Friday, November 21, 2014

August 6, 2014 Twenty-first Birthday Celebrations

Birthday Eve with Elder Sears and his roommates

The second of three birthday cakes missionary friends 
made to help him celebrate his 21st birthday.

                             Elder Sears with the cake made by Sister Heyer and Sister Solano 
(missionaries in his district)

August 6, 2014 "Quite Possibly the Best Birthday Ever"

Ola :D

Tuesday I turned 21! I celebrated waking up at 4:25 am to make it to zone meeting on the other side of the mission. Elder Frutos and I had been preparing for a week but until Tuesday morning on the bus the pieces still weren´t fitting. About 30 minutes before getting there things finally clicked. We´d asked everyone to study chapter 9 in Jesus the Christ along with D &¨C 93--both talk about Christ´s development grace by grace until he received of a fulness. We talked about what exactly is a "fulness" and what our potential is as missionaries and as sons and daughters of God. Understanding the limitless potential of those we teach and within ourselves is one of the most powerful weapons we have in the field. It´s interesting to note that God prepared both Christ and Moses for their respective ministries by emphasizing their divine nature and potential (see Matthew 3:17 and Moses 1:3-4). Fittingly, our understanding of our potential is the first thing that Satan attacks--he did it with Christ (Matthew 4:3, 6), with Moses (1:12) and he does it with us. Then we talked about growing grace by grace in our potential as a zone and set progressive goals--this week every companionship is going to close out 20 contacts per day, next week new investigators, then baptismal dates, then people at church, then baptisms. We bore our testimonies and I felt the Spirit was so strong. I was amazed to see everything fitting together so perfectly just in the nick of time. We planned 2 role-plays: one in which the missionaries needed to use what was taught about our potential to help their investigators to feel capable of preparing for baptism within the next 2 weeks, and the other to help their investigators overcome problems with one of the 4 major commandments (word of wisdom, chastity, tithing, and the Sabbath day). What was incredible is that we received phone calls from 5 different companionships during that week telling us that they used what had been presented during the meeting with their investigators and that it worked really well. Two were baptized last Saturday :) It seriously was one of the most spiritual meetings I´ve particpated in for a long, long time. I got a pretty sweet surprise at the end of it too. Seeing that it´d be my last zone meeting ever, wo of the sisters in the zone called me up front and did an animated reading of Mosiah 2, comparing me to King Benjamin and thanking me for everything I´d done on the mission. I was super surprised and no doubt got pretty red by the end of it, but I was super grateful. President, who was in attendance, stood up afterwards and thanked me as well. I was kind of awestruck with it all. I´d been struggling to look for some way of knowing if God was approving these last, rather hard moments of my mission Monday morning, and Tuesday at the end of zone meeting I received a very emphatic answer. I spent a long time on my knees that night saying thank you. More still, after the closing hymn several missionaries in the zone had a room filled with balloons and cake waiting for me, seeing that someone (ehem Elder Frutos) spilled the beans that Tuesday was my birthday. They all made a card that is definitely going in my scrapbook when I get home. It seriously was on the most rewarding birthdays ever. 

We continue to be blessed with small tender mercies in the area, but unfortunately our investigators continue to close off their hearts. Saturday morning we had 25 investigators confirmed for church. When nightime came along the number dwindled down to 12, but they were 12 absolute yes´s. Sunday not a single one showed up. I´ve seriously never seen anything like it! But as I told President in my weekly email, maybe one of the bigger miracles of my mission is that I´m managing to truly feel happy during the middle of it all. Don´t ask me how. There´s always an experience here or there to keep us going and keep us smiling. Tuesday night for instance--we went to visit a young member couple and I felt prompted to share Helaman 12:24. When I finished, Elton, the member, looked at me and said "wow, there´s a part of my patriarchal blessing that I never understood that I understand now because of that scripture you just read." It really does feel really good to minister, to be the Lord´s hands in the vineyard even during one of those moments when none of the trees seem to be bearing good fruit. Rogério, according to his wife, has calmed down a little bit but still doesn´t want to talk to us. But, we´ve managed to reactivate 3 people so far since arriving in the area! Lucia was at church last week for the first time since last October, and Erica for the first time 3 weeks ago since 5 years before that. She has a 12 year-old son named Gabriel that has a baptismal date set for the 17th.

I love you all! Thanks millions for all the birthday wishes. I got cards/letters from Grandma Julie, Sister Shell, mom and my family, the Savage´s and the Idiart´s. I´ll be responding shortly! 

Elder Sears

July 29, 2014 Happy Birthday, Elder Sears!















July 28, 2014 Growing Pains, Patience and Pure Testimony

Hello y´all!

First things first. A huge thank you for all of the birthday wishes :) I LOVED the photos with everyone holding up a different letter. I get to celebrate waking up at 4:00 a.m. tomorrow for a zone meeting 3 1/2 hours away by bus. Yippee!! My biggest present however will be seeing all of you in person so soon. You really are the best. Mom, I promise to treat myself to something today since you asked me to!

