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!
I have so much to say this week and less time than usual! I wasn’t sick for long and I’m totally fine now, so that was a blessing. This is also the last time I’ll be emailing from the CTM! I’ll be leaving super early Tuesday morning (likely between 2 and 5:45!), driving to the airport, and flying a couple hours to Recife. I will probably be able to send a very short message when I arrive, but I’ll have to wait until Recife P-day (I don’t know when it is) to read emails and send a real weekly one.
Things I’m excited for:
1. Teaching the gospel
2. Serving the Lord and the Recife-ans
3. Seeing Recife
4. Speaking Portuguese
5. The possibility of occasionally using a kitchen (instead of cafeteria food)
6. Never playing another game of volleyball
Most days we have 50 minutes for physical activity. I’ve played so much volleyball at the CTM, but it’s still languishing at #2 on the Sports I Dislike Most list after kickball. The CTM has an adequate gym with lovely exercise bikes but unfortunately it is never open.
Reasons I don’t want to leave the CTM yet:
1. I will miss my companion (she’s going to Natal)
3. Also Portuguese
4. Portuguese (and teaching real live people)
It’s difficult to see my progress in Portuguese sometimes, because I constantly hear myself making mistakes. But I know progress is happening. On August 28th, I knew about 20 Portuguese words and Portuguese was utterly indecipherable. Today (thanks be to God) I know a few thousand words, I can sorta have conversations, kinda teach missionary lessons, and Portuguese is sometimes mostly understandable and sometimes only partly indecipherable. That may change with the Recife-ish accent, but God willing, I know I will understand it eventually. Right now having conversations in Portuguese is thrilling — it’s so exciting to be able to communicate in a different language! Sometimes I understand the words people say but don’t interpret the tenses correctly or get confused by words with multiple meanings.
This week our pretend investigator asked if me and my companion would baptize and I said yes! I thought he asked if we had been baptized. Hopefully now that I’ve made that mistake here I won’t make it in real life in Recife!
In other news, one of our two instructors was abruptly reassigned, (they needed his language skills for the Help Desk) so we got a new instructor for our last week. We were all sad because our old instructor was great. We spend about 3 hours a day with each instructor, so we get to know them a little bit. Our new instructor seems nice.
For you Harry Potter fans out there, I strongly recommend Brazilian traffic for a taste of The Knight Bus experience. Last week we drove to the São Paulo Temple in a van, and it was so similar to the Knight Bus that I expected the cross + rosary hanging from the van’s mirror to become a shrunken head at any moment. We zoomed around, stopping centimeters behind bumpers, driving on the wrong side of the road to pass, accelerating through tiny gaps, rapidly switching lanes and swerving around semis in bumper-to-bumper traffic — it was an experience. Dad, your right foot will get a lot of exercise on the invisible brake here. Mom, I hope you visit Brazil; you will love it. But find a good TV show to watch so you never look out a car window!
*Easily nauseated people, skip the following paragraph*
One of the elders in our van threw up during the van ride! He was slightly sick to begin with, but the swerves definitely exacerbated his problems. Another nauseating moment happened yesterday. One day after the MTC President said “leave childhood things outside” about twenty times in different meetings, two elders had a jello-eating contest, complete with cheering crowd. The winner ate 22. The loser ate 20 and threw up (purple) right outside the cafeteria door!
I’m halfway through the CTM experience! I’m not sure how to feel; I’m excited to leave the [CTM] and teach people, but teaching people in Portuguese is still scary. On Saturday we’re venturing out into the real world for real-life “street contacting” where we’ll share short messages about Christ (in Portuguese!) and get contact information. The prospect of using 22 days of Portuguese study to stop random people on the street is fairly terrifying! But I learn more words every day, and the other missionaries who did it all survived, so I’m sure it will turn out fine.
My mom asked if I can tell I’m in Brazil inside the confines of the CTM. I definitely can! We have a great view from our window of the city. The water taps are separate, the plugs are different, everything has signs in Portuguese, and the water fountains have buttons for “natural water” (room temp) and “cold water.” The computer keyboards are very confusing. Typically, breakfast is fruit (papaya, melon, banana), ham & cheese paninis, baguette rolls (delicious but I miss whole wheat bread) and extremely sweet porridge made with sweetened condensed milk.
