Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas in Brazil

For as long as I can remember, I have woken up at 5AM Christmas morning with the anticipation of the day's planned festivities!!  Sadly, I had to break that tradition this year, and I woke up at 6:30AM.  The morning and afternoon were a normal 'missionary day' filled with studies and teaching (yes, surprisingly there were people who let us come teach them on Christmas day!  Mostly investigators that we had already taught a few times and were preparing to be baptized).  All day long, Sister East and I were counting down the hours until our phone call home to talk to our families.  I was way excited because this was going to be my first phone call home after 8 months!  At 5:00 we called it a day, 'took off the badge' (figuratively speaking), and booked it to Elder and Sister Petrie's house to make the phone call home!  I would just like to take this opportunity right now and give a shout out to modern technology!!!  SKYPE!!!  What a miracle!  GOOGLE HANGOUT!!!  What a blessed people we are to have such technology!!!  Talking to my family was by far the BEST part about my Christmas in Brazil, but the festivities continued!  Elder and Sister Petrie had made a ham, funeral potatoes, and a great fruit salad!  I provided the dessert, a real apple crisp with American brown sugar!  It was food fit for the gods!  After our Christmas dinner, we opened our 'secret santa' gifts to each other.  I had Elder Williams, and had bought him a cactus.  When I passed by the little cactus on the street the spines reminded me so much of Elder Williams' hair that I couldn't resist the urge to buy it for him!  It was interesting to watch him open it - 'Ow!...what the?...ow!... what is in here?!' hehehehe!  I think he liked it!  

This past week, we have been teaching a young girl named Joyce.  Our first lesson with her was AMAZING!!  She understood what the apostasy was and why we needed a restoration.  However, when we returned to follow up, she replied that she had read the Book of Mormon, prayed about it, but had not received an answer yet.  I had her open up to the part we had left for her to read in the Book of Mormon, Alma 32:21-28, and said, "Let's suppose that the very first time we talked to you, we planted a 'seed' within your heart.  Now, in order to know whether this 'seed' is a good seed, this verse here tells us that it should grow within us.  From the first time that we taught you until now, do you feel like this 'seed' has grown within you, or died?"  Joyce thought for awhile, and then replied, "I think it has grown."  I then explained to her that this was an answer to her prayer that what we were teaching her was true!  As I thought about my response, I began to think about the 'gospel seed' within me and within each of us.  Our testimonies of the Gospel is not a one time deal.  Our testimonies are very much like seeds.  We need to continue to nourish our testimonies, or they will die.  One of the major themes of the Book of Mormon is to 'remember'!  King Benjamin pleads with his people, "I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance the greatness of God...and now o man, remember, and perish not!" (Mosiah 4:11,30)  Alma also exhorts his people, "and if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?"  Alma's words, "can ye feel so now," are powerful.  Our testimonies should be growing and strengthening everyday.  We should be remembering and applying the principles of the Gospel in our lives everyday!  The word 'remember' is essential in our lives.  We need to always remember the importance of the scriptures, the necessity of daily prayer, the power of the atonement, etc.  When we 'remember' and continue to 'feel so now' our testimonies will never die!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Feliz Aniversário

It had been a day completely full of street contacts, successful street contacts, but none the less, street contacts, and Sister East and I were heading to a member's home for FHE with the Branch.  Wednesday nights with FHE, are always my favorite nights because we get a guaranteed hour to sit down, and we get to relax and just have fun with the members for an hour or so.  As we approached the member's home, there were a few members outside talking.  One of the Irmãs stood in front of the door and forbid me to enter.  I thought it was just a joke, and tried to sneak past her, but she grabbed me and held me prisoner while the rest of the members entered the home.  Finally, she and I entered the home.  The instant I stepped in, everyone started singing, "Parabéns para você, nesta data querida..."  On top of this awesome surprise, someone had made a delicous birthday cake, salgados, hotdogs, and a poster with my name on it and "Feliz Aniversário"!  I may or may not have felt a little special...heehee!  Needless to say, it was one of the best FHE yet, and the best birthday in Brasil that I could have had!!!

From an email that I received from Laura, I have been pondering the phrase 'humbly trust in the Lord'.  As I have been studying, I came across a scripture in 3 Nephi 26:11, which states that the Lord will 'try the faith of His people'.  In this most recent conference, Neil A. Anderson said, 'With faith comes the trial of our faith, which grows more faith!'  Summarized in a 'Courtney style', the Lord is telling us that our lives won't be a swim in a fish tank.  We're going to be facing a whole Ocean full of trials and challenges, but with each trial of our faith, we will be strengthened.  The key to all this, is that even in the midst of all these challenges, we cannot and should not curse the God who gave us life.  We need to humbly trust that our Heavenly Father is in control and that everything we suffer will work out for our good!  I know that our Heavenly Father loves us beyond description!  If we humbly trust in Him, we will be able to have joy and peace in this life and eternal life in the life to come!

