I sent one home to the family, one to Joseph, one to the Shell's and one to Kirsten. Maybe I sent another one too..? Any crazy news from home? I heard about Hurrican Sandy. I hope everyone is okay. And today is election day, right? Good luck to Mitt! (am I allowed to say that as a missionary? I don't know...haha).
A few more really quick things: mom, I know you were planning to send a package to the Mission Office. Thank you for that :) If you haven't sent it yet, could you include some family pictures please please please? Some of the pictures from that last weekend together with the cousins would be fantastic. Also, I am going to start writing the address to the Campinas Mission Home on the hand-written letters I send out because I will be there in 2 weeks. The secretary here at the CTM recommends that you use that address as opposed to the residential address that I will get in the field. Mission Ties will still work just fine; the lady that operates it sends all your Mission Ties letters to the mission home. It's probably safest to start using the Mission Office address in Campinas from here on out for hand-written letters just to make sure that none of them get stuck at the CTM when I've already left. Last thing, my morning instructor (Irmao Mauricio) told me that he found me on Facebook and sent a friend request. Could you accept that for me?? I think he posted a picture of the two of us as well but I'm not sure...thank you!
Spiritual highlights from this past week: so many!
Last P-day my companions and I set another goal to set aside 30 minutes just for proselyting. It was really neat, as expected! The first street contact is always the hardest becasue you don't want to stop somebody and start talking naturally. But, Elder Johnson flagged an older man down and handed me the reins. He had already received The Book of Mormon but accepted our invitation to continue to read. He said that the previous Sister's that had talked with him promised him "a grace" if he read the book and he said that he received it because his business started doing really well after he started to read. We promised him that he would continue to see blessings from the Lord in his life as he read, pondered, and prayed about The Book of Mormon. We taught him that one of the greatest blessings he could receive was a knowledge that The Book of Mormon was true. He thanked us and said he'd do what he asked and continue "looking for more graces." We talked with probably 7 or 8 more people that day, and it became easier and easier as time went on. I honestly was having fun. It's so neat to be able to share your testimony and see the effects of it at work immediately when people accept your invitation to read and pray. We placed an additional Book of Mormon and talked with several people that had already received one but also promised that they would continue to read, or begin reading again.
This past Sunday was Fast Sunday, which involves a Mission Conference in the morning instead of the typical 3 hour block of Church. President Araujo spoke (a counselor in the CTM Presidency here), and talked about the dream in which Daniel saw the stone cut out of the mountain without hands rolling to fill the whole earth. He asked us as missionaries which side of the stone we were on--pushing it down the hill as we've been commanded to do or foolishly pushing against it through disobedience and a lack of diligence. That was a really powerful way of putting it. I get the feeling a lot more lights went out at 10:30 that night than usual after having heard his talk. I loved his interpretation of the analogy because it makes laziness and disobedience look so ridiculous in the grand scheme of things. When we choose to try to push the stone back up the hill, we are pushing against God and gravity--quite the task if you ask me! I remember writing in my journal that whoever chooses that route will inevitably get flattened. I promised myself I would be part of God's army rolling the stone down the mountain, not being rolled down the mountain by the stone (even though that does conjure up a pretty good mental image).
Other highlights:
I'm still in the same district that I came with (and will be until I head for the field), but sadly Irmao Mauricio will be leaving us this week. His two years as an instructor here are up. He spoke with each of the companionships individually and told us how much he's enjoyed working with us. He told Elder Johnson and Carter and I that he considered our district a "miracle." He commented that he's rarely seen a district work as hard as we have in such unity in his 2 years being here. I considered that quite the compliment coming from him, especially since our district is so huge! It really is a blessing that we are all so equally committed and enthusiastic about missionary work. I couldn't have asked for a better district or a better instructor. I gave Irmao Mauricio a CD that I'd made before I left and I think he really appreciated it. We are all going to miss him.
We got new Brasileiro roommates this week! Their names are Elder Batista and Elder Albequerque. They are very diligent and join us in companionship prayer every morning and every night. Elder Batista even brought Bananagrams! If we ever have any time to play, I'll be interested to see how well I can do in Portuguese. I miss all those family memories playing together, and I miss the fact that it was in English!
Halloween was this past week (as you all know), and Elder Johnson and I decided we ought to celebrate in some small way. Just before 10 we got our pillowcases and went door to door in our hall asking for treats (politely of course). I think most of the Elders in our hall got a kick out of it. We managed to pull in a cough drop, a nail, some "centados" (pennies, basically), a half-cookie, some sugar-free gum and, finally, some actual chocolate. We were quite pleased with ourselves. It was a fun memory of home. 
I've got to go, but I'll look forward to reading all of your letters and emails for the coming week. I hope you're all okay. I love you. Until next week!
Love, Elder Sears
P.S. Mom, or Dad, please make sure the Shell's get this!
P.p.s. I got to do Initiatories in the temple today (in Portuguese!). Super neat.
Love you, again. Ciao! 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October 30, 2012 "Placing My First Book of Mormon"

