Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sept. 25, 2012 First Email from the MTC!

New "greenies" at the MTC

From: Brad Sears 
Subject: My first P-day!
Date: September 25, 2012 12:42:22 PM EDT

My dearest family (and everyone that I consider family),
This is absolutely crazy! (not my mission, don't worry, but the fact that I'm staring at a timer that says 21 minutes left to email!) I get 30 minutes once a week on P-day (which I found out is Tuesday, not Monday) to read all the precious emails from you and try to respond to them, as well as mention everything that I want to try to include. So, here goes!
First of all, I am here safely and I really am enjoying my time here so, so much. I miss all of you and love all of you almost as much as I love nap time on P-day and Sunday. Haha, just kidding! I love you lots, lots more. My flight left Atlanta around 9:30 last Tuesday night but before I could even board the plane God had already sent me one of His tender mercies. I turned the corner to where my gate was and saw Elder Nutall (he would have been wearing glasses with blonde hair in the picture you all hopefully got), who I served in the Sunday School Presidency with at BYU! It was incredible. I flew down with everyone in my district except 2 that had had flight problems, so that would be 10 of us that all flew down together. I tried to sleep on the plane but the leg room was almost non-existent! I tried talking a little bit with the Brazilians sitting next to me, but ended up having to communicate pretty much solely through gestures. That was fun. I felt all excitement and no nerves at that point, and surprisingly I haven't felt much of any nerves the whole time I've been here. We got off the plane and waited in a 5 minute line where we showed our passport and an immigration document we had filled out on the plane and that was pretty much it to enter the country. We picked up our baggage, exchanged our currency (about 1 dollar to every 2 'Reals' (pronounced 'Hay-ai') and met a representative from the MTC who took us straight to O Centro de Treinamento Missionario and put us to work!

That first day was crazy. Sao Paulo seems like an endless city with buildings at least 15 stories tall everywhere, and I mean everywhere, you look. A lot of people live in poverty here and the city isn't that clean--good thing they keep us locked in the same building about 95 percent of the week :) My companions (yes, we're a trio) are Elder Johnson and Elder Carter. Elder Johnson is from Morgan, Utah and Elder Carter is from Virginia. Both of them are super friendly and dedicated and I feel like we've already become really close friends and companions and roommates. The rooms are bigger than I expected. I'll try to send home a picture of one (but they won't let us email so I'll have to print it out and mail it by hand). Thank goodness my companions are organized--I haven't ever really had to lay down the law. Our district has 9 Elders and 3 Sisters. We have had so many fun moments and spiritual moments together already. It's really something else to feel the bond between us servants of the Lord that has grown so much already.

As for the really important things, the food here "e muito bom." I really like it, especially lunch, which is the biggest meal of the day by far. We just swipe the cards that they gave us the first day and we can enter the cafeteria. My instructors are Irmao Mauricia and Irma Kikuchi. I love them both. They're really patient and knowledgeable and full of the Spirit. My CTM schedule looks a little bit like this:
6:30- 7:30: get up, shower, eat breakfast, pray
7:30-8:30: personal/companion study
The rest of the morning (until noon): language and gospel study with Irmao Mauricio
12:00-12:45: lunch (almoco)
Afternoon until 4:15: language and gospel study with Irma Kikuchi (that includes teaching full-on lessons in Portuguese--we started that our first full day here)
4:15-5:00: dinner (Jantar)
5:00-8:00: study time (planning, gospel study, language study, district goal setting, etc. --but we're entirely on our own, no instructor or anything). I'm sure that's different for the Provo MTC, but I kind of like the independence. Everyone that wants to progress progresses. I feel like our district is really good about that.
The rest of the evening: snack (Lanche), gym time for 45 minutes on Wed. - Fri., service (Monday), planning, preparing for bed, etc.
I've had so many amazing experiences already. The Spirit here is incredible and it is an absolute joy to be here. I wish I had more time to go in detail here, but I will do so in my indiviudal letters that I'll be writing by hand and mailing later today (3 minutes left on computer).
I can't remember every single question you've asked, so I apologize. You can resend them next week when I'll see them and I'll try to respond to them that way. Maybe my mom can just compile all the questions in a single email so it's easier for me to read them and respond to them. I love you all so, so much. I pray for you every day and think of you everytime my mind isn't filled with something else.

