The Right Place

This week we had splits, so I went to Guaranhuns one day with the Sister Training Leaders.  We also had stake conference in Caruaru. It’s an hour away, so this week was pretty crazy because we were following up with a lot of people about whether they could go, how it would be, etc.  There were a lot of people who we hoped would go that didn’t make it, but we had a couple of very special people who did.

We have one investigator, call him “Tiago,” who is older and likes to talk a lot about his life.  In the contact we did with him we weren’t sure if he was really interested in learning or not, but he accepted a baptismal date (in the middle of the road!) so we went back to visit him.  Lots of times we aren’t sure if he is paying attention or really interested, but then there are moments that we can see him progressing a lot. This week we were at stake conference with him and the stake president gave a talk about the importance of reading the Book of Mormon every day.  (See President Monson’s last talk about the Book of Mormonhere) I was inwardly very excited about this talk because we always tell this to our investigators but sometimes they need a second witness for the importance of the Book of Mormon to sink in. After the conference Tiago mentioned the talk and said “I am going to read this book at morning and at night every day!”  That was a very special moment.

Mission President and Missionaries pose for photograph at stake conference in Caruaru

I also wanted to share a story about a woman who went to church this week, call her “Natália.” She had been less active for years, and hadn’t been to church in quite a while.  But her son’s girlfriend, call her “Giovana,” is a member of the church. She always invites Natália and her grandchildren who live with her to church, but they pretty much never went.  One day Giovana invited Natália to church. When Natália said she couldn’t go because she had to make lunch, Giovana didn’t give up. She helped her make lunch and helped Natália until all of her housework was done. They showed up at church quite late, but they made it.  Natália felt a really strong feeling of peace and comfort, like the church was where she ought to be. After the church meetings, Natália found out that one of her children had died. Her family members were worried that this would devastate her. But Natália told us that because of the peaceful feeling she had from church, she knew that everything would be okay.

Later we taught her granddaughter the Restoration.  When we told about Joseph Smith’s first vision, Natália felt a prompting from the spirit that the feeling she had at church was like a first vision for her — an answer to prayer and a witness that the church was true.  Now she goes to church every week, and her granddaughter is progressing towards baptism!

I know all of us can have spiritual experiences like Natália´s.  Sometimes we have to be in the right place to recognize the promptings of the spirit — it was only once she went to church, after so many years of inactivity, that she received an answer!  We can also receive answers through the Book of Mormon, as President Monson promised in his talk, and through prayer. It is so special to be here on a mission seeing people receiving answers to their prayers.

Goodbye to Palmares

I’m being transferred! I’m very sad to leave Sister Arce and Palmares but a new area will be an adventure. I will be in Gravatá, which is still in the interior. Apparently it is a big touristy city — I will have to wait until after our email time to ask Sister Arce more questions. Hopefully the transfer will go smoothly — last transfer my transfer instructions had the wrong times written and the bus was slow and I ended up waiting in the bus station for several hours — it is a little crazy because you travel without a cellphone, but luckily people are willing to lend cellphones if you need to call someone.

Recently we have started hearing frevo in the streets. People are practicing for Carnaval. I do not know much about frevo but it seems to be characterized by a very strong rhythm on drums that is catchy (and quite loud — we can hear it from far away). People dress up in bear costumes and say rhymes asking for money.

Today we went to a museum housed in an old train station. It is about a famous writer and actor Hermilo Borbo Filho and the history of Palmares. Very small but cool. I learned that in Brazil, slaves lived together on the dark, crowded first floor (senzala) of the houses and the plantation owners would live on the second floor. Apparently lots of slaves escaped and would start their own communities called Quilombos. They would stop sometimes in Palmares but the big gathering place was Alagoas.

This week we had some really special experiences with the Book of Mormon. People who read the Book of Mormon receive answers to their prayers and feel the spirit a lot faster than people who don’t. We have one investigator “Mariana” who is 18-ish years old, who I met asking directions. On our second visit with her, we found out that she visited our church once a long time ago. She said she felt a special feeling there and didn’t want to leave. She told God that one day she would go back — maybe a long time in the future (the church is not close to her house) but she would go back. This week we went back and found out that she took the Book of Mormon to school with her to read. She doesn’t like reading but she loves the Book of Mormon! She said she felt like some of the verses were written just for her. One of her friends asked her about it, read part, and started crying because she said she knew it was true!

