Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas from Elder Burt!

Merry Christmas and Feliz Natal Everyone!!!

So we just had this thing called "Natal" down here in Brazil. I don't know if you celebrate it back in the states, it seemed familiar but I guess it's a summer holiday during which you nearly die from heat exhaustion and sugar overdoses. At least that was my experience.

But actually, Christmas is pretty awesome here, certainly one that I will remember for the rest of my life. My first Christmas away from home, while on my mission, focused very much on the true reason behind the holiday. Definitely a great spirit of giving and Christ-like love throughout the day. Let me give you all a quick run through of what it was like:

Woke up super early (5:50) even though we were allowed to sleep in. Read scriptures, prayed, and worked on some little gifts for my district. I stole the idea from President Eyring's last conference talk. Wrote down a phrase and a scripture that I thought specifically applied to each person and then explained myself in a little note. Not a lot but I put quite a bit of thought into it to make sure it was personalized.

Had breakfast and then a devotional from Elder Costa, the area president of Brazil. He's an awesome man, and whenever he speaks I get a lot more excited to head into the mission field and teach.
Afterwards we had most of the day to relax, play games, and dress in our normal clothes. You'd be amazed at just how great it feels to dress like a regular person for just a little bit. I played a lot of ping-pong, got to chat back and forth with my family over e-mail, and eat morbid amounts of candy. They treat us really well here because they know it's hard being away from home, and I appreciated it.

At the end of the day we watched the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. I really enjoyed it, especially President Monson's message. Great way to end an awesome day, with a general feeling of love between everyone here.

So quickly, as my last few minutes tick down, I want to take this opportunity on this post-Christmas e-mail to bear my testimony of Christ. This is something that I know without any doubt and wish to shout with the voice of an angel. He is our Savior. He loves all of us, enough to suffer unimaginably for our pains, sins, and afflictions. He lives. He died, three days later he broke the bonds of death, and by so doing allowed us to do the same. I love him with all the depth and breadth of my soul, and that's the real reason why I'm down here in Brazil. He is the bedrock of my testimony, the foundation of who I am. I wish that I could talk to each of you individually to share this, but this is going to have to do. I truly do know that this is his work, and I'm doing my best to follow his will.

So that's all, do good work everyone and spread this good word! I'm doing my best over here.

Much Love,
Elder Alex Burt

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ho, Ho, Hot!

Oi, everybody!

I can hardly believe that another week has rolled around here at the MTC, time is beginning to really fly by. It's so crazy that next week is Christmas. It certainly doesn't feel like it here in Brazil, due to it being the middle of summer. Singing all of these Christmas songs, Christmas decorations, etc. is really odd when it's like 80 degrees all the time. But hey, 'tis still the season to be jolly. And celebrate the birth of our beloved Savior!

This past week is kind of underwhelming in comparison to my last post. We spent P-day this week shopping for Christmas rather than preaching the word as much as last week. Sadly, the ladies we talked to didn't show up to meet with us again. I'm not terribly surprised, but it was definitely a bummer. At least we got them the Book of Mormon, and hopefully they will read it.

The beginning of this week I spent in a kind of preparation for the possible lesson. I had an "English Fast," meaning I tried my hardest not to speak or read English. I did this Monday through Wednesday afternoon--I read only Portuguese the whole time, but had a bit more trouble with the speaking. I got through all of Monday, speaking English only at dinner and gym. Tuesday I made it until Lunch, and then backed off a little bit. I tried to speak as much as I could, but not exclusively. In any case I could tell it helped my Portuguese a lot and I felt more confident speaking. Though it will be wonderful to read some English again, haha.

On Sunday I had the chance to be a part of a quintet singing "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" for the CTM in celebration of Joseph Smith's upcoming birthday. It was really powerful, and I was grateful to get to share my testimony through song with the other missionaries. I also made a recording of it which I will send home when I get into the field.

I want to make a quick mention of some close friends and family who had birthdays these last few days. Happy birthday to Pops, you're the best--and I was happy to read that you got my letter directly on your birthday. The only present I could give you, hope it was all right. Happy birthday to Tasha Szilagyi, who is officially an old woman now that she's left her teens. And of course a very, very happy birthday to the best brother in the world. Andrew's 16 now, ladies, so jump on it. Hopefully I haven't forgotten anyone. If so, know that I still love you.

Other than all this I can't think of much excitement that's happened. Language continues to progress, though I'm getting a little antsy to go to Belo Horizonte. The Spirit is strong here, the church is true, I love the work, and I love all of you! And, of course, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Elder Alex Burt

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An Awesome P-Day

Elder Burt with his companion, Elder Cushing
Hello once again!

So all of the events of this last week were overshadowed by an awesome P-day today which I want to focus on. Let's just say I placed my first Book of Mormon, set up my first lesson appointment, and had a guy convinced I was fluent in Portuguese and I'm still here at the CTM!

So now you have to sit through a little bit of boring stuff to get to that juicy excitement. This week has been solid as far as learning goes, though perhaps not as obvious as the first few weeks. Now I'm working primarily on not sounding like a total imbecile when I speak. Not sure if that's going too well.  But I am able to comprehend much more, I read the Liahona in Portuguese and can understand just about all of it. Reading comprehension has always been my strong suit and hopefully it will help me teach better as well. It's been extremely warm here, which I don't like too much. Though I'm sure some of you back in rainy, cold Washington are pretty jealous.

