Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Week

Elder Burt with President and Sister Fortunato, and Elder Dunford
Is it New Year's already? There's not much left to 2013, a year that has been one of the most unique and miraculous of my life. Good stuff.

1) A Very Missionary Christmas- So I don't know if everyone is aware, but Christmas was this week. I'm still not sure what happened. I had so many Christmas dinners and lunches I don't know what to do with myself.

The Christmas week began on Sunday with a presentation of the musical we performed for the mission. But this time we performed it for all of the local stakes and visitors, which ended up being a packed house of more than one thousand attendees. There's nothing quite like performing for an audience like that, and the Spirit was overpowering. Innumerable hosts of teary-eyed visitors. It was like a missionary dream come true. I was so grateful to be a part of it.

Before I knew it Christmas Eve had arrived. The tradition here in Brazil is to have Christmas supper (supper? Not sure if that's the right word) at midnight with the whole family. That's when they open gifts and everything else. A member gave us dinner to eat at home, so Elder Dunford and I had Christmas dinner in our apartment at 9:30, talking about Christmas memories and traditions.

The next day was Christmas! I had an enormous, magnificent lunch with our mission president and his extended family. I was ready to explode when I had to run to the office to Skype my beloved family (who I may have accidentally left waiting an extra 15 minutes. They were hysterical when I finally called.) I was extremely happy to get to see and talk to them for the short time that I did. The best family a missionary could ask for.

And that was my Christmas! Now you know.

2) Comfort Those that Stand in Need of Comfort- Okay, not quite. A missionary Christmas isn't quite finished without a little missionary work. We headed out, as usual, at 6:00 to teach. Clearly, not a lot of new investigators would let us in on Christmas, so we went in search of people we already knew who would need or appreciate a Christmas visit. This included Irá, our friend who is under house arrest. He had spent Christmas alone until we got there, as his mother had left the day before. We read a couple scriptures and, hopefully, brightened his day a bit. The next visit was to a less active who hasn't left her house in months because she's afraid to leave her dog alone. This visit was a little sad, as we could see her deteriorating mental health due to her extended solitude. I think we're some of the only people she ever sees. We also shared a Christmas scripture with her and invited her to return to church. She needs it.

So all in all a wonderful Christmas. Focused, primarily, on our Savior and doing what He would do if He were here. Not quite as well, I imagine, but we do our best.

3) Payoff- I mentioned last week that Elder Dunford and I were working like crazy with what little we had--with all of our investigators on holiday and no one to visit. Well, as is prone to happen, the Lord blessed us more than we could have expected. We were going into church on Sunday with nothing. One week after I had sworn that the secretaries would never again deal with no investigators at church, we had nothing. Not a single possible person that we knew of. I was feeling a little downcast Saturday night, but did not completely give up hope.

And on Sunday (as always) a miracle happened. We got to church and found that a member had brought a family (FAMILY) to church with him. What was more, it happened to also be a contact that we had made in the street two months ago. And they live in an apartment next to the chapel. And they enjoyed the church. And did I mention that it was a member that referred them to us? And that they're a family of five?

We visited them once during the week (it wasn't easy due to the holidays), but they received us very well and understood the lesson. The son seems particularly excited, and we'll continue working with them a lot to help them progress.
I love the Lord. I did nothing to find this family, and it just goes to show me that it's not me that has the power to do this work. The Lord does everything. I just have to try my hardest to follow Him and prove my desire. I can't even begin to express how grateful I am. Words fail me.

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas. I hope everyone took a little time to do service and help out someone else. It's the best thing to do this time of year. And if you haven't yet...it's certainly not too late.

I love you all. You're amazing. Work hard, share the gospel, don't be afraid.

Much Love,
Elder Burt

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Hard to believe that it's already arrived. I think this was the fastest December I can remember. It's wonderful to feel the Christmas spirit, sing carols, and do the Lord's work. I love this time of year, no matter the place or the temperature!

1) Hit the Streets- This week saw a lot of contacting. Elder Dunford and I didn't have a lot lessons marked due to investigators going on Christmas vacations, but we didn't let that prevent us from working hard and trying to find new people. We are talking to everyone we see, inviting them to hear about Christ. Everyone. I'm a missionary, that's what I'm called to do, so I'm going to talk to everyone I see in the streets, houses, wherever. Elder Dunford and I have a contest going for what we call the "best and worst contacts of the day." The worst rejections and the best acceptances. It makes things a bit more entertaining, and we always feel good coming away from contacts fist-bumping and claiming best contact. There are some great, prepared people out there.

The mission has begun to try to focus even more on working with families. Lots of missionaries tend to just baptize one family member, the children, etc. So anytime we see a couple or family on the street we run (figuratively, sometimes literally) after them. This message is for families! We also sang carols as a zone in the park, and got a lot of attention that way. I love singing, and it's a good way to help people feel the Spirit.

2) Conference- This week we also had the mission Christmas conference, which was an amazing experience. It started with the musical program, which I participated in. It has been a long time since I felt the Spirit touch me as strongly as it did during the songs. For me the best part was getting to testify by singing "This is the Christ" and seeing it touch the listeners, including a few tears running down the face of our mission president. What a spiritual giant he is.

It was my turn to cry a bit when we sang the classic EFY medley as an entire mission. I echo the words of the song: "I have been born as Nephi of old, to goodly parents who love the Lord...we are as the army of Helaman, I have been taught in my youth. And I will be the Lord's missionary to teach the world his truth." I am so grateful for my loving parents who did teach me the truth and raised me in a gospel-centered home. That has been such a blessing in my life, and helped me become the missionary I am today. (I hope Mom is crying right now :)

Afterwards I got to talk to all of my good friends that I have made while on the mission. That's a cool part about being financial secretary: I know all the missionaries and can call a majority of them my friends. Lots of picture taking, lots of food and chocolate, and lots of singing of Christmas carols as an entire mission, ending (of course) with a rousing rendition of "Called to Serve" that nearly brought the chapel down around us. Missionaries have got power!

3) Remembering- And in the midst of all this, there has been a lot of remembering. Of course, remembering of Christmases past (cabins with friends and family, sledding, snow-shoeing, caroling, Christmas mornings and dinners), but that hasn't been what most dominates my thoughts or memories. Of course I miss it, but I'm making Christmas memories now that I will also never forget.  What I actually ended up remembering most was my motives and feelings at the beginning of the mission. I know I already had a "looking back" segment a couple weeks ago, but this was a little different for me. I remembered the excitement I had, the desire to serve, to be the best missionary ever. I felt, during the conference, a spirit that I remember telling myself over a year ago: "Don't ever forget this feeling. Don't get caught up in the mechanics, the numbers of missionary work. You are going to help others experience this for themselves. How? I don't know yet. But don't you forget it." I hope that I have remembered it. Because now I've learned the "how". But it's worth nothing without the "why." I'm now reinvigorated to bring these feeling of joy, peace, and certainty to the hearts of the people I teach.

So here we go. A very merry Christmas to all of you. I hope it is wonderful. I hope you make new memories. But I also hope you never forget the true meaning of Christmas. Which is Christ. Our Savior. My Redeemer. How I love him. What a wonderful time of year. What a wonderful life.

Much Love,
Elder Burt

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dedicated, Prepared, and Touched

My oh my, how the weeks fly by,
Check out those sweet rhyming skills.

This week has been excellent. It's awesome being companions with Elder Dunford. We're working hard, talking to people, finding people, teaching people, and moving the work along here in Belo Horizonte.

1) Dedicated- So the name of the game has been dedication in order to find more success. As a mission, each missionary needs to make at least ten contacts per day with new people, inviting them to hear our message. As secretaries, with a third of the normal amount of proselyting time, this has always been a struggle. But it's also very doable if you just step out of the comfort zone and talk with literally everyone. So that's what we've been doing. And sure, there's a large amount of people that turn you down. But you also find the people who are being prepared by our Heavenly Father to receive our visit. And at the very least we show Him that we're willing to do our part. And as we do that, I've come to see that He makes up the difference.

