Monday, April 29, 2013

Close Encounters

Howdy folks! Another week has flashed by in the blink of an eye. And despite six months in Brazil speaking Portuguese, my rhyming skills are still on par.

So this week has been a relatively exciting one, with a few good stories. I laughed, I cried, I loved. Welcome to life as a missionary.

1) Robson- One of our newest investigators that we found this week is a man named Robson (a proof to missionaries everywhere that street contacts actually can yield results.) He is extremely humble and open, with a great desire to serve God and learn the gospel. This desire is shared by his wife, Claudialane. I think that´s how you spell it, sometimes names in Brazil can be a bit tough.  So anyway, we taught him the first time early in the week and it went well. When we visited them again, the wife began to cry as she shared with us that the timing of our first visit had been a gift from God. They´d been in the middle of a crisis, and she said our visit brought a peace that they needed more than anything else. They insisted on giving us the little food they could, invited us back any time we wanted, and left me feeling a great love for people like these.

2) Close Encounters of a Strange Kind- Saturday was marked by a large amount of encounters with rather interesting people on the street, a hodge-podge of all of the people we´ve met in the past all in the same day. A voodoo man who considers us his adopted boys, the only two Americans we´ve ever met in Pedro Leopoldo, a clown/sound technician/furniture maker/very helpful ride-giver, a Mason, and various other people.

The voodoo man is named Pai Xiquin, and we´ve run into him various times while here in Pedro Leopoldo. He wears various strange necklaces and is well-known here as a leader in the voodoo community. He´s pretty odd, and always a little drunk. He always greets us with a hug and a kiss on the forehead, followed by an offer to buy us a soda. On Saturday he also told us that he had the gift of revelation, and could see pillars of lights above our heads, that we´re chosen by God, something he doesn´t see around many other people holding the Bible. He also took my hand to shake, and ended up holding onto it for a while, stroking it, and telling me I had hands as beautiful as his mother´s.

We´ve already met the two Americans, and the circumstances were separate. It was odd to have two different conversations in English. One has a wife who abandoned him, went back to the States, and is receiving/spending his pension money (he´s a retired cop.) We tried to calm him down and help him out a little bit. The other is a very stereotypical American living in a foreign country: loud, brazen, speaking in English around Brazilians, a little racist, and a little above everyone. But I like him, he´s a good guy.

Wow, so it looks like I´m already out of time. Before I sign off I want to give a big congrats to Grace Miller on her marriage. It´s a little crazy to me that one of my best friends from childhood just got married. Many well wishes to the happy couple, the lucky groom, the lovely bride, and the entire Miller family! I´m very excited for you.

I woke up a few nights ago in the middle of a dream, in which I was singing one of my favorite hymns. I´ll close with some of the lyrics, encouraging everyone to lift up their heads, share the gospel, fight the good fight, and know I love you!

"Hope of Israel, rise in might
With the sound of truth and right!
Sound the warcry, 'watch and pray',
Vanquish every foe today!"

Much love,
Elder Alex Burt

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Day of Rest, and a Day of Miracles

Top of the morning to you all! This has been a really busy week, filled with disappointment, miracles, and the general good times that accompany a mission in Brazil. Sorry that you're all not so lucky :)

All right, so for the stories I´ll talk about two different days, one of which fulfilled the other.

1) Monday, Day of Rest: Yeah, right. So Monday is our P-day, which usually means much relaxation and rejuvenation, followed by just three hours of work from 6-9. This past Monday, those three hours were intense. First we went to an investigator who was moving towards baptism. He has no money, is on trial for a crime he didn't commit with eight years of prison on the line, jobless, health problems...the list goes on. And the health problems were keeping him from going to church, etc. After a short lesson, I offered to give him a blessing. As we left, we knew that when we returned on Thursday several things would be revealed: If he was in prison, and if he was healed. It was pretty stressful, because he wasn't very optimistic.

Then we went to our next lesson, and things got a bit worse. Our other progressing investigators, a girl and her mom, set an ultimatum. The mom said that they hadn't felt anything about the Book of Mormon, and if they didn't get an answer before our return on Thursday, they would stop investigating the church permanently. I laid down the law with the mom, testifying firmly about our church and it's authority. She was clearly shaken, but the deadline stood.
Several days of intense prayer followed.