[for illustration only–no photos from the CTM yet]
For lunch, we have beans, white and brown rice, various kinds of meat, grated vegetables (beets, zucchini, carrots, etc.), lettuce, and one or two other vegetables — often one I can’t recognize. Dinner is similar. Sometimes we have something different like pasta, hot dogs, or soup. They have dessert which is usually some kind of jello or pudding. It’s usually quite sweet and not flavours I recognize. The food is good, if not what I would choose to make myself. It’s not very flavorful, but they have good hot sauce. I think I use more hot sauce here than at home which is saying a lot! There are no labels so some foods are a surprise. Once I got something I thought was roasted carrots but turned out to be strangely-colored hot dogs! I also had fun explaining to some Brazilians that US sweet potatoes are orange or purple, not greenish-white.
[Stock photos of the CTM cafeteria from LDS.org]
I felt the spirit a lot this week. Some elders in my group got priesthood blessings, where an elder puts their hands on the person’s head and says whatever the holy spirit tells them to bless the person with. I felt the spirit so strongly when they got blessings. I just felt so clearly that the blessings were from God. I’ve also memorized some great scriptures recently — Mark 9:23 about how everything is possible through faith, and Moroni 10:3-5 in the Book of Mormon, which says that if you pray about the Book of Mormon with a sincere heart and real intent, God will help you feel that it is true through the holy spirit. They are both great!
We got called as the Sister Training Leaders today. We are training two sisters, Sister Hale and Sister Faulconer. That’s right, we are in charge of . . . ourselves. The other American sisters are going home or are in other branches. And no sisters are coming next week either, so who knows when we will have a real job!
I am learning a lot! I achieved the goal for my first ten days –memorizing Joseph Smith’s account of the first vision, the missionary purpose (to invite others to come unto Christ, etc.) and a baptismal invitation, as well as 75-ish sentences and lots of vocabulary. Memorizing in Portuguese is much harder than in English! I learn the words’ meanings first, but I don’t know the grammar so I have to memorize each word separately. For our next four weeks we’re supposed to memorize 20 scriptures, 2500 words, 500 phrases, and our entire grammar book. My instructor said the CTM wants 90 words/day and 18 memorized phrases. Very little of the day is open for learning this stuff. We have some grammar lessons but mostly I`ll be learning this in the halls, at meals, in the 30-45 minutes of language study, the hour we have for getting ready for bed, and any time I get if something finishes early. It’s very intense!
I was feeling a bit overwhelmed about this two days ago and so then of course I also started to feel bad about all my other failings, why don’t I receive/understand more specific revelation from God, I could’ve been better pre-CTM, blah blah blah. I decided to pray about it right then while I was getting ready for bed in the bathroom. Just as I was finishing my prayer, someone`s speaker (I think – I haven’t heard music there before) got louder . . . it was the chorus for “I Can Go the Distance” from Hercules. It was the Vocal Point cover I’ve loved ever since it posted on YouTube. The chorus says “I am on my way; I can go the distance . . . this is where I’m meant to be!” It’s all [about] how your goals are within reach, and it was the tender mercy I needed right then. The great thing about tender mercies is how small they are. I didn’t desperately need help — I wasn’t very upset and would’ve gotten over it soon. But often God just sends us little reminders that he loves us. And sometimes it seems like he [doesn’t], and I can’t explain that. I guess that’s life on earth.
Anyway, our schedules are a little stressful but it’s a good way to see the gift of tongues in action. My Portuguese is terrible but for 12 days of Portuguese experience it’s pretty terrific! On my 9th day of learning Portuguese I was talking to some Brazilian sisters in the gym about weather, post-mission plans, and pluses and minuses of the Brazilian, Canadian, and American government health care — I know, I´m crazy, but it came up in the conversation and one of the sisters was super knowledgeable about it. You really do learn so much when you can talk to native speakers! I also taught four lessons over today and yesterday on the beginning of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the atonement and God’s plan for us — sans notes!
Anyway, that’s the novel for this week. Ciao ciao!
