One year later. I've been back in the states for over a year now, and sometimes the mission seems like a dream. All of those people I met, loved, served, taught...they're still over there. I wish I had more contact, but I still maintain some level of communication. And I wanted to share a few things that have happened in Brazil since I left.
People - The week I ended my mission, Delmir was married in the temple. I found out as I was on my way to the airport, and it was an amazing finale to my experiences. He remains a faithful member in what is now the Pedro Leopoldo ward. All the hard work there paid off. Marley, an investigator I mentioned on several occasions who just needed to get married before baptism, was baptized several months ago. In what was one of the most heart-breaking moments since returning, I was informed that Emilio, Delmir's brother who we helped baptize, died in a motorcycle crash in March.
Our dear, slightly crazy friend Monica disappeared after being accused of killing her mother. I'm not sure what to believe there, but no one has heard from her in quite a while. I stay in contact with Daniel and Neia - they're doing well, and continue to thank me for my role in changing their lives.
The most information I get from Ipatinga comes from the family Elder Willden and I contacted, the sisters taught, and were baptized soon after. They were sealed in the temple, the mom (Damiana) is the relief society president, and the kids are some of the strongest youth in the stake.
Laudir and Eunapia were baptized by Elder Newman in Divinopolis soon after I left. They and Edna remain firm and remarkable.
Places - Pedro Leopoldo is now a ward, part of a newly split stake in 7 Lagoas. Divinópolis became a stake as well. Of the four areas I served in, three were branches when I arrived. Now all four are wards.
Me - So it turns out life goes on after the mission, a fact I didn't want to accept last October. Well, I'm still around. Active member of the church. Attending BYU, studying finance, preparing for a career in investment banking. And I still know it's all true. Still trying to be better. Still striving to be more like my Savior.
Monday, October 27, 2014
My dear brothers and sisters, my few followers who perhaps are still reading these letters home after two years in the field, my beloved family members, friends on missions...
This is it. This is the end.
It hurts. Thursday, at 5:00 PM, I catch the first plane, to arrive in rainy Seattle Washington at 10:30 AM the next day. I don't have much to write. What I have to say will be said in person here in a bit. But I wanted to share a few words to wrap up the blog and the last two years of my life.
1) Tears/Conversion- On Sunday we had an amazing sacrament meeting, a very spiritual experience. I was given the opportunity by the branch to sing a special musical number ("Joseph Smith's First Prayer" to the tune of "Come Thou Fount") with my companion , and to give a final talk. The tears I mention weren't mine (though on several occasions they were close by), but the tears of one of the investigators we brought. She saw her sister receive the Holy Ghost, her husband at her side in church for the first time, and was touched profoundly by the spirit. Tears ran down her face without stopping for half the meeting, and then a look of profound peace came upon her. It was an image that will stay with me long after the mission.
I spoke about conversion, which I defined as the search for perfection. Matthew 5:48 gives what I consider to be the hardest commandment: "Be ye therefore perfect." The Book of Mormon explains how this is possible in Moroni 10:32-33. This life is a struggle to, through the Atonement of Christ, be cleansed from sin, be better, and prepare to meet God and "be like him, for we shall see him as he is." These last two years have been full of difficulties, trials, joys, tears, and growth...but, most important of all, I feel that I can say that I am a better person, a more Christ-like person, now at the end of my mission than I was two years ago.
I'm so very far away from perfect. So far it hurts. But I want to be better. And I hope that counts for something.
2) Miracles- Another lesson from this week that applies, really, to my whole mission, were the miracles that happened. My last Saturday decided to be a repeat of so many Saturdays gone by--in the pouring rain, without an umbrella, knocking doors. I love it.
And I felt the Lord guiding us and, in a silent way, saying: "today, you're going to be My hands one last time." We made six visits within two hours, and every single one was to a suffering family. A family torn by fighting and misunderstanding, a mother who had lost her son two days before, a wife who had lost her husband the week before. A lonely old couple, injured by age. And finally, another elderly couple. For the last two years, the husband has been lying in bed after suffering a stroke. The wife takes care of him and doesn't leave his side. We entered and offered a prayer, quietly explained the Plan of Salvation, and I offered to give her husband a priesthood blessing. She agreed. Up to this point the man's eyes were closed tightly and his face was contorted as if with pain. My companion did the anointing, and the man cried out, repeatedly, as the hands were placed on his head. I sealed the anointing, and he soon calmed. As I offered the words of the blessing, I felt inspired to tell him that whatever pain he was feeling at that moment might be made light. As I ended the prayer, I looked down to see the man staring up at me with wide eyes that seemed, now, so peaceful and serene. He was relaxed. We left, and I felt truly that I was a representative of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These are the moments that stay with me. How I have loved being a missionary. I love this people. I love the work. And I love the Lord. I am so grateful for these last two years.