Wow, I'm going to have to type fast today! I got so many emails from all of you and just loved it :) I apologize if I can't respond to every question, but I shall do my best! Please feel free to send the remaining questions/thoughts through mission ties so that I have more than a few frenzied seconds to read them.
The biggest question most of you have had is whether or not I've made the switch to the Brazilian District. I haven't yet; it largely depends on the needs of the Brazilians coming in this week, since they are the Elders that will be leaving with the Americans from our week when we all head for the field. If they have a trio or an odd number or a problem of some sort, it's more likely that I'll make the switch. If not, then I will stay where I am. There are definitely plusses to each side, with the only minuses being the plusses of the other alternative! I am loving my time with my North American district and really feel like we are all getting to become really close friends. We all plan to try to get together in 2 years (I hope that becomes a reality, but if not, I'm taking plenty of pictures for memories...).
I will be sure to let you know if I switch districts or continue to stay with the one I'm in now.
As far as letters go: Grandma Sears, I received one letter from you written on what I think was the 23rd of September. I received it towards the beginning of October and sent a hand-written response out that week. Maybe it hasn't gotten there yet--I know post is going pretty slow. Mom, I got your missionties letter and have already written my response, to be sent home shortly. Thank you so much for that. I haven't ever gotten any letter with orange paper though :/ I'll keep looking and keep my fingers crossed! Mitchell, thank you so much for your email, and yes, "obrigado" is certainly correct! It's a good word to know around here, along with "disculpe" (literally meaning forgive me, or "sorry"). Abigail, I got your email and loved reading it, but I had to read so fast! Maybe you could send me a copy of it via missionties so I can respond in greater detail to it? I hear Swim Team is going great and that you've made a new friend! I'm also very happy to hear about your spiritual experiences and that you continue to be such a fantastic example to everyone you know. Kirsten, I got your short little note and the picture of Bentley: adorable! I also got your missionties letter that you sent on your birthday and really appreciated it. I'll be sending a response later today. Brayden and the Shell Family, thank you so much for the update and the pictures! I loved them, especially those of Heston and Rowan. It brought back so many memories :) I'm so glad BYU romped GT, and congratulations to Hill Grove as well.
A few favors to ask for the best mom in the whole world :)
Could you try to research what Zak Cole's email address is for his mission? He's my best friend from BYU and I've been wanting to email him. I know I'm friends with him on Facebook so maybe you could research it that way? I'm guessing it's zachary.cole@myldsmail.net but I'm not sure.
Also, if you could try to email/mail a copy of my priesthood line of authority that would be fantastic. We had a lesson about it this past Sunday and I figured it'd be a neat thing to have, for me and for my investigators. Thank you!
Spiritual highlight from the past week:
To keep it short, my companions and I placed our first Book of Mormon! Actually, better stated, God did. It was such a neat experience. We talked with an older man just sitting by his motorcycle a few blocks down from the CTM on our last P-day. He was genuinely interested and talked to us for 20 minutes or so! (rare for a street contact, but he just kept going). We left him with a Book of Mormon and testified of its truth. I wrote down the number of the local Sao Paulo missionaries for him to use if he had questions or wanted to learn more. He said he would read and was true to his word! We hadn't even made it halfway down the block after talking to him when we turned back and saw that he was reading. So neat. I pray that he was touched by what we said (in very broken Portuguese, I'm sure) and that he'll have a desire to read and know for himself what I've been blessed to know for so many years. God really is a worker of miracles. I'm sending a copy of my journal entry about the experience home in my letter to mom through missionties, which will have much more details than I have time to provide here.
Another spiritual highlight was the temple today, because Elder Carter, Elder Pinon, Elder Hatch and I all got to participate in Confirmations! It was a rare opportunity because normally missionaries just participate in Endowment Sessions, but the temple workers needed 4 volunteers and we were the first 4. It was really neat for me to be able to participate in the ordinance of confirmation for the first time with the Melchizedek Priesthood. I felt so humbled and overjoyed to be able to say the ordinance in both Portuguese and English. It was definitely an unforgettable experience to be able to be on the other side of the blessing. Holding the Priesthood is certainly something I will never cease to be grateful for.
As far as other highlights go:
I got my voice back this Saturday which was quite a treat! I lost it this past Wednesday and couldn't do much more than whisper until Saturday night. It was frustrating, no doubt, but it didn't hurt which was a blessing. I'm all back to normal now. Ready to go talk to someone else about The Book of Mormon today :)
I've also been able to continue to play the piano because I'll be accompanying the choir (again) next Tuesday (a week from today) for devotional. We'll be singing the EFY medley, which always brings such a special spirit with it. Can't wait! It is a little saddening though to realize how many songs have already gone out of my fingers and my memory...I'll have to play a lot of catch up when I get back!
What is weather like back there? I heard from Brayden that it's starting to get pretty cold in Georgia, and from Kirsten that Utah got its first snow on the 25th! Down here has been RIDICULOUSLY hot. And hotter in the CTM than outside, because the AC in our classroom hasn't been working lately. It's been a little bit of a challenge to stay sane in there. I was talking with the bus driver on the way home from the temple today and he said it's never been this hot this early in the season (Brazil is just now starting its second month of Spring). The high today is about 96 F. It makes sleeping hard because there's not AC in our bedroom, just a fan that does not do nearly enough for us spoiled North Americans. It'll be good practice for the field though.
I've got to go, but I love you all so much. I can't wait to hear more of your experiences, and I promise to continue to share mine. I miss you. I wouldn't be giving so much of myself and my life to be away from you if I didn't know that the cause for which I'm working is pretty much the best work on Earth. Until next week...
Love, Elder Sears