Merry Christmas!!!!!  And a Merrier New Year!!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ultimate Frisbee!!!

As you all can probably guess by the title of this entry, I have finally had the opportunity to play some real, hardcore ultimate frisbee in Brazil!!!  On Friday my zone, as well as three others had our Christmas Conference!  I brought my frisbee with the hope and prayer that we would be able to find a open space large enough to get a competitive game of ultimate frisbee going.  My prayers were answered!  There was a total of 9 missionaries who played, and it was AWESOME!!!!  It didn't even matter that it was 1:00, the hottest part of the day!  I played like it had only been 8 days since the last time I played, instead of 8 months...which wasn't a problem until the 5 hour drive back to Sousa cramped up in a van! haha!  It was a miracle I was able to walk the next day!

On Saturday, our Branch had their Christmas party!  Our District President brought the daughter of a friend of his that he has been sharing the Gospel with.  This girl is 12 years old, but has the maturity level of a 16 or 18 year old.  Since she lives about 20 minutes outside of Sousa, Sister East and I only had Saturday and Sunday to talk to her.  Sunday morning we went over to the District President's house to give the first lesson to this young girl.  She sat on the edge of her seat the whole lesson and literally absorbed everything we said.  The District President's wife was also there, and she shared an experience of when she was baptized at 12 years of age.  As she was sharing this story and her testimony, the young girl who we were teaching started to tear up a bit.  The spirit was super strong, and I could just feel that this young girl was truly an elect daughter of Heavenly Father!  I am bummed that we will only be able to teach her on the weekends, but I am way excited to continue teaching her and to see her progress in the Gospel.  

Also during this week, my companion and I had a neat experience helping on of our investigators resolve her doubts about 'not worshiping saints.'  We had taught her the second commandment and explained to her how our Heavenly Father is the only one that can answer our prayers and that we should worship 'man-made' objects or conceptions.  Yet, she was stubbornly fixed on the idea that she could pray to these two 'saints', one of which she had personally met.  Finally, we asked her, 'Do you believe that the Book of Mormon is true?'  She replied that she did.  Then, we asked her, 'Do you believe that the Book of Mormon can help you resolve your doubts?'  Once again she replied that she did.  We continued, 'Alright, then you are going to say a prayer right now and ask Heavenly Father to help you understand that you don't need to worship saints, and that it is not good for you to worship these saints.  Then, after you say this prayer, you are going to open up the Book of Mormon, choose a place to start reading, and we know that Heavenly Father will provide you with the answer that you need!'  Our investigator became super excited and knelt on the floor to say her prayer.  During her entire prayer I was praying as well, 'Please Heavenly Father, give her an answer in the Book of Mormon, please stand behind our promise, please!'  My heart was going crazy as our investigator opened up the Book of Mormon and told us the page number.  Sister East and I quickly turned to the page and began reading along with our investigator as she read, "O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youthç yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.  Yea, and cry unto God for all thy supportç yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thous goest let it be in the Lordç yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lordç yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever." (Alma 37:35-37)  After she read these verses, she looked up at us and said, 'I received my answer.  I shouldn't worship these saints!'  WOOOHOOOO!!!  Heavenly Father answers our prayers!  The Book of Mormon is true!!!

As I've been studying this week for various lessons, I've been focusing a lot on forgiveness.  In the course of a life time, each of us will be hurt and offended numerous times.  Yet, the Lord has given us the commandment, 'ye ought to forgive one anotherç for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord for there remaineth in him the greater sin.  I, the Lord, will forgive whome I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men' (D&C 64:9-10)  As I was pondering about this commandment to forgive all men, I had the opportunity to watch a short clip of the life of Christ when the woman who was taken in adultery was brought before him and the question was made, 'such should be stoned, but what say thou?'  Christ's answer is profound, 'He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.'  So it should be with our judgements of others.  Perhaps we truly were offended, perhaps someone truly sinned against us, but who are we to 'cast stones' at others when we ourselves are no where near perfect?  We need to allow our Heavenly Father to judge others for their actions; our responsibility is to simply forgive.  I know that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we can find the needed strength to forgive others freely and fill our hearts with love.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another Six Weeks!

