This week was a rollercoaster. We spend one day walking all over trying to teach people and nothing —- no first lessons, nobody marked for baptism, nobody at home. Then the next day we teach four people a first lesson, five people marked for baptism. That was a pretty great day! Then another day of nothing. Sometimes we struggle to find two investigators, sometimes we have a ton.
Yesterday we left the house at 10:30 — the sun is super high, it might as well be noon, there are people in the street, and . . . we were robbed right in front of our apartment. We saw the guy before he robbed us, but he looked like a normal person — on a bicycle!! He stopped right next to us, and for a second I thought he wanted to talk to us or something (hey, it happens). Sister Anaya was calling our lunch appointment and he tried to grab the phone out of her hand. She sort of reflexively moved away but then realized he was trying to rob us and gave him the phone. [For safety, missionaries are not supposed to resist in robbery situations.] It is almost a little annoying to be robbed by some guy on a bike whose only recourse is shouting “Gimme the phone! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” in order to get what he wants, but on the other hand, way better than being robbed by someone who is actually scary, right? He took the phone, started leaving, came back and demanded my phone as well . . . ha ha, joke’s on him. “I don’t have a phone.” “Gimme the phone, let’s go, let’s go!” “We only have one phone! Her phone is my phone. I don’t have a phone.”(I was almost laughing because it was such a ridiculous situation at this point). He decided to give up.
Note to the wise: missionaries are easy targets because they don’t resist, but robbing missionaries = not a lucrative way of gaining a living! We were glad he only took our phone, and afterwards we marked lessons with five new investigators before lunch. After tribulation cometh the blessings? We joked that next time we will give him our bags as well so that we can help people go to Sacrament Meeting! Sister Anaya didn’t get robbed until the last month of her mission! I was hoping to go a whole mission without getting robbed, but if I had to get robbed it was definitely one of the least scary ways to get robbed.
Yesterday we had an interesting experience. We were teaching a great family. They had already been to church in the past and were interested in the lessons. But unfortunately they think it is interesting to find super crazy doubts/questions about everything but less interesting to actually read the Book of Mormon and pray. If you never knock, God may not respond! We prayed before the lesson for discernment. We retaught the restoration, and it was a spiritual lesson. But it was so obvious that we should stop teaching them — one of them kept standing up and leaving, the other one kept saying totally unrelated things . . . Sad, but we were grateful to not be confused about whether we ought to teach them or not. We have some investigators with potential who will said they would go to church next week. I think our teaching pool is improving — hopefully they really go this Sunday!
Today (for preparation day) we are going to get a new cell phone and hopefully we will get to visit the oldest synagogue in the Americas.
We met some awesome family members of an investigator in Casa Forte before I left. The dad said he knew he needed to live the law of chastity but he had proposed to his wife twice (with a ring and flowers) and she hadn’t accepted. She isn’t very religious but they all agreed to go to church this Sunday. I hope they went! When we left the dad was already sitting on the couch reading the Book of Mormon! I also got some great news from the sisters in Gravatá–one of Maria Eduarda’s* daughters got baptized! Maria Eduarda is the investigator I wrote about who didn’t believe in God. Apparently she is still praying very regularly and is grateful that we visited her and taught her to pray.
We had originally contacted this daughter and met Maria Eduarda because she was there when we tried to visit her daughter. We taught her daughter a few times and invited her to be baptized, but she was working every single weekend in a different city. It literally wasn’t possible for her to go to church, and some of the days we visited her family she was gone working. But she must not be working there anymore! Very gratifying, because until now I had only heard bad news about my former areas. Also, it sounds like Victor and David, two of Gravatá´s recent converts, are doing great.
The Transfer Saga: First, Sister Pereira (who I was traveling with) and I dragged our suitcases to the bus stop. It is close, but her suitcase was a bit broken so that was still a bit hard. Then we got on the bus going away from the metro instead of towards it, but we just got off at the next stop and got on the right bus. Stupid, but not too big of a deal. We got to the metro and our metro was just leaving. But the next one got there in 15ish minutes, so not a big deal. Everything was difficult because we had suitcases and I am a klutz, but everything worked out.