I love you all. Your prayers have always made the difference for me. Know that I have a testimony of this church, of this gospel, and of our Savior. Our Redeemer. My King. My best friend. Jesus Christ. Two years in his service is not enough. I think it will have to be a lifetime. Onward, ever onward.
Sweet is the work.
Monday, October 20, 2014
This week was full of surprises and blessings. My comp was transferred. My new companion isn't new at all--I spent four months with the guy in Ipatinga. Yes, in answer to his prayers, Elder Newman will have the privilege of metaphorically killing me.
1) Real Intent- This week we had a baptism! The spirit was strong as Edna showed her desire to follow Jesus Christ, being baptized on Saturday into his church. Her conversion process was very cool, she is someone I'll always remember and who holds a dear place in my heart. We found her knocking doors, and in the first lesson she expressed a very true desire to know the truth, but worried that our teaching her would only confuse her all the more.
But then she opened up and began to earnestly seek the truth, asking us honest questions, and pleading with us to pray and fast for her to know what to do. She was an active participant in another religion, but felt that something was missing. She went to General Conference and stayed for three sessions and to watch a baptism. She read everything we gave her and continued praying for an answer. I will certainly remember the day we arrived and she told us of the feelings she had after reading the Book of Mormon and praying about Joseph Smith. She told us she knew it was true. I don't know that I've taught or baptized someone on my mission who searched and acted so purely upon a desire to know and follow the truth and Christ, and not for anyone or anything else.
2) 15 Hours By Plane- Before the condemning pointed fingers and cries of "trunky!" come flying at me due to this story's title, let me explain. This week we taught an entertaining lesson to an older couple who, to begin with, were very skeptical of our presence. The husband is beginning to suffer from Alzheimer's, but it's still in the early stages and we had a good conversation. The "lesson" was frequently interrupted by the husband's questions: How far away is your house in the U.S, how did we learn Portuguese, how long are our working hours, do we believe in worshiping Mary, can we date, are there people at the church for his son to marry, etc. At the end, my companion had to use the bathroom and we excused ourselves down the hall. I was just around the corner, they were speaking loudly and not noticing that I could hear everything they said. The wife began to say how wonderful and polite we were, and aren't you glad we let them in when you didn't want to hear them in the first place?
The husband responded simply: "Did you hear what he said?"
"It's 15 hours away by plane!" And that is all he got out of our lesson. Thanks for reminding me, sir.
I've got to run, my time is coming to an end. In every sense of the phrase. I'm working hard, don't worry. I'm giving every last breath that I have to this cause. Keep praying for me. I love you all. I love the Lord.
Monday, October 13, 2014
It's still October, and the miracles are still happening at a rapid pace here in dear old Divinópolis. We're working like crazy to make this the best month of our missions. I imagine that one amazing month will set everyone up for a brilliant future on the mission. And in my case...one last good month wouldn't hurt.
1) Free Ice Cream- Blessing of being a missionary #324235: you get free ice cream. This happened on Thursday. We were returning from a different neighborhood, after a very hot day with much walking in the sun, when we passed an ice cream store we'd stopped by before. We waved hello to the owner, who asked, "you guys aren't going to buy anything?" I asked, jokingly, "How much is it today?" The owner smiled and responded, "it's on me. You deserve it, you're doing God's work." We took our pick of ice cream, and had a great talk with the couple who owns the place. We explained the doctrine of Christ, the church, life, a little bit of everything. They loved it and kept asking sincere questions for a good half hour. Free ice cream forever? I think so.
2) Throw it on the Ground- Another great experience: we're working with a young woman, part of a member family, who has serious smoking problems. We set some goals with her, and with a lot of help from the Book of Mormon (which she carries around everywhere), she reduced the number of cigarettes considerably. We found her one day (after working with her about a week) waiting at the bus stop with her member grandmother. She had a pack of cigarettes in hand. I told her that it was time to end this, give me the pack. She reluctantly agreed, keeping just one in hand. I took it, pulled out the first cigarette, and threw it on the ground. "Step on it," I said. She did so. One by one, we stamped on all of them.
As we waited, she lit the last one, claiming it to be her last cigarrete smoked. I pulled out the special temple edition of the Ensign and started showing her the pictures. She took it in, telling us it was her dream to go to the temple. After a little, she took the half-smoked cigarette from her mouth, and threw it on the ground. And that was the end of that.