2) Prepared- This was especially evident in a visit we made on Thursday. We received a reference from another missionary contact for a person named Mariana who lives in our area. We went to visit her in the pouring rain on Thursday night. I, as usual, had forgotten my umbrella. We were standing outside her apartment and no one was answering. It was like 8:00 and we were wondering what else to do, when a guy came outside. We asked if he knew Mariana, and he said he'd go get her. A few seconds later, the door was buzzed open. We stood there, a little confused, when a younger woman appeared at the door and ushered us in. She seemed to have been expecting us, which left us even more confused. It was about then she realized we weren't there to check out the apartment for rent, but to teach her about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. She was very hospitable and talked about her cousin who is going on a mission in January. She seemed interested in the church, has never been before, and is passing through a rough spot in her life. We had to run as it was already late, but returned on Friday.

We sat on the floor as she doesn't have a couch, and taught her the first lesson and paid attention to her problems and desires. It's so important to listen to your investigators and teach directly to them. She explained how she felt lost, that her life was extremely difficult, that she'd already yelled, cried, but nothing seemed to get better. She was beginning to be convinced that God was chastening her. I explained to her that God doesn't necessarily put these difficulties on us, but he always provides us with a cure. In like manner, when the world was lost, he provided the "cure" by means of Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel. And I explained that this was also the "cure" for her problems and difficulties. The gospel applies so specifically to her. I could see that God has been preparing her, helping her be humble enough to accept His help. What a marvelous thing.

3) Touched- When we reached the end of the lesson we invited her to be baptized on the 22nd. She asked if it couldn't be this Sunday. Kind of stunned, we said we would have to teach some other things first but would see if the date couldn't be pushed back a bit.
She explained that while we spoke she felt a kind of warmth that pushed back the despair she was feeling. We explained that it was the Spirit confirming to her the truth of these things--and that she could feel this constantly by reading the Book of Mormon and coming to church.

And so life is good. Actually, I'd go so far as to say it's great. The Lord is helping us and I am so happy to be a missionary. The field is white, already to harvest. We just have to get down to work. I'd encourage all of you to do your best, and try to invite someone to church, to hear the truth, this Christmas season. What a wonderful gift you could give to Christ.

For those of you who aren't members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (I imagine there are a few readers in this category): talk to the missionaries. Or if that seems like a lot, shoot me an e-mail or letter. Feel free to learn a little more. Because it will change your life. I know that, because I've seen it change people here in Brazil. And because it has already changed mine.

I love you all. Work hard. Smile a little more. Remember it's true.

Much Love,
Elder Burt

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Conference / Heaven-Sent / English

Merry December, everyone!

It's been a crazy week, with tons to do and lots happening. There was a transfer this week, and my new companion is Elder Dunford, an old friend from the CTM. I'm excited and ready to work like crazy to reach our goals this month. December has to be the best month to be a missionary. Christmas is awesome.

1) Conference- Let's start at the beginning, with stake conference on Sunday. As a missionary thinking a lot about the kinds of spiritual and uplifting experiences that people need to have at church, I was extremely excited for the conference with an Area Seventy participating, as I knew it would be a good Sunday for visitors to feel the Spirit and realize the strength of the Church. I was walking to church in the morning with a number of people in mind, and was firmly confident that today would go well. I had absolute certainty that a miracle would happen. I didn't know what. But I was ready for it.

Fast forward. We were in charge of greeting people at the doors, and we had a kind of weird experience out front (this is not the miracle. I'll get to that.) This weird homeless guy with voodoo bracelets was yelling at us and the members about Satan, and tied some kind of red voodoo band to the fence around the church. Then he picked up a good-sized rock and hurled it at the church building, and then punched a couple cars. Fortunately, he soon left and we were left in peace, and kind of spooked to have seen someone who seemed pretty possessed.

Fast forward again! The members brought a bunch of investigators, we had a couple less actives show up, but our own investigators didn't come and we didn't get any firm responses from the visitors. We left, uplifted by the conference but still waiting on that miracle. That night was Ward Council, and it was there that the members passed us a reference of two people who had visited the church and had some kind of fight, but at the end of it one desperately asked to be baptized, if we helped cast a demon out of her daughter. So that was a weird set up, but I accepted all the same.

2) Heaven-Sent- So on Monday off we went to visit them with the Relief Society President. We were well-received, and taught an extremely powerful first lesson. The Spirit testified powerfully that there was one true church, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon was the key to all of this. And so they accepted our baptismal invite for the following Sunday. Boom. Miracle. And they both are extremely good people. I haven't really seen anything crazy, they just have some tensions in the relationship. Guess what the cure is? The gospel!

We visited them on Tuesday, taught the Word of Wisdom, and again on Friday to teach the Plan of Salvation. We arrived on Friday and they asked that the baptism be moved forward, as they didn't feel prepared. We talked to them about it, but as we haven't had time to teach all the commandments yet, we moved the date forward a bit. But I'm sure that it will happen this next week. They're very accepting and willing to follow, and have already expressed the desire to continue attending the church. Awesome sauce.

3) English- An entertaining thing about this week is the sheer amount of English that seems to have been spoken. We taught English class, taught a lesson on Wednesday in English, the new investigators I mentioned speak English well...and I realized something funny. I feel more comfortable talking in Portuguese to these people than I do in English. It just seems more natural. So that's kind of cool. The language is going well.

It's been a great week. I'm so excited for the Christmas season and the chance for everyone to remember Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. It's a little warm (96°) in Brazil, which as I mentioned last year makes it feel a little less like a normal Christmas, but for me, being a missionary, it seems even more special as I have the chance to focus completely on the Savior. And on helping others to recognize Him. There isn't a better time or place to be a missionary!

Work hard, do good, and take a little time to remember the true purpose behind the Christmas season.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! How grateful I am to be here in Brazil serving the Lord. I was blessed to have a number of spiritual experiences this week, which I want to share with you.

1) As A Little Child - This Sunday marked a very special experience for me here on the mission. During sacrament the ward had its yearly primary program, which is always a wonderfully spiritual experience. After church we had lunch with one of the members who has a young eight-year-old daughter. The daughter has been pretty sick recently and the mother asked that we give a blessing to her. I had the opportunity to perform the blessing.

As I began to speak, I was nearly overwhelmed by the amount of love that I knew the Lord had for this innocent child. I was barely holding back tears as I told her how precious she was in the eyes of the Lord, how much He loves her, and told her to be healed. (I must say, it was an even more special experience for me because the girl reminds me a lot of my little sister, Gracie.) The presence of the Spirit was so strong at that moment, one of the strongest impressions I have ever felt. I know that the Lord loves each of us as His children and has a special love reserved for the little ones. I think of 3 Nephi 17:20-23, one of the most powerful scriptures in the Book of Mormon.

2) An Englishman- All right, now for an entertaining story that happened Saturday night. We were returning from a successful visit with a new family we found, when we made a quick contact with a somewhat intoxicated man. He sat down and began to talk to us. Laughing, we told him that we were from the U.S, Bolivia, and England. Looking at me, he told me he knew I was English and called me Harry Potter (welcome to my life). After a very entertaining conversation, we began to leave. He wanted to hug us goodbye, and went with arms extended to Elder Cushing, saying "give me a kiss!" When Elder Cushing forcibly declined, the man asked Elder Echeverria and I to leave so he could have a private moment alone with a bewildered Elder Cushing. We all hastily escaped, shaking our heads at the effects of alcohol on people and making fun of Elder Cushing for drawing the wrong kind of attention.

3) A Prayer of Faith- Last Friday, a little over a week ago, I had a powerful personal spiritual experience. Before going to bed, I retired to a separate room from my companions and prayed for an extended period of time before going to sleep. During the prayer I truly felt as though I was conversing with the Lord. I asked forgiveness for my faults, for not being a better missionary, and committed myself to do all in my power to serve Him. I thought of the expectations of my family, of my mission president and of those around me. In return, I felt the Spirit testify that the Lord has even higher expectations of me, that he knows my full potential better than any other, and that if I do my part He would help with the rest. Grateful for the confirmation, I continued praying about a number of other topics, before going to bed, spiritually refreshed.