I got off the metro and onto my minibus to Candeias right on schedule. I asked the driver when I should get off and he told me he would tell me. I paid attention to the time to hopefully know about when we would get close to Candeias. After a few stops, a member of the church started talking to me. He said a few things about his mission, his ward, etc., and then asked where I was getting off. I told him, only to be informed that I had already passed my stop. Oops! I felt dumb but thought, “Wow, I am so grateful that God is sending angels to help me on transfer day. So glad I ran into that member” (cue the ominous wrong-decision music). He said the chapel was the next stop so I could get off there. I thought it was funny that our apartment wasn’t closer to the chapel, but maybe some areas are like that?
I got off at the chapel (I later discovered that at this point I was a 5-10 minute walk away from my apartment) and started walking in the direction he had indicated. When I asked for more directions, the directions-givers told me I was going the wrong direction. I turned around. I retraced my steps, asked for more directions, and they told me I needed to go the direction I had originally gone! These people seemed more trustworthy, and they agreed with the member, so I turned around again. Everyone told me it was way too far to walk with suitcases and that I should catch a bus for a few stops. People underestimate missionary walking ability, but I decided to take that advice so as not to be too late. I took a bus four stops (Four stops in the wrong direction!) and got off. Nobody knew where the road I was looking for was. Finally I found a very nice person who walked with me to the right road and helped me with one of the suitcases. He didn’t want a visit, but hey, I planted a seed and he said he would look up the Book of Mormon. It took a while, but I got there. Then I walked up the dirt road looking for the right number. I walked for a long time and got more and more perplexed because the numbers were out of order. Nobody knew where my apartment was. Finally someone who lived there told me I had already passed it (cue more ominous wrong-advice music).
I turned around, and retraced my steps for a while in the other direction without success. I began to see that there is a difference between “take the suitcases you can carry” [the advice they give prospective missionaries] and “take the suitcases you can drag up a soft dirt road on a very hot day.” I am very grateful that my suitcases are good and that it didn’t rain. The next day that same road was full of water — that would have been worse! But I continued on, only to run into the same advice-giver who told me he had gone to get his phone because he could see I was lost. He looked it up on Google maps (technology!) only to figure out that I had not passed it. In fact my apartment was farther than I had originally walked, so I had retraced my steps in vain again. He walked back up the street with me and helped me with a suitcase (blessings). We fiiinally got there, and he left. Too bad that he sent me the wrong direction, but good he was nice enough to help me afterwards.
I used the intercom to call my apartment but no one answered, so I walked up the street to borrow someone’s phone. After trying to use the ancient phone without success, I saw someone opening the apartment gate. I hurried back, and luckily she had already seen missionaries there and let me in. Apparently the intercom is broken and if you shout people hear you. Anyway, I got there more than an hour late but safe and sound. I later saw the chapel basically around the corner from my apartment — I had spent over an hour walking back (and retracing my steps only to turn around again) the four bus stops I retraced away from the chapel. But all’s well that ends well! I heartily recommend that someone make an Amazing Race challenge or a tv show that involves people who have to do missionary-style transfers with suitcases, wrong directions, and without smartphones. It would be hilarious!
I can see the beach from here! It is not as close as it was when I went to Pina, but I get to stay here! In other non-missionary-work related news, there is a Madoska ice cream store here (there was one in Gravatá too) which I plan to make use of later today!
I had been under the impression that I might be in an area with much more of a small-city vibe. Ha ha, Candeias is a neighborhood of Jaboatao dos Guararapes which is right next to Recife. Full of skyscrapers, several huge supermarkets. Not a small-town vibe! So many skyscrapers. It is much smaller than Casa Forte, which is a blessing; hopefully I will learn the area faster. When I manage to learn an area more-or-less I always think “Wow, why didn’t I just make an effort to memorize the roads faster?” But when I get to a new area I remember why–nothing is familiar! Harder to memorize. Also there are many fewer road signs here than in Casa Forte — too bad. But I have high hopes of memorizing here faster. We will see how it goes.
