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