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

October 23, 2012 Half-way Mark at the CTM

Another week that went by in a matter of minutes!
I hope all of you are doing tremendously well. Mom, I got your email and was smiling and laughing during it. I hope the other missionaries I'm sitting next to don't think I'm having too much fun! It is so good to hear from you. I know I say that every week but I mean it every week as well. Are the Shell's just planning to communicate through Mission Ties from here on out? I miss their emails! But please tell them that I've written them a nice long letter that I'll be sending off in a couple of hours.  Please tell Abigail I wish her the best of luck with swimming and that I'm so proud of her. Please tell Spencer and Andrew congratulations for me! I'm sure they're the best on their team. I loved going to their games and watching them while tossing the football on the sideline with the rest of the family--little things like that make me so grateful for all of you. I wish I could be there in person watching! Joseph, keep on acing your APUSH class. I have no doubt whatsoever that you have the highest grade in there. You deserve it. Keep on (harmlessly) scheming as well...it'll keep you sane :) Dad, so neat to hear that you're in South Bend! The image of you being surrounded by Catholic nuns is an interesting and enjoyable one. I'm so glad things are continuing to go well for you with work. I'm glad that Sunday School went well however. I'm sure you're not giving yourself enough credit. And thank you for consistently sending letters and emails. It's the highlight of every P-day hands down!
Please pass along to Sister Helsing that she is the kindest 89 year-old I have ever known! God bless her for her goodness. Please tell her I am very much looking forward to hearing "Amazing Grace" when I get back. That is so kind of her to still be thinking of me.
A few more "items of business" really quick: I'm hearing it's taking about 4 weeks for hand-written letters to arrive from Brasil to the States. So, please let me know when you get some of those that I have sent! Some are copies of the mission ties letters but I think I sent at least one different letter by mail back home. I've also sent hand-written letters to Kirsten, both sets of grandparents, and the Savages. While I'm thinking of it, please wish Kirsten happy birthday personally for me this Thursday!! I sent a birthday card in the mail but that probably won't get there until November.
This past week for me has been another really, really good one. So much to write about. I guess I'll just start with some of the highlights.
This past Wednesday by instructor, Irmao Mauricio, approached me and asked me what I thought about possibly being moved to an all Brazilian district! His opinion is that I'm progressing really well and that the best way for me to be learning at the quickest rate would be to be around Brazilians 24/7. I was so humbled by his opinion. A little frightened too! A change of that magnitude would mean a lot of other changes as well (companions, wards, districts, rooms, etc.). It's still up in the air as to whether or not the logistics are even possible, so I'll be sure to update further as I hear more! My plan is to accept that change if it's a possibility, but it's definitely going to require a lot of my faith and my patience (with myself). I am so excited though, and so grateful to the Lord for His goodness in blessing me with the gift of tongues already.
Wednesday night brought another highlight for me. We were playing volleyball when President and Sister Degn walked in. I guess there have been more ankle incidents during gym time (Elder Carter is almost completely better now) so they wanted to check in on how safe the missionaries are being. Just about a minute or two after they showed up, the other team hit a high, floating ball that landed perfectly over the net to the point where I could get a pretty good spike on it. I absolutely crushed it straight down onto the floor and it felt sooo good! Haha, yes, I know--I'm such a boy. Sister Degn looked bewildered that I could hit it so fast! She's played a little bit of volleyball herself from what I hear so it was fun to be able to smash the ball so hard (and not hurt anyone while doing it of course). Hopefully I won't be the reason for a ban of volleyball in the future!
