Monday, March 25, 2013

Mystery Man, Cinderella Story, and Angels

Another week has passed at an insanely fast rate here in Brazil. I´m half convinced the globe turns faster here. No wonder the days seem so short! :)  But yes, in spite of this nonsense I actually am physically and mentally healthy. And, even more important, very spiritually healthy! This week was a little less full of lessons as those in the past, but I still have a few good stories.

1) Mystery Man-- On Tuesday, we were way out in the boondocks to contact a reference we´d received from a member (see story 3). We were waiting to catch the bus back, when a car pulled over and the man inside offered us a ride. We said sure and hopped in. I wasn´t sure who this guy was, but a ride is always welcome. But then we went down this dirt road, got out of the car, and he started showing us this lot that he´d bought for a new house. It was dark and pretty sketchy and I was wondering what the heck my companion was thinking. Fortunately I was not murdered, we got back in the car, and as we began to drive I realized (based on my companion´s conversation with him), that we definitely knew him, he was a non-member father of a member of the ward. We´d had lunch several times at his house, but I didn´t recognize him. Whoops, I guess my companion did know what he was doing.

2) Cinderella Story--I discovered this week that missionaries don´t actually turn into pumpkins when they break curfew at 9:30. Or even if they stay out past midnight. Yes. I did that. But don´t worry, it was authorized by the mission president! It was Friday, and we were in the midst of trying to catch up in lessons after a few days without many. At 5:00, we got a phone call from the APs that we needed to be in 7 Lagoas, an hour away by bus, by 7:00. There was an event at a school for English, at which the missionaries in 7 Lagoas were supposed to have a booth to talk about the church. Unfortunately, these American elders were sick, couldn´t make it, and we were the next closest English speakers to be found. So we booked it to the bus station, caught the next bus, and arrived there a little after 7. The event was pretty awesome. We got a bunch of free food, talked in English with first-year students, got a bunch of references for the elders there, and listened to a whole bunch of very loud American dance music. The event ended at 11:30, and we didn´t get home until a little past midnight. Best part of all? We still had to get up at 6:30 the next morning.

3) Angels-- So that one reference we contacted out in the boondocks was an interesting story. She is having a really rough time in life right now, with various problems and illnesses going on simultaneously. She broke down in tears at various times during our lesson. We taught the first lesson, and afterwards heard the story about how the member had referred us to her. She had been in the hospital for her daughter when she met this member. The member, in an amazing and exemplary show of missionary work, comforted her and talked a bit about the gospel. She shared a story about two angels who had come to her house and changed her life, and promised to send two angels to visit this investigator. Yeah, we had a lot to live up to. Also, because she lived so far away, it took us a little while to get there. Impatient, she had called the member and asked "where were the angels?" I don´t know if we were exactly what she was expecting, but as we left she sincerely thanked us for the peace we had brought into her home and, again, called us angels. Now I just hope that she realizes that our purpose there isn´t done yet with just the one visit...

Yep, so this week was pretty great. My English continues to deteriorate as my Portuguese improves, at least a little. I truly can feel myself strengthened and taught by the Spirit every day. I truly love all of you, and can feel your prayers. Stick to the course, live life to its fullest, etc etc etc.

Elder Alex Burt

Monday, March 18, 2013

The American, the Professor, and... the Woman

Hello there!

Another week has come and gone here in Brazil, which can be a little difficult to believe. Time can be a slippery thing. But over the course of the week I had a number of fun experiences and found quite a few new good people to teach. It has been crazy hot all week, I´m hoping things will start to cool down a little bit now that we´re heading into Autumn. But who knows, I´m not exactly an expert on Brazilian weather patterns.
Story time!

1) The American: Towards the beginning of the week we headed off to the neighborhood Vera Cruz again, in an attempt to contact the woman we taught last week. Sadly she wasn´t at home, but we did contact a very interesting family a little off the beaten path with a big property. They were Americans! I´ll admit it felt kind of weird conversing in English with anyone aside from my companion. I also noticed I talked a little more than I usually do in lessons. Well, at least in the beginning. I think they enjoyed talking to someone in English as well, and went off on a rant after the wife had a bit of a fight with one of the neighbors. They aren´t looking like investigators, but it was nice to talk to them. They invited us to their house to spend the weekend and jump in the pool, which we had to respectfully decline for a couple of reasons, haha.

2) The Professor: One person we found who did turn out to be an awesome investigator is named Geraldo. He was an accidental reference of a woman we chatted with on the street who lied about where she lived. Good news is we met Geraldo because of it! He is a history teacher at a local school and is quite educated.  He is very sincere and is truly searching to learn about the church and see if it´s true. Wonderfully, he also understands nearly perfectly the doctrine that we teach. The first lesson went very well, and when we came the next day he had read the chapter from the Book of Mormon, understood very well, and had several excellent questions based on the reading. Our answers satisfied him, and overall I have a lot of hope for him. He´s a little wary of commiting to anything, but I also have a lot of trust that he will always keep his commitments. I really like him.

