Monday, February 25, 2013

Feb. 25, 2013 Training, tracting, and teaching

Dear family and friends,

How are you all? I hope this past week for you has been the best of the year so far. It´s been, overall, a good one for me. 

Continuing on with training Elder Barbosa has been nothing but a blessing for me. He has a really good attitude and a strong desire to get to work. I told Joseph in an email I sent to him that he has a sense of humor pretty similar to Elder Barbosa. He told me that in the months leading up to his mission he took a technology course at a local college, which he used to build household bombs out of lightbulbs and batteries and such. Fun stuff. I think it was Wednesday night that we got home after a pretty exhausting, frustrating day of work without a lot of visible success. Elder Barbosa, to cheer up a bit, started rapping freestyle (in Portuguese) about how frustrated he was with people that just don´t get it. I can see him making something of his talent in the future because he has a gift--my job now is to help him do the same thing in English so that I can actually understand more than half of the words he´s saying. Anyways, it was really nice just to be able to relax and laugh a bit while we made ourselves some sketchy juice from some lemon/lime/orange fruit-things we´d plucked from a tree earlier in the week. The juice was nasty but I drank it anyway--lots of sugar helped.

As far as the teaching and the work goes, 2 solid weeks of sweat and lots of prayers and planning have given us a pretty decent teaching pool. We´re finally spending more time teaching than finding, which I love. One because it´s less walking for me and two because teaching is what I was actually called to do. We´re working in particular with two men--Almir and Julho--Almir who is preparing to be baptized this Saturday and confirmed this Sunday. Almir was a referral we got from a member in the ward. The first time he went to church (2 weeks ago I think) he smoked a pack a day and had a pretty nasty habit of drinking moonshine whenever he got down on himself. Now he´s down to 3 cigarettes, no alcohol or coffee, and excited for the opportunity he´ll have to be baptized and cleansed from the stains he´s been building up because of his addictions trailing after him basically his entire life. We gave him a blessing to help him overcome his desire and I marvel at the Lord´s power working with him. It´s been really neat to visit him (daily is our goal until his baptism and confirmation) and actually see progress--physically and spiritually. It´s the first time I´ve really had to follow up with the Word of Wisdom with an investigator and it´s fun in a way to always be planning and praying for what we can do next to cut down the cigarettes from 20 to 3 to 0. If all goes well and I have faith it will, Saturday will be the big day for him.

Julho has a similar story, although finding him wasn´t so easy. He was a street contact we did last week and marked to return another day when he wasn´t so busy so that we could sit down and teach. I didn´t think too much of it until Sunday morning. We had confirmed Saturday night  that a man named Rodrigo and his family would go to church with us Sunday morning, only Rodrigo had asked that we call in the morning to wake him up so he´d be ready to go. We called loads of times Sunday morning and he didn´t pick up. So, with just half an hour left before we had to catch the bus to head for the chapel, we booked it over to his house to try to wake him up in person since he wasn´t answering the phone (he lives a good 20 minute sprint-walk away from our house). We stood there knocking and calling his name for a good 5 minutes or so but nobody answered the door. We sprinted back to the bus station but missed our bus by just a couple of minutes. The next one that would pass by the church would only head out in another hour. So we decided we´d take advantage and try to do some more street contacts in the hour we had. We passed by Julho´s street and remembered about him. We knocked and his door and woke him up and invited him to church. He got ready in 10 minutes and we headed back to the bus station just in time to catch our bus to go to church. On the way we discovered he´s had a really rough past and he, like Almir, struggles with smoking. He´s been in and out of a bunch of churches but never really found one he liked all that much. We briefly explained to him about the apostasy and why it is that there are so many churches today in the world. I asked him, kind of on a whim but perhaps being led a little bit by the spirit, if he´d like to be baptized in the very church that Christ Himself organized on the earth. He said yes and we marked March 10 for him to enter the water. Who know where things will go from there...he´s only been to church once and we still haven´t been able to teach him the first lesson (don´t worry, that´s scheduled for tonight at 8:00). But I do think there´s a lot to be learned from the mere fact that he agreed to come to the only true church on the face of the earth--and that our invitation for him to do so was only possible because we missed the bus. God works in mysterious ways, but to me it´s not mystery that He works. Sunday morning was a tender mercy from Him in my life. 