There is a part of town that looks a little like the less-skyscrapery Santa Isabel neighborhood in Casa Forte, but it is much smaller. We spent much more of our time in the skyscraper-y part of the city this week than I had spent in Casa Forte. A lot of very deserted roads. People come out at 5:00 to walk their dogs but before that it is pretty hard to do street contacts. We are often literally the only people I can see! It is strange. We will have to see what we do about that — the houses are a bit imposing to go door-knocking — Brazilians love gates in front of the house, and here the gates are huge walls with intercoms. It seemed like people were less interested in the street contacts here than in Casa Forte as well, but we still managed to get several new investigators. Sister Anaya said this week was better than last transfer for finding new people, so hopefully it continues that way! We also managed to find some people at home (always a struggle) and teach some first lessons as well. We marked two new people, Amanda* and Murilo, so that was great.
Davi (60ish years old) was marked for baptism last week, but when I went to meet him for the first time he opened the door very, very drunk. Then we went back to see him a different day and — still drunk. That was sad, because he had said he had given up alcohol, but it didn’t work out. He lives alone, but right next to a bar and has a lot of friends that call him to drink. But afterwards we found him sober. He said he wanted to apologize to us, so we explained that really he needed to repent and apologize to God. He understood, and said he was excited to get baptized. Ever since he has talked about how excited he is to be baptized. On Sunday he asked us why the bishop hadn’t announced his baptism — a good sign! No one else managed to go to church, but he did, which was great! The other people said they should be able to go next week. He told us that on Saturday he had been working with some friends who were drinking. They invited him many times, but he told them he didn’t want to drink because he wanted to get baptized! We fasted with him yesterday so that he could be strengthened against temptation and for everything to work out for his baptism. Hopefully everything goes well!
Interestingly, there are a lot of people from the religion Espiritismo here. I think service-oriented, tolerant, educated, better-off people are especially attracted to this religion. Because it is a big city there are a lot more well-off and highly educated people here. Espiritismo has some interesting points (some of them believe in reincarnation and things like spiritual hospitals where mediums talk to spirits to help fix your spiritual problems). One thing I admire is that many espíritas (people from this religion) are very, very charitable. They are very self-motivated to look for every service opportunity; something I would like to learn.
This reminds me of a quote from the Teachings of George Albert Smith book I read this week:
First of all, we are asking all you fine people over here to keep all the glorious truths that you have acquired in your churches, that you have absorbed from your scriptures, keep all that. . . keep all the love and the beauty that is in your heart from having lived in so beautiful and wonderful a land. … That is all a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then let us sit down and share with you some of the things that have not yet come into your lives that have enriched our lives and made us happy.
We are also teaching a couple that have been investigating for a while, Rodrigo and Larissa. Ronald has a lot of questions about many different things in the church. He is worried that there are a lot of religions and he might want to receive an answer so much that he might end up deceiving himself and getting a false emotional answer. He is afraid to pray because of this. We told him about the importance of prayer and acting with faith to receive guidance.
3 Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.
4 Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.
5 For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.
. . .
8 And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.
9 But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.
Sister Anaya read the Book of Mormon scripture about Laman and Lemuel — they complain that God hadn’t talked to them but they hadn’t asked!
Next week we are going to go to new leader training conference and the mission council. We are about two hours from the mission office (new leader training) and 3-ish from the mission home (mission council) so it will be an adventure.
It’s the beginning of São João, a huge festival in the Northeast, especially the not-Recife parts. It’s a festival of corn-based foods and remembering the roots of the Northeast. The Northeast is like the West of the US — cowboys, etc. So funnily enough, São João has some similarities with summer fests you see in the U.S. People dance square dances, eat corn, listen to music, and dress up. They dress up like super cartoonified versions of hicks: huge colored patches, straw hats, and beribboned frilly dresses. There are also lots of fireworks (you wouldn’t like it Mom: Fireworks before 6 in the morning and at any hour of the day!) Also, lots of campfires (see above picture).
