Monday, February 25, 2013

Daring and Fire, Dang It!

Howdy doody to all my loyal friends, family, and loved ones!

Well, this week was pretty solid. My companion and I taught a lot of lessons, encountered a lot of people, and worked hard. Sadly, we didn´t find any new, interested investigators like last week, but nonetheless we continue to progress. I also have less exciting stories this week...not that life is ever un-exciting as a missionary.

First, an update on my first convert, Delmir. He is doing extremely well. He studies the scriptures and other church materials daily at work, is actively working to help his sisters get baptized, and received the Aaronic priesthood yesterday. Also, he and his girlfriend have set hesitant plans to get married in the temple next year. Nothing official, but it´s clear he has his focus in the right places. All in all things are awesome.

Second, a few quick fun facts about the animal life here in Brazil. Because, in case you didn´t know, it´s a little different than back in the states. Some of the fun experiences I´ve had with animals recently: 
  • We have a couple lizards living in our house. One was in the bathroom but we chased it out, but the other lives in our couch and refuses to come out except when we leave. They eat spiders so that´s awesome, I just don´t want it to die and leave a rotting lizard corpse somewhere in our yeah. Lots of lizards here. Pretty cool.
  • We got back to our house one night and sat on the front steps for a minute before going in. As my companion and I were talking, I noticed a dark shape walking along the telephone wire. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a porcupine. A full sized porcupine walking along the telephone wire like a tightrope. I have no idea how it got up there, and it had no idea how to get down. I took a picture, so I have proof!
  • There´s a lot of awesome insects here and a lot of less awesome ones. The butterflies are amazing, all different colors and sizes, it´s like the butterfly exhibit back at the science center. There´s also a lot of insects that like to bite, but fortunately they´ve started to get tired of me. I´m not having nearly as much trouble as I was the first few weeks.

Third, the nature of our lessons this week. We decided to teach as much as possible, but there weren´t a lot of people willing to let us in to their houses. So we taught an immense amount of doorstep lessons- just five to ten minutes, covering all the points of the restoration, and inviting them to church and to pray about our message. It´s not the most effective way to teach, but everyone needs to hear the gospel and if this is the only way to plant a seed, so be it! That being said, there were still a good number of other, more concrete lessons. Marley, who I mentioned last week, continues to progress and is closer to getting married. We were invited into the home of a less active and offered an amazing, authentic Spanish dinner which made for an amazing end to a rather exhausting day.

Which brings me to point four: the immense amount of walking we did on Friday. We walked an hour to our lunch appointment, an hour and 45 minutes back to get to our first lesson, and then another half hour back to our house. And that doesn´t even include walking from door to door during the day. I have learned to love walking here, legitimately and truthfully, but let it be said I slept quite well that night. Oh, and we taught eight lessons that day, too.

So I will wrap up with a quick, spiritual experience. A few days ago, in the morning, I asked in my morning personal prayer to feel closer to God. It´s something I always seek, but I´d just been feeling that I needed to improve on something recently to feel his influence more. I got off my knees and began to study a conference talk given in October by President Eyring entitled "Where Is the Pavilion?" I was avidly reading and taking notes when a powerful impression hit me. Powerful enough that it was a voice heard clearly in my mind. "Alex, stop and listen." Immediately, I stopped reading and sat back in my chair. A feeling of peace and love came over me, and I knew that my Heavenly Father loves and watches out for me. I know I have a tendency to constantly do things, working and studying and thinking at every possible moment. This can be good, but it´s also important to stop and listen. I´d encourage all of you to do the same things in your lives, if you don´t already. "Life is a journey, not a race. Enjoy the moment." I promise if you do you will feel the promptings of the Spirit.

I love you all and hope that all is well. Stay strong, choose the right, make me proud, etc etc. Oh, and if anyone has Andy Merkley´s mission address please send it to me or my family, I don´t have it, but I have a letter written for him!

Much Love,
Elder Alex Burt

P.S. If the title for this post doesn´t make much sense, sorry, haha. It was just a phrase that I wrote in my journal and thought was entertaining

Monday, February 18, 2013

First Baptism!

