I hope you all are great. We had a division this week. In divisions, one companion stays in the area with a sister training leader, and the other companion works in the sister training leaders’ area. Our sister training leaders work in Guaranhuns — four hours away by bus! Divisions last 24 hours and missionaries have to have a companion the whole time so it can get pretty crazy. I stayed in Palmares this time, but I had to travel four hours to Guaranhuns to get Sister Porcote and drop off our sister training leader, then we waited an hour and a half and got back on the bus for another four hour bus ride. The busses shake and bump a lot, so after eight hours of driving I felt a bit sick. The first time we had a division, last transfer, I remember being grateful I knew the word “shake” in Portuguese. I memorized it in a list of vocab words in the [missionary training center] even though I thought it seemed like a less important word to memorize — and it turned out to be useful! Anyway, I sympathize with easily-carsick people who have to go to Guaranhuns.
“Rafael” got baptized this week! [Click here to read Sister Faulconer’s earlier post about him]. He insisted on coming to our weekly ward missionaries and full-time missionaries meeting because he said he wants to be a member missionary and get ready to serve a mission. He is awesome!
The above photo is what you get when you can’t take your camera very many places (robbery=serious problem) and you don’t do a lot of photogenic things. The brown thing is cocada, a popular sweet made from coconut. It is crumbly and pretty good. It is on top of the remains of some fries that I bought. On display is a toothpick you get with all fry orders here. This is so that your fingers do not have to touch the fries. Then they usually squirt mayonnaise and ketchup on top of all the fries. There are things people eat with their hands here, but actually touching the food with your hands is less common — usually you get lots of napkins or a paper package or a toothpick.
Oi! I have no time this week but hope you are all great! Here is a picture of us with a Christmas box we made. We collected food from ward members [people in the local church congregation] for a family of a recent convert that really needed help. The mother of the family has been working for the city for three months without pay — apparently this is not uncommon here.
That was a great experience because I know we were really helping them. It was a little miracle because members answered the phone and found things to donate really quickly — we made the box and gathered the donations, and did some things to help at their house house in just a few hours! Service is the true spirit of Christmas! We always have a goal of doing planned and unplanned acts of service but we have a lot of people to visit so we’ve been having a little trouble following through. One unplanned act of service this week was carrying some heavy bags for some member missionaries from a different church. That was a great experience. They were doing a service project as well and I could feel the spirit strongly talking to them — I know they are following Christ´s example through the work they are doing.
Also on display: some Christmas lights we got for our house! We are both people who really like Christmas and of course we’re very excited to talk to our families too!
It is getting closer to Christmas and there are more and more Christmas decorations up. It’s weird that it’s still so warm but I’m getting more used to the idea that Christmas is coming now. As missionaries, we’re especially excited for the church Christmas program this year! [Some have already seen it. Watch it here.]
This week had several difficult parts but I have high hopes for next week. We spent several hours one day looking for a man who was supposed to be at the church for an interview. We waited and waited and waited at the church–we walked all the way to his house with the district leader [the missionary responsible for interviewing him to see if he’s ready for baptism] and his companion, but the man wasn’t there and a family member said he had left hours before–then we walked around the streets looking for him. We finally heard several hours later that he had had some questions on the way to the church and apparently decided to take a verrry long walk instead of being interviewed! Then he didn’t show up to church. 😦 Hopefully we can figure out how to best help him next week.
Oi! Happy Thanksgiving! Nobody celebrates Thanksgiving here, but they do celebrate Black Friday. All the shops had sales and the city center was a mad house. The gas station had a huge reduction in price and we could hear the loudspeaker from our house while we were trying to study. It’s a little sad to have Black Friday but not Thanksgiving, but on the bright side it means the Christmas decorations go up even earlier! There are lots of fake evergreen garlands and red bows and lights: pisca-pisca [Portuguese for blink, blink]. We bought some lights for our house! I will try to send a picture next week–I have more pics than I sent this week already and the internet is still super slow. I am trying to make the camera work [for wifi downloads] but am having trouble.