Guess who moved in on Tuesday?? Elder Frutos!! My longtime office friend that has already lived with me for 5 transfers on the mission. We´re not companions but we´re working in the same ward and living in the same house. That´s been a super huge blessing.

This week´s theme: I think God is wanting me to learn in 2 weeks the patience I should have learned in 2 years. I seriously have never seen so many difficulties in the work all in one week. We started the week with 30 investigators and 16 with a baptismal date marked. We now have 5 of each, and nobody went to church! That´s incredible to me! We confirmed personally with so many and they decided not to come. Something happened with Aldireine and her family because they shut the door in our face Friday night. We saw Bia in the street yesterday and she was trying to hide from us. All those miracles I said I´d report this coming week were very real, but the investigators involved in them are straight-up denynig clear answers they´ve received and telling us they don´t want us to come back. One of them told us it´s our fault his grandfather died, because the day he decided to read the Book of Mormon was when his grandfather passed away unexpectedly. I tried to explain to him that his reasoning was like blaming someone for giving you an umbrella because a storm came afterwards, instead of recognizing that the umbrella was given in the first place because someone knew the storm was coming. He didn´t want to accept that. Elder Frutos noticed I was a little put out and we talked a while this morning. I always have liked the imagery of me being God´s investigator. I imagine I´m at the part in the conversion process where the missionary takes away a smoking addict´s cigarettes. At first the investigator hates it and complains because it´s so stinking hard. Then he realizes that he´s progressing in a way he never could have without the missionary letting him use his agency in extremely difficult circumstances. All the hardships in the work have yielded some of the most spiritual experiences I´ve ever had on my mission. I wanted to share with you one of them that I described in detail in my journal:

"Miracle 3--writing this one pains me because it´s one of those Book of Mormon "signs and wonders" miracles that the people wind up denying and considering mere coincidence. A week ago we got word from Paula, a less active returning to activity, that her husband Rogério had finally decided to be baptized. We´ve been teaching him for 6 weeks and other elders for a solid year. I was thrilled at the news. When we heard it from Rogério himself he explained that late one night he was thinking about baptism and his future in the Church while holding his 6-week-old baby in his arms. There was a moment when Davi (his baby) turned to look at him with that piercing glare that only someone that was with God 6 weeks ago can muster. Rogério felt the Spirit overwhelmingly strong and decided he´d be baptized on August 10th seeing that his birthday is on the 11th. This is after dozens of baptismal invites from missionaries that he not once accepted. Davi had him finalized. 

Unfortunately our visit on Friday was not nearly as pleasant, although equally miraculous. We got there and Rogério wasted no time in cancelling his baptismal date. He "wasn´t ready." He said a bunch of colleagues at work started questioning his decision and he didn´t know how to answer their doubts. He´d smoked that day too, and Satan was making him feel completely overwhelmed and unprepared. I read with him in 3 Nephi 1, when immediately after the day, night and a day sign of Christ´s birth Satan did the same thing. Rogério understood that but wasn´t budging. We tried to help him recognize that the extremely clear answer he´d received with Davi was God´s expression of confidence in him that he could be ready. Everything else was worldly pressure. Then Rogério´s piercing question, "if I decide to put off baptism will God bless me less?" It was obvious he was hoping for an "of course not" for an answer, so that he could comfortably continue sitting on the fence and know that he wasn´t disappointing God. But the Spirit told me to answer "yes." I remembered President Monson´s constant counsel to never put off a prompting, together with the consequences Jonas faced when he didn´t do God´s will in God´s timing. So, I answered "yes." Rogério became furious. He stood up and started pacing back and forth and shouting at us. "I could ask any evangelical pastor around here what would happen and he´d give me encouragement, not tell me God would bless me less! Is that what you missionaries do then? You came all the way from the United States just to tell me God is going to bless me less?! I have a 6-week baby to take care of and you´re going to deny me God´s blessing?! I´m sorry but it´s a definitive NO. I´m not getting baptized in a church that tells me that God´s going to bless me less." He stormed out of the room, leaving us alone with Paula and Davi. Everybody was crying. I was furious. I wanted so much to shout back at him. I was hurt and extremely disappointed. We´d lost Aldireine and her family on the same day and honestly my desire was to hurl a Book of Mormon at him and say "the wicked take the truth to be hard." But i didn´t do that. We sat there in silence, teary-eyed, for a good 5 minutes or so. When I calmed down, I called Rogério into the room so that we could pray for him. I kneeled down, sobbing, and poured out my soul to God to help him understand. I repeated how much we loved him and pleaded that he´d soften his heart and overcome his fears. When I finished I couldn´t see anything. I asked Rogério if I could hug him and he didn´t respond. So I hugged him anyway. In that moment the Spirit whispered to me I needed to make him a promise. Still crying, I put my hand on his shoulder and told him that the next day, when he went to put a cigarette in his mouth, he physically wouldn´t be able to. He´d throw up at the taste. That would be his second witness that August 10th was God´s will for him, as he´d already made clear a week earlier. Usually when promptings come they come subtly, but I saw the exact phrases in my mind that I needed to tell him. It was something I´d never experienced before and utterly undescribable. We left and I noticed Elder Rodrigues was crying too. I pat him on the shoulder, and he told me he hadn´t cried for two years, ever since his dad passed away in a motorcycle accident. I told him I´d never had such a spiritually powerful and draining experience in 23 months in the field. I was devastated at Rogério´s decision and pride, but I felt so much like a real representative of Christ walking out of that home. There was a silent power with us for the rest of the night, something that I´d very much like to feel again."