2) Thursday, Day of Miracles: The first of the two we visited was the girl and her mom. The girl let us in, and based on her face I wasn't feeling very positive. The mom was nowhere to be seen. After a little small talk, she told us that she'd received an answer about the Book of Mormon. She said that after the prayer she'd felt a great sense of joy and peace like we'd explained. She knew it was true. It was hard to restrain the excitement, and it was a clear testimony to me of the power of prayer and the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. It reminded me of the answers I've had in the past. She still has some doubts, but I have no doubt she'll be baptized in the near future.

Then we went to our other investigator, already feeling good. We found him there, not in prison, and he was extremely excited. Talking about this miracle in his life, etc. And he clearly didn't have any health problems, either. More testimony to me about the power of prayers and the priesthood.
But wait, the day gets better. We went to visit our recent convert, Emílio, and he out of the blue asked us how to prepare to serve a mission. That´s my dream, to have someone I´ve baptized serve a mission.
So that was cool stuff. Sadly, I don´t have any extremely entertaining stories to share with you, but personally I prefer stories like this on the mission.

A quick update on my past converts: All are firm and steadfast in the church. Delmir received the Melchezidek priesthood yesterday and was called as branch secretary. And with only two months in the church! Emílio, as I said, is getting ready to serve a mission next year and still excited. And Gustavo is always in church early, helping set up, excited as well. Makes me very happy to have helped these people find the gospel and this joy.

A few other tidbits: Happy birthday to two of my best friends, Jason Carter and Chris Crandall. One year older and hopefully a little wiser, they both need it! :) Also, congratulations to Franco Firpo and his mission call to Salt Lake. He's going to be a fantastic missionary, I don´t doubt it.
For a quick spiritual thought, read Ether 12:14. It explains that by the faith of Nephi and Lehi the hearts of the Lamanites were changed, showing that by our great faith we can bring about changes for good in others.

So that's that. Love you all, keep doing the good work, have faith, and all will go well. Until next week!

Elder Alex Burt

Monday, April 15, 2013

Running the Show, The Exorcist, and A Sunday Miracle

Yo yo yo!

This week was full of hard work and a bit of extra personal responsibility on my end. Had some ups, some downs, but overall was a solid week.

1) Running the Show: On Wednesday night, my companion got a call from our district leader, informing him that we would have divisions the following day. I would stay in Pedro Leopoldo with the district leader´s companion while Elder Wilson went to Sete Lagoas for the day. This meant that not only was I senior companion for the day, but it was with a Brazilian that only had one month on the mission. Meaning I was also a trainer. So it was definitely a test of everything I´ve learned up to this point on the mission, especially my ability to run appointments and a great test of my Portuguese. I´m happy to say it went magnificently. Together we taught a large number of lessons, several of which were very successful. We managed to mark a date and set goals for an eternal investigator of ours, answer the prayers of a worried mom whose son had just had a serious talk with her about committing suicide, and perform an exorcism. OK, I´ll explain that last one later. Please keep reading and don´t assume I´m a heretic. Overall I worked very hard to ensure we kept working, taught lessons, and helped people. And at the end of the day I felt like a much more successful and able missionary.

2) The Exorcist: So while I was senior companion we visited a young mom who had been taught by the missionaries and attended church six years ago. When we arrived she didn´t really want anything to do with us, due to some bad memories about the church members, but we were persistent and eventually she opened up. We talked about the church, but somehow she got to talking about a demon that she was convinced used to visit her at night. She said she´d never seen it, but that she could feel it´s presence. It was tall, wore a red robe and had a shadow in place of it´s face. But again, she´d never seen it. Oh the imagination. But she invited us in, and asked us to say a prayer. I offered it, and said nothing about demons or casting them out, just praying for peace for this girl. We then talked more about the church, and in the end she was quite happy, even saying that she´d definitely consider coming back to church. We´ll follow up this week. See if the demon came back. Good stuff like that. Maybe I´ll have to bring in my special flask of holy water.

3) A Sunday Miracle: So throughout the week we worked hard to help our investigators come to church. We have a goal of five baptisms this month and need to get people excited and coming to church. We visited all of our progressing investigators on Saturday and they all promised sincerely to come on Sunday. We gave them bus hours, taught about the Sabbath day, and did everything possible. Saturday night I was feeling pretty confident. Then came Sunday, and only one of our investigators came. Fortunately she loved church, but we really need more people! But the Lord truly blessed us for our efforts in another way. On our way to church, we came across a man in the road. He asked us if we were from the Church of Christ, and we said yes. Half joking, my companion said "Let´s go there together!" To our surprise, he accepted and attended church with us. He liked it, and I have every intention of baptizing him this month. The only difficulty is that he has problems with smoking that we´ll need to address first.

