Monday, May 28, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies

We must have entered the 'wet' season because this past week it has rained a lot!  One particular night, my companion and I had just finished teaching a lesson to a family who couldn't see how the Gospel could bless their lives.  None of us could feel the spirit - my companion was trying to prove to them that they needed to be baptized by someone who had authority, they were trying to prove to us that their pastor did have authority, and I was trying to follow the conversation as best as I could to try and bear my testimony and bring back the spirit.  Nothing ever was resolved and we ended the lesson on what little of a good note we could and headed out into the night.  As soon as we hit the streets, it began to rain...and then to pour!  I hadn't brought my umbrella with me, so my companion suggested that we stand under an overhanging for awhile.  It was 8:30, I was frustrated, tired, and anxious to be back in our apartment, so after staring out at the pouring rain for a couple minutes I turned to my companion and said, "let’s go" She protested and said that I would get soaked.  I replied, "I'd rather walk for thirty minutes in pouring rain, tramp through puddles up to my ankles in the streets, and be completely soaked when I get back to the apartment than not be able to understand what people say or preach the Gospel message that I love!" heehee! Needless to say, we walked home in the rain!

The next day, it was raining again and we had an appointment with a 14 year-old boy who my companion thought we should cut.  I didn't feel much like going out, but fought back my selfish desires and prayed for the spirit to be with me.  When we entered the home of the boy, rain was dripping through a couple places in the roof.  My companion and I were sitting on two little stools in a very narrow entryway.  The boy sat behind a table that was in the same entryway.  He stared at his feet and didn't say much.  To be honest, I can't even remember all that I said or the questions I asked, but I can say that I know without a doubt in my mind that the spirit was in that little entryway, and the spirit taught that 14-year old boy what he needed to hear that rainy morning.  It wasn't me who was speaking, it was the spirit.  I didn't say anything profound, I didn't use a lot of new words that I had never used before, and nothing was extremely spectacular or different, but I could feel the spirit using what small capacities I had to bless this boy and bring him closer to embracing the fullness of the Gospel.  The difference between the night before and this morning were incredible!  This truly is the Lord's work, and when we have His spirit with us we will be able to accomplish miracles in the lives of those people who we teach.

This past week I received a letter from a good friend who shared with me this quote, "The difference between an obstacle and an opportunity is our attitude toward it.  Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity."  My mission sure as a lot of opportunities!  Sometimes I look ahead at the type of missionary I want to be and the type of missionary I know I can be, and I want to achieve that vision without going through the process in the middle.  It's a lot like a chocolate chip cookie!  A bag of chocolate chips has the potential to be turned into a delicious chocolate chip cookie, but there are a lot of steps that need to happen in the middle before the cookie is produced - there needs to be mixing, adding ingredients, rolling, baking, scraping, and a baby bit of cooling before the final product of a heavenly Chocolate chip cookie is produced!  The same thing occurs in our life.  We each are trying to become better people, more faithful, more obedient, more like our Savior.  At times we become frustrated that we know who we can become, but yet still seem to be a simple chocolate chip.  But, we can't become discouraged when we are still only a chocolate chip with a little flour, egg, and is a process!  It's going to take a lot of steps to get us to where we want to be, but as long as we're still adding ingredients, mixing, and continuing through with this process, we will eventually receive our deepest desires, we will eventually become the people our Heavenly knows we can become (a chocolate chip cookie kind of a person!)  "The task before us is never as great as the power behind us!"

THANK YOU everyone who has sent me letters of encouragement and support!  Letters, chocolate, almoço with members, and açaí are what keep me mixing my cookie batter here in the mission, continually working toward my chocolate chip cookie!  Mail may take forever, but I promise that I will reply!!  But know that I do receive your letters and I LOVE every single one!!  Thank you!!!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Backpacking and Missions

The first week in the mission field was everything I had expected it to be, but at the same time nothing like I had every imagined.  I know, that does not make any sense, but that is exactly how I feel about it.  When certain things would happen to me, I would remember hearing mission stories from other people who had experienced the same thing, but at the same time I would think, "no one ever told me about this!" or "no one every told me that I would feel like this!!"  Hahaha ;)  oh missions, they are hard to describe I guess, but I will give it a try right now.  A mission is just like backpacking!  (This is why everyone should go backpacking -- backpacking can relate to everything you do in your life!)  Everyday, I am sweaty, smelly, dirty, tired, and hungry.  My environment is not exactly what I am used to and takes a baby bit of time to adapt.  Everything feels like it is uphill and my favorite parts of the day are sleeping and eating!  Every night, I go to bed exhausted, but content; and every morning I wake up, look at my 'pack', and wonder how  in the world I can shoulder it once more and do it all over again!  Yet, with a smile on my face, a prayer in my heart, and the eternal perspective of my purpose firmly fixed in my head, I head out the door and hit the cobblestone streets determined to fulfill my purpose as a missionary, to bring souls unto Christ!  If I every get the opportunity to teach a mission prep class in the future, you can be sure that it will include a two-week backpacking trip!  