One thing that happened this week was that we had zone conference in Caruaru, but the mission bus forgot us! Apparently the bus driver just forgot to stop. We ended up waiting at the bus stop for over two hours and then getting a normal bus to Caruaru. When we got there the mission secretary called an Uber to take us to the conference. We were quite late but it was still good.
We started teaching twins this week, Gustavo* and Diego. They don’t talk a lot, but said they were interested in learning about what we believe in our religion. When we taught them for the second time, they said they had prayed about whether Joseph Smith was a prophet, etc., but hadn’t received an answer. We started to teach the third lesson about faith, repentance, baptism, etc., and introduced the new baptismal calendar that our mission has. Now when we mark someone for baptism we give them a calendar with a picture of Christ being baptized and scriptures they can read and pray about. This helps them understand the seriousness of our invitation and also the importance of doing things — praying, reading, and going to church, in order to receive an answer from God and better follow Christ’s example. When we gave them a calendar, we asked them what they thought about it. Gustavo said he knew the church was true! He said he was feeling in that moment that it was the truth.
When we left, we started talking about his mother, who we had talked with a little bit. She hadn’t wanted to listen to the lesson. Gustavo and Diego are 18 and have been finished with school for a while, but live with their parents, and we were a little worried that they might feel upset about their decision to be baptized. Unfortunately, we were right. We called them on Sunday morning and they said they didn’t want any more lessons and when could they give books back? So that was sad. But I am hoping that maybe we can talk to them and something will change.
But . . . after weeks of only one investigator at church (Danilo), we had five this week! Maria Eduarda and her daughter Isadora, grandson Marcelo, and sister Aline went. They walked all the way from their house to the church — quite far! And after walking all the way up the hill back to their house they still want to go next week. Isadora had been very uninterested in church or reading, praying, etc. But after church she was telling us about how she liked it and wanted to go back. We asked and she said she had read the Book of Mormon on Saturday and felt really good. She had prayed as well and received an answer! She said she felt a feeling that was something she hadn’t felt before and didn’t know how to describe, but it was really good. She says God was telling her the Book of Mormon is true! She was smiling so much — it was a light in the countenance sort of moment. It reminded me of Mosiah 13:5 in the Book of Mormon:
Now it came to pass after Abinadi had spoken these words that the people of king Noah durst not lay their hands on him, for the Spirit of the Lord was upon him; and his face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses’ did while in the mount of Sinai, while speaking with the Lord.
Another Book of Mormon scripture: This is what we should all aim for!
I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?
When we read the scriptures and pray we receive the image of God engraven more and more deeply upon our countenances. Isabela (Camilla’s little sister) also went to church! She is super awesome, wants to be baptized, is reading the reading the Book of Mormon every day (she’s already read to page 80!) and hasn’t drunk coffee in over a month. Emily’s daughter, Amanda, also came to church!
This is cuzcuz with banana. There are bananas — banana cumprida — here that you cook and can eat with anything — beans, by themselves, cuzcuz, etc., But not raw. They are interesting — definitely a different flavor and texture.
*The names of all investigators have been changed to protect their privacy.
Last week we went to Cruzeiro to see the Cristo Vivo. You can see it from the city. Cool fact: there is a staircase that goes up to a big cross next to Christ. It is called the Way (Path) of Happiness. Cool that the the Way of Happiness leads to Christ, right? **Deeper meaning** Wickedness never was happiness!
I forgot to tell about a miracle we had last week. We had a district meeting and then the car that takes us home was super late. We needed to visit Victor to teach him some things he had to know before getting baptized. We had moved the appointment forward an hour but we ended up leaving lunch at the time we needed to be at his house . . . and he lives 40 minutes (walking distance) away! Just as we were talking about how late we were, we saw a member of the church in the distance. As we walked towards her her neighbor passed by and offered to pick her up. She invited us too! We arrived about eight minutes later and had enough time to teach the lessons we needed to.