Wednesday and Thursday night I got two separate packages--one from Grandma Julie and the Utah cousins and one from the Savages. They had sent me pictures about my mission and conference and adorable little notes. One said, and I quote directly, "hope you baptize pepole Elder!" That one, along with several others, are now decorating our class room. I shared them with the rest of the district and we were all laughs and smiles. Please pass along to everyone involved in sending something that it definitely made our week!
Music has been a big part of this last week as well. I explain in fuller detail in a letter I'm about to send off after I finish this, so I won't go into everything here. But, my spiritual highlight of the week did come through music this week. For the Sunday night devotional the CTM choir (in which every missionary here sings) performed a rendition of Joseph Smith's First Prayer. I don't think I've ever felt the Spirit as strong in the CTM as it was while we were singing. The last verse, when God the Father testifies of His Beloved Son, we sang without the piano in perfect 4 part harmony. When we finished the song, President Degn rose to thank us from the pulpit and could barely get his words out. He was crying because of how much it had touched him. Coming from a concert pianist, that meant a lot to me and all of us. He asked if we could sing it again for him. We did, and the second time was just as powerful. It honestly felt as if we had angels from Heaven singing with us. One of our speakers from that night, the mission mom for a mission close to the CTM, tried to start her talk by thanking us and she couldn't get the words out either because of tears! When she finally got one sentence out in Portuguese there was even more silence because the translator couldn't muster a translation (he was crying too). And, of course, I was crying. Tears, tears, tears. It was such a tender experience and a tender memory. It left absolutely no doubts that the message of the Restoration is true. I am so grateful that I could be a part of that choir. I'm accompanying the choir tonight for "THis Is The Christ," so I have a lot of work and praying to do to make tonight even half as powerful as Sunday.
Oh, can't believe I forgot! This past Saturday was our half-way mark at the CTM. Can you believe it's gone by that fast already?? 1/24 of my mission is already behind me. I continue to grow everyday, and I'm finding my desires to become better and testify with more conviction increasing every day. God is working miracles in me, and I cannot wait to be the instrument by which He will work miracles in the lives of the Brazilians. My companions and I have set a goal and prayerfully prepared to try to place at least one Book of Mormon today. I will let you know how that goes!
I love you all so, so much. That love grows everyday because my love for the Lord grows every day. Sunday night we watched 17 Miracles and I was just so grateful for the pioneer's sacrifices to be with their families in Zion. It made me love and miss mine so much more. Please know I'm thinking of you (and all my friends as well). Mom, if you could pass this on as always, that'd be much appreciated :) God bless you!
Love, Elder Sears
Oh, and no new roommates yet :( I will wait patiently!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October 16, 2012 Three CTM Musts: Volleyball, Piano and Sacrament Meeting

Hello all :)
I'm very grateful, as always, for all of your love and support, and the letters you've sent so far! I think at this point I've responded to every letter I've gotten through mission ties. Still waiting on those hand-written letters to come in--silly Brazil post. I've gotten one from Amanda Miller and one from Grandma Sears so far. Can't wait for more! :) Please let me know once you start getting the hand-written letters that I've sent out. I want to make sure you're getting them, and if not, then I can work something out!