Sister Porcote and I will be together until after Christmas. That is normal for training — you have the same companion both transfers.
In the CTM [Brazil’s missionary training center] several missionaries in my district knew someone who went to Japan and said they came back more quiet, reserved, etc. I imagine that transition might have been a little easier for me. I am suspicious that Heavenly Father decided I needed to be more outgoing or more of a hugger or something and sent me here! But the transition hasn’t really been that hard. I’m really blessed not to be having health challenges or super hard things happening in Palmares.
You asked how often we get to eat with the members. We have lunch planned every day but it is often money instead of actual food. Less exciting than it sounds because we keep eating at restaurants and from my perspective the restaurants all seem the same. But the fruit is really good! And the members make really good desserts sometimes, so I´m grateful.
We have been trying to teach a young man, “Rafael” for a while, but kept having trouble actually finding him to teach because he is very busy. He goes to seminary every day, but works before seminary and goes to school after seminary! (School can be before lunch or after lunch or at night here). He is awesome — super interested in religion, really wants to follow God. The only problem is that he was reactivated in a different church a little while back and wasn’t sure if he wanted to change. Yesterday he said he hadn’t received an answer with certainty yet. He said he thought he wanted to get baptized but not yet because he wanted to keep participating in his other church´s youth program. But during our lesson he started crying and said he would get baptized on the 8th! It was wonderful to have the opportunity to see someone get an answer to prayer like that. The promise is true — if you pray about the Book of Mormon with sincerity and a real desire to follow God’s will you will receive an answer! Sometimes it takes time, but it comes.
I’ve been in the Recife mission for an entire transfer! Other missionaries have told me that time passes quickly on a mission an uncountable number of times now. It’s really true!
Fun facts: I drank coconut juice for the first time this week. It´s interesting — not bad but not my favorite ever. It’s very popular here. Coconuts are everywhere here — the trees, street stalls, members houses, etc. They are green instead of brown and hairy!
We keep meeting really wonderful people who are super interested in the gospel on the street but we are encountering problems in actually teaching them in their houses repeatedly and helping them get to church! Still, we had another baptism last week.
We have had several investigators who know little about religion or about Jesus Christ. We have had several who struggle with learning difficulties and who learn slowly. It is hard sometimes to teach them because of their learning pace (and it’s a lot harder for me to understand and be understood by less-educated people–it makes the language barriers between us higher) but they are all awesome. They don’t have some of the worldly stumbling blocks that more-educated people have with religion (myself included). They really want to do what God wants, and they have less preoccupations about time, work, money, etc. The many scriptures about the problems richer people have in following Christ are true.
The spirit really does bring all things to people’s remembrance! It is amazing to see some people learn and remember things about the gospel despite huge learning difficulties. The gospel is for everyone!
Hope you guys have an awesome Thanksgiving and an awesome week!
This week I have been thinking a lot about how God prepares people for the gospel. It is really amazing! This week we decided to follow up on some referrals–addresses of people in our area that ask for a Book of Mormon, or that meet missionaries in another city. We got everything ready and went to the bus station, only to discover that no buses were leaving for Ribeirão for several hours. So we went to a different city, and returned to the bus station another day to go to Ribeirão. We had two referrals there, so we walked around asking people if they knew either address. Everyone said, “You have a reference point? I don’t recognize these street names!” But finally we found some people who pointed us in the right direction for one of the referrals.
We clapped at the door [similar to ringing the doorbell in the U.S.] and then we waited, and waited, and called again, and waited, and finally someone opened the door (We’ll call him José, pronounced Jo-zay). José is a history professor who is super interested in American history and loves to read. He read about “Mormons” (nickname for members of our church) and was intrigued by our emphasis on education, families, dressing respectably, etc. A couple years ago he found a moth-eaten Book of Mormon on a friend’s book shelf, but couldn’t read much because of the damage. Then he ran into missionaries once or twice, but could only speak to them for about two minutes. Finally, he found a little more info online, and asked for someone to send him a Book of Mormon.