One awesome experience we had is teaching our investigator “Maria Eduarda.” When we met her she started saying that she didn’t believe in God. We listened and tried to read some scriptures with her, but she was pretty upset and kept cutting us off. But it quickly became obvious that she did believe in God — she was just upset about the situation she was in. She didn’t understand why God lets so many people suffer so much. She felt he didn’t listen. But we listened, testified of our belief in God’s love for us, invited her to pray, and marked a different day to go back. When we went back, she hadn’t prayed. We taught her, invited her to pray again, and left. The next time we went she had prayed! She said she felt so much better, and she knew that our visit was an answer from God. She felt like he didn’t listen, but our presence was a sign that he cared about her. She is reading the Book of Mormon too! She did not go to church because of a headache but we have high hopes for next week. This is a huge example of someone changing their life through the gospel for me. She feels better and she is praying and reading the scriptures for the first time in a long time!
Acaraje: These brown things are fried bean balls. Like falafel but not quite as amazing.
This week Victor got baptized! He is a great example to me. When we taught him about the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity he thanked God for the commandments (“which I will definitely work to keep”) in the closing prayer! He is so happy about getting closer to the Savior, being baptized, and changing his life for the better! His baptismal interview finished about an hour or an hour and a half before he had to be at the church to get dressed for his baptism. We did not feel very comfortable with that time frame but everything turned out well. The only hitch was that we filled up the baptismal font the day before the baptism, but when we got there it was empty! I think the problem was that the pump is so slow and quiet that it got turned on and no one noticed. We put a bucket and a kitchen pot in the bathroom and the janitor’s closet to fill up and went back and forth with them to help the baptismal font fill up faster. Luckily it was just high enough by the time we got to the baptism part.
Another investigator, we’ll call him “João,” is being an excellent example of praying and reading the scriptures regularly. He hasn’t gotten an answer from God yet about the truthfulness of the First Vision and the Book of Mormon, but maybe this week! We are also having a lot of trouble with coffee right now — João and Matheus are both struggling with not drinking coffee. But I think a testimony of Joseph Smith will definitely help João with that.
Mother’s Day is popular in Brazil. Here there are lots of “cars of sound” that drive around with loudspeakers playing ads. This week there was a car of sound from the city congratulating all of the mothers. Store fronts have lots of “mother” signs and balloons and it looks like the cake, chocolate, and flower shops have good business here as well. It was good for building excitement for Sister Ribeiro and I about calling our families on Sunday! Unfortunately, Mother’s Day is bad for taking people to church. But we have high hopes for next week!
Hopefully Emily and her family can go to church next week. We talked with one of her daughters, I’ll call her “Amanda,” this week. She had prayed and asked if “that church is worth it” but said she hadn’t gotten an answer. We asked her how she felt when she prayed and she said “Well, I felt a really good, happy feeling and I got chills/goosebumps all over.” ! That reminded me of a scripture we often read with investigators:
And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn.
This is how the Nephites felt God’s voice when Christ came to visit the Americas. This is the spirit! We asked her if she thought that feeling was from God and what He was trying to tell her. She thought about it and said “He was telling me the church is worth it!” We told her how special it was that God had responded to her question and she couldn’t stop smiling.
One thing we have been thinking about recently is agency. We know some people who have difficult family situations — for example, living with spouses (but not legally married) who treat them quite badly. These people have lots of faith in God, and they use this faith to pray to God about the trials they’re passing through. But they are only praying that God will make their husbands stop drinking, or shape up, or choose to get married to them. And when their spouses don’t change they feel frustrated that God isn’t hearing them, or they say they trust in His timing but are just waiting and watching to see what he’ll do. The sad and very frustrating truth is that God can’t force people to change. And while he can and does help us, he might want us to act as well. It’s terrible, but the truth is that some of these people might need to choose to leave their spouses in order to follow God’s commandments (like the law of chastity) or to help their children and themselves (in cases of serious alcoholism.)
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
Sometimes this seems really really sad. But also it can be very happy — Victor is choosing liberty and eternal life! When we follow the commandments we’re that much closer to liberty and eternal life — and eternal joy, rest, peace, etc. And we can always hope and pray for people. Alma the younger was visited by an angel that appeared because of the prayers of faith from his father and friends. He chose to repent after remembering his father’s teachings about Christ.