Over the course of the next two days, as I tried to fulfill my side of the promise, we managed to find two new golden families (complete families!), I had the spiritual experience mentioned above, and everything seemed to work out. I can see that as we put our trust in the Lord and do absolutely everything we can, He will provide for us. I am everlastingly grateful for His hand in my life, to be here in Brazil, "that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy." (Alma 29:9)

I am grateful to be a missionary. I am grateful for a loving family, for their support, and for all of those praying for me. Your prayers mean a lot. I am grateful for the gospel, for the church, for the Book of Mormon, for Joseph Smith, and for our caring prophet, Thomas S. Monson.

More than anything else, I am grateful for my Lord, Jesus Christ. For His Atonement. For the love He has shown for me. For my Heavenly Father. How I love them.

That's what I'm grateful for. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Good Conversation / Serra Adventures / Visitors

What it is, my favorite people?!

It's Saturday, November 23rd. 1:30 PM. Recently returned from an epic ping pong tournament in which, you guessed it, I did not win, I have decided to bless you all with another update from my life as an LDS Brazilian missionary.

1) Good Conversation- This week we visited a less active that the Bishop asked us to help out. He is one of the most intelligent people I have taught/conversed with here in Brazil, especially due to his quick wit and scathing sarcasm. It's the kind of conversation in English that I loved, the quick back and forth, seemingly light banter about deep subjects, etc. I admit, it was a struggle to keep up in Portuguese: he jumped from liberalism and politics in the US to Brazil to economics to soccer to geography...my vocabulary was expanding just talking to him. So I admit the "back" was a bit heftier than the "forth."

But in any case, I did notice something interesting from the dialogue. While it is a very satisfying thing to be intelligent in a number of subjects, there is still a kind of emptiness to it when you don't see any kind of purpose behind the subjects. The gospel, an understanding of God, gives substance to what would otherwise be a flimsy, purposeless life.

2) Serra Adventures- This week we began our first adventures into a neighborhood of Belo Horizonte called "The Serra." I don't know how many of you are aware of the term "favela," but that about sums up the place. Imagine this: you're walking down a street, which promptly ends and you just see a stairway leading into a narrow alleyway. You enter the alley, which continues winding along and doesn't end, just splits off into other alleyways just barely wide enough for motorcycles to pass through, which they frequently do forcing you to back up into any nearby doorway. The place is essentially a maze of these narrow passages, leading you up and around and through hundreds of small, humble houses built into the side of the hill/on top of each other/in any place possible.

It's pretty exciting. And also an opportunity for a ton of lessons, as nearly everyone is willing to let you in. A very humble and accepting part of our area.

3) Visitors- We had a number of visiting missionaries pass through the office this week. The most notable (or at least story-worthy) came from the small city of Pirapora, which just recently opened as an area. They told the story of how over the course of six weeks the group has gone from six people (including the 4 missionaries) to fifty members, with baptisms happening nearly daily. They started off baptizing in the river, though have recently moved to a baptismal font. It is exciting to see the work of the Lord growing here in the mission. These kinds of things really happen. The world is ready to hear our message. It has me even more excited to go out and teach. The field is white, all ready to harvest.

It's been a good week. Hard work pays off. I love being a missionary. Happy birthday to my beloved grandmother, MorMor. I love you, thank you for all the things you've taught me throughout my life!

Fight the good fight, endure to the end, and never give up.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Sunday, November 17, 2013

New and Old / Sketch Bus / Worth

Hey Folks,

Another transfer week come and gone. I'm still alive. Everyone is where they're supposed to be. The money is in the bank. Life is as it should be. Not that I'd accept it any other way.

1) New and Old- I figured that in this post I'd mention a fun part of transfers, which is having the unique opportunity to see missionaries arriving completely fresh on the mission, along with watching the old ones go home, one right after the other. Of course both groups are extremely excited and it's hard to determine which is more so. Both are clearly leaving something behind that means a lot to them--but to me the leaving missionaries seem a little more sad. They know they can't really come back. The contrast is kind of interesting. The greenies this time around are ready to baptize the world--the new sisters made a contact with the hotel clerk and figured she was as good as baptized. (She lives in our area and we'll make sure they're right). Enthusiasm like that helps the mission out a lot. On the other side, two years (or 18 months) on the mission and they will have experienced a ton. I get to see the different types of missions people led, whether or not they feel fulfilled at the end of it or if they're just eager to get home and leave it behind.

Anyway, cool side benefit of being in the office. The trick is to pay more attention to the new guys talking about the mission and not to the old ones going on about what they'll do when they get home.

2) Sketch Bus- Fun, little story of the week. Yesterday was a relatively chill day in the office after getting everything wrapped up post-transfer. So we took the opportunity Friday afternoon to head to another city in order to fix up a house that was left temporarily empty due to the transfer. The bus ride usually takes about an hour and a half. As we waited at the bus stop, an old, beat-up 10-seater van pulls up and a person hops out, shouting out "Veneza", our destination. So in we get, paying the R$4 bus fare to what can't possibly be a legal operation. But due to his driving antics, we got there in less than an hour. Worth it? Yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

3) Worth- While teaching relatively few lessons this week due to the transfer, we did manage to get out and visit some good people. One such lesson was to the non-member family of a less active that we're helping back to church. The same less active whose son is under house arrest. She came to church last week, so things are going well. This time we also taught her daughter and grand-daughter, who live in the area.

They were extremely happy to see us in and have us bring the Spirit into their home. It was clear to see that our presence really has meant a lot to them, and they recognize that we are helping their extremely troubled family. We taught about baptism (of course), specifically directed to the daughter (who went to church once a couple months ago with us), as well as about the importance of church. The daughter seems extremely interested in baptism--stating that it is necessary and would be a wonderful blessing in the home. She also, however, stated that it would be difficult and she'd have to give up a number of worldly things. As we were finishing up, I felt prompted to press her a little on what these "worldly things" were, along with promising greater blessings in return. That this could be a hard choice. But it is worth it. She emphasized that she couldn't be baptized while living in sin, and clearly there is something in her life that she believes to be holding her back. Elder Echeverria told her powerfully that her time had come to turn her life around and come to church. We left with a prayer, many words of gratitude from the less active, and suppressed tears in the eyes of the daughter.

So that was my week! Awesome as always. I have been thinking a little this week about a particular question that has been circling around my head: "Who do I want to be?" I feel like I've always had a number of traits, personalities, and examples that have drawn my eye, despite their clear differences. I know who I ought to be. What example I need to strive to emulate. I have always wanted to be the best I possibly can. The difficult part is setting aside the world's "perfect person" and trying to be God's "perfect person." Our goal, my goal, should be to become more like Christ. It's a long road. But as we take small steps, we will improve. And we will have a stronger relationship with God. "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

I love you all. And I promise you, any sacrifice we make in His service is worth it. Because it is true. I know it.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Flying By

Elder Burt and companions
Hello, good morning, howdy all of my favorite people! Prepare yourselves for another spectacular and breath-taking letter from everyone's favorite Brazilian missionary. No, I'm not full of myself. It's just a lesson I've learned here on the mission: to be more honest.

 1) What'd I say?- Remember when I mentioned last letter that this week would be full of miracles and awesome stories? Yeah. Called it.

We started off with a solid weekly planning on Sunday, in preparation for what I was sure would be an awesome week. We had good plans for every day, and were ready to work hard to ensure they came through. For now I just want to talk about Wednesday, which was probably the best day of the week. We scheduled a lesson with the investigator we've been teaching for a while who technically lives in another city. It was starting to rain and, as she had to walk, we were a little worried she wouldn't make it. Wrong! She showed up at the church, and had brought a friend along to start hearing the lessons as well! We taught the message of the Restoration, and the Spirit was strong during the lesson. I bore my testimony of Joseph Smith being a prophet and restoring Christ's church, and taught about the Book of Mormon. I've been working really hard on asking more questions--of understanding, application, and of deeper analysis, which I did a little more in this lesson. And it paid off for me as I saw that they understood the importance of the Book of Mormon.
"If The Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was...what?"
Quick response from Jenny, "A prophet."
"And if Joseph Smith was a prophet, the church he restored is whose church?"
Even quicker. "Jesus Christ's." 

