Approaching Christmas

Commercialism is international. Image, Needpix.com

How was Thanksgiving?  I might buy some sweet potatoes here for a belated Thanksgiving mashed sweet potatoes.  It’s funny– there isn’t any Thanksgiving here but there is Black Friday!  There were lots of signs with “Black Friday” and “Black Week” “Black Month,” etc., all in English.  Commercialism is international!  There are also tons of Christmas lights — that has been the case for many weeks already.  It is funny to be in a place with skyscrapers.  I don’t remember having been in a big city at Christmas time before.  People in skyscrapers decorate their own window.  So all of the windows have different lights!  I thought there were tons of Christmas lights, but this week on Sunday a member said there are very few lights nowadays which just goes to show the lack of belief in Christ.  I guess I would have liked to see Christmas in Recife several years ago!  I am always surprised at just how many people believe in Christ (and post signs and stickers proclaiming said belief on cars, houses, stores, etc.) so it was an interesting viewpoint to hear.

Documents are important for marriage in Brazil. Couples who live together need to be married before they can be baptized. Image, Pixabay.com

This week was great!  We had a new investigator at church this week — Bruna.*  After teaching her we found out that she had already been to church four times and has a family member who is a member.  She is ten and likes to be taught.  Unfortunately our other investigators mostly didn’t manage to go, but there were two long-time investigators who always go.  I am grateful that they persevere!  Hopefully one of them ( Juliana) went to the marriage office today to start the marriage process (or at least see what she needs to be able to start).  The other one ( Daniela)’s husband had a little change of heart.  When I got here she said he didn’t want any documents at all (makes it hard to get a job, let alone marry) and now he does want documents.  Good first step!

New sister missionaries (including Sister Nogueira in the white shirt and Sister Faulconer in the red striped dress) arrive in Recife, October 2018, Courtesy Lori Houseman

My new companion is Sister Nogueira from São Paulo, Brazil.  She is awesome.  We actually got to the mission together.  It’s funny, because when people ask us how much time we have left or when we got here we have the same answer! I’ve never had a companion who got to the mission at the same time before.  

Our investigator Jeniffer is progressing a lot.  She had said she was reading the scriptures but had difficulty in remembering a part that she had liked and said she was still awaiting an answer from God.  This week she opened a scripture she said she especially liked the part around 2 Nephi 2:25.  She had truly had a spiritual experience!  Later someone randomly mentioned to her baptisms for the dead [longer, in depth discussion of baptisms for the dead] I was initially a little sad that our lesson was interrupted with that because it didn’t seem like the right moment.  But it was cool to talk about baptisms for the dead after having refreshed my memory with the Come Follow Me reading of the week.  It was amazing because she was initially confused about the concept and had been convinced that people don’t live in families after this life.  But after talking about family history and baptisms for the dead, she started thinking about family members who had already passed that she thought ought to be baptized!  She seems a lot more confident about her baptismal date as well. We are excited!  She definitely felt the spirit of Elijah.

We had less time in the area this week because I was in Jardim Massangana until Wednesday but we managed to find a lot of new people to teach.  Hopefully we manage to find them at home this week and they turn out to be really great!  This week we will go to the Mission Leadership council.  We are also going to do a division with the sisters from the city of Escada.

We are having a fun time thinking about creative things to do at Christmas — we are going to try knocking on a few doors and caroling this week.  Caroling is not a tradition in Brazil but we are hoping that the general good-feeling and belief in Christ means people will appreciate it.  We are also planning an activity to show people the new Christmas video “The Christ Child” (It is super great!) and give out free cake (as a lure).  It sounds like the Christmas zone conferences will start pretty soon.  I can’t believe it is Christmas already! 

One Christmas tradition here is Panettone.  It is like a cross between bread and cake. You cut it like a cake and it is quite sweet but has a bready texture.  It has dried fruits or chocolate chips and is very tasty.  I have only eaten it twice but liked it both times.  

Panettone. Image, needpix.com

Davi [recently baptized] still needs prayers — we still haven’t managed to see him.

*All investigators’ names are changed for privacy.