This week was great! Remember, Isabela, the girl on the bicycle who wanted a Book of Mormon from from my previous post? Isabela’s family is awesome — we are teaching her family, her friend’s family, and her friends’ cousin and other friend, her other friend, her other friend and her aunt now. Isabela, as well as Guilherme*, and Ester (both friends of Isabela’s family) went to church. Isabela’s older sisters had to work because of the craziness that is Easter here in Gravatá but will go in two weeks with her mom. Their other friends Matheu (a young adult) and Maria Clara (a young woman) and Rafaela (little girl) went to church too! Their sister Marcela would have gone but she stepped on a nail the night before and had to go to the hospital. 😦 Crazy things happen Saturday night. Because of Isabela’s family and friends, the number of contacts we taught a first lesson to improved quite a lot this week. We often have trouble with not finding people at home but they have been great!
Isabela and her friend Guilherme are reading the Book of Mormon and said they prayed about it and felt really good. Isabela told us she wants to go to church next week! Her sister, Camilla, who had to work, prayed and has a testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. Her aunt told us she said she wants to be baptized! Marcela read the Book of Mormon, prayed, and was describing to us how she felt. She felt the spirit really strongly –“chills all over!” and really joyful. She said she she has a testimony now! Matheus forgot to read several times, but on Saturday he remembered! He told us on Sunday that he had had a similar experience. He said he started praying and had a feeling that God was there, and that they were literally having a conversation. He asked about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith and said he felt that God responded that they are true! He told us that he has visited several churches but never felt the spirit like that.
Their other sister, Maria Clara, didn’t recognize any response the first time she prayed but said she started to feel the spirit more as she continued reading and praying. That is certainly more typical of my experiences — many times we don´t get an answer the first time we pray but it will come with patience and continued effort.
Anyway, finding them was a miracle for sure. The day Isabela stopped us in the street we felt a bit frustrated because we had been searching for a contact’s address for a realllly long time and no one knew where it was. I am so glad we didn’t find it right away — we needed to meet Isabela!
We also had zone conference in Caruaru this week. It was good. We have guides for our lessons with different topics. We don´t have to stick to a specific script but often we present the topics in the same order — God loves us, so he sent us prophets to guide our families, the most important prophet was Christ, etc. etc. President Houseman talked about treating our lessons like wheels rather than linear lists of events. Present the topics in whatever order works best for the investigators! This was a lightbulb moment for me, but now nothing is linear anymore! It can be confusing.
Several members have made some for me at lunch and they all already know how to cook it. I have seen a few restaurants that have things like “Chicken with soy meat sauce.” People make soy meat sometimes just for diversity´s sake. I tried it out and it was super good! I also discovered soy milk recently (pro tip– ask people where things are instead of assuming you know where they keep the milk — I had forgotten that they sell milk in cartons rather than in the refrigerator section here)
Easter is very popular in Gravatá. At night there was bumper to bumper traffic on the roads. Gravatá is definitely a tourist-y city — this week the city was way way busier than usual. There were also signs for chocolate easter eggs on all of the street corners. People like to eat large (like ostrich-sized) eggs made of chocolate and boxes of assorted easter candies are also very popular. Sister Ribeiro wrote this on the wall in makeup — she is very creative.
I hope you all had a wonderful Easter. When someone gets an answer to their prayer about Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon it sometimes feels like a yes or no sort of thing — either they can say they believe or not. What is harder to measure, but also happens, is the repentance process. That’s the whole purpose of missionary work — we invite people to pray about the Book of Mormon and to follow its precepts — repent, be baptized (i.e., take the name of Christ upon you, promise to remember him and follow his commandments), get closer to Christ. We tell people that Christ is the center of our message — and it’s true. I have been reading this scripture with people all week:
But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.
He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death.
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.
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.
