Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Jan. 20, 2014 Progressing in the Gospel; Walking into the Light

Queridos familiares e amigos,

Today marks 1 year and 2 months in Campinas, and yesterday was 16 months in Brazil. It continues to be surreal to me how fast it´s gone by. Yesterday was Stake Conference, and a particularly special one for me. 7 men in the stake were sustained in the office of Elder, and 5 of them came from Castelo, Ricardo, and Gilbert among them. It has been so rewarding seeing the way they´ve grown and progressed, and how committed they are to keeping their covenants. It´s hard to measure conversion, but with them I´d say they´re well on their way. Seeing it all happen is a joy even greater than I felt on the day of their baptisms. Saturday night all of the missionaries were invited to participate in the adult session, which was focused exclusively on missionary work. Several recent converts and recently returned missionaries in the stake bore their testimonies, ward mission leaders spoke, and the entire Stake Presidency shared personal missionary experiences that they´d had on their missions. The stake is on fire. AND, Daniel told us something pretty fantastic yesterday. The presidency of the Assembleia de Deus church (in which he used to serve as presiding pastor) wants to know what on earth made him change his mind and go after "Mormonism." So they invited him to give a 2 hour presentation in Belém, Brasil (Assembleia headquarters, wayyyy north of São Paulo) in front of the church vice president and 400 pastors. He´s stoked! We´re going to call the Missão Brasil Recife mission president so that he can go with Daniel and get all the referrals he´s sure to generate. The Stake Presidency is working on sending the story in to the Liahona. We´ll have to see......still, super exciting!

A quick update on our teaching pool before I go (this week we have multi-zone conferences so the schedule´s a bit rushed). Barbara went through a minor, planned surgery but is recovering well. Her mom invited us over for dinner this week. Elvis has kind of fallen off the map, but in his absence Elizabeth and Fábio are coming along super well (baptism marked for Groundhog´s Day!). We taught them after English class in the chapel on Tuesday, only the power went out because of a huge storm. So we taught by cell phone light. It brought a new meaning to gospel symbolism for me. Silvanna (the lady who first talked to her in the shopping line) invited them over for a family night on Friday and we taught a cool object lesson on the importance of daily scripture study. It´s absolutely impossible to describe over email so I will not even attempt to, but suffice it to say it was cool :) We contacted Sergio this week, a referral we got from a new member in the ward, and the second lesson he accepted baptism for February 2nd as well. So, when all goes according to plan, Punksatony isn´t going to be the only town celebrating :) 

Vos amo muito! Happy Martin Luther King Day, and until next week! Sorry this is a little bit shorter than usual :/

Love, Elder Sears

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Jan. 13, 2014 Baptism of Barbara

 Gisele, Olivia, Luis Fernando, Barbara, Eric, Raquel,
Elder Chagas, Gil (Ward Mission Leader), and Brad

              Dedicated ward members in Castelo at the 8:45 a.m. baptism of Barbara

Jan. 13, 2014 Learning Patience and Experiencing Miracles

Hello "gente" :)

I´ll get right to it then. We were blessed with another baptism yesterday!!!!! Her name´s Barbara and she´s been coming to Church for the last 2 months but didn´t want to meet with us at first. That changed last week! Sometimes God literally wraps up His elects and hands them to us. It´s incredible, and once again my feelings are a mixture of lots of gratitude and a strong desire to feel more gratitude. Here´s what I started to write about her in my journal:

"Elder Chagas and Elder Marshall were going after Barbara for a good 2 months before we were finally able to sit down and teach her for the first time Wednesday. She´s 20 and the only non-member in her family. Her parents, brother and sister were all baptized 13 years (plus) ago, but before she turned 8 they fell away. Her brother Eric and sister Olivia both came down with a degenerative syndrome and are severely handicapped now. Some members made some cruel, insensitive comments and Raquel (the mom) and her husband had enough and walked out, and stayed out for 13 years. A few months ago Barbara was driving on the freeway when her tire exploded. She was crying and exasperated on the side of the road when Luis Fernando, a returned missionary from the next-door ward, stopped his car to help. He somehow recognized her and invited her to church. She came, dragging along her mom and siblings with her."