Thank you for your prayers, support, interest, and love. God bless you.
My dad can tell you about a faster way to send letters by hand--he should have gotten an email about an hour ago about that, since postage takes a long, long time down here.

Really quick, about the language: I'm doing great. I've had so many people tell me I sound like a missionary that's been here for a month or more already. I know that God is blessing me tremendously and I am so thankful for that. I'll try to share some individual experiences in my hand-written letters.
Love you!

Elder Kevin Bradford Sears

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sept. 19, 2012 Safely at the Sao Paulo, Brazil MTC

Brad and other "greenies" at the Sao Paulo MTC with Pres. & Sis. Degn

                    Date: September 19, 2012 12:20:13 PM EDT
                    Subject: Your missionary´s arrival at the Brazil MTC
Dear Parents,
We are happy to send the good news that your missionary has arrived safely at the Brazil MTC.  What a great joy and privilege it is to greet each missionary as they come through the front door of the MTC for the first time. We promise to take good care of your missionary.
They now have companions and are settled into their rooms.  They are assigned to a district with capable and caring instructors for language and lesson study.  The branch presidents and their wives, will soon give them a second greeting.  These couples are rewarded in their callings through the love they always develop as they embrace and watch over the missionaries.
The MTC has a full time live-in physician to care for their health needs.  He is assisted by his able wife. We are also happy to report that the Cafeteria food is abundant and very good.
Your missionary will be able to e-mail home on Preparation Day after a morning at the Temple.  This will be either Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on individual assignments.
Your very important young person is about to make an eternal difference in the lives of others.  We hope you will be encouraged and comforted by this quote by President Lorenzo Snow: "There is no mortal man that is as interested in the success of an Elder when he is preaching the Gospel as is the Lord who sent him to preach to the people who are the Lord's children." 
Please accept our love,
President Ralph Degn and Sister Mary Ann Degn
DO NOT SEND PACKAGES to the Brazil Missionary Training Center. All packages must be sent directly to the mission where your missionary will be serving, not the MTC. If you have already mailed a package to the Brazil MTC and it arrives after your missionary has left for the field, please understand that the package cannot be forwarded to his or her mission and will be returned to you.
WE STRONGLY ENCOURAGE SENDING HAND WRITTEN LETTERS. Please write your missionary´s first and last name. Your missionary will provide you with his district and box number. Also, please DO NOT SEND ANYTHING BY FEDEX, DHL, UPS, or other private carriers.  The cost to get this type of correspondence is exorbitant.

Sept. 16, 2012 Elder Sears's Missionary Farewell Talk

Missionary Farewell Talk, Sept. 16, 2012

Almost 5 months ago I got a call from my family telling me that my mission call had arrived from Salt Lake. I found it sitting on my bed when I flew home from BYU two days later and, to my family’s credit and my surprise, it was still unopened. This Tuesday I fly to the Missionary Training Center to begin my mission, exactly 150 days from the time I opened my call and learned that I would be serving among the people of Campinas in the southeastern part of Brazil. The Lord was being serious when He revealed to Joseph Smith in the 35th section of the Doctrine and Covenants that He would “call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thrash the nations by the power of [His] Spirit” (v. 13). I don’t know the first thing about the Portuguese language, the people I’m going to meet, or how tolerable my companions will be. But I do know that my Heavenly Father knows what He’s doing, that He knows me personally, and that for the next two years I will be doing what He wants me to do. I will be continuing the work first started on this earth by His Son and my Savior.