And then he waited for months (Someone did not contact their referrals quickly. Bad missionaries!). Finally we showed up on Wednesday afternoon, the only time he’s free the entire week. The rest of the week he’s either working or studying for his doctorate, so he is literally never home except for Wednesday afternoons. Usually he doesn’t answer the door, but this time he decided to see who it was. It was amazing — he is super knowledgeable about religion, but that does not get in the way of his spiritual abilities. We gave him a picture of Joseph Smith’s first vision, and while we were explaining it he turned it over and started to read the text. Then he said, “Wow, this scripture really touches me.” It was Moroni 10:4, a scripture we often share with investigators. But he beat us to it! I invited him to follow Christ’s example and be baptized once he had received confirmation by the spirit that our message was true, and he agreed immediately — just completely nonchalantly as if it was the obvious next step. It was a miracle!
Last week I said that people don’t eat very spicy food. Really they don’t eat any spicy food, but sometimes there are bottles of hot sauce. A couple weeks ago we were having an activity at a member’s house. She had a little plastic bottle of homemade hot sauce made from whole peppers marinating in vinegar and some members (teenage boys) were daring each other to try a little drop. Some of you may know that I looove spicy food, so I put several drops on my soup and they were very worried for me: “No sister, you will die! You will die!” The hot sauce was extremely delicious, and I did not die, so I haven’t completely lost my spice tolerance yet. Later the same member gave me a little bottle of her hot sauce! I was very very happy! But it didn’t last long 🙂
Palmares has year-round fruit and vegetable carts in the city center, which is really exciting for someone from Utah where we only have farmer’s markets a couple months of the year (because ‘winter’ is a thing in Provo). I’m going to be eating very delicious pineapple and cheap mangoes while the rest of you are languishing under two feet of snow! Hopefully that will help me with the saudade I’m going to feel for Provo’s grocery stores (*sniff* Trader Joe’s *sniff*). Saudade is a noun in Portuguese that describes the feeling of homesickness or missing something. I knew food and grocery stores would be really different here, but I didn’t expect it to be quite so different!
It turns out that Brazilians don’t have canned food. Like, they have canned corn and maybe a can of pre-prepared feijoada (black beans and pork sausage) but that’s it! I really miss canned tomatoes and canned beans, especially because we’re not allowed to use pressure cookers for safety reasons, so if you want to eat beans you have to use the very slow boiling method with dried beans. I am also going to have serious saudade for sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pie, and So Delicious Snickerdoodle ice cream around the holidays, but I think the mangoes and pineapple will get me through it.
My companion was sick at the beginning of the week, and we also spent a day at a mission conference, so less happened. We are a little concerned about some new members and investigators who have had trouble making it to church. But we talked to some members yesterday about ways ward members can help, and I think that will be super great. Members can help so much. We had one man this week who told us that he felt really accepted at church. A young boy in a tie walked up to him his first Sunday and said “Welcome to our church!” and shook his hand, and that was a really big deal for this man. It was a good reminder for me–when I get back from my mission I want to work on doing little things to make people feel welcome–members and non-members.
It’s really great to see the people we’re teaching develop testimonies. Some people we’re teaching don’t know much about scriptures or religion (e.g., we were explaining what God does and who Christ is the other day), but they have a strong testimony that God will tell them where they should be. It is so great to hear their testimonies when they receive that witness.