3) "His Speech"- To wrap things up, I wanted to mention one last miracle. This week we found a lot of new investigators, and many of them were at church with us on Sunday. One particular couple stands out to me, Laudir and Eunápia. They're a little older, and both are rather inactive in their respective churches (Catholic and Baptist). Both are very welcoming--offer us food, juice, and their attention--but Laudir was a little more closed when it came to gospel discussion. He's very set in his traditions, and also not fond of leaving home to go the church.
On Sunday, they arrived in their old pick-up. Eunápia hurried up to me and said "your speech won over my husband!" She was excited and took a little to explain. She said that her husband had been touched at the fact that someone like me would leave my family, my country, and my culture to come to Brazil, knowing nothing of the language, to share what I believe. He said there must be something special about this church. So he came. And loved it.
I love being a missionary. I truly do. It has its challenges. Ups and downs, difficulties and setbacks. But there is nothing quite like it. You feel as though you are set apart from the world. Not from the people, but from the standards, the desires, the needs that the world offers and supports.
I love you all. Stay strong. The world may sometimes appear to be against us, but there are more that be with us then there be with them. Don't give up. Stay strong. Please. The Lord needs you to be an example.
Monday, October 6, 2014
It's October, and the month of miracles began on day 1 with an enormous downpour to end the 90-day drought that was happening here in Divinópolis. It's October, everyone!
1) Miracle of the Eight-Hour Weekend- One of the miracles that happened this week was with an investigator named Edna. We found Edna last week while knocking doors--taught her the message of the Restoration, as soon as we showed the Book of Mormon she eagerly asked how she could get herself one...but at the end of the visit she got hung up on the church visit and didn't accept. We left, downcast.
This week we decided to return. We brought members, and she opened up more, but was still skeptical about going to church. With the help of a great member couple, she hesitantly accepted. She watched the first session of General Conference, and loved it. I knew I could count on the apostles to make the difference. She asked us if she could return the next day--we said of course. She came back on Sunday and stayed at church for more then six hours straight--arrived early, watched both sessions, and stuck around during the break to watch a baptism and talk to members. Eight hours in the church this weekend. And she promised to come back next week.
2) Miracle of the Member-Investigator- While visiting Edna with that member couple I mentioned, they brought their 13-year-old daughter to help out. During the lesson, I had the strangest impression. This girl is not a member. Which didn't make sense, because both members are active and the daugher comes to church nearly every week. She went on a couple visits with us, talked about the Book of Mormon...but I was sure she wasn't a member.
Sure enough, when asked, she said she'd never been baptized. She was actually the daugher of the husband from a prior marriage, but loved the church and is friends with basically all the young women. On Sunday, between conference sessions, we taught the first lesson with all the young women present.
The girl (Lorena) said she'd already read and prayed about the Book of Mormon and knows that it's true. I invited her to be baptized. She accepted without a second thought. Miracles happen. It's October!
Well, sorry that this letter is a little short. My time seems to have slipped away from me. It's October. A month of miracles. General conference was amazing--I loved President Monson's talk about following Christ's example. All of us can be a little better. Repentance can sometimes seem like such an ominous word that we avoid it except on more serious occasions and transgressions. But repentance is as simple as the process of becoming more like Christ. And we all need to repent every day.
I love you all. Thank you for your support and prayers. They are felt.
Monday, September 29, 2014
Much to my surprise, terror, and disbelief, it's almost October, 2014.Three awful little words are being thrown at me constantly: "one month left." But this doesn't mean despair, or anything of that type. It means the work is moving forward like never before! This is the month. This is October! The last month! It's now, it's today, it's October. It's time to put the shoulder to the wheel, and not let up until the fat lady sings: "All is well, all is well."
1) A Promise- At the end of the week, we felt prompted to call the missionaries in the zone and make a promise. We said that Saturday was a day of miracles, and went on to encourage them to do a few things in order to receive a specific blessing.
Well, I called a companionship of sisters and managed to say: "Sisters! I promise that a miracle will happen today!" when our phone died before I could explain further. I turned on the phone, called again, and exactly the same thing happened. I gave up, and we went on with our day.
Several hours later, we ran across the sisters. They came up to us and asked me what the promise was going to be. I said I didn't even remember, why? They told me that soon after I'd made that call, the miracle had happened. An eternal investigator who has been attending church for the last several months was on a trip, and brought the Book of Mormon. He read, prayed, and received an answer. Soon after my phone call, he had called the sisters and said that he would be baptized. Miracles happen.
2) Açai- Our weekend was rather exhausting, due to a bad decision I made on Friday related to the delicious Brazilian frozen treat called "açai." Let me explain...
