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