3) The...Woman: OK, sorry, for the horrible title to this story/investigator. I don´t have whole lot of time to be creative because I really need to write. But know that while the title is the most generic, the woman we encountered was much better. She and her family live in the center of the city, but are moving out into the boondocks to live with her soon-to-be husband. She is very eager to listen to us, is searching for a church, and is sincere in her desire to learn more. We visited her three times over the course of the week, the final visit being in her country home. It´s really in the middle of nowhere, and the trip there was kind of exciting. Took a bus to a turn-off with a dirt road, which we walked down for about fifteen minutes. We came to one house where we decided to inquire about where we could find Dililsa (our investigator). Looking to one side of the driveway, I saw an enormous spider on a large spider web. The spider, from leg tip to leg tip, was about the length of my hand. The body itself was the length of my pinky and about half as wide. Looking closer on either side, we saw that the woods were full of webs--hundreds of these spiders lining the road up to the gate. We talked to the owner of the house and he offered us a ride to where Dililsa was, a good way down the road. The house where she is moving is amazing. It´s very isolated, with an amazing view out into rolling, tree-covered, Brazilian hills. There's an orchard and we were offered all sorts of exotic fruits. Look up the fruit ´jaca´online. It´s crazy. So we spent a little bit there, were treated amazingly with Brazilian hospitality, saw a praying mantis, had delicious fruits and natural milk from the cows they own, and then took the trip back to town. Very cool.

So that's that! I have yet again run out of time, so stay tuned for next week! Also, I´m sorry I don´t have time for a proper spiritual thought, but if you are able to, take the time to study Mormon 9:21-23 (I think) in the Book of Mormon. Very fascinating and I´ve been thinking a lot about them in the past couple of days. Prayer coupled with faith is an amazingly powerful thing, something we can not afford to forget.

I love you all, stay to the course, do the good work, and on, on to victory!

Much love,
Elder Alex Burt

Monday, March 11, 2013

Songs in the Key of (Missionary) Life

Hello hello hello!

Me again, and I've got a number of entertaining stories from this week so, without further ado, I will get on with them!

1) Nine in the Afternoon--Monday is our P-day, but we still go out and work after 6:00. On this particular day, we weren't having much success. We were knocking on doors, but it was kind of late and no one wanted to let us in. We taught one quick lesson at 8:00 that yielded absolutely nothing, and it was starting to look like we´d have to go home without anything concrete. We have until 9:00 every day, or 9:30 if we´re in the middle of a lesson. We kept trying, walking along one street close to our house at 8:50. Our hour was drawing near, but we kept moving along the street a little further from our house. We saw a woman in a doorway and said: Well, I guess this is our last shot at trying to talk to someone. Miraculously, at 8:55, she let us in and we began to teach. The lesson had a powerful spirit, the woman agreed to read the Book of Mormon and pray and, upon receiving an answer, baptism. She said she felt really good that we were there. I don´t know if she'll progress, but that was definitely where we needed to be at that time. And we still made it back to the house on time!

2) The Long and Winding Road--So this experience on Monday was followed by a similar one on Tuesday. We had district meeting, and then lunch in a neighborhood that was an hour away on foot. By the time we left lunch, it was like 2:00. We looked at our schedule, and saw that our local branch president wanted us to visit a family who lived another hour away on foot, and our next appointment was in Vera Cruz, a neighborhood another two hours ahead of that. So we said, "what the heck" and started walking. The first family wasn´t there, so we ended up walking three hours straight (not counting the hour walk to lunch and the hour walk to district meeting) to get to Vera Cruz. Tired but cheerful, we tried a family that my companion had contacted before my arrival here two months ago. They let us in and we taught the first lesson. Yet again, the spirit was powerful there and the couple we were teaching accepted baptism. I have a lot of hope for these two, they seem very sincere. The woman said that she never lets religious people in, that they really bother her, but that she felt something different about us, a kind of peace that affected her. Very cool.

3) Master the Tempest is Raging or After the Storm--Wednesday brought about a bit of excitement that wasn´t teaching related. This is the rainy season here in Brazil, they have it during the summer (a little different from my beloved Washington). But it hasn´t rained in nearly two weeks, leaving us with extreme heat. Which means, when the rain finally hits, it hits hard. Welcome to Wednesday. We were walking along in one neighborhood when we began to see heavy heavy rain clouds moving in. Thunder and lightning started up in the distance. Looking off to one side, we saw what looked like a full sized cloud turned sideways, touching the earth. And looking behind us we could see a heavy heavy mist which, in actuality, was a solid wall of rain. We didn´t have time to look for good cover, so we took shelter under a small eaves that was just big enough to shelter me and my companion sitting next to each other on the step up to an apartment building. Then, with a blinding flash of light and an enormous crack of thunder like I´ve never heard before, it began. The rain was intense, but the wind was blowing in such a way that we were sheltered by the building. The wind was powerful enough that it was cracking trees in half, and we were sitting there very grateful to have shelter. Then it started to hail. And then the wind changed direction and hit us straight on. I was honestly fear-stricken for a second, the poweful force that suddenly hit me. I was completely soaked instantly. We ran to the other side of the building to shelter again, waited out the rest of the storm, and I spent the rest of the day wet and a little chilly. Overall, it was awesome.