So, that was just one of the experiences we had this week. It´s been extremely hard, but salvation has always been that way.

Love you all dearly!

Elder Sears

July 21, 2014 "Desculpa" (Apology)

Dear friends and family,

I apologize but I´m not going to have time to send out an email this week :/ I did manage to send a response off to all the emails I received, but I had to spend all my internet time trying to apply to the Provo MTC and my time´s up! I have some pretty sweet miracles to report though, so stay posted for next week! Love you all, and a huge happy 15th birthday to my brother Spencer :)

Elder Sears

P.S. Elder J. Rodrigues and I will be staying in Nova Vinhedo this transfer!

July 14, 2014 "This Is Not My Work"

Helloooo,

Don´t worry, I´m doing considerably better than most of the Brazilians after their 7-1 defeat against Germany :) It´s been a good week, full of spiritual experiences and lessons learned. I´ll get started then...

Wednesday was my last mission conference ever. It was surreal and a little sad and sobering at the same time. After lunch the assistants asked me to play a special musical number so I went with an arrangement of "In Humility Our Savior" that I brought with me. I felt good about it. Shortly afterwards I had the opportunity to bear my "exit testimony" in front of everyone. I´ve witnessed dozens of such testimonies during all my multi-zones but me being up there was utterly shocking and quite a bit sad to be honest. I shared with the group a scripture I´d found on the bus ride (Ether 4:19). It seemed to fit the situation perfectly. Our stake president taught 2 weeks ago in ward conference that when you bear testimony, the Spirit confirms to you the truth of what´s coming out of your mouth. I felt that strongly Wednesday. This church is true.

Friday to Saturday I was on exchanges with Elder Hanekamp in a nearby area. In about an hour or so I had my beliefs challenged and questioned and criticized more than they have been in a while. We were walking to an appointment when a man ran up behind us and handed us 2 anti-Mormon pamphlets printed in Grand Rapids, MI. How do I know they were from Grand Rapids? Because I only looked at the back of it where I saw the printing address before tearing it up and throwing it away :) Seriously people, what do you hope to accomplish by that, giving it to a missionary of all people? We got to the appointment where Tiago, one of their more difficult investigators, was waiting for us. The lesson was going just fine for 10 minutes before he started heavily questioning the plan of salvation and The Book of Mormon, pulling various scriptures from the Bible. We responded with other scriptures, to which he presented another interpretation. It got pretty heated pretty fast, and I made the error of presenting other scriptures to continue the debate instead of just bearing my testimony, letting Elder Hanekamp bear his, and walking out. The Spirit was entirely absent and I walked out feeling awful and empty. I prayed long and hard that night to get it back, and to know how to respond to Tiago´s doubts without causing mayhem (in particular our belief in pre-mortal life which he believes doesn´t exist). Sunday morning I came across a few scriptures in Job that served perfectly.

Job 37:24: "He [the Almighty] respecteth not any that are wise of heart." --> a gentle reproach for me trusting too much in me and too little in the Spirit

Job 38:2: "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" --> an affirmation that Tiago´s reasoning really didn´t have reason

Job 38: 3-4,7: "Gird up now thy loins like a man; where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?...when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" --> a cry for courage, and proof that we really were in God´s presence and rejoiced with Him before coming to earth.

I felt such relief when I read that, and felt the Spirit return immediately. Good feeling :) I relearned a crucial lesson in the process that is the title of this email: this isn´t my work. I can´t do it my way because it isn´t my message. The only, only, only way to preach the gospel is by the Spirit.

Sunday we had a tender mercy. Remember Erica and Gabriel and Gustavo from last week? Well we showed up to pick them up on Sunday morning and nobody answered the door. I was pretty put out because she´d confirmed emphatically that she´d be ready when we stopped by, and she wasn´t even there. When Priesthood and Relief Society got over (here sacrament meeting is last) I saw her and her 3 kids in the hallway! I´d said a prayer 30 seconds earlier that someone would show up. Apparently she hadn´t heard anyone honk, but when she saw that no one would be passing by she gathered up the kids and walked there. She had a million and one reasons to throw in the towel and stay home but she went. And for a woman that hadn´t set foot in the Church for 4 plus years, it´s the second time in 2 weeks!