Well, my loyal friends and readers, this week was extremely awesome. I have come to the end of my first transfer in the field...hard to believe. (A transfer is how we mark time in the field. It´s six weeks long, and at the end of a transfer the locations of missionaries are switched up.) I´m pretty sure my companion and I will stay here in Pedro Leopoldo for a little longer, but I won´t know for sure until tomorrow night. Exciting stuff.

But not nearly as exciting as Saturday, which was my first baptism here in Brazil! I mentioned last week it would happen, and fortunately all went through with relatively few bumps in the road. I have no doubt that Delmir will be a firm member of the Church--he´s excited, willing, and very strong in his decision. Let me talk a little about how this first baptism occurred.

I talked previously about how we´ve been teaching Delmir the lessons and that he was firm in his desire for baptism. Well, nothing changed in this last week of lessons. The biggest 'worry,' actually, was getting in all the lessons before the baptism. His house is reallllllly far away, and we had a hard time getting there for the last lesson. We finally did, catching the last bus to his house, teaching the lesson, and catching it coming back. We´d done this a few times already, but on this last occasion the bus drove right past us. It was actually pretty funny, pretty much everyone had an immediate big reaction. The investigators were stunned, I was waving and shouting for him to stop, and my companion leapt up with a stunned expression, and without hesitation started sprinting at an admirable speed after the bus. Fortunately, my somewhat more reasonable response got the bus to stop, and I casually jogged after my companion to get on. Delmir and his sisters thought it was the funniest thing.

Then came the day of the baptism! I´ve heard enough horror stories from missionaries about baptisms gone awry that I was a little apprehensive. But everything seemed to be going right: the font was filled, the district leader was there ready to interview, the members showed up in force, a less active friend of ours even came! The only hiccup was that Delmir didn´t show up for his interview until the minute the baptismal service was supposed to start. That hour of waiting without any word of his whereabouts was a little nerve-wracking, but as soon as he showed up he was interviewed without a problem and the baptism actually happened. A member of the branch who taught with us performed the ordinance while my companion and I acted as witnesses.

That joy of watching a child of God come up out of the water cleansed of sin -- the same joy that occurred the next day in shaking his hand after giving him the gift of the Holy Ghost -- is a feeling I want many times on my mission. Nothing compares, a fact that is made abundantly clear throughout the scriptures. I read Alma 26 today and it explains pretty well the ideal feelings of a missionary.  So, rather than write more, I´d just encourage you to go read that.

But hang on! My week had a few other exciting things occur. None quite as marvelous, but good nonetheless. Well, most of them were good. Let me begin with the less than awesome experience.

So I have no idea why it´s so early, but Daylight Savings Time occurred here in Brazil yesterday. It is one of only TWO days on the mission where you can sleep for more than eight hours during the night. And guess who forgot about it and showed up at church nearly two hours early? That´s right, Elder Burt and Elder Wilson. Sigh. The pain and agony.

Now on to bigger and better things! This week we found several new investigators who have enormous potential. Things are clearly picking up--we have at least two baptisms next Sunday and we could have one more. Plus we met two new investigators I want to mention quickly (my computer time is coming to an end).

1) Jardir. He was a reference from a member with whom we taught the first lesson. He seemed relatively accepting but has a big problem with cigarettes. That first lesson he said he´d stop, but we had to run out the door without extensive conversation because we were out a little late past our curfew. I went back the next day on splits with our district leader´s companion (meaning I was senior companion for about an hour) and we taught the second half of the restoration. He said he´d be baptized on the second of March, and has diminished his cigarretes (within one day) from two packs to only eight cigarretes! And he said he wouldn´t buy anymore. I have a lot of hope for him, but he didn´t come to church on Sunday so I´m a little worried. We´ll see how´s he´s doing later tonight.