I didn´t get to finish in my journal yet, but continuing with the story...during the last 2 months Barbara and her family have been coming to church without missing a week. Gisele, our ward mission leader´s mom, struck up the friendship she had with Raquel years ago and finally convinced them to come over for a family night this past week. We felt we needed to invited Barbara to be baptized, so we did. She accepted, but wasn´t too certain she´d be ready anytime soon. Gisele turned to her and said something like, "Barbara I want to see you get baptized this Sunday morning. I know you´re ready and I know this is what you need." That was all she needed. We taught her all the discussions, committed her to all the commandments, she was interviewed Saturday, and baptized Sunday morning before sacrament meeting. The baptismal service started at 8:30, and in spite of being so early the room with the font was filled with people standing to support her. It was incredible. Luis Fernando, the man who helped her out on the freeway 2 months ago, was the member who baptized her. She sent us a text after church thanking for everything we´d done to help her go through with the decision. We did so little though--the members found her, basically invited her, baptized her, and confirmed her. We were just happy bystanders. I´m learning on my mission that miracles are going to happen inevitably as part of God´s work. Whether we´re a part of them or not is completely up to us. They can be a baptism like Barbara, divine protection just when we need it, an attribute we´re needing to get better at, a less active coming back to church, or just plain being happy when nothing is going our way. But they´re out there to be found. Pictures to come!

Speaking of attributes that we need to get better at, I´m convinced one of mine is patience. We had a bizarre amount of stubborn, hard-hearted people that we found and taught (only once), and I just about went insane by the end of some of the lessons. We taught Lucas on Friday, and he tried to tell us The Book of Mormon and the Bible were invented, written, and distorted by men. We read 1 Nephi 13 with him and said he was right about the distorted part when it came to the Bible. When we got over that part and invited him to read and ask God to know if The Book of Mormon was really His word or not he said, "eh I´ll read but I don´t want to ask God. That´d influence my opinion." Como assim amigo?! It didn´t matter what questions we asked or what examples we used, he would NOT agree to ask God. After a little while he said, "maybe when I get to the end of my life I´ll ask Him, just to see if I was right or not." Then I said, "Lucas, life isn´t just about finding the right answer, it´s about living it. There´s a game we play in the States called capture the flag. When you find the other team´s flag you´re only halfway finished. You´ve gotta bring it back to your area to win the game. It´s the same thing with The Book of Mormon. You need to find out it´s true, and then bring its teachings back to your life. Finding out only at the end isn´t really going to get you anywhere." And, still, Lucas refused. So we said goodbye and I walked out of the house just a liiiiitttttlleee bit frustrated. We met 4-5 similar investigators throughout the week. So, I need to work on patience. 

A quick update on Elvis before going: he didn´t get baptized but we´re still hoping. Satan´s working really hard with him in all kinds of ways: brothers-in-law, pastors saying all kinds of good stuff to him, a crazy work schedule and housing problems. But it´ll work out. Just please keep him in your prayers!

Love you all,

Elder Sears

Jan. 8, 2014 Staying in Castelo and New Year's Resolutions

Hello,

The new year has started and we´re off and running. Last Thursday we had another transfer and......Elder Chagas and I are companions again! In Castelo! I´m pretty pumped about the coming weeks and all we´re hoping to do together. I got pretty sick from Wednesday night to Thursday morning but made it. The work here is going, but not as fast as I´d like it to be going. Elder Elswick and I did, however, have one really spiritual experience together a few days before he headed off to his next area. Here´s what I wrote in my journal:

"Remember Elvis right? We managed to mark with him for Monday. The conversation started out about his experiences at church. He said the feeling he got was definitely a step for him knowing it was where God wanted him to be, but much like Daniel he wanted a further confirmation. I felt I needed to promise him he´d get that confirmation before a certain date on which he could be baptized, and invited him for 2 Sundays down the road, January 12th. When the invited came out Elvis kind of looked at me and, apparently shocked for some reason, asked me if I´d really said January 12th. He repeated the question, going on to say he was feeling chills all over his body because that day is his birthday. Then I got chills. And then I smiled, once again a witness of a "heaven-planned coincidence" as I like to call miracles sometimes. "Elvis, do you believe what just happened is proof from God that this is His church/" "Wow, I never imagined something like this would happen. I´ve got goosebumps all over." "How´d you like to celebrate two birthdays on the twelfth then?" He accepted, and it´s a firm date marked. The timing of it all is what´s incredible to me. We started teaching Elvis the second week in November, and basically went a month without teaching him because of his hectic job schedule. I was pretty impatient at times because of the difficulty we had scheduling even 15 minutes to sit down and talk, but now I understand why. We for sure would have invited him to baptism way before January 12th, and a confirmation that he felt 2 nights ago wouldn´t have been nearly as personal or dramatic. God knows what He does and how to do it! I´m really glad to be on His team."