Flavia was there too. We found her and her family Monday night doing a street contact on our way home and were able to teach them twice this week. We left the first lesson pamphlet with them after our first visit and Fabiana, her twin sister, read it with her and filled out all the questions at the end of it. People, no one ever does that. It´s the second time it´s happened in 1 year and 10/11 months. We asked her what she understood and she said "well, basically Christ set up His church but it was rejected and then the apostasy started when a bunch of people started up their own churches in its absence. That´s why God had to call Joseph Smith as a prophet." Um, yep, that´s about right Fabiana! I was super impressed with her response. The family´s got a baptismal date marked for July 27th, but we´ve got a long ways to go still. Flavia being at church was a huge first step.

In other news, Eva from ala Castelo was baptized on Saturday!!! Elder Nelson and I taught her several times but she had some things to work out with the law of chastity first. She worked them out and Saturday was the day :)

Today I got permission from President to go visit Andreya from ala Ponte, who I helped baptize almost a year ago to the date. She´d called the office and told them she needed to talk. We arrived for lunch and you know what I found out? Her son, Kaique, is headed to the mission field in January!!! He was baptized shortly after I was transferred. And they have a sealing date marked in the temple for November!!!! I was thrilled beyond belief. They both have multiple callings and she said she has a testimony that nobody will take from her. She said that when she went to the temple for the first time to do baptisms she felt something so powerful that The Book of Mormon could be proved to be a lie and she´d still go faithfully because of what sheh felt and KNEW by the power of the Holy Ghost. Do you know how much that means for a missionary to hear a recent convert say that? She´s dating a returned missionary and she´s been tremendously blessed with a new job and a new house. Tell me that´s coincidence. I´m trying to send a picture but this stupid computer isn´t letting me. I´ll try the one next door.

LAST THING, PLEASE PAY ATTENTION! The mission office address is changing, so as of TODAY, all letters that you´d like to send need to be directed to the following address:

Rua Duque de Caxias, 645
Centro--Campinas 
13015-310
Brazil

All letter/packages previously sent will be forwarded on, so don´t worry :) Speaking of which, a huge thanks to my family for the Father/s Day card/letter. I got it last week and loved it!

Sorry this email was so long...gotta go now!

Love, Elder Sears

July 8, 2014 Book of Mormon Saves Marriages

Dear family and friends,

I´m terribly sorry I forgot to tell you that P-day would be Tuesday this week! We had a meeting yesterday and a multi-zone conference tomorrow, so today it is. I´m alive and well though.

We´re continuing to be blessed in teaching lots during the week. We had a few days where we got in 4-5 lessons. And some of these people are actually (finally) keeping some commitments so that we can actually help them and see some progress. Aldirene and her kids are progressing the fastest. We had a lesson with them on Thursday that I´d put among some of the most spiritual of my mission. Ivan and Aldirene have been having lots of marriage problems recently and 
we´ve been trying to work with them to save their marriage. During the lesson Thursday we tried to help them see how the gospel could resolve even the biggest grudges and grievances but it wasn´t having the effect we wanted it to. So we stopped and thought in silence for a little bit while we searched for what to say and how to say it. The only thing that came to my mind was "read The Book of Mormon as a family" so that´s the route we wound up taking things. I remembered all the many nights my dad would conference call in on our family scripture study and how good it was to be gathered together, even if it was by phone. We promised them that if they read 1 chapter of The Book of Mormon a day for one week, they´d see noticeable differences. That´s when André, one of the priests in the ward, asked if he could say something. He was noticeably touched by the invite we´d extended, because a few years ago his parentes were going through the same crisis and the missionaries came over and what did they invite them to do? Read The Book of Mormon as a family, one chapter a day, for one week. They did it, and he said it saved their marriage. André teared up while saying that (as did I) and the Spirit was burning in all of us as it testified to Ivan and Aldirene that it was indeed possible to make amends and save their family. When we returned for a follow-up visit we asked if they´d read. Unfortunately Aldirene and her daughter Amanda were the only ones that had. We asked her if she´d received and answer, and she said she´d felt a burning in her chest and she was ready to follow the Church whole-heartedly. She accepted baptism with ease, but we still need to work on setting a marriage date so that she can follow her desire. I was so grateful and relieved to hear her say she´d received a clear answer. It´d been a while since one of our investigators actually read and prayed with real intent, and longer still since one of them was able to recognize an answer. We walked out of the front gate in leaps and bounds. She came to church on Sunday with Bia, another one of her daughters, and we have another appointment tonight. She´s one of the few people on my mission I feel like I recognize from somewhere.