A few questions that you all have asked me this week...
What is Sao Paulo like? Do you get to go out in the city on P-days?
Sao Paulo is bustling and huge. We hear cars blazing by every night until about 2 or 3. (or my roommates do that is, I'm sound asleep most of the time). I'm not sure how many of you know, but Sao Paulo is in the top 5 cities in the world as far as population goes. People everywhere! There's 4 different missions just for the Sao Paulo area. We get to go out into the city on every P-day anytime between 1 and 5. We have to stay within a 3 block radius or so of the CTM, but that's plenty enough to see how massive the city is. There's little shops and stores everywhere that have everything that we need as missionaries. There's a lady across the street who sells ties to us for discounts and soccer jerseys and the like. I bought one a couple weeks ago for a team in Campinas and am loving it. We also get to see a pretty decent view of the city every time we go to the temple (Tuesday's during the morning, from about 7 to 12). It's about an hour drive but only 15 miles--traffic is crazy! As are the drivers. I do not want to be driving anywhere near here!

So, President Degn plays the piano. Has he played for you yet?
Yes, in fact :) He gave our Sunday night devotional this past week and bore his testimony through the piano. He played a 3 hymn medley about Jesus Christ and the spirit was so incredibly strong. I think it speaks to me more through music than through anything else. I'm scheduled to be playing this next Tuesday (1 week from today) for another choir accompaniment, so I will let you know how that goes in 2 weeks! It's an arrangement of This Is The Christ. Should be good.
Why is it the CTM and not the MTC?

CTM stands for "Centro de Treinamento Missionario." It's just Portuguese for MTC. I learned a few weeks ago that it is the largest building that the Church owns outside of the United States.
Will there be any General Authorities visiting the CTM?
Not to my knowledge :( Most of our speakers for devotionals come from instructors and leaders here in Brazil. The Sao Paulo Temple President spoke to us 2 weeks ago and gave an incredible talk.

How is volleyball?
Great, as always :) I'm living up to my nickname as "Straight-shot Sears" and I love every chance I get to play. Hopefully I'll be able to squeeze a little bit in later on today. I haven't even minded not keeping score (that's not allowed as a missionary) because I've just been enjoying myself so much. Surprised?

Highlights from this week:
Well, lowlights and highlights. Elder Carter bruised his ankle really badly playing volleyball last Wednesday. It's all purply and gross, but he's walking on it now without crutches--a small miracle if you ask me. It has been nice though since we get to use the elevator instead of 6 flights of stairs every week! This past Friday was "Dia das Criancas" here in Brazil (Children's Day). Apparently it's a big deal out here, and to celebrate the CTM cafeteria staff decorated the cafeteria and actually fed us chicken nuggets! It was nice to have a taste of home, but they didn't even compete with Chick-Fil-A.
Our Brazilian and Chilean roommate left this morning for the field. So exciting, and a little sad too. Elder Perez gathered everyone on the 6th floor last night and bore his testimony which was really neat. It was one of the few times I've seen his non-Elvis side! Elder Vieira got pretty emotional when he had to leave. He woke me up because I was asleep and told me he'd miss me and that he was grateful for my example. I gave both him and Elder Perez a copy of my CD, which only brought more tears! It's just another reminder of how young we are as missionaries.