That was pretty amazing to be a part of. It was even more special because a few days earlier I´d asked God in a prayer if He was accepting everything I was doing and if He considered me to be a worthy servant. I felt strongly that the experience we had with Elvis was His way of touching both Elvis and me at the same time. How I´m grateful that Heavenly Father always responds to sincere prayers. I bore my testimony about the experience on Sunday and choked up a little bit. A few members did too. It´s just really cool to be a missionary. Unfortunately Elvis has waned some in his certainty of the need to be baptized on the twelfth and didn´t go to church that week, but we´re praying and hoping and confident that he´ll go through with it. 

Continuing on with the journal entries:

"Friday was a pretty tough day when I found out that Matheus hadn´t kept the law of chastity over the weekend. He´s not progressing like he should be and it´s frustrating. I talked to him yesterday and he said he slipped again this past weekend, and that from the beginning church hasn´t really been a priority for him. Ouch. I think we´re going to have to let him go, at least for a little while. The frustration continued Sunday morning when, again, neither he, Elvis and his family, Igor and his family, nor Andreia showed up for church. Pretty annoying to be honest. But, God shapes our back to hold the burden placed upon it. It wasn´t until after sacrament meeting that we discovered that we had 2 unexpected visitors: Elizabeth and Fábio, mother and son. Silvanna, one of the members in the ward, struck up a conversation with Elizabeth while waiting in line at the mall and wasted no time in inviting her to Church. She came! AND she´ll be moving to our area in the coming weeks. Elizabeth loved church, came to English class yesterday, and when I told her I´d see her next Tuesday she corrected me and said, "No, Sunday--at church!" We´re playing basketball with Fábio for P-day. Several doors seemed to shut Sunday, but a better, more promising one opened--because a woman with 1 year of membership invited a stranger in the mall to church. That´s missionary work."

Yet another cool experience. Yes, a huge part of our teaching pool isn´t progressing like we´d like it to be, but God´s helping us feel in the gaps bit by bit. So that´s been a lift and a comfort to me. 

Oh yes! Before I go, here are some of my New Year´s resolutions for 2014:
-finish my mission with peace and satisfaction, knowing that God accepted it
-increase my gratitude: one thing per day written in my journal for which I´m grateful
-read the New Testament from start to finish before the end of my mission (260 chapters)
-finish The Book of Mormon (Alma 6-Moroni 10) and read it 2 more times before finishing the mission (one time marking all words/titles referring to Christ, another of my choice)
-achieve baptism goals each transfer; help baptize another complete family
-Christlike attribute in focus: diligence
-see Lena and Reobe confirmed
-P90X, jump rope every other day
-keep a notebook of scriptural questions
-make a piano CD with only my compositions on it
-review these goals monthly

Amo vocês todos muito e oro por vocês,

Elder Sears

Dec. 30, 2013 "Just Do It!" Pictures

Brad, Matheus (investigator they challenged to attend church) and Elder Elswick
                                       
                                  Elder Elswick's challenge:  "Just Do It!"

Dec. 30, 2013 Christmas cheer and bold invitations

Olá!!