Simple as that. So now they have to pray to know the book is true. Our new investigator (the friend) accepted baptism as soon as she receives an answer. Jenny is so ready for baptism--we just need to resolve this technical problem of her moving around every weekend. She knows it's true and wants to be baptized.

But the night wasn't even over. We went to what we thought would be our last English class, as it wasn't getting us any references or leading to real growth in terms of helping people follow Christ. As we ended the night, the student/non-member we speak English with asked us to bring him a Book of Mormon in English to read with him, and to start teaching him about the church. We hastily agreed and he seemed excited for next week. I know we are.
Miracles happen.

2) Drenched- Tuesday was also pretty awesome. We went to visit a less active and found her at home with her son, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter. We've visited them before, and they've been to church. Only the one is a member. We taught a lesson from the Book of Mormon and invited them to church. The son, who I've never met before, is under house arrest and recently left prison. He's nearly 60 and has likely been in prison for a long time, and has a sincere desire to turn his life around. Of course, he can't come to church for a while, but we'll continue to visit periodically to help him progress towards a more Christ-centered life.

As we taught we began to hear the rain outside. A lot of rain. A straight-up thunderstorm. Dumping buckets. Raining cats and dogs. And guess who didn't have their umbrellas!

But we had a meeting with our Ward Mission Leader to get to. So out we went into the storm with no protection, and walked a half hour to the meeting in the dark. Holy moly was I ever wet. 100% soaked. I didn't know if it was easier to see with or without my rain-covered glasses. Fortunately, the awesome new shoulder bag I got from my aunt and uncle turned out to be waterproof. I didn't even know that before.

3) Looking Back- So for those of you who don't know, this week marked a rather big milestone on my mission. I passed the one year mark on Thursday. As I stand in the middle of my mission, I've been thinking a bit about what I've learned thus far and what I still have to learn. Have I changed at all? What do I still need to do? I'm hesitant to call it a mid-mission crisis, but it certainly has me pondering.

I have met so many people in this last year who have made enormous impacts on my life. Companions, converts, church leaders, crazy drunks, beloved investigators...  I've had experiences I never could have dreamed of. I sometimes walk down the street and think: I never in a million years could have imagined myself doing this a year ago...and now it almost seems normal.

But now it's halfway done. So I have to ask, seeing all that has happened: is it enough? And while I have learned a lot, it's rather daunting at how much more I have to learn and do. It's been a good year. This next one is going to be even better.

A few shout-outs as I finish up. Happy birthday to Kayla Marcum, my first ever and absolutely never-forgotten baptism and friend from home! A very happy birthday to my beloved little sister, Madeleine, who is turning 19. And good luck to my good friend Tasha Szilagyi, who leaves for her mission next week.

Thank you all for what you do. You're amazing. And you're all children of God, no matter what you do or who you think you are. He loves us. I love Him. Let's make Him proud.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Let's Get Rolling

Happy Halloween, folks! Hard to believe that November is rolling around already. Time flies. Have I ever said that before? I don't think so. In any case it's worth saying again. The office has been good this week, I've had a few great experiences that really only happen in an area like this. Which has been swell.

1)Trust- The coolest part of the week by far happened on Wednesday. Well, I was approached by the mission president on Tuesday night, when we'd returned from working in the area. These last few weeks have been zone conferences. We attended the first couple and haven't been going to the further away ones, just the assistants go in order to give a majority of the conference. But President talked to me and said that on Wednesday he wanted me to go to the conference with him. Just me. And President and Sister Fortunato. I gave the training of the secretaries and was President's point man throughout the day. It was kind of crazy and it was great to spend time with the president and see that he really trusts and respects me. He's an amazing and powerful leader and I know the mission is going to go far this next year. We got to talk a lot on the two hour car trip there and back, and he gave me a bunch of good insight on how to be a better missionary.

 2) Halloween- Brazil doesn't do much for Halloween...I saw one kid with a costume and he also had a USA shirt on. We got really excited when we saw that. Other then that, life was pretty chill. We did celebrate that night in typical American fashion--eating a mountain of candy and wanting to throw up. We did the most possible as missionaries to dress up that night, switching name tags and messing up our ties. So it was pretty crazy.

The elder we helped out last week stayed with us another week, and is returning to the field tomorrow. I'll be sorry to see him head out, he's an awesome guy who has become one of my best friends on the mission. Though we're just glad he's staying!

3) Clean Slate- So after a number of events and investigators moving, etc, we have been left in an interesting situation. A clean slate. A new beginning. Starting from nothing. Well, that's kind of an overstatement. But not really. We're leaving the office every night now and working like crazy to find people to teach, using the bare-bones that we have--a list of members, a map of our area, and the members themselves. We don't have an area book, have three hours to work per day, and are working in an area that is literally just apartment buildings. Wish us luck, right?

Wrong! Luck ain't got nothing to do with it. I'm actually excited about this fresh start thing because I know it's going to teach me how to be a smarter missionary. I talked about it to President on our car ride, and he offered his help. That's no small thing. He took us in yesterday for a private training on how to plan and improve in our area. So we are beginning to visit less actives, asking the Bishop, Quorum Presidents, and Relief Society President for names and families to help, and offering our service. We're doing a ton more contacts and talking to everyone we come into contact with. And miracles are going to happen! Are happening, actually. And I'm excited to see what's going to happen this next week. I'll make sure to let you all know afterwards all the amazingness that happened.

The first miracle happened yesterday, as we headed to the area after our meeting with President. As we walked down the street to contact someone the Elder's Quorum President gave us, we heard a call from behind us. Looking back, we saw a young man nearly running after us. He asked us if we were from the church in the Savassi. We said we were. He said he'd been there before and wanted to go back/learn more, was looking for a church in his life. Yes, that's right, someone made a full contact with us on the street. That does not happen. We got his info and he promised to come to church on Sunday. So that was cool.

So that's about that. Next week is going to have some awesome stories of miracles and extreme missionary work, so stay tuned! I'm super excited about life and absolutely love being a missionary. This is where I need to be right now.

This gospel is remarkable. The blessings it offers to the world, to the broken-hearted, to the weary, to the family, are unfathomable. They defy the imagination. They surpass our comprehension. They are for everyone. Be it knowledge, understanding, and strength that help us overcome difficult times or the sheer joy that accompanies a testimony, these things are universally promised to those who follow the Lord's path with all their heart, might, mind and strength.

And we need to share it!

This church is true. This work is vital. I love it. I love you all. Stay strong.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Plethora of Things

This week was considerably different from the last few. We were able to leave daily to work in the area and didn't have quite as many stressful moments in the office. I say not quite as many because life here is always exciting and something new always pops up.

1) Miracle of the Fast- So a couple weeks ago I definitely forgot to fast (general conference threw me off), so I decided to do one this last Saturday going into Sunday. The motive behind it at the beginning was for two particular investigators. I was thinking a lot about what they still needed to do to be baptized, why they weren't progressing, etc.

But as we began to walk to church on Sunday I found myself praying instead very fervently for a miracle to happen at church today. Preach My Gospel talks about how our prayers and what we ask for should be led by the Spirit, and that seemed to be what was happening. As we waited at church, neither of these two investigators was showing up. But, randomly, two youth approached us and, embarrassed, asked how they could enter. Kind of shell-shocked, we invited them in and they stayed for the meetings. Neither actually live in our area, but I could see that absolutely the Lord was showing me that He is able to work miracles, I just need to look for the right ones.

2) Go to Work- So as I said, this week we were able to leave daily to work. Which was exciting as there weren't many current investigators to visit after these last few crazy weeks. So we set to work finding people. It was not easy going, we were working in an extremely rich area, but we still managed to teach a few lessons, visit a couple less actives, and have some exciting experiences. I love doing the Lord's work. It is so rewarding.