Spiritual highlight: Sacrament Meeting this past week. Sunday's are usually the best day of the week for me, and this past Sunday was the best Sunday I've had here, if that gives any indication of how good it was! I want to copy some of the journal entry I recorded about it. I'm going to scan the rest of the entry home to you Dad/Mom, and you can share it with who may be interested:
"I got to play prelude for Sacrament Meeting today which was a treat. I played my version of "If You Could Hie to Kolob" and Elder Baughan, an Elder in my district, commented about how much he liked it. He asked for the sheet music and was totally taken back when I told im I had written it myself. That definitely felt nice, because he's pretty musically talented himself...
...President Araujo, a member of the CTM PResidency here, gave a 30 minute long talk that I hope I will remember throughout my mission. His focus was on what he called the "2 parallels of God's work," which he interpreted to be the youth and the family. He focused primarily on the youth and told the following story to illustrate how much of an impact they can make. He spoke in Portuguese with a translator, so this is what I remember about it:
'I remember one fearless, completely clueless greenie that got assigned to a trainer by the name of Elder Taylor. Elder Taylor was one of the few veteran missionaries we had in the field at that time. The previous week while he was tracting he introduced himself to a man as a representative of Jesus Christ. The man heard that, screamed at him, picked up his garden tools nearby, and started chasing after Elder Taylor with the intent to leave him limp. Elder Taylor got away, but when he heard he'd be getting a greenie he wanted to pay that man one more visit, just to scare his new companion senseless. (I hope my trainer is a little more merciful on me). The first house that companionship tracted was the neighbor of the man that tried to kill Elder Taylor. Elder Taylor demonstrated how to do a door approach, then told his companion to do the next door. When the greenie knocked on the man's door, he opened, and before Elder Taylor could pull him back and start to run the new Elder had already begun his introduction: "Eu sou Jesus Cristo" (I am Jesus Christ)." The man started to sob and invited the Elders into his home, while Elder Taylor stood there speechless. The man explained that the previous week his wife had died, and that he had pleaded with the Lord no to take her. When He did, and Elder Taylor introduced himself as a representative of Jesus Christ, he was angry because he believed Jesus was cruel and merciless. The night before the new elder showed up at his door, he had a dream in which he saw his wife. She asked him why he had rejected the missionaries and told him that they could teach him truths that would allow the 2 of them to live together for eternity. She pleaded with him that hte next time Jesus Christ sent someone to him, he would accept them. There were the 2 Elders one day later, one of them introducing himself (by accident) as Jesus Christ. But I don't believe it was an accident. That man accepted the missionaries and the gospel, and is currently serving as the Patrairch in his stake."
I loved that so much. It lifted my spirits and encouraged me that I really can do this work. I'm not the one in charge, and I will receive help from On HIgh as I seek it and God sees fit.
God bless you all. Until next week!

Elder Sears
Mom, as always, please forward this on to friends and family, especially the Shell's :)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

October 9, 2012 A Very Special General Conference at the CTM

Hello my favorite people in the world,
I cannot believe that I'm already in my fourth week here now! Time is flying by so quickly. I'm not exaggerating, I feel like I was sending my last email to you all just one day ago. First of all, thank you to all those who have sent letters via mission ties and other methods. I am getting letters through Mission Ties--I know that has been a question on all of your minds! It usually takes a day or two from the time you sent them for them to appear in my mailbox here, which is not bad (it's a little bit longer if you send them on the weekends). I love hearing little snippets of life back home. It's great and it reminds me that I have such a solid support group writing me and praying for me and genuinely concerned for my welfare. I love you, and God bless you for your kindness.
Some other questions that I know you have had:

Have you been able to play the piano...?
Yes, but not as often as I'd like of course! I have to schedule a room with the CTM secretary, which is hard because there's not a whole lot of availability. I did, however, find a way around that :) I signed up to accompany the choir for last Tuesday's devotional, which meant that I was allowed more time--basically 30 minutes a day for Friday, Sat., Sun., and Mon. It was great! I practiced the number I would be playing (a Brazilian hymn entitled "Ide a Tudo O Mundo") but also was able to sneak in some run-through's of "If You Could Hie to Kolob" and some other church music I haven't been able to play for a while. The performance itself went great, no nerves or anything, just the Spirit. It's a really cool song, and I wish you could have been there to listen to it.

How many missionaries are at the CTM?
If fluctuates because we have districts leaving and arriving every Tuesday-Thursday, but on average there's about 150 Americans and 75 or so Brazilians, with some Hispanics sprinkled in. So, not very many compared to Provo! It's nice that way though--more time to shower and more time to get to know everyone on an individual level. The CTM has a capacity of 600 or so, which I'm sure will come in handy when we start getting all those 18 year old Elders and 19 year old Sisters!!! How about that announcement by the way?? Grandma and Grandpa Q, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about that as a Mission President and a Mission Mom.

How is the temple? English or Portuguese?
The temple is fantastic. I get to go every week with about 70 other Elders and Sisters on P-day. The sessions are in English, which is such a blessing for me. It's really neat to know that the Church works the exact same way no matter where you go in the world. And, of course, the Spirit is just as strong. I'm gaining so many new insights and impressions each time I go. Oh, and Conference this past weekend was in English as well. yay!