Typical food at a member’s house for our lunch (lunch is the main meal here)
beans (sometimes with squash, kale, or meat, but often just beans)
spaghetti with a little bit of tomato sauce
one or two kinds of meat, often chicken
(frequently without sauce, but sometimes with)
vegetable salad/some cooked kale/a plate of sliced tomatoes/possibly fruit
Fruit juice and/or soda. (It´s not normal here to drink water or milk with dinner. Coca-cola is very popular — I’ve had a lot more Coke so far than Guarana. Lemon-lime and orange soda are also popular. The fruit juices are amazing. )
Cake or pudding for dessert!
The food here is good. Most people don´t eat very spicy food.
The pineapple here is amazing! It is less yellow and more translucent here, super sweet, and extremely delicious. Papaya and mango are also possible. There are lots of fruit vendors with carts in the city center. They have bananas (often green and sweeter), mangoes, grapes, watermelon, coconuts, pineapple, papaya, sometimes nuts, corn, and several fruits I don´t know the name of (graveola, aceola?, etc). I also tried a jackfruit otter pop/popsicle-ish thing the other day. That was super fun. I use shredded canned unripe jackfruit at home to make barbecue-style tacos, but I’ve never tried a ripe, sweet jackfruit. It didn’t taste super strongly of anything, but it was good.
This week was very special. We met the mother of the young woman I told you about last week (parents forbid her to see us, come to church, get baptized) on the street. She lifted all the restrictions, said it was a misunderstanding and she didn’t have anything against us, and apologized. Then her daughter came to the baptisms we had this week and went to the dance afterwards! So it looks like we’re going to be able to teach her again. Our prayers that her parents’ hearts would be softened were answered!
I didn’t go to the dance of course (not really a missionary-approved activity! We´re supposed to listen to church and classical music and eschew all romance-related activities so we can focus on helping people get closer to our Savior), but some less-active members, investigators, and recent converts did and everybody was excited about it. Hopefully we can figure out how to have those dances more often.
Right after we met the first mother on the street we met a mother of one of our other investigators. The day before she said he couldn’t get baptized last week because he needed to be 18 and spend many months learning about the church before making that decision. We were concerned — he has a strong testimony, has learned all the lessons we’ve given him by heart, and we felt strongly that he should be baptized on the date we had chosen. The discussion was going badly when I suddenly had the idea to share the story of Peter and the other fishermen who immediately left their nets and followed Christ’s invitation “follow me” (Matthew 4:18-22). It was a little tough because I couldn’t remember the exact word for fisherman and “follow me´´ is a little hard to conjugate on the fly! But I got close enough that my companion could correct me, and I think the sister understood. Then she agreed to allow him to get baptized! It was a little miracle. The other young man who got baptized this week also had trouble with parents’ permission and we were worried he wouldn’t be able to make it to sacrament meeting to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, but everything worked out in the end.
We had a good week this week! People in Palmares are really open to hearing about the gospel. Of course lots of people don´t want to change churches, but they´re open to hearing our message in the street or listening to a scripture. People are definitely more religious and more open to talking about religion here than in most of the US. There are scriptures stamped on walls, cars, signs, shops, houses, etc. There are also cars with loud speakers that go around playing religious messages.
Our investigators so far have been very open to our message and willing to act on it. We had a baptism last week and another one this week. I´m so happy for them! It´s really great to see someone developing a testimony, learning about the gospel, and being blessed.
Something really sad happened with one of our teenage investigators who was planning on being baptized. She has a really strong testimony and her faith is inspiring. She was excited to be baptized and convinced that it was the right step. One of her parents had agreed to sign the baptismal form. Unfortunately someone told him that the Church was a cult/sect, etc. and her parents decided she wasn’t allowed to go to church or have any visits from the missionaries! We had been praying for her so much, hoping that her parents’ hearts would be softened, and on Sunday she showed up at church with an older sibling! It was amazing. We´re still not allowed to see her and don´t know what the future will hold, but that was a little miracle.
So far missionary work here has been pretty different than what I expected. We have a lot of recent converts and less-active members that need to be visited, but our branch [small local church congregation] is small, so we do the vast majority of visits. So one or two days we did more work with members than with investigators! Consequently it´s been pretty tough to do any street contacting at all, because we always have more people to visit than we have time for, and no time to teach more investigators! But we´re going to focus more on finding new investigators this week.