One last piece of rather important news before I go for today...we found out Thursday morning from our Mission President that July 1 the Brazil Campinas Mission is going to be divided in half and the Brazil Piracicaba Mission will be one of 58 new missions announced to start up this year. I don´t know anything more than that--but it´ll be interesting to see which mission I go to/stay in. Either way, I´ll be a missionary all the same.

Love you all!

Elder Sears

Monday, February 18, 2013

Feb. 18, 2012 A Family Enters the Waters and Elder Barbosa enters Villa Unao

Lena and Reobe's baptism
Elder Alcantara, Lena, Reobe, Elder Sears
Baptism of Vania:
Elder Sister with Vania and her family and Elder Alcantara 

Elder Sears with his new greenie, Elder Barbosa

Feb. 18, 2013 Training a Greenie! Elder Barbosa

Oi de Brasil mais uma vez! 

I hope all of you are doing well. Thank you tons for all of the updates via email. It sounds like loads has been happening back home and I wish I could be a bigger part of it! But I´m where I´m supposed to be. First of all, many congratulations to you, Joseph, for getting your driver´s license! I´m thrilled for you. It´s such a cool feeling behind the wheel--something that I miss a lot down here actually. Although maybe it´s a good thing I´m taking a 2 year break. If I´m remembering correctly the last time I drove a car I managed to hit a deer. haha. And of course, loads of congratulations to you Kirsten for being worthy to take out your endowment in the temple. I´m sure that was an incredible experience for you and I really appreciate the pictures you sent. All of them came through, and it´s not hard to tell that that day was a special one. Parabéns!

I mentioned last week that I´d be getting a new companion. His name is Elder Barbosa and he now has a whopping 6 days in the field! I was kind of shocked to find out I´d be training a greenie. I´d have to describe my reaction as: "no way! This is awesome and super exciting. Wait, what? I´m training? I don´t know the first thing about training and there´s no way I´m ready for this. Is it really going to be me now answering all the questions instead of asking them?" Elder Alcântara got a kick out of the news. He wouldn´t stop shouting "I´m going to be a grandpa!" which I found quite hilarious (remember here that trainers are "dads" in the mission). He seemed genuinely happy for me, but also wished me the best of luck saying that I was going to need it. I´m sure I gave him a bit of a headache at times as I was learning and I´m sure there will be times with my new companion when I will go through the headaches that I put my trainer through. But I´m very humbled with the responsibility and I´ll be doing a lot of seeking of the Lord´s help. There´s no other way I can think of that I´ll be able to train and find and teach and baptize and stay sane and happy without His help. It´s definitely a lot to take in but I´m exciting for the opportunity. Elder Barbosa is from Santa Cantarina, the southern part of Brasil, which means he´s almost as white as I am. He wasted no time in showing me his personality. As soon as we got home to unpack his bags he pulled out some medicine and told me it was for "uncontrollable rage" that randomly would appear if he didn´t take them. I kind of stared at him uneasily and he just started laughing. I was able to breathe after that. He´s a really hard worker and eager to improve in every area imaginable. I think this past week I´ve worked harder (mentally and physically) than I have in the mission up to this point. I often times feel like giving him advice in response to his questions and concerns is a bit of a guessing game, because I´m still very much lacking in experience myself. But I continue to seek the Lord´s help and I hope I´ll be able to help my new companion grow into the type of missionary God envisions him being. It´s been funny and interesting for me to see so many similarities in the two of us. He´s a bit of a perfectionist as well and the same kind of "worry wart" that I can be at times, stressing out over the things that really don´t matter all too much. I remember the first question I asked Elder Alcântara when we got to our house was "so....where´s the filtered water, or are we just trusting the tap?" I smiled when that was the first question Elder Barbosa asked me as well. He says he plays chess so today we´re going to try to find a cheap chess set and see who comes out the winner. Oh, and he´s only 18. I found that neat. I´ll try to attach a picture of the two of us in a separate email after I send this off.