How are President and Sister Degn?
President Degn is an incredible man. He's so personable and very quiet when he speaks, but very firm. A lot like the Holy Ghost. He's served in mission leadership positions in the Church for decades and he's a concert pianist!  How about that? Sister Degn is so kind and sweet. She reminds me a lot of Grandma Julie. She has an extremely powerful testimony and I think everyone that she serves have come to love her.

Spiritual highlight of the week: that'd have to be Conference!
The CTM just about lost it when we heard the missionary service announcement! President and Sister Degn had to hush us so that we could hear the change in the sister's age as well! We are all so excited, as am I individually as I contemplate the changes that may bring about within my family and close circle of friends. I've never been as spiritually fed during conference as I was this time. I tried to go into each session with a question or two that I was hoping could be answered, and pray for impressions to direct me to the answers for each of those sessions. Without fail, I got my answers. If I had to classify the knowledge and impressions I received during the sessions into 2 overarching categories they would be these:
1) As a servant of the Lord and representative of Jesus Christ who has been set apart to preach His gospel, I really am entitled to personal revelation through the Holy Ghost, sent from on High.
2) The message that I carry as a missionary is transformative and miraculous; when I promise investigators and companions that the gospel has the power to bless their lives in more ways than they can imagine, I can issue that promise with the aboslute conviction that what I'm promising is true.
I hope all of you enjoyed conference as much as I did, and I'd love to hear from you any insights you gained or thoughts you had!

Non-spiritual highlight of the week:
This Thursday we went to the "Policia Federal" to extend our visas from 1 year to 2 years. On the way there traffic was terrible; we saw a car get off the highway, drive through the hill on which the off-ramp was constructed (full of boulders and trees and dirt and such), and merge back into traffic at the end of the off-ramp. Crazy stuff! When we got there I was able to talk to two missionaries that were there that had been serving for 18 months and 21 months respectively. One was American and the other Brazilian. Hearing both of them talk gave such hope to me that I'll be able to be speaking and testifying like them at some point hopefully not too far in the future!
Another funny incident from this week: one of the sisters in our district, Sister Cook, wanted to decorate the room where we study so she brought down a gift that her mom had sent her from home. It's a solar powered flower that oscillates back and forth when it's close enough to the window. My companions and I are straight across from that window so we have the perfect view of it. One afternoon Elder Carter, one of my companions, started bursting out laughing and then proceeded to cry because he was laughing so hard. That is so unlike him, so I asked him what was going on and he said: "That stinking flower is waving at me and it won't stop! I'm going crazy!" We all had a pretty good laugh after that and on a second glance, that flower really does look like it's waving at us. I can't look at it anymore because I'll just start laughing. Silly 19 year-old's, I know :)
I love you all and I'm doing my best to send off as many letters as I can via Mission Ties today. Mom, please forward this on to the Shell's so that they can know what's going on down here! You're all in my prayers and I am so, so grateful for your kindness and support.

Love, Elder Sears

Saturday, October 6, 2012

October 2, 2012 Sao Paulo Temple Visit

                          Bradford (back row, center) at the Sao Paulo temple with his district.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

October 2, 2012 Spiritual Highlights, Silly Highlights

Hello again,
I hope you all are doing well! Mom, Kirsten and the Shell's, I got your emails and loved reading through them and browsing through the pictures that you sent (Kirsten). Unfortunately they don't let me download anything or print them out, so maybe you can send some hard copies (there'd be a question mark there but it doesn't work on this computer...). Mom and Kirsten, still no letters yet :( I'll check with Mission Ties today to see what's up. I don't really know how it works but I'll try to get that figured out when I stop by to send off the letters I've already written for you.To my family, I already sent out a letter last week by regular mail that I hope will be getting there soon. I love you all and miss you so much, and I'm thinking of you. Please, please feel free to write (and email!) Shell family, thank you for that update! I'm so glad to hear that you're all doing well. I'm going to try to get a letter sent out to you today, and if not, certainly next week. Good luck with all your activities!

This week has been even better than the first, if that's at all possible! Last P-day my companions and I found out we'd be getting two new roommates the next day. One of them is Elder Perez, who I think I alluded to last email. He is from Chile, he's 22, and he is absolutely hilarious! When he found out he'd be moving into our room he started doing laps around the hallway and screaming (with what I think was excitement--I couldn't tell). We all love him, especially when he quiets down by 10:30 so we can sleep :) This past week he's put on a show for us of Elvis, Michael Jackson, and a 3 character monologue from Star Wars Episode VI all by himself. Our other roommate is Elder Vieira. He's from Brasil, he's 20, and he's the only active member in his family. He speaks no English so communicating with him has been...a good challenge for me. He speaks so fast compared to our instructors! It's great to have him with us though. I feel like I'm learning the language more effectively talking to him for 5 minutes as opposed to studying for an hour. Last night he surprised us all by offering back massages--he's pretty talented, I have to say. Haha!