2) Marley. Marley is the boyfriend of a member of the branch here. He´s been to church a large number of times, to the point where I thought he was a member until last week. We talked with him a couple times and he has a clear desire to be baptized. They just need to get married first, and then he´ll be baptized - without a doubt. They already have plans to visit the temple in a year and a half! Golden. I hope I´m still here in a month and a half when the marriage papers/process finish up. In our last lesson he said something really interesting. It´s clear he has a ton of respect for us as missionaries, and he said that when we pray he feels like we are speaking God´s words, not our own. Now THAT is something you want to hear from an investigator. Or anyone, actually. Very cool.

So that´s that for this week. I hope everyone is doing well back home in the states. I love you all. Stay classy, do the work, share the word, follow your heart, and I´ll see you on the flippet-flip!

Elder Alex Burt

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Carnival Down Time

So right off the bat, because I know that everyone is anxiously watching my blog and are extremely worried about my well-being and questioning the lack of a usual Monday post, know that I am not dead!  It is Carnival over here in Brazil, which means that nothing was open (literally nothing, it´s kind of crazy) until today. And our mission president was kind enough to let us e-mail today. Which is especially good because I have some fun stories to share.

1) The Great Cake Debacle  Yes, great cake debacle. Let me explain. So we have three progressing investigators right now, two sisters and a brother. They are the most promising investigators I´ve had the entire mission thus far and, spoiler alert, the brother is getting baptized Saturday. So excited!!! But boy oh boy was it tough getting a hold of him. He was extremely excited for baptism a week from last Sunday, I think I mentioned it last week. But our appointments fell through three days in a row and we began to fear that we´d lost him. We needed to teach him all the lessons before baptism, which ideally would have been last week. And anytime three lessons fall through you become worried. But we found out Wednesday why he cancelled. His sisters were ashamed to have us over because they hadn´t made any cake. The irony of it all? The day they cancelled we were fasting anyway and couldn´t eat the cake. The even greater irony? We were fasting for them. But we have since taught them more, and all is right!

2) The Drunken Pen Thief  Another exciting adventure in the land of Brazil began with an extended conversation with a drunk man in a park. I have found that drunk men really like to talk, especially to missionaries who are kind enough to listen. So we talked with this guy for a while, shared a few gospel principles, and got up to catch a bus. As we left he asked to see my companion´s pen. He took it and just walked off, leaving us rather confused and penless. As I saw him turn and started to come back, I swiftly tucked my pen into my pants pocket. My companion asked for the pen back and the man swiftly turned with a curt "no" and walked away again. He came back a third time and said that we didn´t need two pens. I indicated that I did not in fact have one. He apologized profusely, gave back the pen, and we caught our bus. I was a hero.

3) A Discourse for the Ages  I had the wonderful opportunity on Sunday to give my first 15 minute talk in Portuguese. That´s right, with just one month in the field! Welcome to life as a missionary. I think it went over well. I hope they understood at least a little bit in spite of my accent. I used a whole ton of scriptures, so if nothing else that should have enlightened them!

4) I Am a Nerd  On P-day, being a little bored and feeling a severe lack of chess, I made a chess board out of paper and coins. Please don´t judge me. Also, if anyone would like to challenge me to a game of chess via mail, the letter and game would be much appreciated. I´m talking to you, Jason Carter.

So that about sums up the most entertaining parts of my week. It was a bit slower in terms of lessons taught, but those we did teach went well, especially with my favorite cake-bakers (we had cake the next time we went there. It was quite good.) I am working on talking more, and I can very much tell that the words are coming to me far more easily. And I´m understanding more every day. So although my goal of 'fluent in a month' fell through, I think my progress is coming along nicely and I feel confident in myself.

Quick spiritual thought:
Again, addressing those of you reading this who aren´t members of my church and may have questions about missionary life and the church as a whole. Today I want to talk a little about why you hear so much about this thing called baptism. We missionaries are always talking about it, and it seems like the goal of the mission is to get as many baptisms as possible.

Well, that´s more or less true.

But here´s why! The real goal of missionaries is to help people attain salvation:  Eternal happiness with your family and God after this life. Something that I know without any doubt is possible via the church and the message we have. The first step on this grand pathway to salvation is, in fact, baptism. Missionaries are in charge of introducing people to this pathway and helping them begin the journey. Also, it is vital that baptism be by one with authority-this is why we insist on baptism into our Church in particular. We claim--a claim that is factual--to have this authority of God. A line of authority directly tied to Christ and the original church that he organized.