All righty, on to the good stuff. Our district set a goal on Sunday to focus on being missionaries on P-day. We're here to teach the word, so why not start now? Initially we were going to hand out pass-along cards and have short conversations with people about the Church. But apparently the Church doesn't really use pass-along cards anymore so we had to find another way. I walked out of the CTM with a single Book of Mormon I had bought that morning at the distribution center. I was praying all week for Heavenly Father to bring me to someone who needed the gospel, and my prayer was especially fervent today. So at first my companion and I just wandered around feeling afraid to start talking. Eventually we came across the sisters from our district talking to a couple of guys in a shop. We jumped in, and immediately one of the sisters told them that I spoke Portuguese. She was trying to compliment me by saying that I was coming along well, but they took it to mean that I was fluent. And so began a ten minute discussion with one of them, trying to maintain the appearance of understanding when really I only understood like twenty percent of what he said. At one point he stopped to ask me to give my "testament," so I took a minute to bear my testimony about the gospel and the Book of Mormon. Then he was off again--I guess he took the missionary discussions at his house and studied the Book of Mormon. He kept on saying how we had a beautiful church and it was a beautiful book, but he seemed pretty set in his ways. The whole time he kept expecting me to translate what he was saying to the others, even though I understood about as much as they did. Pretty funny.

Then we went to a juice store, where we met a few older women sitting at a table. My companion started talking to them, so I jumped in, as did another companionship from our district. We had a good chat, I understood most of it unlike with the first guy, and at the end I asked if I could give them the Book of Mormon before we left so that they could learn more. They seemed excited, said they would read it, and asked if they could meet up with us next Wednesday at the same spot to talk about it. I was pretty psyched and we set off in a great mood, ready to keep preaching the word.

We met a few girls who were on their break from work, and we asked if we could practice our Portuguese with them. They seemed far more excited to talk to Americans than to hear about the church, but in any case we talked for about five minutes as we walked them back to their work. I'm pretty sure we may have accidentally left our boundaries to get there, but we quickly went back, I promise! Spent a little longer trying to find people to talk to but eventually came back to the CTM.

I felt like a real missionary, and it made me confident that once I get out in the field I should be able to pick up on the language and the routine. I love that people here are willing to just talk to you, even if we seem like stupid foreigners. More than anything I'm grateful that Heavenly Father could put these people in my way and the Spirit could guide us at least a little bit. The gospel is true, I'm trying my best to do the work of God, and I hope you're all doing well!

Elder Alex Burt

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Spirit of God is Over Brazil

Hello everyone, from the beautiful country of Brazil!

I don't have quite as much time today, but I'll try to write down as much as I possibly can in these short minutes. First off I want to talk about the spiritual experiences I had this week:

The primary one occurred over the weekend. My companion got really sick on Saturday-- a ton of coughing, a fever, a migraine and all that nasty stuff. It was getting worse throughout the day to the point where he had to just go to our room and sleep from five o'clock until the next day - which meant, of course, that I had to sit in there with him, studying away at my desk with just a lamp on.  I admit I actually enjoyed this, it was kind of relaxing -- but still not worth his sickness, of course!  Anyway, I got to give my first blessing to administer to the sick that afternoon. I blessed him to recover quickly, along with some other words of comfort, trying to follow the Spirit, I guess. In any case, the next morning when we woke up he was like 90% better! All he had left was a slight cough which disappeared over the course of the day. He was still pretty tired for the next day, but all in all it was a very faith-promoting experience for me. Priesthood power really works, guys!

Also, at one of the devotionals this week the speaker said something that stuck with me. He said that at this point in history "the Spirit of God is over Brazil," meaning that these are the years when missionary work is truly flourishing here. I guess everyone already knows this, but the way he phrased it seemed really awesome to me. This work, no matter where you are in the world, is so important! I know that's true.

I've also had some great experiences with music this last week. I truly believe that while words communicate meaning to the mind, music speaks to the soul. I have felt the Spirit strongly while listening to choirs and singing myself. I was chosen this last week to sing a solo for the MTC of "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief," just one of the verses. I feel like that's how I bear my testimony best, through singing.

Now I only have three minutes left and I haven't talked about the cultural stuff yet...but here goes. Last P-Day we went to this restaurant called a Rodizio. They bring around giant cuts of meat and let you pick what and how much you want. I don't think I've ever had so much meat in my life, and I had no idea what any of it was. So so so delicious.
The language is continuing to progress. I'd say the biggest change I've seen in myself this last week is increased confidence. I know how to express what I'm feeling without sounding silly with constant "ums" and "uhs." I can't say a lot, but I can say it marginally well. And I am learning how to say a lot more--vocab continues to zoom along. My weakest point is definitely listening comprehension. I can understand my teachers perfectly, but when I get out in the streets I still feel pretty lost. But I'll get there!

So I've got to go. Thanks to all of you who are supporting me back home. I love you, and I know I'm in the right place.  Goodbye!


Elder Alex Burt