I hope you all enjoy the pictures that are being sent as well (if my dad puts them on the blog, of course). I want to reiterate what I said a couple weeks ago, what a blessing it was to see my first convert baptize his little brother. They´re both still very excited and firm in the church.
A request! If someone could send Madeleine Homer´s address to my family to e-mail to me, that´d be awesome. She sent me a letter that I´d love to respond to, but the only information I have is that she´s in Spain. And I don´t know what the postal service will do with a letter marked "Madeleine Homer. Spain."

I´d like to end this letter with a request to everyone reading. Please pray for me and my companion this next few weeks, that we´ll baptize five people this month. I have 100% certainty that this goal was inspired by the Lord and not just a number created by us, which means that there are five people out there ready and willing to hear our message and have their sins washed away. But we need all the prayers we can get. I love you all, am trying my hardest here, and know that I´m doing the work of the Lord. Do good, follow your hearts, and keep to the course.

Much love,
Elder Alex Burt


Monday, April 8, 2013

Three Drunks, Two Missionaries, and One Deceased

I came the closest I ever have to dying on my mission this last Friday. Also the closest I've ever come to just giving up and coming home.

I was at a member´s house eating lunch when I heard a familiar soundtrack playing from the other room. "Oh!" I thought. "Lord of the Rings! I´ll just take a peek to see what part it is. This music just seems a bit off. I don´t quite recognize it."

It wasn´t Lord of the Rings. It was the Hobbit. My heart just about failed as I had to turn around and keep eating.

Yes, the challenges of a mission are great, but I will remain steadfast in the face of adversity! Hopefully I didn´t scare anyone too much with that first line...I really am doing fine and have absolutely no plans on dying or coming home anytime soon. I promise.

All right, on to stories. This week wasn´t quite as full especially after the success of last week, but I still have a couple things to share.

Three Drunks, Two Missionaries, and One Dead Mom I was half tempted to call this story ´The Drunken Brawl´, but I figure I messed around with my readers enough this entry. We were in Vera Cruz, a small neighborhood/town that is a part of our area. (Fun fact, the town is over 300 years old, one of the oldest settled parts of Minas Gerais.) It was a little late, like 7:00, and we were heading to an appointment. Two people, a man and a woman, were walking down the road, clinging to each other and kind of stumbling along. We´d met the man a little eariler so we started chatting a bit with him as we walked. He told us they were returning from the funeral of the woman´s mom. We put two and two together and realized that this was the sister of one of our other investigators, whose mom lived in Vera Cruz and had recently returned from the hospital. In fact, we had gone to Vera Cruz that day to visit the investigator´s parents. Bad timing on our part.

The woman was drunk out of her mind, thought we were Seventh Day Adventists, and began to argue with my companion. The man started talking to me, and it was clear he was crazy drunk as well. I found myself in a dangerous discussion about the race/color of God (the man was of African descent). Without the help of my companion. I tiptoed my way through it and he ended up very satisfied with my responses. Then he turned to ask my companion, and I was left with the woman. She was in hysterics at this point, and the first thing she said to me was "Why don´t you believe in God? Why are you a liar?" I was a little curious to know what my companion had said to her (I found out after it was about the mother of Jesus, who we don´t consider a goddess like this woman apparently did.) I spoke very slowly, calmly, and simply. "I´m not lying to you, Irmã. I´m telling you what I believe with all my heart. I love my mom and am truly sorry for your loss." She calmed down. Well, more than that, she embraced me and hugged me rather tighter then a missionary is comfortable with, and began to cry. She told me she wanted me to marry her niece, that I was a great person, and that she´d make sure to visit the Seventh Day Adventist church when she could. (They better not get a convert because of this.) I looked over and saw my companion trying to escape what was now two drunk black men questioning him about the race of Adam and Eve, if black people started because Eve (the first sinner) was black, etc etc. Lots of nonsense and they weren´t very good at listening. We disentangled ourselves, and headed off to our next appointment a bit later than we had expected.