Another mini-success story: we found Erica and her 2 boys 2 weeks ago working with the ward list. She´s less active and hasn´t set foot inside the church for 4 years. Her two boys, Gabriel (12) and Gustavo (11) went to primary but were never baptized. Gabriel and Erica were at church on Sunday :) I was thrilled, more for Erica than for anything else.

Yesterday night was pretty good as far as teaching goes too. We went to visit an ex-investigator from a few months ago named Geraldo. He´s 30 or so and extremely set on the Catholic church. The type of investigator that asks hard questions to try to stump you, but that´s actually looking for the truth deep down. We reviewed the first lesson with him and he asked us, "where´s your proof then that authority ceased and didn´t continue with the Catholic pope?" We calmly explained that a pretty good indicator of authority is the ability to reveal new scripture, and seeing that the Bible stops after the apostles is proof in and of itself that prophetic authority was lost. He kept quiet for a little bit and then retorted, "but then your Church lost authority too!" I just smiled and said, "Yes, it did. That´s what we´re trying to help you understand! That´s why it was necessary that God and Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820."
His response--"but then your church isn´t the primitive church."
"Why not?"
"Because anciently it was Peter as prophet and 11 apostles alongside. You claim to have a prophet and twelve apostles. It´s not the same pattern."
"Good observation. Actually, Christ served as God´s mouthpiece when He was physically here for His ministry, and there were 12 apostles alongside Him. Now it´s Thomas S. Monson and 12 others. It´s the same pattern."
Geraldo´s wife nodded in agreement, we testified, and left him thinking. I´m not sure how much potential he actually has but it was a good feeling to feel the Spirit working with us during the lesson to not be "confounded before men."

So, that´s about it for the week! Aside from the fact that we sang The Star-Spangled Banner super loud on the 4th for companionship study. And that Phase 10 has become a P-day tradition among us 4 in the house. I won this morning, haHA! :)

Love you all,
Elder Sears

June 30, 2014 Unlikely Place to Find a Family and a Referral

Queridos,

How´s life? It´s pretty crazy down here. The people are starting to get a little more animated with Brasil making it to the quarterfinals and all. Our dear neighbor got a little bit too tipsy Saturday afternoon i think :) That was fun during studies. Haha.

The work´s starting to take off bit by bit. We´ve been focusing our prayers and street contacts and referrals and finding on families--and we´re being heard. Reginaldo (mentioned him last week) has been working like crazy but his daughter (17) Daniely is reading and understanding The Book of Mormon. She loved Mosiah 18. We marked a visit with Melissa (young women´s president) and her husband for Wednesday to help solidify her for her baptism marked for July 13th. THursdays we had splits marked with a member and nobody to visit. Only that morning I had a feeling we needed to visit a family in the area book that hadn´t been contacted since November. When we told the member of our plan he said it wasn´t worth it but we went anyways. Ivan, Aldirene, Amanda, Bia, and Luis Guilherme were there for us with open arms. Ivan and Aldirene were on the verge of separating 7 months ago but in that time they´ve worked things out and were receptive to our message again. We read with them in Alma 37 about small and simple steps back towards the path to baptism and eternal life, and they´re willing to meet with us during the week. We have an appointment marked for Wednesday at 8. They were all ready for church on Sunday but the car broke down coming out of the driveway. We called Ivan but he didn´t pick up until after meetings. They have potential though, and they´re a complete family--just the thing we´ve been praying for. We asked Amanda (13) what the experience was like getting to know the Church last year and she said "da hora." That´s a rough translation to "legit" in English. Haha :) 

Funny story. Friday during planning we got a phone call from Irmão Sergio, a less active in the ward. To quote him directly, "Elder, I just met a family of 5 for you to visit. I told the dad you´d be passing by tomorrow night at 7:30 with a present and he said he´d be waiting. Invite them and they´ll be baptized." Okay then?! Obviously, we were there at 7:25 on Saturday, super stoked for the possibility of adding another family to our teaching pool. We met Claudio at the door and asked him if he´d met a Sergio the day before. He looked at us confused and laughed and said he´d met him drinking at the bar. Then we got confused...but we managed to teach him a little bit about The Book of Mormon and he said he´d read, though he didn´t accept another visit. We´ll see. We asked Sergio about it at the ward party Saturday night and he said he didn´t remember calling us. Whoops! I was impressed though. It´s hard sometimes to get sober members to pass on referrals, but Sergio managed to do so drinking in the bar. Definitely a story for the journal :)

Sunday our 9 investigators confirmed for church didn´t show up. BUT, Levi did, with a member friend. He´s 50 or so and plays the saxophone. We started talking about music and things took off from there. I showed him the hymn book and he loved the fact that the sheet music is included for you to be able to sing harmony. He was singing along after the first verse of "We Thank Thee O God For A Prophet." We marked with him for Friday :) 

That´s the wrap folks...I love you and until next week!

Love, Elder Sears

P.S. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE BEST DAD EVER ON THURSDAY! 