Sister East and I will be spending my birthday, Christmas, the New Year, and my 9 month mark together in Sousa!!  These next 6 weeks will be one big party (missionary style, of course!)!!  This past week and half has been crazy!  During the day we talk to as many people as possible, and then at night we teach lessons to the families and investigators that we have found.  It's exhausting!  During one of lessons (to be honest, many), I have to fight to keep myself awake when I'm not talking.  I try to mask my exhaustion by pretending that I'm reading the scriptures, or praying for my companion, and then when everything becomes quiet I quickly wake up and say something along the lines of, "I testify that what my companion just said is true..." and then continue with the lesson!  heehee  Somedays are more rough than other days, but as a friend of the family used to always say, "I'm still kicking!"

Last Wednesday, we had a GREAT family home evening with our ward.  We have been teaching two families, so we invited them to come to our ward family home evening.  We walked with them to the member's house, and then left to pick up André and one of his friends because they live nearby but didn't know where this member lived.  When we arrived at André's house his mom, who absolutely adores Sister East and I, invited us in to drink some water.  When we entered the kitchen, we noticed that she had made couscous with eggs (a favorite dish in Brazil).  She asked us if we liked couscous com this is a loaded question, if you say 'no', you might as well have told her that she is a terrible cook, but if you say 'yes', you better get ready to eat.  Well, we said, 'yes'.  No sooner was the word 'yes' out of my mouth and André's mom was scooping couscous on to two plates and shoving us down at the table to eat.  She then sent André out to buy us some juice real quick because water was no longer good enough!  Sister East and I didn't even try to resist, we just sat at the table and ate our couscous and laughing at the whole situation.  Needless to say, we made it to FHE a little late, but it was worth it!  Our two families loved the FHE.  We watched 'Mundo Feliz' and then played a game afterwards where one person is blindfolded and they tap a person with a wooden spoon and ask them to make an animal sound.  Then, by the sound that is made the person that is blindfolded has to guess who made the sound!  It was way fun to see what kind of sounds people made for the different animals!

I know that this Gospel is true!  If you don't have a personal testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, get one!  The morals and standards of this world are degenerating rapidly.  It's confusing and difficult to navigate our way through this world.  However, with a strong personal testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, we will make it through the mists of darkness and reach the 'tree of life'!  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Let's Go to Church!

Sundays have always been one of my favorite days of the week, because it's the day when you get to see the 'fruits of your labors'!  Who, out of the hundreds of people that we invited and taught, will come to church?!  Sister East and I have had such a large group of people these past two Sundays, that we've had to ask some young women in our ward to go on splits with us to help us 'pick up' everyone that we promised.  I wonder if sometimes people tell us they'll come to church with the thought, "oh these girls will never pass by to pick me up anyway!"  haha!  and then Sunday afternoon at 3:00 -- "Surprise!!  We're here to take you to church!"  There was one 14-year-old boy who we had invited to come to church,and he had seemed super excited to come.  However, when we should up at the meeting place, he wasn't there.  I asked around on the street to see if anyone knew where he lived (because his current house was under construction).  We finally found a woman who knew where he lived and she agreed to take us to his house.  As we were walking down the street, the young man passed by on his bike on the street in front of us.  We yelled for him, but he didn't hear us.  So, I did the only sensible thing to do and took off running after him!!  Unfortunately, we never caught up to him...bikes tend to be faster than running, but we tried!  

As I've been studying in the scriptures, I was intrigued by Alma's instructions to his son Helaman concerning the plates (Alma 37).  He begins by telling his son that the Lord works by small and simple things to bring about great things.  Then, he talks about how the scriptures helped Ammon and all those missionaries in their missionary work to the Lamanites.  Finally, he tells Helaman that he doesn't understand the Lord's reasons, but that the Lord has a wise purpose for every commandment that he gives us.  I'm sure that it wasn't always easy to keep the records in those days.  Scratching out words in metals would not be fun, and I can imagine that someone at some point probably thought, "What a waste of time.  No one is even going to read these records.  I'm just doing all this hard work for nothing."  Yet, as Alma testified to his son, the Lord has a wise purpose and He is in control.  Often in our own lifes, we too find ourselves wondering, "Going to church is such a waste of time," or "No one pays attention when we have FHE or family scripture study," or "I'm doing all this hard work preparing this lesson or this talk for nothing."  Whatever it is, we too wonder whether our 'small and simple' efforts are truly going to pay off in the end.  I testify that YES!  Our 'small and simple' efforts always pay off!  We can't always see the full picture, or understand the Lord's ways, but we can have faith that truly, the Lord has a wise purpose in every command, and if we faithfully obey we will be blessed!