That work—“bring[ing] to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”—has patterned the creation of this world and countless others before it. As members of God’s church, we have been blessed to play a significant part in ushering in the work of our Father. We are instruments in His hands, and as soon as we join His church we begin to learn our duties and responsibilities in it. We hold weekly meetings and councils, fulfill callings, perform service, and study the gospel as contained in the scriptures and words of the prophets. Sometimes, as has been my experience in preparing for my mission, we become so caught up in what we are doing that we forget why we are doing it. In the most recent General Conference, President Uchtdorf reminded priesthood holders to focus on what he called “the why of priesthood service.” He counseled, “We need to be constantly reminded of the eternal reasons behind the things we are commanded to do. Understanding the why of the gospel and the why of the priesthood will help us to see the divine purpose of all this. It will give us motivation and strength to do the right things, even when they are hard.” President Uchtdorf never specifically mentioned what he thought the “why” was—I think he wanted each of us to study it out and ponder it in our hearts. For me, through my study and preparation for this talk and my mission, I’ve learned that two reasons behind what we do in the Church ought to be the Atonement, and our love for God and our neighbor.

An important moment in my understanding of the why of priesthood service came in my second semester of attending BYU. Our bishopric asked one of the few returned missionaries in the ward to spend an hour after church each week teaching us important principles of missionary service. An additional hour of meetings seemed like an insurmountable burden at first, especially on Fast Sunday’s, but the Lord blessed me every time I decided to go. One particular Sunday our teacher posed to us the question, “Why serve a mission anyway?” We gave him every answer we could think of but his response was always the same: “Good, but no.” Eventually he shared with us Elder Holland’s answer to the same question, given while speaking to missionaries at the Provo MTC. Elder Holland said the purest reason for serving a mission is to help investigators learn to access the Atonement.
A convert’s new life is to be built upon faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His redeeming sacrifice—a conviction that He really is the Son of God, that He lives this very moment…that He alone holds the key to our salvation and exaltation. That belief is to be followed by true repentance, repentance which shows our desire to be clean and renewed and whole, repentance that allows us to lay claim to the full blessings of the Atonement.”
I was deeply touched by what Elder Holland had said, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. The Atonement is at the center of both the Plan of Salvation and the restored gospel. The Prophet Joseph Smith declared that all things “which pertain to our religion are only appendages” to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no man cometh unto the Father but by Him. Unless we turn to our Savior, access His Atonement, and exercise faith in him unto repentance we cannot be exalted. One “why of priesthood service and why of the gospel” then, is to point souls to Christ and His selfless sacrifice. 

Jesus spent His life serving others, and we are expected to do the same. The remarkable thing about service is that it blesses the lives of those who serve just as much as it does those who are served. President Monson encouraged young adults during a recent CES Fireside to “Help others in their race of life. Remember that when you help another up a mountain, you are a little nearer the top yourself.” I chose the path of a mission because I wanted to help my brothers and sisters climb that mountain and come unto Christ. I have faith that many lives will be blessed because of my service, but I know that God in His goodness will serve me more than I could ever serve them. My experiences with service in the past have taught me that it is not really me carrying another up a mountain; it is our Savior carrying both of us.

The second to last paragraph of every missionary’s call promises that “Greater blessings and more happiness than you have yet experienced await you as you humbly and prayerfully serve the Lord in this labor of love among His children.” As the Lord carries the missionary and the investigator, the giver of service and the receiver up the mountain, both individuals are pointed to Christ and rejoice in Him. Doctrine and Covenants 18:15 reads, “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” An eternal bond seems to grow between the two of them.

I have seen and felt many memorable bonds of service at work in my life and the lives of those close to me. I have felt them when my dad has placed his hands upon my head to give me a Father’s Blessing. I have seen them in frequent home teaching visits and presidency meetings and phone calls. I have felt them when members of a bishopric have wept with joy and love for the ward members they work with every week. I’ve seen them at home and in the temple, and I am feeling them now as I speak to so many of you who have served me in countless ways.