As far as the work outside of training goes, it´s been a tough but fulfilling week for me. Vania was confirmed a member of the Church yesterday and I think I appreciated the ordinance much more after what happened with Lena and Reobe. Her son Alfredo (10) continues to come to church with her every week but she still seems reluctant to let him get baptized. He grew up in the Catholic church and is pretty attached to it, but we´re working to schedule loads of family home evenings with the 2 of them and some other families in the ward with kids his same age so that he feels more at home and more eager to be baptized. Fingers crossed that it´ll be this coming Sunday. After a week without contact we finally managed to sit down and talk with Lena and Reobe on Saturday. I explained the situation to Elder Barbosa and we both felt it´d be a good idea to fast in preparation for our visit with them. It´s been brutally hot and we walked a lot that day during our fast, but I do not in the least regret it. I felt really guided by the Spirit in talking with the two of them, but much more than knowing what to say I felt that I felt what I needed to feel to really be genuine with them. I feel like I´m coming closer to feel charity for my investigators than I ever have in the past. As I was bearing my testimony to them and promising blessings that will come after their confirmation, I choked up for the first time in a lesson. The tears came flowing--I don´t know why, but probably because I´m learning to love them so much. Lena, who I think has been feeling really pressured by the ward to come back and be confirmed after 3 weeks without coming to church, told me that me getting all emotional like that helped her to know that I wanted nothing but the best for her--that there wasn´t any sort of selfish desire inside of me that wanted her to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. I´m really grateful she understands that and I continue to plead with the Lord every night that He will, somehow, as only He can, help her and Reobe to come back and put the dream that she had behind them. Unfortunately she had to work the night shift Saturday and got back at 7:30 in the morning which made church for her impossible. But I´m hopeful for next week. Cristiane has decided to move back in with her husband and 2 other kids who are living about 4 hours away in Minas. I was pretty sad to find that out because, well, the two of them aren´t married and I´m worried that she´s going to fall off the radar when she gets to a city in which she has no connection to the Church. She was going to come to church this Sunday to say good-bye to everyone--it would have been the first time in a month--but came down sick the night before and didn´t make it. Definitely a bummer. 

Yesterday was crazy for me! I had to give the Sunday School lesson on the fly as well as a 20 minute talk that I had zero time to prepare for. But it went well. A visitor from another ward came up to me after my talk and started crying a little bit and told me what I had said had been an answer to her prayers. Just the small miracle that I was needing to boost my spirits a little bit. I literally got up to the pulpit having no idea what I was going to say. It was neat for me to see the very real fulfillment of the promise that as we do our part (in this case, my part was working as hard as I could with our investigators and my companion this week, not necessarily preparing for that talk), it will be given to us what we should say in the very moment that we open up our mouths. God is so good. I probably say that a lot but it´s because I forget it in my impatience and He is always so gracious to remind me.

I can´t think of too much more to say...oh, I got MissionTies letters from Kirsten (January 24--the one you wrote when you were sick :/ ) and my mom (excerpts from Elder Holland´s talk at the Provo MTC) this week. I remember that a few of you mentioned packages were on the way; I´ll be sure to let you know when they get here! Thank you very much for sending them :)