My first morning in the field, I woke up to the sound of a rooster crowing.  At first, I thought it was someone's alarm clock because in my half asleep mind I remembered the guy in the movie 'Rio' who had a rooster crowing as his ring tone on his phone.  I kept wondering why nobody was waking up to turn off the annoying crowing rooster! heehee

Since my companion already served in this area for five weeks, she had a few progressing investigators.  I have been able to help teach each of them one lesson.  Even though I can't speak much, and can understand even less, I can feel the spirit that they have and their sincere desires to learn more.  As I look into their eyes, I can see future YM leaders, future Bishops, future Relief Society presidents, and future mothers and fathers who will raise righteous families unto the Lord!  It's amazing the love I feel for these people, and the earnest desires I have to truly understand their concerns and questions so that I can more fully help them grow in the Gospel and develop a firm testimony of the truths that we are teaching them. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Another Beginning

Tuesday morning, I was the old dog in the CTM, familiar with schedule and comfortable with the everyday routine.  By Tuesday night, I was the smallest (pretty terrified) little ant in João Pessoa!  This transition began at 5:30 am when 13 other missionaries and I rode to the São Paulo airport and flew to Brasília.  I had brought a Portuguese Book of Mormon with me, but on the first flight I never mustered up the courage to talk to my seat mates (and to be honest none of us probably wanted to talk that early in the morning anyway).  On the second flight from Brasília to João Pessoa I started a conversation with the woman sitting next to me.  I am sure that I sounded ridiculous, but she could understand me and I could barely understand her.  Talking with people is exactly like playing a sport - it is always better to be on the offensive!  I have more success understanding a Brazilian when I am the one who first starts the conversation and keep it in the few subjects that I know how to talk about; families, where they are going, what they are doing, and the Gospel!  As we were getting off the plane, I pulled out my Book of Mormon and told the woman that I would like to give it to her.  I explained to her how much it meant to me and that I knew it would only add to her happiness and testimony of Jesus Christ!  Whether she actually wanted it or whether she just felt simpathetic toward me and my poor Portuguese, I do not know, but she happily accepted my offer!! 

We exited the plane right onto the runway and then walked back into the aiport to pick up our bags.  I was instantly engulfed by a heavy wave of heat as I emerged from the plane.  It felt just like good ´ol PA on an August afternoon!  As all of us missionaries walked into the airport we looked up at one of the windows and saw Sister Hall and some Elders excitedly waving at us!  It was tender, and almost felt like we had family there to pick us up.  João Pessoa is very different than São Paulo.  It is much more clean, much more beautiful, and not as overwhelmingly huge!  We first went to the chapel to have some training and meet our new companions!  Sister Tia Hinderliter from PA was one of the Sister missioanries who met us at the chapel!  She was Erika Dillers companion in the CTM!  It was fun to finally get to meet her and talk about how much we both loved Erika!  When President Hall announced our companionships, all of the Sisters were sitting beside their companions...this was incredible because there were four new Sisters and four trainers, and none of us knew who are companions were going to be!!  Its just a Sister thing, ya know!  My trainer is Sister Araújo.  Out of the four trainers, three were American and one, Sister Araújo, was Brazilian.  Even though I know it will be difficult, I am so grateful to have a Brazilian compaion.  I prayed to be blessed to learn Portuguese quickly...and I am certain Sister Araújo is the answer to my prayer.  I can already tell that she is going to be an amazing trainer for me!  All of the new missioanries and their companions ate dinner at the Mission home with President and Sister Hall.  It was kind of strange becasue everyone was speaking Portuguese, even the American missioanries (naturally), so even though I was not the only American I still felt somewhat out of the loop.  Sister Hall would be explaining something to the Sisters and then ask me a question and I would look at her and smile becasue I had no idea what was going on...I can understand the gist of a conversation but not everything.  The Sisters all slept in the Mission home and the Elders left to spend the night in another apartment nearby.  Sister Araújo and I went over our plans for the next day.  We would travel to our assigned area, Natal (the southern part of the city), in the morning, get things put away in our apartment (do P-day activities), and then at 6:00 we would have a teaching appointment!  In fact, Sister Araújo had four teaching apointments scheduled! 