On Friday we caught the bus to another city, Pará de Minas, for a baptismal interview. It's a little over one hour by bus, and the plan was to go and return in the same afternoon. All went well in the interview, and afterwards we had a mini-division, since the bus didn't leave until 6:00. I was with a newly arrived American--we made a bunch of contacts, and as our meet-up time of 5:30 was arriving, we stopped quickly to buy açai, which the other elder had never tried. Walking back to the church building, I jokingly mentioned that Elder Souto would kill me for buying açai without him.
|Trying to catch a ride for the last bus.|
It's the final stretch, and time to give it all I have. I love being a missionary. I love this work, and in a way that is beyond my ability to explain, I love the Lord. He is my king, my example, and my best friend. I was touched this week by the words of a favorite hymn:
"Jesus sought me, when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood."
I wish I could be better. I wish I didn't mess up so much. But it comforts me beyond words that, despite my faults, Jesus interposed on my behalf. What a wonderful doctrine. What a marvelous truth.
Elder Burt with other elders in Nova Serrana
after baptismal interviews
I love you all. Keep being strong. Never give up hope.
Monday, September 22, 2014
This week saw a lot of entertaining experiences, several disappointments, and, as usual, a lot of work.
1) Today is the Day!- On Thursday, we woke up excited for what we were sure would be one of the best days ever. Why? I'm still not entirely sure. We had good lessons planned, expectations were high, we were feeling the Spirit, and I'd promised to buy milkshakes for the two of us after lunch.
Things didn't quite go as planned. The difficulties began in the morning when I went to pick up my shoes which I'd sent for repairs...and the cobbler had lost them. We went to lunch, and afterwards to the burger stand for milkshakes. There were no more milkshakes.
At this point my companion just about gave up on life, but I rallied us with the reminder that "Today is the day!" and off we went to teach our lessons. Most went well, some fell through, we visited an older woman whose son was ridiculously drunk and sat crying as we prayed and read in the scriptures, then a member came to pick us up and take us to a neighborhood in the middle of nowhere to teach a young woman who'd come to church on Sunday.
They weren't at home. As we were starting to return on the dirt roads, we heard the wonderful sounds of a flat tire. We pulled over to the side, in the dark on an abandoned road in the middle of nowhere. And the member realized his car jack was broken. Elder Souto and I set off in search of help, and after a number of misadventures (running at full speed to escape an angry dog, the member hitting his head on the car door and earning a bloody goose egg on his forehead) we found help and were soon on our way again.
Due to the difficulties, I promised milkshakes for everyone present (us and the two members) from Bob's, the local milkshake place. However, the hour was late and there would be hardly enough time to buy them. And, seeing another car pulled over by the side of the road needing help, we decided that service was more important then milkshakes. We stopped, asked what we could do, and one of the passengers asked if we could take him to his school, where he was scheduled to give a class at 9:00. We said of course, and asked where the school was. He gave the address and said "right next to Bob's. Do you know where that is?" We all began to laugh--we got there at 8:55, in time for his class and our milkshakes.
And so the addage was born: "Every good day ends with milkshakes."
2) Member Missionary- So after that rather long, very random story, I guess my time is short for other stuff. I wanted to mention quickly a very succesful activity that we planned and performed on Saturday. It was a missionary related activity with the branch in the park--we set up a number of banners explaining about the church, and set the members making contacts with people using an "opinion poll" about the Plan of Salvation. We were surprised when the members caught the missionary spirit and spent more than two hours talking to everyone in the park, showing the banners and actually getting adresses. We ended the day with over 60 member references. So that was cool.
3) Where's the Coffee?- I went on a division on Tuesday, which went well. I learned a lot with the other elder, the district leader in Itaúna. We taught one fun lesson about the Word of Wisdom to a simple man named Ezequiel. We invited him to stop drinking coffee, and he was very hesitant in commiting to stop, just saying "I can try!" Not satisfied, I stood up in the middle of the lesson. "Where's the coffee?" I asked. Confused, he said in the other room. I asked him to show me, and off we went. He showed me the thermos full of coffee, and I told him to throw it down the sink. Without another word, he made his way to the bathroom and proceeded to pour nearly two liters of coffee down the drain. In the words of my dear old companion, Elder Newman, "sometimes you have to help people use their agency the right way."
So that was my week. Well, that was a very small part of my week. I wish I could talk a bit more, but my time is up. I love you all. I love being a missionary--not because it's fun, but because there is not a more satisfying, rewarding work in existence. We're in the middle of a war saving souls. The best and the worst of Heavenly Father's children are with or against us, and I'm at it full time. It's exhausting. But I love it.
I love the Lord. I wish I could be better. I'm trying to be better every day. That much I can promise.