I hope that 2013 is off to an awesome start for all of you. I´m very grateful I actually get the normal amount of time to email today--the past few weeks have been so hectic as far as P-day goes. Today the only thing I have on the schedule is eat, write, and sleep (until 6:00 that is. Then back to work!) A few people have asked about the letters I´ve received recently. MissionTies seems to be back to normal now, or at least I hope. I got 3 letters from Kirsten and the Shell´s (including pictures!) last week. I think the dates on those were mid-December-ish. Mom, I know you sent some Christmas stories not too long ago as well, so I´ll keep my eye out for them.
I didn´t get a chance to talk much about my New Year´s Eve/New Year in the last email I sent, so I´ll fill you in today. We got permission from our Mission President to spend the night in Ouro Verde, an area neighboring ours, to celebrate the New Year with 6 other Elders. I´m sure you can imagine how crazy that was (4 beds and 8 Elders doesn´t exactly add up without 4 sleeping on the floor), but we all had a blast. The missionaries in Ouro Verde live on the second floor of a 2-story apartment with an incredible view of the city. We all stayed on the balcony to watch the fireworks and talk and wish every person that passed by a Happy New Year until we got tired and went to bed (don´t worry, we got permission to stay up a little later too). Waking up at 6:30 the next morning wasn´t the best of experiences but the night before was well worth it. Elder Beech, a missionary from the zone, made what´s called "arroz de forno," which was consumed rather rapidly. Quite possibly the best meal I´ve had so far in Brazil. It was so good not to have to be alone for the holidays. It was also a little bit of a sobering thought when I woke up on the 1st and realized all of my 2013 will be spent in Brazil. I remembered something Elder Johnson (from our District) had said to me about counting time--that it doesn´t work, and that the best way to avoid counting it is to set goals consistently and stick to them. So that´s what I did. My mom asked that I share some of them, so here goes. I broke them up into daily, weekly, and yearly:
Study 1 chapter in the Book of Mormon, 1 chapter in the New Testament, and 1 section in Preach my Gospel, writing down what I learned
At least 1 teaching practice with my companion using an actual investigator that we have
At least 10 street contacts/doors knocked, smiling (seems easy but some days it really is not at all)
A full 30 minutes of exercise every morning (there´s a joke here in the mission that every missionary´s exercise routine goes something like this: stretch in bed for 10 minutes, go to the bathroom for the next 10, do a few sit-ups (in bed) and work out your knees while you´re praying on the bare floor--I´m going to try not to fall into that mentality :) )
Achieve the "Standards of Excellence" every week (Contacts, Baptisms Marked, Lessons with Members, Other Lessons, New Investigators, etc.), with the focus being on real people and not just numbers
Choose one Christ-like attribute, study, and apply it throughout the week (my focus being on hope, patience, and humility)
Qualify to be a senior companion
Finish reading The Book of Mormon twice, New Testament at least once
Be a friend to every companion I have, not just another missionary that lives in the same place and walks everywhere with him
Baptize an entire family (parents and kids)
Reach the baptismal goal I set with my companion for each transfer
Be fluent in Portuguese without an accent!
Dec. 31, 2013: look back and see 365/365 daily goals met and 52/52 weekly goals
I got an immediate opportunity to work on the patience part of my goals when we left Ouro Verde and got back to our apartment. Our sink was overflowing with water and the whole kitchen flooded. Happy New Year from our house! The same thing happened on Christmas, I just forgot to mention it. Haha. We got it cleaned up (eventually) and haven´t had any problems since...although everytime it rains we have to plug up the sink so that the water won´t come through. I have no idea what´s up. It´s been raining a ton lately though so perhaps that has something to do with it. We can count on a 30 minute downpour everyday around 3 or 3:30 p.m.
In other news, transfers were this past Wednesday. Everyone that could gathered together at the central bus station (called the Rodoviária) to see where we´d be going. Elder Alcântara and I already knew we´d be staying in Vila União for at least the next 6 weeks because we got a phone call last Sunday. I´m just fine with that because it means I´ll be in town for Lena and Reobe´s marriage and baptism! We went to the cartório (basically something like a court house) with them this past week to get everything legally squared away for their marriage. The big day is going to be February 2nd. It´ll probably be the best Groundhog Day I´ve ever had, not that anyone down here knows what that is. For a marriage to be legal down here, 2 "padrinhos" and 2 "madrinhos" are required. They´re basically a combination of a best man/witness/godfather sort of thing--I think. Anyways, Lena and Reob asked Elder Alcântara and I to be the padrinhos! I´m pretty excited. I have no idea what I´ll be doing--probably just signing something--but nonetheless it´ll be cool. It makes me feel a little bit more like a Brazilian. They continue to do well and are keeping all of their commitments. I am so, so grateful for that.
Remember Douglas that I mentioned last week? Well I have a little bit of an update about him...BAPTISM!! Yesterday. It really was a miracle. Here´s what I wrote in my journal about it Sunday night:
"Christmas morning, after having read the blessing that my dad gave me just before heading to the airport for São Paulo, I decided I´d pray for a miracle. I was needing one, if only to boost my spirits a little. Well it came today. In reality yesterday and today. We taught Douglas yesterday afternoon the message of the restoration. Guess where he went a few days before without even being invited to do so? The temple. Guess what he thought of the part we marked with him in THe Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 11)?--that he needs to be baptized. His only 2 doubts?-- "How much time do I need in the Church to be baptized?" and "Baptism´s just a one-time thing right? So how do I renew it?" My goodness, he just gets it. We marked his baptism for today (one day later) and he chose me to be the one to do it. No objections there! Just before the baptism he told me he had the butterflies and that he could barely wait to get in the water. He wanted to review how he´d be baptized several times over. Afterwards he told me he was completely filled with peace and a kind of indescribably love. I´m just blown away at how prepared he was and how fast and easy it all happened. Yesterday morning the only word we had written on our list of "possible/promised baptisms" was "miracle." That´s normally code for a week without a baptism but this week we really did get our miracle. Last week I didn´t even know Douglas existed and now he´s already been baptized. He came to church on his own, went to the temple one his own (and his friend from another ward), and accepted baptism seemingly on his own. The only thing we did was taught and invited. God did the rest. My confidence in Him is growing so much. I´m learning to hold the promises He´s made to me as sacred. 100 percent guaranteed if I do my part. He promised that when needed I could call upon angels to work miracles. Christmas morning I did that and He´s already answered with such force and in such mercy. January 6 and I already have my first miracle of 2013."
So there you have it! I´ll send some pictures in a separate email. I´m doing well, especially after yesterday. I´m still, without a doubt though, missing you all very much. Can´t wait to hear from you soon! I sent off a letter to each of the grandparents last week, along with Sister Helsing. Oh, and Kirsten too. I hope everything gets there soon.
Love you all,