Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29, 2013 Greetings from Ouro Verde and the ward of "Gold Zion"

Dear everyone,

Before anything else, um aniversário MUITO feliz para meu irmão Andrew. Happy birthday buddy :) I love you and am thinking about you extra today. Can´t wait to hear how your priesthood ordination goes next Sunday. I´m so, so proud of you and wish I could be there. But I´ll be able to tell you that face to face this Mother´s Day when we skype!

About the transfer, Monday night was crazy packing and getting everything together. I was able to say goodbye to Lena and Reobe, Vania, Douglas, and Luis Ricardo and his family. He put on a huge dinner for Elder Barbosa and I and it was a perfect way for me to end my last day in Vila União. I was thinking I´d get transferred way far away from where I was working but when we got to the bus station downtown I found out it was a mere 10 minutes up the road from Vila União, here in Ouro Verde (Green Gold). I´d already gotten to know the house before during divisions with some of the Elders from the district. It´s in the same zone, Zona Campinas, that I was in before. My companion is Elder Miller from Oakland, CA. I think I mentioned him a while back (December, maybe?). I really couldn´t have asked for a better companion. He was my Zone Leader when I first got to the field and he´s a really, really hard worker. And he´s an absolute BYU nut too, which makes for some awesome conversations in the little bit of free time that we have :) He´s headed home after this transfer, so according to mission slang estou "matando" ele (I´m killing him--that´s what you call it when you spend a transfer with an Elder that´s going home at the end of it). We like to call the ward here Ouro Sião instead of Ouro Verde ("Gold Zion"). It´s incredibly strong for Brazil. We had a good 150 members in attendance for Sacrament Meeting and another 7 investigators. The members automatically take care of our investigators there without being asked and are always, always giving referrals. I´m super excited about the work here. Elder Miller and I set a goal for May to baptize 8. We´re really running after that goal and doing everything possible to make it happen. We´ve got a really good teaching group with people progressing. Our focus this week is going to be marking baptismal dates for the 12th. Dimas, one of our investigators, is super elect. We taught him the first lesson but before we could get started the question he had for us was, "God called prophets in the past, right? So where are they now?" Questions like that go a long way in helping make clear the fact that God really is preparing people for us to find. The thing that I´m really liking about the work here is that we´re teaching whole families--3, 4, 5 people at a time. It´s so much more efficient and enjoyable that way. I´m learning loads from Elder Miller´s experience, leadership, and attitude about the work. And since I´ve already been working with him for 4 transfers the transition has been a really easy one to make. The difficulty here is remembering all the ward member´s names and where everyone lives. A good 3 or 4 Vila União´s fit in Ouro Verde. It´s a little bit of a richer area and the missionary´s house is significantly better than the one in Vila União. I´ll leave it at that :) We´re living with two other Elders from the zone--Elder Cox and Elder Mooni. Both of which are super good friends of mine in the field. So I´m looking forward to a really good, productive transfer. God is blessing me a lot, no denying that. And I get to be the ward pianist which is exciting! 

What else...? I´m sure there´s something but I´m not managing to think of it at the moment. Oh, we have one man named José that we´re working with so he can get baptized this Sunday. He told us he´d been praying and looking for a church when we knocked on his door. He´s a really emotional man and various times during church he teared up. I can see the gospel doing a lot of good for him and I´m hoping and praying that this Sunday can be his day. If not we´ll add one more to the Mother´s Day group. Haha. I love you all. I hope you know that. I´m happy here but I continue to miss you. Just a head´s up really quick, President is starting to progressively limit the time we have each P-day to email family and friends. I can definitely see where he´s coming from because there´ve been some problems in the past, but just wanted to let you know. I´m planning to write my big email off to everyone and then in the time remaining I´ll send off the individual ones. Even if I don´t get a response off to everyone each week, I can´t tell you enough how awesome it is to open up my inbox and see so many emails from all of you. It´s a huge blessing for me to read through them and get a good look at the amazing people I have in my life. That means all of you! I wish you all the best this week and will talk to you daqui a pouco :)

Tchau from Brazil. Love, 

Elder Sears

Monday, April 22, 2013

April 21, 2013 Luis Ricardo's Baptism

Luis Ricardo was baptized by his son, Raul (16), a priest of only three weeks
Elder Barbosa, Luis Ricardo, Raul, and Elder Sears 