Well, looks like I spent most of my time on that story, but that´s all right because it was the most interesting thing of the week. The best part of the week, of course, was General Conference. Listening to the words of the prophets and apostles is immensely enlightening, even in a different language. It was hard to catch everything they said, and we were unable to watch every session, but I had several sincere questions answered and felt a great love and support for our prophet, Thomas S. Monson. He shared a formula for being better servants to the Lord that applies very directly to missionaries, but can help all of you as well, I´m sure. I thought I´d share the four points before I close.

1) Search the scriptures with diligence
2) Plan life with purpose
3) Teach the truth with testimony
4) Serve the Lord with love

Along with the prophet, I encourage everyone to try a little harder on each of these points. I have already seen them bless me as a missionary and constantly strive to improve on each of them. I love you all, and sincerely hope all is well back on the home front. Fight the good fight, do the good work, and never give up. Until next week!

Elder Alex Burt

Monday, April 1, 2013

Happy Easter and a Very Merry April Fool´s Day!

Sadly, I do not have the time to pull a prank on all you readers. I´ve got a lot to say and the minutes are ticking down. 

This week was very successful, ending with two more baptisms after a lot of work. The first of these was Gustavo. Gustavo has been coming to church for more than three months now, but is extremely timid. We´ve met with him pretty frequently, but he was impossible to nail down to a date. He wanted a year to think to begin with, and last week we had a date set for the 30th of March, but he was extremely doubtful and it wasn´t particularly firm. But this week went swimmingly. We had a fast on Monday with him, and our prayers were extremely focused on helping him overcome his fear of family and any other doubts. The fast looked pretty immediately answered on Monday, when we managed to contact his aunt (Gustavo´s mom died and he lives with his aunt now). We have been to the house nearly ten times before and never found her, and this time we got extremely lucky (luck doesn´t exist) as we arrived just as she pulled up in a car to grab something from home before driving off again. We set up a good relationship and figured we´d settled any big fears she had about the Church. Then, on Wednesday, we had a lesson with Gustavo. It was the best lesson we´ve ever taught. Both of us worked together, asked questions, used the member there, bore testimony, and in the end Gustavo said very firmly that he would be baptized this Saturday. And he was!

The second baptism took a lot of work during the week to work out, but the reward was great. We met Emílio, the brother of Delmir (my first baptism), last week. He seemed excited for baptism, but after church last week he was experiencing some doubts. We went to his house on Tuesday to get him ready for baptism, only to hear from him that he wanted an indeterminate amount of extra time to prepare. It was a little scary, because his sisters had said the same thing before beginning to ignore us altogether. We found out, through careful questions and a clear explanation about baptism, that he hadn´t prayed to know if the Book of Mormon was true. He said he wanted to receive his answer in a different way. We hastily explained that answers came through sincere prayer, and he agreed to read and pray that night. As we left he asked us sincerely to pray for him to receive his answer. I left that lesson praying harder than I ever have before for another person to receive an answer. He clearly was searching and I couldn´t bear to think of him falling away. We returned on Thursday, started talking a bit, and he came right out and told us (without being asked) that he´d received his answer. That he read, prayed, and felt something in his heart that couldn´t be explained. He wanted to be baptized. We got him ready, he enjoyed church more the second time, and was baptized Sunday night. He had the amazing blessing of being baptized on Easter, a holiday all about rebirth. Another great part of this was getting to see Delmir baptize his brother. We´re really doing our best to help this family.

So those are the big stories of this week. It was an exhausting week, physically and spiritually, but also oh so rewarding.

I want to finish this post with a bit of an Easter message. I want to bear my testimony to you all of Christ. That I know He lives! He is my Savior, my Redeemer, and my best friend. It is only because of Him that any of us have any hope of returning to live with our Father in Heaven, any hope for happiness after this life, and our best chance at happiness and peace here in mortality. I am constantly striving to try to understand Him more personally, to understand the sacrifice that He made for me. I know all of this beyond a shadow of a doubt, and it is because of this knowledge and faith that I am giving my absolute best here on the mission to serve Him. To help others turn their lives to follow Him. It´s true, people. It really is, and I hope that each of you put a little thought on Him as well.

I love you all, keep up the good fight back on the home front. Try a little harder, be a little better, and I´ll see you all on the flippety-flip!

Elder Alex Burt