The weather here this last week has been crazy. We've had days where we've had a high in the 40's and other days when we've had lows in the 80's I think.

As I was thinking through what I wanted to say today on the way home from the temple this morning I thought it might be fun to do a "spiritual" and "fun" highlight of every week. So here goes:
It's hard to limit my spiritual highlight down to just one thing, but if I had to choose it would be my first experience in the TRC this past Friday. The TRC (Teaching Resource Center) is where you and your companions teach an "investigator" who is really another American that's been here for at least 6 weeks. You walk into a room set up like a living room with a camera and microphone to record your lesson so that your instructor can give you feedback without being in the room and so that you can watch it for yourself later on. And of course it's all in Portuguese. A little intimidating, I know! But it was such a great experience for me. We taught an investigator named Leonardo who was struggling with the concept of prayer. Our job was to help resolve his concern by helping him see why we should pray and how prayer can bless us. I will be the first to say my Portuguese vocab is not nearly good enough for me to say everything I want to and everything I feel like I should, but for whatever reason I could during TRC. The Spirit was so strong and although we all stumbled in our teaching the spirit never left. What a great blessing and confidence builder that was to know that I really am capable of teaching with the Spirit. Or better said, letting the Spirit teach. The feedback we got was almost all positive. Other districts that had been here longer than we have said that all of our district did really well, especially for our first time.

One more spiritual highlight because I just have to...Wednesday afternoon one of our instructors, Irma Kikuchi, invited us to read in the Book of Mormon out loud as a district (in Portuguese). She asked us to choose what chapter we wanted to read, and since nobody else volunteered I suggested Ether 12. As we read that chapter, specifically verse 27 (the scripture on my plaque), I was overwhelmed with how directly God was speaking to me through the scriptures. It occurred to me that Moroni was writing that chapter because of how he felt with his weakness in writing. He didn't feel like he was adequate enough, but when he told the Lord that he replied by telling him that as men "come unto him, he will show unto them their weakness." Then they are humble enough to have the Lord turn their weakness into strength. That applies so much to me on my mission. Serving a mission was a big part of my desire to come unto Christ, and it has definitely made clear many of my weaknesses. But I feel so, so often that I am being guided by a higher power, and that I am overcoming my weaknesses in the language and as a teacher much faster than I ever could have on my own. I shared those thoughts with the class and Irma Kikuchi started to cry becuase she said she's felt the same way as an instructor so often (we're her first district, but she really is doing a fantastic job).

For the not directly spiritually related highlight...this past Sunday I attempted to accomplish what's known at the CTM as the "jello challenge." Basically whenever there's jello for dessert some missionaries will dump it out on their plate and try to slurp it up in one gulp (I know, very 19 year old-ish, isn't it). Not many people have had success. I summoned the courage (or probably better said, stupidity) to attempt it. I had swallowed half of it when the whole table started laughing because I looked like a chipmunk with chunks of jello in my cheeks. I lost it and laughed and spewed jello everywhere back onto my plate. We all laughed pretty hard, but I went to my bed that night and repented of my childishness :) Still, I think everybody in the district has opened up to me now a little more because of that.

Some last minute things I should probably mention:
I'm hoping to scan home some journal entries so far to my mom so that she can post some of them on the blog or email some of them around or whatever she pleases. Let me know what else you want to know about my life out here!

Also, it's easier on the secretary here if, when you're sending letters, you include my district number and mail box as well. My mom should have a copy of the updated address that she can send out to you, so please ask her for it to make life on Sister Steadman here a little easier!
I'm going to try to scan some pictures home as well after I send off the two letters...hopefully that work! I love you all and can't wait to hear from you.
Last thing, I found out this week that we're really only supposed to be emailing family. So, I'm going to send next week's email to my family and then I'll be sure to have her forward it to you. As far as emailing me, maybe you could just email her and she can send everything to me in one big, long email...I don't know, I'll figure it out.Love you all!

Com amor, Elder Sears