April 22, 2013 A Long-awaited Baptism and a Transfer

Well I found out last night that today will be my last in Vila União. I find out my new area tomorrow morning at the bus station. It´s a strange feeling knowing I´ve been here so long! And cliche or no, the only word to describe it is bittersweet. This past weekend though was nothing but sweet. After 4 weeks of waiting, we finally had a baptism. And a really, really special one. Luis Ricardo was baptized by his 16 year-old son Raul who was ordained a Priest just 3 months ago. I think the only hitch in the whole day and baptismal service was the fact that the room with the font in it wasn´t big enough to fit everyone there to watch! His family and extended family alone were a good 20, and just about every active member of the ward was there too. Us Elders stood by the door because there wasn´t anywhere to sit. That worked out perfectly because we were able to see bunches of tear-stained faces watching someone they´ve known for so long finally make the decision to get baptized. There really was an incredible feeling in that room. So many people came up to us afterwards thanking us and asking how we managed to help him make that decision. We just smiled and told them there´s no way in the world it was us, finger pointed towards the One we´re working for. And there really is no way it was us. It was a really special moment for me, knowing it´d be my last Sunday here in the ward. And watching his own son perform the ordinance was almost too much! Luis invited us over for dinner tonight so that I can properly say good-bye. The ward is super happy and I´m kind of bummed I have to be leaving them right as the harvest is reaching its peak! But I´m super excited for this coming transfer and I know Elder Barbosa will take care of everyone with a lot of "carinho" as the Brazilians say.
Time is way shorter than I´d like it to be because of all the packing and cleaning I´ll have to be doing, but I have to squeeze one more thing in before I go. Going into Conference, I had prayed to know if God really was accepting the offering I´ve been giving to Him as a missionary. I didn´t really get an answer to that question right away, or at least not that I recognized. Then yesterday, after the baptism, the first counselor in our ward leaned over to Elder Barbosa and I and said, "I forgot to tell you, but I saw your mission president in the temple 2 months back. I told him how much we are loving the work you´re doing in the ward and I asked him if he could let you stay for one more transfer." Then Luis Ricardo told me that there´s something about the way I teach and look into his eyes that makes him know there´s something different about me. That night when I went to say good-bye to Lena and Reobe she wrote me a note saying that she´s never met someone purer. This morning, when I went to open up my email, there was one in the inbox from Irmão Mauricio, my CTM instuctor. He wrote to tell me that when he went on splits with me 2 months back he felt the spirit extremely strong when I was teaching and bearing testimony. So in about 24 hours I got 4 separate answers to my question. Amazing how God works. I love you all! Can´t wait to email again from my new area! 
Until then, Elder Sears  

Monday, April 15, 2013

April 15, 2013 Open Happiness

Bradford enjoys packages from friends! April 15, 2013

April 15, 2013 Miracles and Mercy

Ei pessoal! Como vai? I hope you´re all doing splendidly well. This past week was a super busy one so I decided I´d send the group email off first before the individual ones to make sure I get everything in. But first off, I finally was able to pick up the 2 packages I had waiting for me at a multi-zone conference we had--one from the Shell´s and one from Kirsten. Obrigado demais!! I took some pictures with what was inside and will send some of them along at the end of my email. I´ve already put the BYU basketball shirt to super good use, along with the mini basketball hoop and ping-pong set-up in the few moments of down time we have at night. And I plan to get a good game of horse in with Elder Barbosa sometime later today, being P-day. I wish you could have seen how exciting I got when I opened the two of them. Because it was a lot of excitement. So again, thank you MUITO. 

I think I´ll start with Wednesday. The night before we sat down to look at the map and plan where we´ll be knocking doors until the end of the transfer (next week) because the neighborhood we were working in is pretty burnt-out. We said a prayer asking for Heavenly Father to prepare His elect to be taught there in the coming days and week. Wednesday afternoon we found Maria Aparecida. She was in the middle of a phone call but asked us to wait for her to finish. A good fifteen minutes later she came back to the door and we started to talk. She told us that that morning she had planned to watch a Catholic Mass online but nothing was working out right--the Internet, her interest level, a few things that had left her disillusioned a little bit with her religion, etc. She mentioned she felt like she needed something else, and when we showed up and taught her about The Book of Mormon she got super excited and asked us to return a day later. She told us that was super unusual for her because in the past when someone showed up with a message about religion she shrugged them off, but she felt different about us. In our follow up visit, to use her own words, she "devoured" the chapter we left with her and decided to read further. It was super neat to see how God had worked in her that very day to open her heart to receive us as His servants. She didn´t make it to church but if nothing else, I´m confident that a very large seed was planted. I´m excited to continue to work with her this coming week. Friday we found Nazaré one street above Maria Aparecida. Her story is strikingly similar. Once again, she told us about her disinterest in religions outside of her own (Catholic), but when we offered to teach more about Christ and another testament of Him she felt she needed to accept. It was another spiritual lesson, and yet another evidence of God preparing His children to be taught. I have to say it´s a pretty good feeling to know that, as missionaries of the true Church, we´re working and living in a way that helps people realize there really is something different about us. Something that some part of them wants to get to know better. I don´t know if either of them will get baptized (of course, I am very much hoping that they do and believing that they can), but it´s neat to work with people prepared in a way that only God is capable of.