4) I Dreamed a Dream--I don't have as much time as I would like for this final story, but I'll share the part that was the most entertaining. We taught a family on Thursday that was, well, a little annoying. They were very hard to deal with, especially the mother and the sister. But at the end of the lesson, one of the sons said something rather interesting. He explained that he had taken a different route home from work that day, which was why he was able to see us and invite us to his home. And then he pointed at me and said that he'd dreamt about me the night before. He was a little odd, but it also could certainly be the hand of the Lord at work. We'll see how this family does, they invited us back to their home and, in any case, I'm sure it will make for more interesting experiences.

Thank you all for reading, and thank you very much for your prayers. I truly feel them strengthen me as I try to to this marvelous work. I would like to apologize to my friend, Amy--I think I wrote down the wrong mission in my post last week. She has been called to Los Angeles, not Las Vegas. I hope I got it right now. Oh, and thanks to whoever sent Andy's address to my brother! You're a life-saver.
Love you all, keep doing the good work, live life, follow your hearts, and don't forget your beloved missionary here in Brazil!

Elder Alex Burt

P.S. If anyone sends me a letter containing the artists to all the songs I used as story titles, you´ll win a prize!
P.P.S This definitely isn´t a cheap trick into getting letters
P.P.P.S Ok, maybe it kind of is.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Just Desserts

Bon dia, meus amigos!

Yep, it´s your favorite missionary with yet another blog post about his awesomely amazing life here in Brazil preaching the word of God. This week was, I will admit, a little dry in terms of exciting stories. Slightly more door knocking than usual and nothing extremely nutty occurred. But, that being said, life certainly is never boring here.

The theme of this week was definitely desserts. We held an activity in the church for members and investigators on Wednesday in which everyone brought their own dessert, which we ate while talking and helping members fellowship our investigators. The craziness started on Monday when we spent our whole budget on ingredients for cookies and donuts (don´t worry, we had a stockpile of food in the house as well.) Between Monday and Wednesday we made a little more than 60 cookies and 15 donuts, giving the donut recipe to an investigator to give him a reason to go to the activity. We brought the cookies as a fun American dessert...but let´s just say that of the 60 only 40 made it to the activity, and my companion had to strong-arm me into not eating more.

But even more amazing and mind-blowing, guess who made the ENTIRE first batch of cookies ALONE? That´s right, all you unbelievers, Alex Burt actually cooked something that turned out well. Splendidly, in fact. For those of you who don´t know me well, cooking isn´t exactly my greatest talent. Or so we thought!

OK, onto more spiritual and missionary-related experiences (although this discovery of talent was rather exciting for me). As I said early on, we did a lot of knocking on doors this week, which generally doesn´t result in a whole ton of new investigators. We taught a bunch of lessons, but most were short and not as well received as many we´ve taught. Until Saturday night. We knocked on one door and a man in his mid-twenties opened the door. We hardly had to open our mouths before he excitedly ushered us in, sat us down, and began to ask us about our message and church. The way he talked was extremely understandable to me, I had nearly no trouble at all with the Portuguese, to the point where it almost felt like he was speaking English. It was very much a discussion rather than a lesson, and he explained parts of our message before we even got to them. He explained the Word of Wisdom without knowing it was a commandment, mourned the lack of authority in churches today, and talked about personal revelation. He accepted everything we said, accepted the Book of Mormon, and all was amazing. Well, except for one small detail: he actually lives in Belo Horizonte and is only here in our area during the weekends. Which means we can teach him, take him to church, but can´t baptize him. It has to be the missionaries in the area where he lives. Not that the 'who' really matters, but it makes the whole process rather more complicated. In any case, it was awesome!

Now for a bit of a spiritual thought. This one gets a bit of a backstory because it´s a little silly. It was the middle of the night, and I woke up. Well, half woke up. I was in that weird half-dream state where I knew I was lying in my bed but wasn´t thinking super rationally. And while in this state I came up with a metaphor for the gift of the Holy Ghost, as related to sleeping and beds.

I was thinking about the difference between the gift and just feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost. Because it´s possible to feel it before baptism, but sometimes I might have to explain to someone why it´s so much better to have the gift, the constant presence. I figured that the influence is like trying to sleep on the cement floor of a bus/train station, on a hot day, without a pillow or blankets, with all of the business and noise around you. Sure, you might get a few seconds of sleep and a bit of rest if you´re absolutely exhausted, and to someone who doesn´t know anything else that could be considered good enough. But to have the gift is like lying on a soft bed, with a down pillow, absolutely blissful. Again, clearly I was in my bed while thinking about this.

Quick shout out and congrats to my good friend Amy Forbush and her mission call to Las Vegas, Spanish speaking!!!! You´ll be an amazing missionary, I have absolutely no doubt!

So that´s that, my time is up. I love you all, am working hard over here, and hope all is well back in the US of A, or wherever you are right now. Stay strong, do your best, follow your hearts, and I´ll see you on the flippity-flip!

Elder Alex Burt