Lots of older people here have been telling us that they are afraid of Carnaval even though it is quite small in our city. One of our investigators, Mirelle, said: “I’m not leaving the house; everybody already dyed their hair.” I was confused — what does hair dye have to do with Carnaval? Then over the next two days all of a sudden everyone in the street had hair dyed bright pink, red, blue, yellow, green, etc. She was saying that she knew Carnaval had already started because her neighbors already dyed their hair! We’ve also seen a lot of people in costumes. There are little bands of boys and some adults walking around with costumes, sticks, and masks. There are also lots of people in rainbow tutus.
We haven´t seen much Carnaval but right before we got to this LAN house we saw some people dancing Frevo! That was exciting. We are hearing a lot of marching band sort of music. Our LAN house (similar to an internet cafe) was closed today but luckily there was another LAN house open. It´s not very good — only two headsets and the computer lost power due to lightning in the middle of my video chat.
We had to wait for computers to be open so we went to a store where I tried on this hat:
We have had a number of investigators hiding/don´t want to answer the door this week, so that was a little sad, but we did a ton of contacts and we have found a lot of great new people to teach. We have two great families marked for baptism but we have a stake conference coming up so we will see whether we can convince them to travel to Caruaru for that or if they will have to be baptized a little later.
We already had trouble finding people at home for the lessons we planned with them, but now with Carnaval it is getting worse. We mark a visit with someone one day and show up the next day only to see a locked-up house. We call them and they say they´re travelling for Carnaval!
We have been talking to a lot of investigators recently about how to recognize answers to prayer. We have shown a couple of them this video with Elder Bednar’s thoughts on receiving revelation. It reminds us that we can’t expect answers to be huge signs from God — often they are more subtle. On my mission I’ve found a few scriptures about answers to prayer that I really love. One is Alma 5:45-46. Here he is talking to the people and asks them how they think he received an testimony of the gospel:
45 And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?
46 Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.
It was so great to do a video chat with my parents today! I think the sisters and I might have found the only two don’t-need-to-be-installed-webcams in the city of Gravatá. There are three of us, so we will have to see if we can find another.
Our investigator “Danilson” went to Recife for several days, so we couldn’t see him. But then one day we were teaching one of our other investigators next to a small outdoor bar and Sister Centeio said “Sister, I think we’ve talked to that man before!” We went over and it turned out to be Danilson! So we taught him and a couple of other people the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the middle of the bar. He was slightly drunk but pretty lucid, so he understood what was going on. Later in the week one of the other men from the bar, Luis, stopped us in the street and said he wanted to hear more!
We have a couple of people that are close to baptism, so we are pretty excited about that. One of our investigators, Mirelle, is the grandmother of some recent converts that joined the church in a different city. She attended the church there and really wants to get baptized! There are a couple of things she has to resolve first, including a serious addiction to tobacco. She was using chewing tobacco so much that she couldn’t tell us exactly how many times a day she uses it. But she said she knows it is bad for her and wants to stop.
One thing I’ve been working on is saying little prayers during the day about things I’m thankful about and the needs of our investigators (and my family). Praying throughout the day helps me be empathetic, keep other people and their needs in mind, forget myself, and have more inspiration about how to help others. So I have been praying a lot that she can be free from this addiction.
The miracle of the week is that on Saturday she smoked once or twice and on Sunday she didn’t smoke at all! I hope she can stay strong during the rest of the week! She learns very slowly, but I can tell she loves God and wants to follow Christ and be baptized.
Some great scriptures about prayer are in Mosiah 26:39: (About what Alma and his fellow laborers taught): “And they did admonish their brethren; and they were also admonished, every one by the word of God, according to his sins, or to the sins which he had committed, being commanded of God to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things.”
And 2 Nephi 32:9: “But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.
There is also a super great article by Elder Juan Uceda about how to pray better in the February 2019 issue of the Liahona.
We are excited to have a conference with Elder Adukaitis this week in Recife. Next week will be Carnaval! Carnaval isn’t crazy here in Gravatá. so we will be working normal hours, but people are putting up little decorations — lots of masks, colored umbrellas (the kind you use for Frevo), and colored streamers.
I can’t believe it: I will celebrate my six-months-from-the-day-I-got-to-the-CTM anniversary on Friday!
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.