Love you all muitíssimo,

Elder Sears

Monday, February 11, 2013

Feb. 11, 2013 Two very Different Dreams and a New Companion

Hello all,

This week´s been an interesting one for me. I feel like it´s had enough to fill a month, maybe two. I guess it makes the most sense to start at the beginning. Wednesday night we taught Vania and her son, Alfredo, who were our "possibles" to be baptized this week. Vania had before said that she wanted to be baptized but was really unsure about it being anytime soon. Monday night she had a dream that she got baptized, and it was me that baptized her. She had been praying for her answer about the truth of the Church and everything we´d taught her, and without a doubt that was it. I was amazed to see how God had worked with her and prepared her. I´ve heard of dreams being an answer to prayers for the Brazilian people several times, but this was the first time I´ve seen God work in that way personally. People here have such faith and that is no doubt the reason why their answers come in such convincing demonstrations of God´s love and power. I feel very much indebted to Him. We were hardly able to visit her or follow up with her during her conversion process because Elder Alcântara´s asthma has started acting up pretty severely lately and that´s mean a lot more time inside than I would have liked. Perhaps things happened like that so that I could fully realize that I really did very little to help her be baptized and make that covenant. The Lord did everything, and the glory be His. There´s no way that I can take even a percent of the credit. We took her to the temple Saturday with her son and she agreed there to be baptized the next day (yesterday). And, as was in her dream, I was the one priviliged to perform the ordinance. It was a really special day for me, and a really tender mercy from the Lord when I really needed it (I´ll explain why I was needing it a little bit later). We´ll be working with her and her son this coming week so that she can be confirmed and he can be baptized. She didn´t feel ready enough to let him be baptized this week.

Thursday night we had our first ward activity designed to bring investigators. It´s taken awhile to get the ward leadership on the same page and help them plan something. The goal is to have an activity every week for ward members to bring their non-member friends. Elder Alcântara had taken advantage of his time inside to plan a really fun activity and help it be a successful one. It was scheduled to start at 7:00, and we got there an hour early to set everything up. 7:30 came and went and nobody showed up. When the first car pulled in, it was the bishop from another ward here for a meeting, not the activity. Our ward mission leader showed up at 8:00 along with a few members to clean the chapel. So we took advantage, helped them finish early, and started the activity. The two of us were pretty bummed about the turn-out but we decided we´d try to make the best of it and I think it turned out well in the end. Elder Alcântara had prepared a list of trivia questions (about the gospel and otherwise), and he called people up 2 by 2 to try and answer. If you got the answer wrong or the other person answered first, they had the privilege to splatter a mixture of flour, water, green food coloring and chocolate sprinkles in your face (which we´d prepared earlier that day). It was hilarious to watch to be quite honest. Alfredo, 10 years old, was our only investigator there but he was smiling until he couldn´t anymore. I got called up to compete with the first counselor in our bishopric. He answered first and answered correctly, which meant a pie in the face for me. Actually, 2 in the face because Elder Alcântara gave him another one to do me in. It was sticky but fun :) I´d send a picture but I forgot to bring the cord to my camera with me... Anyways, hopefully we´ll have more people (on time) at our activity next week and it´ll be a good way to grow our teaching pool.

Saturday night, after getting back from the temple with Vania and Alfredo, we went to visit Lena and Reobe to make sure everything was squared away for their confirmation. They had gotten back from their honeymoon Thursday and were exhausted, so Saturday was the first chance we had to visit with them this week. Earlier in the week Lena told us that she had a dream in which she was standing on top of a tall building looking down over a bunch of darkness (very much like Lehi´s dream I think). She told us that in her dream someone she thought to be God told her that she was following the wrong path and that she needed to stop. She was super unsettled after that dream and let some seeds of doubt grow within her--to the point that by the time we visited her she was extremely reluctant to even consider the idea of being confirmed the next day. I think my heart fell down somewhere into my stomach when she told us that. We did our best to follow the Spirit and explain to her that what she had experienced was definitely not something of God. We tried to help them focus on the bazillions of miracles they´d already seen in their process of investigating the Church and all the happy memories, but it didn´t seem to have much effect. I tried to process everything and felt that we should all say a kneeling prayer together asking for God to clarify the situation. Reobe, who had kept quiet the whole time, said it. I marked the first part of Moroni 7 with them afterwards (which talks about the importance of distinguishing between what is of God and what is very clearly not) and they said they´d read. They promised as well that they´d go to Church the next morning so that they could talk with Bishop and work their doubts through. I got home that night and got on my knees and prayed harder than I think I ever have. I don´t think I´d ever wanted anything as much as I wanted them to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and continue pressing forward toward their temple sealing and, eventually, salvation and exaltation. I started a fast too. We called around to the other missionaries in the district asking them to pray for them as well--that somehow they´d have a different dream or something, anything, to help them understand the importance of completing their baptism with confirmation. I didn´t sleep well at all that night. I´ve never heard of or seen Satan´s power at work like that. We woke up early the next morning and waited at church for them to show up. They didn´t (nor did Crisitiane). Elder Alcântara went to visit them with our Elder´s Quorum President while I made sure that Vania and Alfredo felt comfortable at church and were excited about her baptism. He told me that Lena´s countenance had changed completely and that she hardly wanted to talk to him at all. Her mom had shown her a website with a bunch of garbage and anti-church literature and she refused to come to church. So´s kind of a tricky situation with them right now. I know they can use your prayers. 

