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,