3) Interesting Persons- So, as is custom in a missionary's life, we met a number of interesting people this week. Though I must say this week was more eventful then some. First, on Tuesday, Elder Cushing and I ran across a guy that spoke English. Apparently he lived in the US for sixteen years, his dad was a professor at NYU, and he studied at Harvard. Eventually he returned to Brazil, where he has sold his soul to the devil in order to perform miraculous feats, he is the Ju-jit-su champion of Brazil, gets in fights daily and had broken his hand hitting a guy's face the other day. So that was nuts.

Then we met a man in the notary office who also lived in the US for a while but spoke horrible English. He was a missionary for another church there, but was unable to get a new Visa now. He told us he'd tried to ask Barack Obama for a letter of recommendation but never got a response and might have to call him. He was a nice guy and told us we were doing the Lord's work. He writes songs and wanted to do an arrangement for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We encouraged him to go for it.

4) Steadfast- By far the hardest thing I was asked to do this week came on Thursday when the President called. He informed us that a missionary wanted to go home. This is a really good missionary but he was being insistent, and it looked like he would leave on Sunday. President and the assistants were out of town. So President sent us to this elder's area to bring him to the office to stay with us for four days. President told me that something needed to happen in these four days to change this elder's perspective. That was kind of a lot of pressure.

As I got to know and love this missionary (he's a Brazilian and an awesome guy), I prayed like crazy that he would stay on the mission. That something would happen to change his mind. Honestly, none of these other things from this past week seemed nearly as important to me in my prayers. Well, there's still a day left but I believe he will be staying. And he's taught me a lot in the process. My biggest desire on the mission isn't to baptize a lot. It's to be a good example to others here. To help them be better. To be an example to my friends back home. I just want to serve those who need me at this point of time in my life.

So that was this week. Full of prayer. Full of excitement. Full of all the good stuff that makes missions the best two years. I was thinking recently about the grand majesty of this work. We, members of the church and especially missionaries, are part of a work that has been prophesied of since the beginning of time. And that work is now being hastened, meaning that this particular point in time will be remembered for generations to come! What are we doing now to be worthy of that charge? Are we the best we can be? Because the Lord expects it of us.

I love you all. I hope you know that. Be good. Try to be better. That's why we're here.

Much Love,
Elder Burt

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Stuff and Life and Stuff

Lots of fun stuff has been happening down here in good ol' Brazil this last week. Definitely another interesting week as financial secretary. As always. We had zone conferences this week, which I got to participate in, so that kind of dominated everything. There was also some frantic taxiing and calling related to some of the new houses and money situations. But hey, life would be a whole lot less exciting without problems to be solved!

1) Monica's Grand Adventures- Towards the beginning of the week we got back in contact with my recent convert, Monica, who had been in a different state in Brazil for the last month or so. And, wow, did she have some stories to tell. The visit was basically a 40 minute rendition of her adventures followed by a little commentary by us. It started when she went to Vitória to visit her sister and was unable to find the church. She was taking heavy anti-depressant medicine and, at the end of the first week, wasn't doing so well. She said a prayer and told God that he had abandoned her, left her sick and without friends, etc. She then had an overwhelming feeling of peace and love, and knew for a fact that she was not alone and needed to get up and have more faith.

So began Monica's mission. She would go the park every day near the house with the Book of Mormon, read on the bench, and talk about it with anyone who approached her. She did this daily, and sometimes had a considerable group of people listening to her speak. She told us to get the church organized down there (I'm pretty sure it already is, but it could certainly use strengthening), and I think she wants to go back to help it move along.

2) Are You Not Entertained Part II- Another couple of quick stories.
              Cheese Threat- A rather embarrassing story. I was walking down the street in my suit going to zone conference, when I saw this guy who was clearly homeless walking towards us with like a half-pound of cheese in each hand. He saw me, and suddenly got a really angry look on his face. He lifted the cheese and violently made like he was going to throw it at me. I definitely flinched (the guy looked crazy. For all I knew he really would throw it). All the people around started chuckling and the guy walked past us, pretending to throw it another couple times. Weird. I'm just glad he didn't throw it. That would have hurt.

              The Great Umbrella Robbery of 2013- On Wednesday we had a zone conference and it was absolutely pouring down rain. Kind of a rough day. So all of the missionaries came in and left their umbrellas in the parking garage to dry, but we left the gate open. We left a little later and all of the umbrellas were missing. Well except for one which was still leaning against the wall (yep. Definitely mine.) So the entire zone didn't have umbrellas anymore. Which would have been pretty rough the rest of the week.

3) Rebellion- This week I nearly had a rebellion on my hands when the missionaries' allowance fell through a day late. Nearly the entire mission called wondering where the money was, and if I could put money in their accounts to help out. To be clear, I do not have that kind of power and have nothing to do with when the allowance falls. That's all with the church headquarters. I just ask them to make the irregular payments when I need to. It was pretty ridiculous at the amount of calls, and I got to lay down the law in my training at zone conferences. Missionaries are awesome teachers, but are kind of dumb when it comes to money, I have to say. President jokingly said that he learned this week a number of people that he would never call as financial secretary.

Overall a solid week, and a little less stressful then those of the recent past. This week I didn't have a whole lot of study time, but I did learn a lot about the power of the Book of Mormon. It is the key to conversion. If you feel like your testimony isn't strong enough, if you feel like you don't have one, or if you just want to feel the Holy Ghost a little stronger in your life, read the Book of Mormon. Study it. Ponder on it. I can promise that it will bring you that feeling that you desire.

I was also pondering today on the spiritual experiences that I have had over the course of my life. How I have come to the knowledge I have today. And, in remembering some very specific circumstances, I came to a renewed conviction of the truth of this gospel. You all need to know that I know this work is true. Without a shadow of a doubt. I know that Christ is my Savior. That God lives. I have experienced things in my life that leave me unable to say otherwise.

I love being a missionary. I love all of you. Stay strong.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, October 12, 2013

General Conference, etc.

This week was really really crazy fast. It's such a cliche thing to say, but it's always the truth. Monday through Wednesday were so busy they were gone before I had time to catch my breath. Transfers are always super nuts, and this one was no exception. I won't focus on it too much in this letter as nothing particularly different happened, aside from the departure of my friend and companion Elder Gledhill, leaving me and Elder Cushing alone as secretaries. Watch out world.

1) Conference- Conference was amazing. I'm pretty sure I said that it would be in my last e-mail, and I was definitely right. It was pretty much the only thing that happened all weekend, but that was just fine by me. I've been reading through the talks again this week and remembering just how inspired the prophets are, and how much we need their words to guide us today.

As a missionary, I must say my favorites were by Elder Uchtdorf Saturday morning and Elder Ballard Saturday afternoon. They not only responded to direct questions I had leading up to conference, but focused on a subject rather important to me at the moment: missionary work. I'd encourage everyone to read Elder Ballard's talk again, and then pray for individual missionary experiences. Help out in this marvelous work!

Also, when President Monson said that the Sunday Morning session was one of the most inspired he'd ever heard, I decided it was probably important to study that a little bit more. He is the prophet, after all. He knows what he's talking about when it comes to inspiration.

2) Are You Not Entertained?- In case you are feeling a lack of entertaining anecdotes recently and an overload of slightly more hefty, spiritual things, here's a couple fun little experiences from this last week:

Nilton- Saturday night, while making contacts outside of the church, we encountered a homeless man named Nilton. We had an extended conversation with him, which made me laugh a bit. Classic Nilton quotes: "Me and my friend over there on the sidewalk (Gestures at trash can) were just talking about how we wanted to come to church." "I live on the street. I take a bath once a week, if that." We actually ran across him the next day after morning conference. He seemed really surprised when we called him by name and shook his hand.

Pharmacy Girl- I went to the drug store the other day to buy some medicine for some missionaries. I went with one Elder Tsukuda, a Brazilian elder. The girl at the counter asked him how to pronounce his name, and he told her. She asked if he was of Japanese descent. He said he was. She said that he was the most attractive Japanese person she'd ever seen. I don't think I've ever seen an elder so embarrassed.