I’ve had serious trouble with being understood this week. It´s a little sad because I remember all the right words, use the right grammar, manage to express myself in Portuguese well, and then the person doesn’t understand me! Some people can’t seem to understand a single sentence I say — one person even said I was speaking English! That was a really bad sign! My American accent is just too thick, but I´m working on that.
I am having trouble with the computer today in several diferente (!) ways. It is trying to fix my spelling so if you see a random Portuguese word — that´s why. Also, Google Drive isn´t working and I have less time than I expected, so blame any oddities in this email on that!
My first almost-a-week has been great. There are so many things I want to tell you guys! You actually can feel the humidity the second you step out of the airport. It´s so diferente (I can´t fix it!) If I make my hand a fist it will be covered in watery sweat after a few minutes. My first area is a small city called Palmares. It´s very hilly, like San Francisco, except that there aren´t any trolleys to take you up the hills, so we do a lot of walking! There is lots of greenery and a big river. It is hot, but there are clouds and a nice breeze. The flowers are beautiful, the weather is great, the fruit is awesome, and the bugs are not bad. It would be paradise if I didn’t need so much sunscreen!
Speaking of which, so far a couple diferente Brazilians every single day have said something like “You are very white. Use sunscreen!” I got a very mild sunburn my first day from walking to the Palmares bus stop in Recife (we waited for the bus for 3.5 hours! It’s two-ish hours from Recife to Palmares.) but I´m making a serious effort to keep the sunscreen manufacturers happy.
I have a very clear memory of someone in the CTM [MTC] saying that their instructor was praying they would get trainers who didn´t speak English so their Portuguese would progress faster. For some reason, I thought that seemed super unlikely, because how could you possibly function if your companion didn´t speak English?! Guess what . . . my companion is Sister Porcote.
She´s super awesome, she´s from Curitiba, she´s been on a mission for six months, and . . . we only speak Portuguese. She learned some English her first two months here but not enough that speaking English helps us communicate better. I understand enough Portuguese that we can talk about everything we need to talk about. Obviously I ask her to explain lots of words, but not so much that communicating feels super laborious. So that´s cool!
I can understand other missionaries pretty well too, but understanding and speaking to Palmares-ians here is a lot harder. Church talks and lessons are super easy to understand. Outside of that, sometimes I understand enough to participate in conversations, and sometimes I only kind of know what´s happening. The accent is very diferente, so hopefully as I keep listening I´ll start to understand better.
My favorite thing about the past two weeks was General Conference. I think maybe one reason I started my mission so late was because I needed to be in the CTM [MTC] during conference. We got to watch all the sessions in English, whereas lots of missionaries in the field didn´t get to see all the sessions. I felt the spirit so strongly, and I felt very clearly that the announcements and talks were inspired. At one point, [Elder] Rasband said something about how if we are faithful and diligente our questions will be answered or we will be able to put them aside for now. That resonated with me.
2-3 weeks ago we had a devotional broadcast from the MTC with Elder Cook (I think). He started off by saying that he had given lots of talks to missionaries in his lifetime but he had never talked about his current topic before, but that he felt inspired to talk about it that day. Then he started talking about the very thing I had been praying about for weeks. I had been praying especially fervently that day, and I really believe that talk was an answer to my (and others) prayers. It was a little miracle from God for me. He didn´t actually answer any of my factual questions about the subject (why is this like this, etc;) but he answered all of my spiritual ones (why do I feel like this, shouldn´t I feel differently, is this right, what can I do to find answers to my questions). The same thing happened at General Conference. Some questions were answered, but mostly I just felt a profound sense of peace — that I was doing the right thing, that what the apostles were saying was true. If you haven´t watched it [yet] you definitely should!