The same day we visited “Nedna” who we almost dropped because she still hadn’t prayed about whether Joseph Smith was a prophet, if the Book of Mormon is true, hadn’t read the part we left marked for her, etc. But last week she read the part we marked for her (but didn’t pray), so we didn’t drop her. But she still didn’t seem very interested, and then her granddaughter was born and we didn’t see her for two weeks, so we were planning how we could make one last attempt at explaining the importance of praying and reading the scriptures. We showed up, and everything seemed normal, but then we asked her if she had prayed. She said, “Well, I have to tell you that I got an answer!” I was surprised. Apparently she remembered to pray and read the Book of Mormon despite all the chaos with her granddaughter’s birth (a miracle — we had invited her over several visits to read and pray, and she didn’t), and then she lost her cellphone in the middle of they city and asked God to help her get it back if the Book of Mormon was true. Someone found her cell phone when her ex-husband was calling her, answered, and arranged to bring the cell phone to him. This is apparently very rare here and she said she knew it was an answer from God. Note — I do not recommend just praying to God asking for a sign to know if the Book of Mormon is true. You have to read the Book of Mormon, pray, etc., if you want an answer — you receive a testimony after the trial of your faith (Ether 12:6) and the scriptures are very clear about the perils of requiring signs from God. Also, God responds to people in different ways.

Both of those experiences happened right after we ended a fast to help our investigators receive answers — it was special. It is so important to put in effort to receive answers from God — diligently read the Book of Mormon, pray wholeheartedly and go to church! We have stopped visiting several different people because they said they didn’t feel vontade (will, the urge, inclined) to read the scriptures/pray/go to church. They all said that if God sent them a feeling of vontade one day they would go to church etc, but they weren’t feeling it then. The devil doesn’t want you to pray, read, or go to church (the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray 2 Nephi 32:8), so if you wait for a feeling of vontade to do these things you will probably wait your whole life. We also have an investigator who is wonderful but keeps getting sucked into YouTube videos about the wonderful things the Church does instead of reading the Book of Mormon or praying. The documentaries are great, and now he has a lot of respect for church programs, but the scriptures are inspired books written by the power of God to guide us — YouTube videos are not.

Love you all!

Progress and Willingness to Change

For months I thought a really loud child lived on our street, but this transfer I learned from Sister Arce that it was actually just this parrot.  

Unfortunately it looks like our neighbor “Stephanie” who I told you about last week believes the Book of Mormon is true but does not want to consider joining a different church.  I hope that when she finishes the Book of Mormon maybe she will be a bit more open to considering it, but we will see. Recently, we have had trouble with having lots of people to teach but not having a lot of investigators who are actually progressing (Saturday night they say they will go to church, Sunday morning we show up to take them to church and they have surprise visitors, are sick, do not want to go, are busy, etc.)  Yesterday at 9:57 it wasn’t looking very good, but three of our investigators showed up partway through the meeting! We had already been to “Caio” and “Henrique’s” houses that morning, and they weren’t there, but they both went to church by themselves. I am so excited for them — “Caio” stopped drinking last week for good — his friend offered him beer on Saturday and he said he followed our advice and left right away! He is also stopping his coffee habit.  It is amazing to see the difference in progress between people who really want to change their lives and people who don’t. I have met some people who don’t want to ask God if the Book of Mormon is true or if they ought to stop drinking coffee because they don’t want to get an answer. Or they ask, but they don’t get an answer, and then we find out that even if God did respond to them it wouldn’t change anything in their lives.