Office Olympics-We had the office olympics between conference sessions on Saturday, featuring competitions of Chubby Bunny, paper airplane flying contests, office rolling chair races, etc. I won. It was awesome.

3) The Right Moment- We had one investigator at conference, the same eternal investigator who drank coffee and hasn't been coming to church or progressing at all. We were pretty happy to see her, and went to visit her on Monday. We found out that she's pregnant, and is extremely excited. She's thinking a lot about her son's future, what kind of a life he'll lead, and about the significance of family. She even said she wants him to be baptized in the LDS church and maybe even to serve a mission. She recognizes our value system and wants it to be a part of her family's life. We also found out that they will be moving at this time next month. She's not drinking coffee anymore and doesn't have any problems with the commandments. I earnestly believe that this is the right moment for her. They say that people have moments in their lives where they are particularly open to the gospel message, and I hope and pray that this is hers. And that she decides to be baptized and join the church. Not just for her sake, but for her little future missionary! And for this potentially eternal family. And I'd also love if it was before they move...

All righty, then. I think that's about enough of that. Next week I'll try to pull some even crazier and even more spiritual stories out. I'm looking forward to a week full of hard work and whatever God has in store for me. It's always something good. And usually pretty fun, as well.

I love what I'm doing. I love the Lord. I love the people of Brazil. I hope you all are well. Work hard, do your best, never stop praying.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Hit the Ground Running

Hi my favorite people!

What a week. Remember when I said last week was nuts? Yeah, I just hadn't lived through this week yet. Holy moly, if anyone ever says life as a secretary is laid back, I might just...disagree strongly with them.  In fact, the work is continuing as I write this. President just came in to talk to me about the houses, and I have to make a few calls right now.  But let's focus on the important thing, which is this e-mail and letting you know why this week was crazy and why it's awesome to be a missionary.

1) Rain- So I heard the rainy season started back up over there in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Well, know that you're not alone! This week has been super rainy here in Belo Horizonte as well--thunderstorms, and all that fun stuff. I love it! The smell of rain and wet city streets. Walking with just a light rainfall, enough to keep cool but not get soaked. It felt like home, honestly.  I was happy on Sunday as we got to work/walk outside a bit.

Admittedly, it also created some problems Sunday morning: two investigators who were excited to come to church were either sick or put off by the rain. They're excited for this upcoming Sunday though, and I'm sure they'll love conference.

Moral of the story: rain is awesome, but I wish it would just hold off until 9:30am, at least. I guess I need to pray harder.

2) Limits- And it's a good thing I got to enjoy the Sunday weather because the rest of the week saw very little field work. And a whole lot of office work.

Every day I was receiving dozens of calls, making dozens of calls, sending off contracts, talking with the church judicial department, dealing with money shortages, making payments, and all the while praying, working, and stressing about the one week deadline to rent at least seven new houses.

Let it be enough to say I was stressed. But through it all I also learned a whole lot. If there's something I know about myself, it's that I like to push my own limits. It's when I can actually see what I'm capable of. Running on all cylinders, I guess. Having to keep track of all these different things, my mind running through all of it and trying to get everything to move along and solve any problems that pop up as they pop up...it's exhilarating. And exhausting.

Honestly, that's something about life in all of its aspects, even spiritually. You have to keep pushing yourself if you want to grow. It's not always going to be comfortable, and it's certainly not going to be easy, but results, stronger testimonies, faith, knowledge, progression--they only come with work.  And when you're doing the kind of work that pushes you right until the brink and then you come out at the other end successful, it feels so much better for the effort.

3) Results- And so I was happy when this week ended with good results. Four houses rented by yesterday. Two today. And two ready by Monday. Talk to me at the end of next week and we'll see if everything worked out how I want it to, but I'm happy, at least.

I have to go now. Conference is about to start. We have a prophet on the earth today, Thomas S. Monson. He is inspired by the Lord. I love the opportunity to hear him, I love this church, and I know it's Christ's church on the earth today. The words I'll hear this weekend are modern scriptures.  So that's why I'm pretty excited right now.

See you all on the flippety-flip!

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

House Hunter / Lift Where You Stand / What English??

Hello, everyone!

Well, I'm not entirely sure how well this blog post will be able to sum up this last week. It's been really crazy. In all the ways. Stress, sickness, success, and super-cool experiences. I'm all kinds of excited.

1) House Hunter- I'll start out with the office/stressful side of things. At the beginning of the week I had to pay all kinds of things for the executive secretary, the president, and random dying missionaries. I was all over the place. There was an emergency transfer, the assistants moved into our house...

And then things got real on Wednesday when President Fortunato explained how we're receiving a whole ton of missionaries next transfer (a week and a half from now), so we need to open a lot of new houses. As in I am currently working on renting ten new houses as fast as humanly possible. All I did Friday was sit on the phone trying to figure it all out. I think the last ten houses have been rented over the course of the last six months. Maybe. So this is a lot of fun. Definitely a challenge, which is something I enjoy.

2) Lift Where You Stand- So in the midst of all this madness I've been striving to continually remember my calling as a missionary. I was studying a couple days ago and thought about how everyone needs to start where they are. Whatever point I'm at, I should be spreading the gospel, working, and doing my part. I read an awesome article by President Uchtdorf, entitled "Lift Where You Stand." He talks about this idea, which helped me realize that even with such little time to work in the area during the day, that doesn't mean I can't do much. I am a representative of Christ, so one of the first things I've started to do is testify to everyone I can. Taxi drivers, people sitting next to me at the notary office, street contacts. I need to share our message right off the bat. Which has gone really well this week since I started focusing on it.

I also was thinking, at about the same time and along the same lines, about the 2000 stripling warriors. We don't know any of their names, yet they are some of the greatest heroes we have in the Book of Mormon. We don't need to be recognized, or have the greatest personal success. We need to do our individual part, and rejoice when the work as a whole progresses. I'm working hard at that, and being a secretary has certainly helped me to focus a lot more on the mission, and even the work as a whole instead of my personal achievements.

3) What the English??- This week ended with one of the coolest lessons I've been able to teach on my whole mission. Which was only in part because we got to teach it to someone who is fluent in English.

The person was a contact the assistants made in a supermarket that happened to live in our area. She works a lot, but made sure to take some time out of her schedule to meet with us on Friday. We left the office and headed over there, hoping that the assistants were right when they said she was a very accepting person. She let us in and straight up starting talking to us just in English, with a slightly British accent. So, for the first time on my mission, I got to teach the first lesson in English. It was kind of weird at first, but it also helped in a couple of ways. First, and more obvious, I felt more comfortable. I mean, I'm totally fine teaching in Portuguese at this point, but I still feel more flexible and more confident in their understanding when we both speak English. I know that I've been given, at least to some degree, the gift of words, and that's more manifest to me in my native tongue. Second, I mixed up how I taught a little more, having to think about the wording and how I wanted to present the message instead of falling into a few habitual phrases or explanations. And in the end the Spirit was clearly strong, and she was extremely excited to come to church and to work on preparing for her baptism!

There's nothing quite like seeing a person really understand what you're teaching--and then straight up accept it. There are people like this in the world. Everywhere. We just need to be on the look out to find them. Because it could be the random lady in the supermarket telling you how to make re-fried beans.

So my time is quickly running out. Yet again, I found even more inspiration from what is fast becoming my most overused scripture. I read Alma 5:43-47, starting a few verses earlier this time. I want to speak with all the energy of my soul, clearly, about Christ and his gospel. That is my calling. I was ordained to stand up and testify. I know it is true. No matter the language. Or the place. Or the time. It doesn't change what I know.

Watch conference next week. It's going to be awesome.

I love you all so much. Keep fighting. Make a stand. Help each other. We're all in this together.

Much Love,

Elder Burt 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Crossroads / Open / Miracles

It's been a great week to be a missionary. I'm excited for the future, living every day to its fullest, and trying my best to serve and love the people here in Belo Horizonte. Truly nothing compares with being a missionary.