A lot´s happened these past 2 weeks. Hopefully you got the pictures I sent out on Christmas of the Castelo crew in the Christmas spirit. It seriously has been one of the most rewarding, Christ-centered Christmases of my life. About 2 weeks ago I was reading through 25 missionary Christmas stories that my mom sent to me and got to thinking I needed to be more creative and service-minded this Christmas than I was last year. So I called in Elder Chagas, Marshall, and Elswick and we came up with our Santa scheme for the ward. We´ve spent some of these past 2 weeks baking loads of cookies, designing and printing out Christmas cards, putting together missionary Christmas kits for ward members to give to their friends, and showing up at all the members house with me playing the escaleta (google it!) and the other 3 singing "Mundo Feliz" and "Anjos Descem a Cantar." The ward loved it. I think it´s been a while since someone´s done something like that for Christmas. Jorge, one of the firmer but somehow somewhat forgotten members of the ward, stood up during Priesthood and said our coming to his house Saturday night made this season one of the best Christmases he and his family have had in a while. It just drives home for me the fact that there is no better way to make yourself happy than making someone else happy. I sent pictures last week, but just to recap the zone went to the central bus station on Christmas Eve to give a mini Christmas concert. I got to play a baby grand (slightly broken and off key but still, a baby grand) and was reminded why I love piano so much. The crowd that gathered to listen really enjoyed it. We handed out pass-along cards with ease afterwards. When they ran out one of the men there who hadn´t gotten one got on my tail for it until I found him one laying around. Really, really good way to spend Christmas Eve. Christmas in and of itself was simple, but everything I wanted it to be. We had lunch with Marcos and Isabel, came back home to play some board games with everyone, and got to skype our families :) That was a super special 40 minutes for me. Thank you Dad, Mom, Joseph, Abigail, Spencer (and Jimmer)! I was able to read in Luke 2 and reflect a lot on the Christmas story from a missionary angle. 

Not entirely leaving the subject, we did get 2 Christmas presents from mother nature. During the morning we all noticed a strange, dank smell coming from somewhere in the hallway but didn´t find out what it was until that night, when we opened up a storage cabinet and found a dead rat lying there. The next morning Elder Toebe went to brush his teeth when another one crawled up his leg! I was upstairs but the reports are he did a pretty impressive little dance. Elder Elswick came in completely nonchalant and hit it a few times with a broomstick before it died. All this on video of course. Compeletely hilarious :) Don´t worry mom and motherly figures out there, we did a huge deep clean and called in the exterminators. Everything´s under control. It was a good way to officially end the holiday with a bang (and a few squeals). Ha HA! 

As far as the teaching and proselyting goes...we´ve got a good teaching pool but they´re all being stubborn about progressing. I´m having to be patient. Sunday was the first time in months that nobody showed up for Church. The bright note was that half of the ward there was recent converts, who are all coming along really well. Daniel went out on splits with us Saturday night to teach Igor and Daniela and bore a powerful testimony of the restoration. It was perfect because Igor has lots of crazy bible doubts that I won´t know how to answer until the millenium, all of which of course Daniel knew in a heartbeat. Andreia, a woman we found knocking doors towards the beginning of December, told us that since going to Church 2 weeks ago she´s been able to stop smoking significantly. She said that she´s not physically able to finish a cigarette completely without throwing up. She accepted baptism, but is another person that needs to get married first. Matheus is progressing REALLY well. He was out of town Sunday but we were able to teach him the coolest, most natural law of chastity lesson I´ve ever been a part of, and he accepted. We called him yesterday to see how the conversation with his girlfriend went and she´s on board too :) Last week when we were talking with him about going to church, he was being a stinker about it so Elder Elswick looked at him and said in English (Matheus speaks pretty much fluently), "you ever heard of Nike before?" "yeah." "Do you know what their slogan is?" "No." "Just do it. Just go to church Matheus, you´re being difficult. Just do it!" **laughter** So after that lesson I said to Elder Elswick we were going to buy him a Nike shirt for Christmas. We found one, but it didn´t have the slogan on it so we had to get creative (pictures to follow). He liked it a lot. 

So, summing a lot of things up, that was the week! I hope Christmas was special for everybody and that 2014 gets off to a perfect start. 2013 has been a really, really good year for me, especially considering it was and will be the only complete year of my life that I spend 100 percent of my time in God´s service. 

Um grande abraço!

Elder Sears

Dec. 25, 2013 Merry Christmas from Brad!

                            Elder ?, Elder Chagas, Brad, and Elder Elswick
                           made Christmas cards for all the ward members
                                               Crazy Christmas card
               Elder Chagas, Brad, Elder ? and Elder Elswick rocking out the season

Dec. 25, 2013 Christmas Zone activity at the bus station

                 Brad performing on baby grand at the bus station with his zone
                      Brad's zone at the rodoviaria (bus station) performing
                     Christmas carols for 2 hours

Dec. 25, 2013 Mission Christmas Picture

               Entire Mission Christmas picture right before attending Campinas temple