P.p.s. My toes are still all intact for those wondering :) And I didn´t have to do surgery.

June 23, 2014 Promptings and Much More than Coincidences

Dear Americans,

Our next-door neighbor has the world cup fever and is keeping us updated on how the States are doing in the cup--apparently well? But I have more important things to talk about!

First off, thank you for all the prayers on behalf of my toes. Wednesday the swelling went down considerably, to the point that I didn´t have to do surgery. I´ve been walking on them like normal (almost normal--I´m still using my Sunday sandals) since Thursday and I have never said so many thank-you prayers for my toenails. You should try it. 

As far as the work goes: we were able to teach a lot actually this last week, but not too much with investigators that really have an interest in keeping commitments. Jacqueline was a high point though--we had a family night with Irmão Remo and taught her the first lesson and invited her to be baptized on July 6th (Grandpa Sears´ birthday!). She accepted but didn´t come to church. Friday we were walking home when we saw a car that ran out of gas going up a hill. We helped it up the hill and talked to Fabiana who was driving it. She said we could return and we did, yesterday afternoon. She said she´d talked to 2 other missionaries two days before and didn´t believe it was coincidence. She told us she´s ready to turn her life around, and when we taught her that the best way to do that is through repentance, baptism and the Holy Ghost, she accepted being baptized on July 13th. So we shall see! Vicente and Marisa showed up to church on Sunday after having taught them on Thursday and Saturday. Vicente asked our Sunday school teacher how Adam had grandkids if the only people on earth were his own children--that was an interesting discussion. He said he wasn´t able to understand The Book of Mormon very well so we outlined 1 Nephi 1-15 for him and wrote down 1-2 questions per chapter to guide his reading. We´re going to drop the outline off tonight. Rogério was at church too. His wife is a less active member returning. We brought her over cookies for her birthday on Saturday and they both were at church on Sunday. There´s still quite a bit of work left with him though.

One thing that I´ve noticed in me the past few weeks--I seem to be feeling and acting on small promptings a lot more. Wednesday we were contacting a referral downtown when an 18-year old girl walked by us. I got that nudge to go back and talk to her so I did. Turns out she´s a recent convert from a neighboring city. I got another nudge to ask her for a referral and in response she took us to a friend´s house so that we could meet her and start teaching. Just little things like that that are happening dozens of times a day. 

The work in the zone is going incredibly well too, which makes me very happy :) We had a zone meeting on Tuesday focused on what we´re going to do, collectively, to baptize and reactivate priesthood men and families. Several areas have found theirs and managed to mark baptismal dates. Elder J. Rodrigues and I have an appointment marked tomorrow at 4 with Reginaldo, Dalva (they´re married--finally, somebody that is married here!), and their 3 teenage children. We´re praying super hard that they´ll wind up progressing and getting baptized within the coming weeks.

So that´s about it for now...I love you! 
Until next week,
Elder Sears

Friday, November 14, 2014

June 16, 2014 A New Companion and a New Style

Missionaries and members in Castello before Elder Sears' transfer to Nova Vinhedo


Elder Sears and his new "greenie," Elder J. Rodrigues, with five days in the field.
"You know winter's coming around because of how white I am . . . bummer."

After serious ingrown toenail problems, Elder Sears finds a pair of open-toed sandals.
"Stylin: Copyright on the new look."


June 16, 2014 How Beautiful are the Feet of him that Publisheth Peace in Nova Vinhedo

Hello!

I received so many e-mails from all of you that I´m not sure I´ll be able to respond individually to each of them. If I don´t manage to, please know that I read each one and I am very grateful for them. You all have been heaven-sent and are helping out perfectly. So, obrigado.

I´m sure you´re all anxious to know where I wound up after the transfer so here goes--I was transferred to Nova Vinhedo, a city just about half an hour outside of Campinas. The ward here seems to be just as missionary focused as Castelo, for which I´m extremely grateful. Elder Jairo Mazzagardi, 1st counselor in the Brazilian Area Presidency, lives here. His son is Bishop. Our ward mission leader is an ex-mission president--irmão Toledo. He´s one of those leaders that stares at you and you do what he wants you to :) We ate lunch on Thursday with an ex-stake president that is now the first counselor in the bishopric. So yeah--lots of power weapons!

Sunday Ricardo and Sheila invited us and about half the ward over to say goodbye. It was kinda surreal. Everyone was all smiles though and it was so good to be with them and be able to see some of the fruits God´s helped us harvest during 10 months in Castelo. Rafael, who was confirmed in August 2013 my first Sunday in Castelo, posted a really touching message on facebook that Elder Boring, the returned missionary I replaced in the ward, forwarded to me through email. How I love everyone there! Monday night Marcos and Isabel Damico came by to say goodbye and we had a good chat. Marcos, not big on emotions, teared up a little bit and so did I. I was so blessed in that ward. BUT, Faith is forward and I´m super excited for the new opportunites in Nova Vinhedo as well. I´m training a missionary from Brasilia named Elder J. Rodrigues. I couldn´t have asked for a better companion. He returned to activity in the Church a year ago and was serving as ward executive secretary and Young men´s president when he left for the MTC. I´ll send some photos towards the end of the email.