I have learned a lot in the CTM.  I have learned how to speak a little Portuguese, I have learned to get along with my companion and a variety of other people and personalities, I have learned how to teach and how to contact people, I have learned to be humble, I have learned to love the scriptures even more than I already do, I have learned to pray with all the sincerity of my heart, and I have learned to trust the Lord with every fiber of my being - to trust that although I am weak He is strong, although I am afraid he can make me brave, although I have never done anything like this before in my life He will bless me to be able to wake up each day, to put one foot in front of the other, to speak the words that He would have me say, and to develop an overpowering love for these people and this great work.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Streets of Sao Paulo

The front gate clicked behind the 12 of us in our district.  We stood there in front of the CTM confidently facing the streets of Sao Paulo.  We'd been on these streets before, but this time was different -- this time we were armed with Book of Mormons and empowered by the command, "go preach the Gospel to the people of Sao Paulo!"  My companion nad I hit the streets with the hope and prayer that we'd be able to communicate our message and understand the responses of the natives.  We spoke to a lot of people and I could understand the general idea of what they said, and they could mostly understand me.  However, our work was difficult because the majority of people we talked to already knew about the Church or already had a Book of Mormon (these streets get covered every week).  We bore our testimony to every person, but after 2 hours and 45 minutes of no success, we were both becoming discouraged.  We had about 5 minutes left and we were walking back to the CTM when a man stopped us by saying, 'voces sao missionarias?'  He knew some things about the Church, but said he didn't have a Book of Mormon.  I told him that we would like to give him the copy we had, and he accepted it!!  As we walked away, I couldn't believe what had just happened.  It felt so surreal.  The whole three hours we had on the streets was certainly an interesting experience.  At face value, it was exactly what it sounds like; walking the streets of Brazil, taking to people in Portuguese, and being pushed WAY out of my comfort zone.  The black name tag doesn't make bearing my testimony to complete strangers any easier, but it makes it possible.  Throughout the rest of the day, I continued to think about my experience and waht I could learn from it.  Even though we had given away a Book of Mormon, I couldn't shake the feeling that the first 2 hours and 45 minutes had been a complete failure.  It was kind of disheartening.  I had always thought that missionary work was mroe rewarding...  However, as I continued to contemplate my experience, the words of D&C 18:10 came to my mind (forgive me if it's not exact), "The worth of souls is great in the eyes of God -- and if it so be that ye shall bring save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!"  This is missionary work -- difficult, discouraging, long days; multiple rejections; stretching way out of your comfort zone; continually bearing your testimony to people who maybe are secretly mocking you or who jsut don't care; a missionary does all of this, day in and day out, and for what!? -- The salvation of save it be only one soul!!  Brothers and Sisters, the worth of every soul is great in the eyes of God!  In your efforts to reach out to friends or family members, to remind them of God's love and the great importance of this Gospel in their lives, don't give up when it seems as though you are having no or very little success.  You don't know what success you are having or what impact you are making.  Teh Lord will bless your continued, faithful efforts and I testify that someday we will all see the fruits of our labors; and how great will be our joy in the kingdom of our Father!!
Next week at this time I will be in Joao Pessoa!  Some things I will miss about the CTM: counting down the minutes until 9:30 every night when we have lanche and get to eat cake, going to the Sao Paulo Temple every Tuesday, joking and laughing with my district, learning from my amazing teachers, and being constantly surrounded by wonderful missionaries!!  Some things about the CTM that I might miss, but only a baby bit...going to madatory choir practice before every devotional where the entire CTM prepares to sing a song to maybe 6 people on the stand (if we're lucky), eating lunch and dinner 3 hours apart everyday and feeling like that bear in 'The Lorax' looks when he's stuffing sticks of butter down his throat, and not knowing whetherthe dessert at lunch and dinner is edible or even organic for that matter (I never eat it...that's how bad it is!)! 
As the time draws near for my departure to the mission field, I find myself asking the question, "Do I feel prepared?"  Well, let me describe to you how I feel.  I feel as though I've spent 6 weeks swimming laps in an indoor swimming pool preparing myself to swim across the English Channel! haha :)  So yes, I'm prepared; prepared to swallow a lot of water, fight frightening waves, use every different stroke I know just to keep my head above water, and trust that when I just can't go on anymore, the Lord will be there right beside me as my life boat, to strengthen me and to give me the courage to go on. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Day In The CTM