This week began with an awesome surprise. We have known for a while that Elder Gledhill, my current companion, would be training a new executive secretary to take his place at the end of the transfer. Training began this last Monday, and we were thinking about who it would be. I really wanted someone great, because I knew I'd be staying with them for the next six months or so.

So I was very happy when I found out who it was: Elder Cushing, round 2! Yep, my old MTC companion and I are ready to set a mission record of time spent as comps.  And this first week with him we managed to get out to teach a bunch and had several solid lessons and experiences.

1) Crossroads/Dead End- One day, while making a rather long walk home from one of our appointments, we ran across a less active who we hadn't visited in a while. Her grandson was an investigator when I first got here. A little over a month ago, we had visited him for the last time. Since that point, we'd seen neither one in church, and they were never at home. As we approached her in the road, she looked frantic. At first she accused us of not visiting her, but we explained we'd passed by a few times but never found them at home. As she calmed down, she explained what had happened after our last visit.

On that visit, we'd seen that the investigator was on the brink of falling. He was supposed to have been baptized the day before, but it seemed like he was returning to old drug habits. I told him in that lesson that he was at a crossroads in his life. He could either choose to go to church to receive enormous blessings, or turn away. I told him that if he did that, he would see clearly the consequences of his actions. We invited him to call us if he wanted to continue in the church. He didn't call. That was the last time we saw him.

Four days later he was in prison. We had no idea. His grandmother told us he's still there, asking us to pray for him. I was crushed. Wickedness truly never was happiness.

2) Open- Yesterday we had a very different lesson, one I'm not at all used to but that gave me some cool opportunities. It was a follow-up visit, after having invited her to read in the Book of Mormon and pray about it. Upon returning, she let us know that she had not felt anything different while reading. I admit I had a kind of stupor of thought. I read a verse from 3 Nephi 11 and kind of explained what it meant to me, knowing that I was just saying words. I wasn't helping her.

Elder Cushing stepped up and asked some killer questions. She told us she thought that Jesus Christ was a great person, but that's it. She believes in God, but thinks we operate our own salvation. As a missionary in Brazil, this kind of situation isn't so common.  She asked us straight up why we need a Savior.  And so I had a unique opportunity to bear my testimony of our need for Jesus Christ. That we can not make it alone. We need a mediator. Only he was capable of suffering for all of the sins of the world. I love him.

Then we asked about how she prayed. She said that she didn't see the need to ask for anything, because God already knows everything.  Then we got to talk about the nature of God. He is our Father. He loves us and wants to hear from us. I asked about how she felt after a long, difficult surgery ends well (she's a doctor). She said it was a marvelous feeling of success that's hard to describe. I explained that God understands that feeling. That's why he asks us to search, ponder, and truly strive for something. Because in the end, the answer will mean more to us. We are striving not to change his will, but to change our own. It had a lot to do with that scripture I was pondering last week in Alma 5:45-46. It seems to be the theme of my mission recently, actually. How much do I want something? What am I willing to sacrifice to receive answers?

Throughout it all she was very open to our responses and had a genuine desire to understand.

3) Miracles- This week also had a few of those small, tender mercies of the Lord. Miracles, though nothing enormous. Moments that touch me and bring me up, that can sometimes slip by unnoticed. Life is full of those. Teaching an investigator in the chapel and having a random member from another ward accept my invitation to teach with us, before going on to bear powerful testimony of her recent conversion and desire to keep the commandments. Knocking doors in the richest, least accepting neighborhood and marking multiple lessons with amazing families. Entering in contact with an investigator who had dropped off the map months ago and accepting another visit. Finding answers to my questions in the scriptures. Listening to uplifting music. This week I tried to pay more attention to these small things, and I realized just how many there were. Look on the bright side. It's a lot better.

I love you all. I am working as hard as I can and only hope that it makes some small difference in the lives of these people. These children of God.

Know who you all are. Know that someone loves you. When life is at its darkest, remember that there is hope of a glorious reward if you endure the trials now.

Never give up. Do good work. See you all in a bit.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, September 16, 2013

More Adventures with Elder Burt

Hello, everyone. Thanks for showing up once again to read just a little bit about me. I'm Elder Burt, a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And this is my life.
Queue theme song, a mash-up of Happy Days and We Are the Champions. I'll let you figure that one out.

All right, enough with that nonsense. This week, yet again, seems to have blown by in the blink of an eye. Cool stuff happened. Lessons were learned. New people were taught. Money was spent. The usual.

1) Israel, Israel God is Calling- So the week started off really well when we got a call on Sunday night from a less-active member who is dating our eternal investigator. He told us that the investigator's sister was in town and wanted really badly to meet us. She's been living in Israel for the last eight years. We set up an appointment for the next day, all kinds of excited to actually have received a reference. (Note to members: Give references. Please.)

On Monday we stopped by and got to talking. The sister (Renata) was very open, and told us a whole bunch about her life as a doctor in Israel. She speaks Portuguese, Hebrew, some Arabic, and a good amount of English. We taught the first lesson which includes the Restoration, and she was very receptive.  She had some really good questions about prophets today (before we got to that part), lost scriptures (as we were arriving at the Book of Mormon), and the authority of the church. Although I think it got to the point where we spent a little bit too much time answering questions. It's important to leave relatively quickly and let the Spirit work.

We haven't been able to return yet, not due to lack of desire on our part. It's just that our eternal investigator and her boyfriend got married this week. Which we had no idea was happening. And they went to another city. But we're definitely very happy for them, and I hope this leaves them even more open to hearing the gospel message about the family!

2) There Is Sunshine In My Soul- This week I've discovered that I have a personality flaw that causes some minor annoyances in my work as financial secretary. I know, I'll wait a second for all of you to pull yourselves together after that heart-stopping revelation that I'm not perfect.

The flaw is that I'm too likable. OK. Just kidding. Not a flaw, I have plenty of those. But it can be kind of annoying. Let me explain why: So as secretary, I have to make sure all of the accounts add up during the week. But the Brazilians have this really obnoxious problem which is a lack of a one cent coin. So things are never exact, they're always rounding. Also, I catch a lot of taxis and always end up talking to the drivers, as I think I've mentioned in the past. Well, due to all this I end up making like R$5 every week just off of minor discounts, though the receipts keep the higher value. Which is annoying, as it means nothing ever adds up. Yesterday I got an extra R$2 in coins. I'll give an example. I was in the taxi with this one guy who was kind of crazy. He had all sorts of "difficult" questions for us. The grand finale was about "dialogue." He said that we could learn a lot from dialogue along with the scriptures. He asked me what they had at the beginning of time to learn from. I said that the prophets talked to God and then conveyed it to the people. While driving, he offered me his hand to shake and congratulated me on my wisdom. The cost of the taxi was R$11.30. I gave him a ten and a two. He asked me if I had a one-real coin, and I said no. So he just gave me back the two and let me go. I honestly cannot remember the last time I've paid a taxi driver the full price of the ride. Sigh. [I inquired of Alex about tipping practices, and he said it wasn't allowed with missionary funds.  Didn't know that.]

3) Lord, I Would Follow Thee- We had another lesson with Jenny this week, the woman who goes to church in the sisters' branch. She's awesome. Honestly, she has every reason to just give up on us and stop investigating the church. We have had to cancel on her like three times due to our own poor scheduling or unseen mishaps with missionaries. Her mom is a Jehovah's Witness and talks to her all about the church. Her friends are Catholic and tell her she can't change her religion. Her boss is just crazy. She doesn't even live in our area. But still she comes. She tells us that she only wants to come to our church, that we explain things so simply and clearly for her, and that she's been inviting all these people to come to church with her. She is an amazing example to me of faith and hope.

I've been thinking and studying a lot recently about desire. I read Alma 5:45-46, and was pondering a lot about how to help people have this same desire that Alma had, to truly lead to extended study and prayer. This is not a passive gospel. And I think it has a lot to due with recognition of the blessings that the church brings to our lives. Which I guess Jenny must be seeing...but I still am trying to figure out how to help the others. I guess we'll see.