We´ve already witnessed a few miracles together. President dropped us off in our new area Tuesday night and Wednesday we went to work full force. Only one problem-my blessed in-grown toenails got worse and I wasn´t managing to put any weight on them. I went to see the doctor Thursday and he told me I needed to stay off them for 2 days straight to let the swelling go down. I bought some extremely stylish church sandals to get out of shoes and let my feet breathe a little bit, which helped. Let me just tell you though--being locked inside for 2 days without being able to proselyte is torture for a missionary. I kind of panicked a little bit when the doctor told me I´d need to surgery in a week after the swelling died down, and that the recovery period would be about 5 days. Nooo!! We´re opening an area here and we need all the time we can get on the street and with the members to get things started here. Friday morning I was kind of bummed about the whole situation but the comfort was almost immediate. I was reading in 3 Nephi 26 (I think?) when I read 3 verses that were exactly what I needed to hear.

11: "I will try the faith of my people."
15: "the second time that he showed himself unto them, and had gone unto the Father, after having healed all their sick, and their lame, and opened the eyes of their blind and unstopped the ears of the deaf, and even had done all manner of cures among them, and raised a man from the dead, and had shown forth his power unto them, and had ascended unto the Father"
17: "And it came to pass that the disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them; and as many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost"

I was amazed at how specific each of those verses were to my situation. I was growing impatient, but God reminded me that He was merely trying my Faith. After passing the test, He would cure me and my toenails just as He "had done all manner of cures among them." And in spite of not being able to work 100 percent in our area, He would help investigators "come unto [us]" in the moments that we couldn´t come unto them. We said a pleading prayer together that by some miracle, we´d have some invetigators at church that we could start teaching. Three of them showed up out of nowhere. Jacqueline, a young mother, showed up with her member friend that invited her and gave her a ride. Adriana and Rafaela were there with Irmão Rómulo, his wife and daughter that aren´t members yet. We marked with Jacqueline and are working with the ward council to mark with Adriana and Rafaela. I know this probably seems like such a simple, silly thing to make note of as you´re reading this, but seeing them walk in through the chapel doors was such a huge answer to our prayers. God listens!

So that´s how our week went. Lots of tests in the middle of it followed by sweet relief at the very end. I wish I had time to write more!

Love you,
Elder Sears

June 7, 2014 "So Long, Castelo"

Boa tarde!

I found out this weekend that my nearly 10 months in Castelo are coming to an end on Tuesday. TRANSFER! I packed my bags for the first time since last August. It´s a bittersweet feeling--I´ve grown close to so many members and recent converts here. Last Sunday was fast and testimony meeting and I had the privilege to see Shelia, Igor, Fabio, Gabrielly and Raquel (Barbara´s mom)--all recent converts/reactivations--bear their testimonies. It was exactly what I needed after a rather difficult weekend. God is so mindful of our every need and pleading--it´s impossible to serve a worthy mission and not come to that conclusion. Small tender mercies appear all over the place. For instance: during my testimony on Sunday I quoted the hymn "Where Can I Turn for Peace." Just a few hours later during a baptismal service for Norton (one of the sisters´ investigators) our ward mission leader put the same hymn as the opening hymn. Fabio and Ademir were both ordained priests in the Aaronic Priesthood during Elder´s Quorum. Placídio was there, as usual, with his family, only accompanied by Jaqueline (his rebel teenage daughter) this time. Almost every single recent convert since last August in the ward was there in full force. Tonight´s the adult session of stake conference, and our stake president asked Ricardo and Sheila to each bear their testimonies. So that´s the sweet part. Sweeter than sweet. The hard part will be leaving it!

More tender mercies--Thursday and Friday I spent some rather painful hours with the foot doctor close-by taking chunks of skin and toenail out of the side of both my big toes. It´d been a while since I´d felt like screaming so hard! :) I got to thinking about every ounce of suffering Christ overcame during His infinite atonement and felt so grateful and in awe of His ability to endure and conquer everything. I couldn´t take two hours just for me, but He did it for every human soul for hours literally without end (at least that´s what I understand of the words "infinite" and "eternal" used to describe what He did). This morning I woke up feeling so much better and so relieved. 

The work yesterday took off too after a pretty slow beginning to the week. There was not a single person we talked to on the street that did not accept our invitation to stop by another day and explain more about the restored gospel. That NEVER happens! We were on such a streak by the end of the afternoon that even when we got "no" as an answer 2 more minutes of talking had the contact passing us his address and asking us to come back at a specific time later in the week. We found a 20 year-old named Vinícius that let us in on the spot, and a single mom named Zulene that will be at stake conference tomorrow. Pretty sweet.