Seeing all the missionaries at the airport was awesome. We walked to the flights as a group so there was this wave of white shirt and tie elders (and me) walking around. It really made me appreciate the size and strength of the missionary force all over the world so they can spread the gospel! I remember going to the missionary preparation class in our Edgemont ward [congregation]. When I turned on the car to drive home to Orem, the first song on the hymns CD in our car would start playing. It was “Called to Serve,” and when the sun was shining and I was on a spiritual high from the preparation class I felt the missionary spirit so strongly. Now I’ve experienced that feeling while seeing real missionaries in real life! The flight to Brazil felt so long, but I was counting my blessings after meeting the missionaries going to Johannesburg — they had a 16 hour flight plus all the other flying they had to do!
I got the window seat for the Brazil flight. The best moment of my travels by far was on the descent to São Paulo. We had been passing over this really hilly brown country when I saw the ocean in front of us. But it looked too white, so then I started to wonder if any of the São Paulo mountains were tall enough for snow! It turned out to be a super thick layer of cloud. We flew down into the cloud, and after a couple minutes the clouds suddenly cleared and São Paulo popped into view right below us. It was gorgeous.
It was especially great because it was so obviously different than anywhere I’ve ever been before. Everything you can see is covered in a thick green carpet. There are red tile roofs and silver metal roofs everywhere and the buildings are red, green, blue, pink, whatever. It was even more fun driving through the streets. The bus driver was very skilled at honking and maneuvering through tight turns. We were in a narrow street when two huge gates popped open and I realized we were at the CTM! We held up both lanes of traffic for 3-4 minutes while they guided us backwards into the parking lot.
When I got off, Sister Whitaker, my first grade teacher, was there to greet me. She put my name tag on me! That was exciting. People recognize the elders, but sisters blend in, so it was exciting to get a tag that identifies me as a missionary for Christ.
We reviewed the dedicatory prayer [for the CTM] given by President Nelson (then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). I realized that I have always thought of the US as the land prophesied of in that scripture about Joseph Smith and the land being discovered. But that is so silly because it could just as easily refer to the Americas as a whole! Yes, Joseph Smith was in the US but we don’t know where the Nephites and Lamanites actually lived, so there’s no reason Brazil can’t be the promised land too.
A funny moment happened on our first day when we put our suitcases in the elevator. There was this loud beeping sound that wouldn’t turn off and we were worried we were over the weight limit or that the elevator had broken! The CTM brothers didn’t know either so eventually we took everything out again. Then one of the sisters realized the beeping noise had followed us out of the elevator. It was the metronome (for playing the piano) in her luggage!
My companion is Sister Hale. I met her in Atlanta. She is great — an awesome first companion. She speaks a lot of Spanish at home (she was born in Argentina!) so she understands a lot more Portuguese than I do. There are very few sisters here compared to elders (way way less than the percentage of sisters for all missionaries –we’re the only two in the American group that got here last week so it’s like 1 to 18 or 20 or something) and most of them speak Portuguese or Spanish. Most of the American sisters also know some or a lot of Spanish — I’ve met maybe two other sisters who don’t speak Spanish and there are hundreds of people here.
Learning Portuguese is difficult, of course. On the one hand, it is amazing that I can make any Brasilieros (Brazilians) understand sentences I say in Portuguese, however broken! I have memorized the missionary purpose (Invite others to come unto Christ . . .) and the scriptures for the first vision and some other sentences and questions in Portuguese (Somos Missionarias da Igrega de Jesus Cristo dos Santos dos Ultimos Dias. Temos uma mensagem sobre Jesus Cristo. Voce acredita en Deus e en Jesus Cristo? etc. etc.) On the other hand, it’s easy to feel like you aren’t learning enough Portuguese when you’re at the CTM. We keep hearing about people who are learning 100 words a day, memorizing two scriptures etc. etc.! One issue is that we have a lot of things to do that aren’t memorizing our assigned vocabulary and passages for memorization. We eat meals, we go to choir, we have devotionals, we have planning, we prepare lessons for investigators, read scriptures — it’s a lot! They gave us a goal for memorization and learning Portuguese for the first ten days so I’ll tell you how I did next week. I taught my first two lessons about the gospel this week. It’s quite hard in Portuguese!