The Spirit of Elijah

At Zone Conference, Courtesy Sister Lori Houseman

We had an interesting lesson this week: We met with a woman, call her “Mllena,” who has a testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, but she didn’t want to leave her current church, so she said she wouldn’t get baptized.  We invited her to pray about whether it was God’s will.  Then I asked her if Christ were there and he invited her to get baptized if she would (I wanted to help her develop real intent — to decide that if God answered her prayer she would follow his will and get baptized).  She said “No, I would say ‘Sorry God, I want to die in the Catholic church!'” That was a bit of a shock to me.  Later she said she would do whatever God told her to do — I think she responded that way in the moment because she was feeling a lot of fear about change.  We were unsure about how to help her after that, but we wanted to give it one more try.  She is one of the precious souls who really want to be righteous and do the right things, so we really wanted to help her. 

We decided to give a lesson about temples and how her family can be together forever (some of her family members are members already).  This is such a special message!  (I love the new church website that emphasizes how special this message is: temples.churchofjesuschrist.org.)  She was touched.  She has a son who died at 24-ish and definitely wants to live with him and her husband after this life.  She and her husband were married only for this life, but she said she wants to be with him forever! I asked her if she would like to be sealed in the temple in the future and she said yes! 

Sister Ribeiro asked her what she thought she needed to do to get ready for that and after a pause she said “Well, I need to get baptized.”  She wanted to think more before actually committing to baptism but I know the spirit touched her heart!  This is the spirit of Elijah and it is real. Russell M. Nelson, now our prophet, taught that the spirit of Elijah is “a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family.” Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, returned to earth, bringing keys of priesthood authority. Elder Nelson explained that “Elijah came . . . to enabl[e] families to be eternally linked beyond the bounds of mortality.” Today we are going to visit Mllena with the ward family history consultant to help her start her family history.  I am praying that she will have the courage to be baptized!  She needs the blessings waiting for her in the temple. 

Tiago’s baptism

Tiago* got baptized this week! We were worried that something would happen to call it off or postpone it one or two days before his baptism like the other weeks, but he stayed firm until the end!  David got confirmed with Tiago on Sunday, and Lucas, who got baptized two weeks before David, got a calling and received the Aaronic priesthood!

Ward mission leaders and Tiago

A couple people stopped us in the street this week, which is every missionary’s dream.  We met some church members who haven’t been to church in a while, but want to return.  One of them was drinking and smoking and said “I felt so happy in the church; I don’t know why I left.” I hope he can return.  We also talked to a man who isn’t a member but wants a visit!  That was very special. 

Another special moment happened on Sunday.  You know the little kid in The Incredibles who is riding a bike and staring at Mr. Incredible while he lifts up his car with super-strength?  A  little while ago we were doing a street contact when a little girl started driving around us in circles, staring at us just like the little kid in The Incredibles.  When we started talking to her she said she wanted the book we gave to our contact (the Book of Mormon).  Later some of her friends walked up with their dad, Renan, and started pleading for a Book of Mormon too!  It was very cute. 

The tricycle kid from The Incredibles

When we returned to that neighborhood, we could not find her house, but then we saw her in the street!  That was a miracle, because she lives in a tiny alleyway we never would have found. The little girl, “Isabela,” had already read the part we marked in the Book of Mormon (something many adults fail to do).  We said we would visit her at five on Thursday, and she said “Ok, I’ll wait in the street starting at four!  Do you promise to come?”  We promised, but when we showed up she was not there, so we planned to visit her some day this week.

On Sunday we decided to visit another investigator we hadn’t been able to visit with over conference weekend when we had planned.  Partway there I started feeling like going there was very stupid and a waste of time, because we didn’t have tons of information about exactly where he lived, his house number was twenty and we were seeing numbers in the 500s, and he lives far away so I figured we would just spend a lot of time wandering around but not doing anything.  But at that point we were almost to Isabela’s alley anyway so we decided to see if maybe he had said his street name wrong and actually lived on the same street.  We found his house, but he wasn’t at home, so we went to visit Isabela. She was there with her two sisters and three friends.  All of them were excited to hear our message!  Her sister “Camila” said she had been waiting to find the right church to get baptized.  They all accepted our invitation to read the Book of Mormon and pray about whether it is true and if Joseph Smith was a prophet. Then they accepted our invitation to get baptized if they receive an answer that it is!  They said they would go to an activity we have at church this week and visit church on Sunday!  We asked Camila to give the closing prayer and after some gentle prodding and encouragement she did, and started crying when she thanked God for our visit.  It was a very special, spiritual lesson.

Love you all! 

*Names are changed to ensure investigator and new members’ privacy is respected.