Have questions? Please please please talk to the missionaries wherever you are!

Finally, as I conclude... Congrats to Katie Holloman on her mission call to New Zealand!!!!! That´s amazing! Although you sadly won´t be able to use your amazing French abilities. I have no doubt you'll be an amazing missionary.

Hold to the faith everyone, do your best, follow your hearts.

Much love,
Elder Alex Burt

Monday, February 4, 2013

Update from Alex

Another week, another plethora of stories and information I want to share with all of my friends and family back home! And, yet again, not nearly enough time to share it because my immediate family insists on my sending them individual stuff. But here goes:

First, a language update! This week I was getting a little frustrated with myself. See, I had this goal to be fluent within a month of entering the field and it looks like I´m not going to reach that. Or come anywhere close. Haha, it wasn´t a serious goal, and as I reach the end of the month I realize I´m much much further than I expected. Speaking in Portuguese has become a habit, even when my companion speaks to me in English I often respond in Portuguese. I always use the Portuguese words I know, even in my thoughts. My thoughts are a weird messed up hybrid of mostly English and a growing amount of Portuguese. Kind of cool, actually. Overall it´s going well, but I realize I need to speak and participate more in order to improve my speaking and accent. I´ve never been one to say a ton to people I don´t know, especially when I´m not sure if what I will say is completely correct grammatically/coherent at all. But I need to be more bold and trust that the Spirit will help me out!

Now for some quick stories:
1) At the beginning of the week we had zone conference with the Mission President and the APs. We learned a lot and spent the entire day there. Lots of good practicing, learning to be more simple, clear, and bold. Things I´ve tried to put into practice. The best part, though, was lunch. I´m drooling just thinking about it. We went to a Pizzaria, which had garlic fries, amazingly amazing pizza, and everything else a hungry missionary could possibly want. It was the best meal I´ve had in three months, without a doubt. Super delicious.

2) On to more spiritual and mission-related things! The best part of the week occurred Friday. We went on splits, meaning that I spent the day teaching with my district leader rather than my companion. That isn´t what made the day good, though. That evening we had a lesson with a young man who had attended church this last Sunday. We taught him and his two sisters, and they were extremely accepting. Like, more accepting than anyone I´ve taught yet. We taught the lesson clearly, simply, invited them to baptism and two right off the bat accepted, while the other sister said she needed a little more time. Which I very much understand, as she as yet doesn´t know much. But the man, Delmir, is extremely firm. He has already invited friends to his baptism, participates actively in church and talks with excitement about his baptism! We will spend a lot of time teaching him this week to make sure he´s ready, but in any case it made me very happy and excited to see clear results of my work.

3) One morning, during companionship study, we had the chance to chat with some Jehovah´s Witnesses who came proselyting at our door. We let them share their message with us, knowing exactly what it´s like to be in their shoes, knocking on doors. We asked if we could stop by their house to share our message with them, but they only gave the address for their church/bible study group. In any case it was an interesting reversal of roles for a few minutes.

Before I leave off I want to share a quick spiritual thought that I´ve been thinking about after reading in the Book of Mormon this week. I read Alma 5 one day (a rather intense chapter, overall), which includes the prophet Alma calling a city to repentance. One verse in particular stands out, I believe it was the topic of a recent General Conference address. In verse 26, Alma asks the people if they have had a change of heart and the desire to sing the song of redeeming love, can they feel so now? Can ye feel so now? I direct this at anyone who is having a rough time right now, or struggling with testimony, or simply needs a little more joy in life. Know that this gospel, this marvelous news about Christ, is true. I know it, you have felt it, and I know you can feel it again. Or, if needs be, can feel it for the first time. Pray. Truly try to follow Christ. And you´ll feel that joy. I promise.

Much love, follow your hearts, do the good work, and make me proud!
Elder Burt