The high pitch beep of my alarm clock at 6:30 wakes me from glorious, far too short, sleep.  However, there isn't time in the schedule to whine about being tired, and even if there was I wouldn't want to.  The Lord has blessed me with a cheerful, optimistic spirit despite my perpetual state of exhaustion!  Desejum (breakfast) is alwaysthe same: creamy oatmeal (with more cream than oats), bananas, and meat and cheese on a roll which I heat up in a panini maker!!  After breakfast, my companion nad I stake out a table outside the CTM (yet still within it's walls) and do our personal study and language study.  All morning, I anxiously await for the hour of 10:45, GYM TIME!!!  For 45 minutes I do whatever sequence of workouts that can bring me the closest to throwing up or passing out.  Since I don't have much time to really exercise, I've learned to make my workouts intense and effective in the short amount of time that I do have.  And yes, for those of you who are wondering, I sweat like a cold glass of lemonade on a sunny, humid day in PA -- disgusting, I know, but oh so good for my soul after a whole day of sitting!  The amount of time we're alotted to get shower and get ready is incredibly short...30 minutes!  I've cut out all the fluff in my normal routine and only do the bare necessities to keep me from looking like I've walked through a tornado!  (sometimes, though, I'm sure I still look like I've walked through a baby windstorm...)  Lunch is another grand part of my day!!  I get a tray loaded with meat, lettuce, beans, rice, and fruit and then scout out my favorite Brazilian missionaries to sit beside.  The next 30-45 minutes is filled with excited conversation and frantic eating until I realize that I'm yet again 5 minutes late to my class!  (It's not because I talk a lot, it's just because lunch is too short...hehehe)  From 12:45-9:30 I have a marathon of classes.  My two teachers split of the time.  Irmao Mauricio is a short, large black man with the lowest, most awesome sounding voice that I have ever heard!  We like to sing his name to the tune of 'Encarnacion' (Nacho Libre)!  hahaha :)  he thinks we're strange, but loves us all the same!  My other teacher, Irma Pozete served her mission in Joao Pessoa and has such a punky, fun-loving personality!  Both of them were converts to the church only a couple years before they served missions.  They are incredible people with powerful testimonies!  I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to learn from them.  Dinner is at 4:15...much to close to lunch for me to be hungry, but I eat anyway because it adds variety to my day and I can socialize with the Brazilians!  As soon as dinner ends at 5:00, I begin to look forward to lanche (snack) at 9:30!  Every night at 9:30, all the missionaries in the CTM storm the auditorium to eat some variety of cake, drink chocolate milk, and eat an apple or banana.  At 9:45 we're all literally 'herded' upstairs to our rooms.  I like to linger for a few extra minutes in the stairwell with som Elders and Sisters before we say 'boa noite' and head into the Sister's hall to continue talking and laughing for a few more minutes.  The CTM is my kind of environment; small, close knit community of missionaries, friendly, relaxed, and spiritual!!  With only 250 some missionaries it's easy for me to get to know quite well other missionaries that aren't in my district.  Since the Brazilian missionaries are only here for 3 weeks, I've had a lot of friends come and go.  It's always difficult to have to say goodbye to Elders or Sisters that I've grown so close to in such a short time, and know that I might never get to see them again. 
Apparently, in Brazil, it's totally acceptable for a guy to paint his fingernails, but only with a clear color.  I was talking about this one day during lunch with my Brazilian friends, and one of the Sisters told me that she wanted to paint my fingernails.  I told her that I never paint my fingernails...right now, I'm typing this letter with pink...yes, pink, fingernail polish on my nails...I'm either easily persuaded or I'm blaming it all on the language barrier!  hahaha!  
In Colossians 1:23 is reads, "continue in faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel."  I love the final four words, "hope of the Gospel."  As I studied more about this phrase, I came across a lot of inspiring scriptures and insights.  Some of the versus I studied were, Moroni 7:41; Moroni 7:48; and Ether 12:4.  I know that this Gospel is true!  As a missionary, I have the grand opportunity to share this 'hope of the Gospel' with the people of Brazil!  And as a member of this Gospel, I have the wonderful blesses that come from the 'hope of the Gospel'!  Stay firm in the faith; doubt not, fear not!