Still, the Lord is good. I felt miserable learning of how drastically they had changed in just a week and that feeling lasted a good part of the afternoon. But it left and I was able to cheer up for Vania´s baptism later that day. I managed to be genuinely happy for her, and Sunday night I slept well, knowing that I´ve done (and will continue to do) everything I can with respect to Lena and Reobe. I trust them in God´s care, and I´m grateful to know that He has infinitely more power than whatever type of opposition they´ll face/have already faced. We´ll continue to try to visit them and work with them this week. I´m not sure how I feel to be honest about the whole thing, but the level of peace I feel about it is just a much a miracle for me as was their baptism and marriage and transformation over the last 2 months. 

To lighten the mood (and get rid of our hunger) Sunday night, Elder Alcântara and I got creative. We mixed some flour, water, and chopped up bananas in the blender and then fried it. When we finished we put yogurt on top. I highly recommend it actually. It was delicious. We ended the night laughing and high-fiving and in a good mood. 

Oh, almost forgot...that same night we found out about this coming transfer. I´ll be staying in Vila União! And Elder Alcântara will be transferred. I don´t know much about my new companion--I´ll be finding out this Tuesday when I go to pick him up from the Mission Home and next week I´ll be sure to fill you in. I´ve learned a lot from Elder Alcântara--not always in the easiest of ways but probably in the way that I needed to learn. I don´t doubt it wasn´t coincidence he was my trainer. I´ll miss him, but I´m also exciting for a little bit of change in the future. We´ll see how the next 6 weeks go!

Last thing, I got a bunch of letters this last week, so thank you to all responsible! (Kirsten, The Reshetar´s, my family--the Valentine´s Day Card, Sister Helsing, Andrew Frese, Grandma Sears, and Grandma Julie). I´ll be busy responding to them this afternoon! Thank you as well for all the emails. I need and always am grateful for your support and genuine love for me. Unfortunately today I won´t be able to respond to individual emails because there´s a line behind me to use the computer (I´m here in the chapel for our zone´s farewell barbecue--it´s become a tradition at the end of every transfer). And I promise next week I´ll send pictures (can´t believe I forgot the cord to the camera, sorry!)

Much love, Elder Sears

Monday, February 4, 2013

Feb. 4, 2013 Marriage and Baptism

Hello! I´m going to have to fly to get everything in today...

First of all, mom, you´ll be happy to know that I was able to use the Plan of Salvation diagram that you sent to me a few weeks back! I glued a picture of the Savior on the back of it to emphasize the role that He has in that Plan and used it to review the second lesson with Henrique and Junho (Cristiane´s kids). It was one of those days when we didn´t have many commitments and Elder Alcântara was in no mood to knock doors, so I took full advantage and reviewed the Plan of Salvation with them. It´s a perfect teaching tool, because I use it to explain and have them do the puzzle the second time, this time using it to teach me. They´re both pretty easily distracted, but they stayed interested the whole time and wanted to use it to teach Cristiane after we had finished. So, thank you for thinking to send it to me! It helps me to focus on the simple, most important parts of the doctrine and teach for understanding instead of just to check something off the teaching record. I also read through the family history stories you sent and loved them. My goal for my language study this coming week is to translate the jist of them into Portuguese so that I can use them in my teaching when the opportunity presents itself.