I need to say a huge thank you to everyone reading this for your prayers and fasts and support in behalf of my family and me. I have felt literally lifted up by your love. I´ve received several priesthood blessings throughout my life promising me ministering angels in hard times, and each of you has been one to me this past week. I can´t thank you enough. How I love you!

Love, Elder Sears

May 31, 2014 Family in White

 Elder Sears, Marcos Damico (member missionary who referred the family), Ademir, Ana Claudia (baptized previously), Viviane, Vanda, Douglas, Elder Nelson

 Marcos Damico baptized Ademir; Douglas baptized his mom, Vanda
and Elder Nelson baptized Viviane

May 31, 2014 "Family Completed!"

Hello :)
I´ll get straight to it then. Ademir, Vanda, and Viviane were baptized Sunday morning!!! Here´s a snippet from my journal:
"I have a wedding, 3 baptisms and 3 confirmations to report!! Everything worked out swell with Andemir and his family and he, Vanda and Viviane were all baptized early Sunday morning in a font that Bishop woke up at 5:30 to turn on the gas heater. Marcos Damico, the member missionary king of the ward, baptized Ademir, Douglas used his newly received Aaonic Priesthood to baptize Vanda, and Elder Nelson Viviane. Lots of white :) It´s the second time on my mission and in this ward that God has let me see a whole family baptized. Sometimes I ask myself if I´m grateful enough. I´ve been a part of 5 weddings, 4 of which led to the couple getting baptized the same weekend. How God has blessed me! And yet it´s not the time for me to entirely look back yet. Faith is forward, and I need to do His will for another 3 months still in the mission field. LET´S GO."
I´ll include some pictures at the end of this email. We started giving them the new member lessons on Wednesday with Marcos and his wife, Isabel. Such a special family.
I´m going to miss Ala Castelo so much. It´s not set in stone that I´m leaving at the end of the transfer but I´m pretty convinced. 9 and a half months here! So many miracles and memories.
Sunday after church we had a pretty cool experience too. Saturday after P-day we had 2, solid appointments marked and maybe 8 plan b´s. We were on splits with a member too. EVERYTHING fell through. I´d never seen anything like it. We finished the chase around 8:00 p.m. and had no one else to visit. So we came back home to get some liahonas to deliver to a member family. We showed up and she (Irmã Francis) wasn´t there. But we left them with her 2 kids. Sunday after church Francis searched us out. She said shéd been praying that whole week to know how to be a better member missionary and when she got home there were 15 copies of the Liahona on her kitchen table to hand out. It was a clear answer to her prayers. God had other plans for us that night I think.
Unfortunately the "work" in our area has been a little slower this week. Lots of meetings, and for the first time on my whole mission I had to stay home yesterday with the flu. I woke up this morning lots better though--the headache and fever and body aches are gone now. Just the runny nose and sore throat that I have to get rid of now. We did, however, start teaching a new couple this week: Bill and Gisele. Bill is American! It´s a little different teaching somebody from my culture-he´s a little bit closed off (is that normal for Americans?) but we´re getting there with him. His grandpa was a pastor for the Presbyterian Church.
One more thing of note--recognizing my strong points never has been one of my strong points. But several small things/comments happened this week that helped me feel God patting me on the back and telling me I´ve done a good job so far. It brought such peace and was definitely a good feeling.
Oh, one more thing of utmost importance!! Especially for my family. I was studying the May Liahona this week and reread Elder Ballard´s latest conference talk about follow-up. He gives 2 really good suggestions to get involved in the work. To quote him directly,
1) "In the spirit of Peter’s example, may I suggest that we can all be more consistently involved in missionary work by replacing our fear with real faith, inviting someone at least once a quarter—or four times every year—to be taught by the full-time missionaries."
2) "There are practical ways for members to help and support our remarkable missionaries. For example, you can tell the missionaries that you are studying Preach My Gospel and ask them to show you what they are learning in their studies."
Just a friendly reminder to all to hasten the work! Something super cool would be to, every once a while, have family home evening messages based on chapters in Preach My Gospel.
I love you all. Thanks for the constant prayers and well-wishes; I feel them!
Love, Elder Sears

May 24, 2014 Celebrations!

Elder Nelson and Elder Sears with investigators, Ademir and Wanda, at the cartório 
before their marriage. Elder Sears notes, "Ademir and Wanda aren't super 
big on smiling for pictures, but they do smile in real life, ok?!"

Ademir and Wanda exchanging wedding rings.

Elder Sears at the Campinas Temple

Elder Sears at the templo

Birthday party for Elder Gomes (far left). He has to head home for knee surgery 
and the Elders wanted to cheer him up a bit.

                      Elder Eller, one of Brad's roommates, may have lost it a little bit. This is his Elvis impression. :)