People. This work is amazing. There is nothing better. I wish I was better than I am, but I really do give it my best. I hope that's enough. I love you all. Stay strong. Do good work. Follow your hearts. Keep to the faith.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, September 9, 2013

From the Top; You're Welcome, Sisters; and Everybody Move!

Some time off for the Elders
Happy Saturday, world! Honestly I can't believe it's already been a week...it's been really ridiculously fast. Not quite as much excitement occurred as last week, but it was still great. Well, I take that back. There wasn't as much outside-of-the-office action, but dealing with stuff in the office has been kind of nuts.

1) From the Top- So we started the week off with an excellent Sunday. Eric and his sister came to church, and we're still working on visiting them again. Afterwards we paid a visit to one of our ancient, eternal investigators. The one I talked about like two months ago who had problems with coffee. Well, with this lesson we decided that we needed to start over. She hasn't heard the message of the Restoration in forever, so we taught that again. She understood very well, and I'm hoping that this approach works. Especially because she officially doesn't drink coffee anymore, so none of the commandments should be impeding her baptism! It gave me a lot of hope when she said that. She works like crazy as a doctor, and hardly sleeps. I dunno how coffee works, exactly, but I hear people use it to wake up in the mornings. I imagine that could help her at the moment. But she has decided to stop, something that she previously said was impossible. Nothing is impossible with God, that's definitely a fact I've come to learn on the mission.

2) You're Welcome, Sisters- This week we also met with one of the miracle references I mentioned a couple weeks ago. She is kind of crazy. She talks like a million miles an hour, always about the same things, and it can be hard to get a word in edgewise. She showed up at the church for our appointment, and it took us nearly ten minutes to get her in as she almost didn't stop to breathe while talking about problems in work, thoughts about the Book of Mormon, how we all have guardian angels...and more. Fortunately after the prayer and in the lesson, we kept definite control. We read Alma 34 with her, with lots of commentary. As she talked, she explained her understanding of faith and repentance. I began to see that she really did understand the feelings that come with forgiveness, the alleviation of guilt. I explained to her how she could receive this feeling on a greater level with Heavenly Father through prayer and, more importantly, baptism. We marked the baptismal date for two weeks from now, and she said that with enough preparation, she would. She's open to learning and we marked a return lesson for next Monday.

Just one catch. She technically doesn't live in our area. She attends church in a city like five hours to the north, she just works here during the week. She said she'd love to come here and has already invited her co-workers here as well, but on the fifteenth she will be at church in the other city, where she's already attended. So basically we get to be the missionaries who make killer stories for other people by calling and saying "all right Sisters, you have a baptism this Sunday. Make sure you have someone to do it."

3)  Everybody Move!- So the excitement in the office this week is based off of the fact that more than five different houses are in the midst of changing, so I've been on the phone constantly trying to close some houses while simultaneously working out the contracts with the new ones. It's been a lot of work, and things are just now starting to calm down a bit. The other piece of excitement was with a rental agency that was calling constantly, wanting to come visit me in the office. But they kept not showing up. I was a little sick at the beginning of the week and started to get a little grumpy with this woman who sends e-mails only in caps, expulsion notices, and gets mad when I don't give her documents that she doesn't even understand. Finally a different guy came and explained what was up--that they needed something completely different, a declaration of the payments we'd made to the landlord of a particular house in 2011. Because she hadn't declared it and was now in trouble with the government. I honestly can't explain it in English, but I was relieved at the end of it that I wasn't the person in trouble.

So, with that, I'll sign off for the week. I love this work. I don't love being sick, but I do love getting to serve others and the Lord. I love the scriptures. I always find something in them that applies to me and my life, and helps me to be a better person. It's amazing.

You are all fantastic. You are all children of God. This is the true church. Joseph Smith was a prophet. I know it.

Never say die, live every day to it's fullest, and make me proud!

Much love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Our Friend, the Doctor; The Exchange Student (cont); Game Time

Top of the morning to you all!

Yet another crazy week has passed here. As in transfers. Period. Maybe an exclamation point. Although as secretary I don´t have to worry about a call to a new area, life is definitely a lot more hectic and stressful...especially now that I'm in charge and my trainer was transferred out. But I'll talk more about the adventures of transfers a little later.

1) Our Friend, the Doctor- Well, this week we met one of the most interesting, eccentric, unique people I've seen up to this point on the mission. We encountered him while doing street contacts in front of the church last Wednesday. He actually came up to us and asked, in English, if we knew what breed of dog he had. That led to a fascinating conversation filled with random bits of wisdom and pointers for us, as youth. We got his number, gave him a Book of Mormon, and left to go teach our lesson. I thought that would be it, but when we didn't have anything to do on the next Sunday...  we gave him a call. He invited us to visit him at the hospital where he worked, which we accepted, intending to leave a short message before moving on to our other appointments. We got there, the front desk gave us visitors' passes, and then we met up with our friend, the doctor. He indicated for us to leave our bags in his office, before proceeding to give us a full on, no holds barred, tour of the hospital. We saw a CAT scan in action, visited the biology department where they keep all the live snakes, scorpions, and spiders, passed through all of the wards with the many patients in various conditions, and then sat outside his office while next door they cut open the arm of a little girl with the door open. It was an adventurous visit. We set up a visit in his private clinic the next day.

...Which also proved to be quite the adventure. We showed up, and he wasn't there. When we called, he told us where to find him. It was at a hole-in-the-wall, ghetto weight-loss smoothie shop, where we sat on couches and chatted a bit. He then brought us back to his office, only to rush out again. Where, we didn't quite know. He said he was bringing a petition to a political friend of his. As we continued on, he began to explain that this "friend" was the mayor of Minas Gerais who was on the fast track to be the next President of Brazil. He wanted to introduce us to him. We got there to find ourselves in the middle of a giant political event, surrounded by news cameras, activists, and the big-wigs of Belo Horizonte. We decided that we should probably stay outside, as cool as it would have been to chat with this guy. We waited on the doctor, who shortly returned and took us back to the office. He explained that he had done a few favors for the guy as a doctor and now had some sway with him.  So that's our new friend.

2) The Exchange Student, Cont.-Also on Monday we paid a visit to the family we met last week, but this time we brought the mission president. That's an advantage of being on the staff, we can go on splits with the president. The lesson went really well: we followed up on the last visit, and then read 3 Nephi 11 with them. The president did most of the teaching, and it was really powerful. He managed to use this chapter to explain all the doctrine he needed to, and the family really understood. They had some amazing questions, showing that they were understanding what we were trying to get across. Now the big question is whether they will follow through on commitments when we're not there. I'm praying like crazy and doing all I can...it was just a bummer that we couldn't visit them another time this week, because of crazy schedules on both of our sides.

3) Game Time- Our crazy schedules were due to the explosion that is called transfers. As financial secretary, I am in charge of taking care of the greenies, and all of the transportation. Which, let me tell you, gets pretty crazy when the mission covers such a big area. Tuesday was spent preparing. The trick is that I have to buy the bus tickets here in Belo Horizonte for them to pick up in their areas...but without telling them until that night, because I can't reveal that they're being transferred. It's a big secret. Which also makes things crazy at 9:30, when I receive a million calls from people who are supposed to catch buses at 11:30 and have an hour to pack their bags. I have to make sure there's a way for everyone to get where they need to, when they need to. It's quite the operation.

Things only stepped up the next day at the bus station. I had 100 missionaries who I needed to get to their areas, as fast as possible. The amount of close calls was ridiculous, having to stand in front of buses, keeping track of all of the tickets, lost missionaries...it was kind of exhilarating. Fun stuff. And it was all on me, because, as I said before, my comp was transferred. So the rest of the week I accustomed to flying solo. It's kind of more responsibility then I was expecting, but so far everything has gone well. But I will say I'm happy it's P-Day.

Well, that about sums things up. Please don't ever stop believing. This church is true. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. Families can be together forever. It's a miracle. A miracle that has got to be shared! So let's buckle down and do it!

I love you all. Make me proud. Make your Father in Heaven proud. Fight the good fight.

Much Love,

Elder Burt