Speaking of one of those people, we´ve been working for the past month or so with Luis Ricardo. His wife and family are members and have been for 18 years now, but he´s never really had a desire to make the commitment to be baptized. He´s super open and has always accepted the missionaries well, but lately his interest has grown significantly. Last Sunday in between visits and after having prayed to know if he should be baptized, a series of things happened to help him know that was the right thing to do. He didn´t go into too much detail but explained it like walking down a hallway with a bunch of doors and having all of them close except the one at the end, which he described as the door to his baptism. We got there Wednesday night with a lesson all planned out but didn´t manage to teach it because he was so excited to tell us that he´d decided to be baptized this coming Sunday (April 21). I don´t remember if I smiled or laughed or cried or fainted when he said that, so out of the blue, but I know I felt SUPER happy and super grateful, especially in the context of how hard the past month has been. Elder Barbosa and I had fasted that Sunday for a miracle--for someone to come out of the wood work that we could baptize--and it was that very Sunday that Luis Ricardo explained everything started to go right and become crystal clear. I don´t know what we did specifically with him to help him get to this point--probably nothing--but I am super happy with his progress. SUPER happy. The whole ward knows him and has  waited a long while for this day to get here. When Bishop announced the news yesterday in Sacrament Meeting everybody turned to their neighbor and started whispering. 3 or 4 testimonies toughed on how grateful and excited they were for the step he´d decided to take. Once again, it´s just neat to be a part of. And it was a very tenderly timed tender mercy, because just a few days later Lena and Reobe backed out of being confirmed AGAIN :( To make a long, painful story somewhat shorter and less painful, some pretty shocking and hurtful things were said by one of the members straight to their face and Lena told me yesterday that she doesn´t want to even set foot in the church anymore because of it. The whole situation is super frustrating and saddening for me. But I´m glad God gave me something to hold on to because of the people we´ve been finding and the drastic (in a good way this time) changes that´ve been happening with Luis Ricardo. I´m trying to focus just on his baptism this Sunday.

Really quick before I upload the pictures, Thursday was a bit of a shocker for me at our Multi-zone Conference. President Perrotti had told everyone to thoroughly study 2 Nephi 31 about the doctrine of Christ because he´d be asking one missionary at random to give a 30 minute training about it in front of everybody. And I happened to be that missionary. Woot! It went well I think though. I went through each of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel and then applied them to the life of Alma the Younger (Mosiah 27 and Alma 36) in his transformation from a persecutor of the saints to one of the most powerful missionaries we have in The Book of Mormon, seeing that he baptized thousands. Not going to lie though, my stomach did a couple of twists. Haha.

Anyways, I love you all incredibly much and hope you have an amazing week. Know that I´m smiling and doing well, because of and inspite of everything. 

Loads of love from Brasil,

Élder Sears

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

April 8, 2013 Reflections on General Conference

One more week down! It´s been, to be honest, another really difficult one. Our commitments and investigators are "ficando mole" (going soft) like crazy and it can be frustrating at times. Cris, who was supposed to be baptized in between Conference sessions, sent us 2 text messages saying he didn´t want to be part of the Church anymore. I´d really like to know what happened! In our attempts to call back and stop by to talk he didn´t answer. But life can be like that sometimes. In short, it was really well-planned that Conference turned out to be this weekend. I needed it! I went into it with several questions on my mind and received clear answers to each of them. Miraculous how that happens isn´t it? I really enjoyed the spirit of it all, even though I wasn´t able to listen to it in English. It really is impossible for me to shake the certainty that President Monson is God´s mouthpiece and that he receives revelation directly from Him, as did Moses and so many other prophets, face to face. Elder Barbosa and I have been trying to focus in on the importance of prophets in our teaching, because so many people here accept just about anyone as a prophet and apostle. One of our ward members told us a funny story about a friend of his who called to tell him he´d recently been promoted to an apostle in his church because he managed to sell 3 boxes of socks to raise money for a church fund. Crazy! I really am so grateful to have the knowledge that I do that the Church I represent is the same that the Savior personally organized, with prophets and apostles and the divine authority of the Priesthood. Some impressions/notes I gained from Conference:

the greatest gift I have to give as a missionary is my testimony
I need to be as patient with my investigators and the Brazilian people as God is with me, forgiving and loving 7 times 70
those I teach are literally my brothers and sisters; as I view them in that form the promise that God made to Joseph and early missionaries of the Church that He would protect their families can apply to my investigators as well
Christ is the Prince of Peace; what a blessing it is for me to be spreading the only peace that lasts-that which comes from Him
Matthew 28:17-20 was cited at least 7-8 times by my count: missionary work is a defining characteristic of Christ´s church and how lucky I am to be one of the 65,000 in God´s army!
as a priesthood holder I need to view myself as a literal son of God, a disciple of Christ, a comforter of souls, and capable of inheriting all the blessings of God
it´s okay, essential even, to have weaknesses and realize that I´m never going to be able to overcome them on my own

Those are just a few, but it was a really uplifting weekend for me. I hope all of you had a similar experience! And it was super nice to be able to play the piano for 2-3 hours in between the sessions on Saturday. 

Time´s up already...? Not fair. To be continued next week then I guess! One day after Lena and Reobe are confirmed members of the Church. Should be a good week

Love you all! 

Love, Elder Sears