***

I found brown rice!!!  I am very excited about that. The problem is that although I always want to eat when we get home I am seldom actually hungry because we eat a lot for lunch.  But I am eating brown rice today. We have to go to Recife to get a new cellphone and I will eat this on the bus. You can’t actually see the brown rice but it is under the other food.  The top left corner has sweet potato. I really miss orange sweet potatoes, but these are good too. There is also mango. Not very much mango, but I already ate a mango and a half today. A member gave us a bag of mangoes and they are delicious. There are also peas (protein-rich). The peas here are canned!  There are no fresh or frozen peas. Canned peas are very strange to me. If you heat them up and eat them with thyme and lime juice and hot sauce they are not bad (but very mushy). Lemons here are called Japanese limes and they are very rare and expensive, so I have been eating lots of lime juice. Mango with lime juice is heavenly.  I topped the dish with spicy ketchup. Ketchup is very popular here, but it is sweeter than I am used to. Spicy ketchup is also sold, but the “spicy” part is a lie.

Lunch packed for the bus on the way to Recife

Fun fact: I miss salsa.  Sister Arce [a native Spanish speaker from Argentina] had trouble understanding what I was saying when I told her that because salsa is “sauce” in Spanish.  I think I knew that but forgot.

September 2018–Sister Hales with avocado creams during our training in São Paulo.

Another thing I have been enjoying is avocado creams. Avocado is only eaten with sugar here. Here is a picture of the first “vitamina de abacate” that I drank while I was in the CTM [missionary training center in San Paulo].  It was a special moment — I had always heard Dad telling stories about the avocado shakes he drank in Brazil and then I actually got to try one! We have an avocado tree by our house but I have not actually eaten an avocado yet.

Prayer and the Book of Mormon

This week was interrupted a lot because of our zone conference and the travel for our division with the sister training leaders in Guaranhuns [a city several hours away by bus], but it was good. 

Zone conference for elders and sister missionaries in the Brazil Recife mission under President and Sister Houseman--January 2019.
January 2019 Zone Conference

A group of sister missionaries eating together at zone conference.
Eating together at zone conference

Miracle from this week: A little less than a year ago, our current sister training leader, Sister C. Alves was serving in Palmares.  Unbeknownst to me, she and her companion gave a Book of Mormon to the owner of a mercadinho (Mercado — market; mercadinho — tiny market, usually in the middle of houses that sells a few basics) but never managed to teach her the lessons because she wasn’t interested.  Sister C. Alves asked me about her during our division together last transfer, but I had never met her.  That changed when Sister Arce got here because, due to her love for Cremosinho, we stopped at the mercadinho to buy Cremosinho a few times and met the owner. 

Apparently, Cremosinho is a type of creamy yogurt ice cream that comes in many flavors popular in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco.
Cremosinho–a
creamsicle sort of yogurt frozen thing that comes in plastic bags.  You bite off the corner and eat it.  It’s very good.

I didn’t think she seemed very interested in being taught, but she told us how much she loved the other sisters and we decided to try teaching her a lesson.
The other day we had a little time left at the end of the day and a lot of possible pesquisadores (investigators) to visit.  We were passing the mercadinho and I said “Now is the time to say something if you are having a spiritual impression that we should visit our neighbor!” sort of joking, and Sister Arce just walked over to her and we started making conversation. 

Sister Arece standing outside near the street in front of lush tropical foliage and flowers.
Sister Arce

The owner told us that her church is the richest church in the world and we should visit, etc., etc., which wasn’t a great sign.  Then we taught her a lesson and she accepted our invitation to pray and ask God if Joseph Smith was a prophet and if the Book of Mormon is the word of God.  I was feeling like I did a pretty bad job of teaching the lesson and wishing I could express myself better when out of the blue she said “Oh, I’m reading that book the other sisters gave me every day and I’m on page 606!”  I thought she was talking about a scripture verse the sisters had left with her, because the Book of Mormon only has 529ish pages in English and what were the chances she had read the whole Book of Mormon?  You guys, she had read almost the whole Book of Mormon, day by day since she had gotten it.  
We went back the next day and she was glowing — she prayed and received a powerful witness from God!  She had to travel and of course we will teach her other lessons first, but she is already married (rare) and I think there is good reason to hope she will be baptized!

Finally, the adventures in Brazilian cooking continue:

Cuscuz e Cuscuzeira (pan for cooking couscous)! [Here is a Youtube video demonstration.]

Prepared by God

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 references–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 references 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 references.

Zone Conference 2018-10-30 Turka Feira Sisters Faulconer and Porcote improvedWe 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 references 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!

Love you guys!  Hope you all have an awesome week!