One of the most touching experiences I’ve had pertaining to service involved a group of athletes I worked with this past Spring. They were no ordinary athletes, seeing as they had trained for months to participate in the 2012 Winter Special Olympics for the state of Utah. As part of a service component of an American Heritage class I took at BYU, some friends and I decided that we would make the 2 hour, early, early morning drive from Provo to Ogden to volunteer at the games for a Saturday. I’d like to read a little bit from the report that we presented to our class about that day:

“We began our service with the mindset that we would be making a mark on the people we met, but quickly realized that, in reality, we would be the beneficiaries of their remarkable talents, friendship, and heartwarming smiles. One particular experience taught us the incredible blessings that can come when we offer ourselves up as instruments of good in God’s hands. During the first race of the day, a young man named Jonathan stood frozen at the starting line for almost a full thirty seconds after the call “go” had sounded. Some other volunteers watched with us, a little heartbroken, as an athlete who had spent so long training struggled to overcome his fear to begin the race. Our cheers of encouragement grew in volume and urgency until, finally, Jonathan made his way down the 50-meter stretch of snow. The crowd erupted as he crossed the finish line, and the smile on his face did more wonders for us than we ever could have for him. He finished dead last, but seeing him finish at all struck us as the most impressive victory of the day. Most of the volunteers came to help with an event, but we left fully invested in people. The friends we made and athletes we served confirmed to us that we had been ‘in the service of [our] God’ that day.”

Seeing Jonathan finish that race proved to be a powerful parable for me of God’s infinite love for His children. We are all participants in one great race to return to live with Him forever. He has laid the course before us and the call to start has sounded. In our weakness, many of us delay at the starting line or somewhere along the middle of our journey, just as Jonathan did. But it doesn’t matter who gets there first. What matters is that we finish. Every time we pause or stumble, He has provided the Atonement of His Only Begotten as a way for us to make it back to our feet. Our Heavenly Father is not just calling to us from the sideline, but He has sent His son, Jesus Christ, to be with us as we run. A father’s love for his children could not be more perfect.

It makes sense to me that love is yet another why of the gospel and priesthood service. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God’s work is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life; His reason behind it is His love for each of us. Because we have been commanded to keep “an eye single to the glory of God,” our work should be His work, and our reason for working should be His reason. (D&C 4:5). Everything we do in the Church should be done with love for the Lord and love for our neighbor. That is a tall order, but it comes with a remarkable promise. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “Love is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the pathway of discipleship. It comforts, counsels, cures, and consoles. It leads us through valleys of darkness and through the veil of death. In the end love leads us to the glory and grandeur of eternal life.”
I’m still thousands of miles from the people I will soon serve, but I have already begun to love them. I can only imagine the extent of Heavenly Father’s love for His children as a perfect parent.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers,…nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:38-39). I know that it is that love that will sustain us when we don’t think we can go any further, and I know that our love for others will sustain both us and them in a similar way.

I know that firsthand because preparing for my mission, especially in the months since I received my call, has been really, really trying at times. My mom can attest to the headaches involved in getting a visa for one of the most difficult countries in the world. I can tell you how hard it’s been knowing that my name isn’t on any of the BYU-Georgia Tech football tickets that Bishop Black’s been handing out for this October. There have been days when I have let the shopping, the paperwork, and the painful goodbyes overshadow the simplicity of serving the Lord. I have felt empty, scared, and alone, but God’s love and Christ’s Atonement have buoyed me up each time I’ve humbled myself and turned to them. Every negative feeling always departs when I remember why I’ve chosen to serve and sacrifice.

President Uchtdorf has promised that remembering the why will motivate and uplift us. To quote him directly, “It is in the why of priesthood service that we discover the fire, passion, and power of the priesthood. The what of…service teaches us what to do. The why inspires our souls. The what informs, but the why transforms.” I testify of the truth of his counsel. Focusing on the “why” of my mission and the “why” of priesthood service—that is, love and the Atonement of Jesus Christ—has brought a new perspective and a new hope into my life and my preparation. It has reminded me that I am about my Father’s business, and as such I am entitled to His help. My role is to trust that He knows what He is doing more than I. I am eager to watch my love for my fellow men grow as we together draw nearer to Jesus Christ and rejoice in the hope and renewal made possible by His sacrifice made on our behalf.

Bear Testimony.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sept. 16, 2012 Missionary Farewell Day

Elder Kevin Bradford Sears 

The Sears family in front of 455 Schofield Drive house in Powder Springs, Georgia
Kevin, Gail, Elder Sears (19), Joseph (17), Abigail (15),
Spencer (13) and Andrew (11)

Bradford Sears before giving his missionary farewell talk at the Lost Mountain Ward