I feel like this past week dragged on forever waiting for Saturday to get here. The work was slow and a lot of the time I felt like I was the only one trying to move it forward. But Saturday came and made every moment of waiting worth it. We met up with Lena and Reobe at 8:15 in the morning to go to the Cartório (that´s the government building where marriages are performed here). I was impressed and grateful with the amount of people that showed up between their relatives and many members from the ward who wanted to be a part of the special day. Marriages in Brazil go something like this: wait in line for your slot to come, squeeze everybody into a small room where the couple sits down at a table and listens to two official-looking women give them congratulations and counsel (probably not always women but this time it was), promise your oaths to each other, exchange rings, kiss, and sign some papers, followed by the signing by the padrinhos and madrinhos (me being one of them!). And that´s it--officially married by the Government of Brasil. It was so simple and yet made me so happy. Everybody was smiling and I´m sure I was beaming as well. Lena and Reobe looked so good and so happy together. I did my best to film and take pictures of everything that I could. I remember writing in my journal that the only thing missing was the color white--but that came a few hours later and will come again in February 2014. Lena and Reobe already told us they have the sealing in the temple scheduled for February 10 next year. Yay!! Elder Alcântara and I went to the church to get everything ready for the baptism. I wanted everything to be perfect, to the point that I spent a good half hour decorating the chalk board in the room with the baptismal font. Probably didn´t need to do that but hey, I was excited. The room was filled to the prim--I think half the ward showed up. I was so grateful for that. We took loads of pictures of the four of us in all white just before the baptism. Elder Alcântara went into the water first and baptized Reobe, and I baptized Lena. We watched Reobe come up out of the water and then it was our turn. Everything just felt right. Of course there was that anxious excitement/nervousness that always seems to come just before a baptism, but that´s normal. It felt SO good to be able to baptize Lena using her new last name--her new married name. I´ve been doing a lot of thinking about the changes that they went through that day. They´d been living together outside of marriage for more than a year. All that sin built up over months, and yet gone in a matter of seconds through one simple, yet sacred and essential ordinance. And God was so good to let me be a part of that! I´m sure that well before they came to this earth they agreed to be married and baptized together. An eternity of preparation led up to Saturday, and now they have an eternity in front of them filled with the now very real potential of living with God and with eachother forever. How cool is that?? The 2 month wait for me was definitely worth it. They´re such incredible people and I hope I have some of the memories recorded in my mind and heart forever from the most important day in their lives up to this point. After their baptism, the ward put on a huge party to celebrate their decision. Irmã Soraia made a huge, gorgeous pineapple cake (although to be honest I was more concerned about the taste, which was equally good) and loads of members showed up with food and wedding presents for the new couple. It was the first time I really felt the ward getting excited about missionary work. It was so good to see, especially with Lena and Reobe right in the middle of it. She told me later that night when we stopped by to say a final congratulations before their honeymoon that if they had any doubts that they belonged to the Church and the Vila União ward family before their baptism, all of them were erased. I still think it´ll take a little bit longer for me to process the fact that their marriage and baptism finally got here. It may have been the best day of my mission so far up to this point. I saw in it a very literal fulfillment of the Lord´s words in D&C 18 about the worth of souls, and the joy of them rejoicing together in salvation. It´s a kind of happiness that I don´t think can come from something good happening to me, but being part of something incredible and eternal happening to someone else. 

So that was this week for me...waiting for Saturday and then being absolutely ecstatic when it came. I´m going to try to attach some photos from the wedding and their baptism now.

I love you all and can´t wait until next week! 

Love, Elder Sears

Oh, and before I forget, I got a package from Jamie and Chris with an awesome note and some amazing chocolate from England. A huge thank you to you for that if you´re reading this!!