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...
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!
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.
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."
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).
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.