Sunday, July 28, 2013

Painful Celebrations, Obliviously Lost, and the Business Life

Alex with a recent convert
Welcome, everyone, to another weekly post by your absolute favorite missionary, Elder Burt. I'm Elder Burt, and I'll be your host today as we learn just a little bit more what it's like to be:
1) A Brazilian missionary
2) CFO of a major organization
3) Super cool

OK, so technically I'm still being trained and won´t be CFO for another month or so. Also, I´m not exactly sure how people here would react if they knew I was calling myself "CFO". But it's going to look awfully awesome on resumes this way. :)

So let's get to business! This week was slightly less crazy than the last, but I
still had a whole ton of work to do.

1) Painful Celebrations - For those of you who aren't familiar with Brazil, you should know that people here are completely crazy-go-nuts about soccer. It's pretty much what they live and breathe. So when the favorite team of Minas Gerais, Atl├ętico Mineiro, wins the South American championship, stuff explodes. And the championship was held here in Belo Horizonte. The entire previous day people were honking their horns, randomly shouting "GALO!" (which means rooster, the team mascot), and generally being excited. To win, Atl├ętico needed to beat the other team by three points. I didn´t watch it, I was already sleeping by the time it started. But when it ended (as I found out later, with a Galo victory after a number of penalties) I did not sleep anymore. The entire city went berserk: car horns, fireworks, literal explosions, shouting, screaming...people were pretty happy. The next 24 hours were exactly the same. People were sitting on their car horns all day, large fireworks were set off next to my office building frequently (one was set off just now), and I had a splitting headache by the end of Thursday. I like to see everyone so excited and happy, I just wish it was little more quiet.

2) Obviously Lost - So last week I talked a bunch about Monica, the investigator we found in church. Well, last Sunday she came to church again and pretty much repeated the crying/joy cycle she had the first time. And tomorrow she's getting baptized! She was interviewed this morning and tomorrow is the baptism.

The week in teaching her went well. We taught the Plan of Salvation and the spirit was very strong. We clearly explained it, asked good questions, and by the end she was excited for baptism and very excited to endure to the end to get to the celestial kingdom. A bit later in the week we taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a couple of the commandments. At the beginning of the lesson she shared the things she learned/applied from the story of her favorite scripture hero, Nephi. It was a drawing of a tree, where the roots were the worthiness of humanity, the trunk was the commandments tied to the important characteristics we need to have (including faith, love, repentance, and endurance), and the branches were all the different people, who gave fruits based on their obedience to the commandments. It was pretty deep and during parts of it I was definitely lost, but it was cool to see that she is applying the Book of Mormon. As we taught the commandments, we ended each one asking Monica if she would live that particular commandment. Every time a look of surprise came over her face and she quickly said "Well, obviously!"  That´s what we like to hear!

Another interesting part of the story was today for the interview. Monica showed up at the church 45 minutes late, completely hysterical. Somehow she had gotten lost on the way from her house, even though she lives in the same neighborhood and has walked to the church several times already. She was freaking out about it, talked about how Satan was fighting against her baptism and we had to calm her down before the interview.

3) Never Coming Back Until Next Week - Another investigator we've been teaching for a while looked pretty unexcited when we showed up to teach on Friday. She had come to church for the first time last Sunday, and we were excited to keep helping her. She let us know quickly that it was too hard for her to get to church so early on Sunday, that she´d just go to a different church closer to her, and that life was too hard to keep the commandments. I shared a scripture in Mosiah 24:13-14, about the burdens being lifted from the people who lived righteously and relied on God. That they still existed, but were bearable, versus the people of King Limhi who tried to fix things on their own.

Then we taught the Plan of Salvation, not super clearly, but in a way that helped her. At one point I was explaining judgement day, and she sat back and said, "I just wish I could be born again!" We stopped for a second, paused, and I said, "and how could that happen?" After a bit, she said "I have to be baptized." Holy moly that was an awesome moment. She knows what she has to do, now we just have to see if she has the strength to do it. She definitely sees that the gospel is blessing her family, and said she would try her hardest to come to church on Sunday.

A close second in terms of great moments during that lesson came when the investigator's mom, a less active member who is firmly returning to church, was just sitting in the background the whole time praising Jesus and agreeing with us (she´s more than 80 years old). Then, when my companion was explaining the Terrestial kingdom and how we wouldn't live with our families or God, she obliviously said "Oh, Jesus Christ have mercy on us and lift us up to that place!" I had to stifle a laugh.

4) Business Life - Meanwhile, during the vast majority of my time, I was sitting at my desk in the office, making payments, resolving like a million problems that popped up this week with houses and contracts, and dealing with half of the missionaries running out of money due to transfers. It was kind of a stressful week, but I learned a lot and am really enjoying myself.

So that's the word. I would like to wish a very happy birthday to my good friend Riley Norton, along with a happy birthday to myself! In three days I will no longer be a teenager...that's pretty weird.
I love you all, and hope you have an awesome week. I know I'm here doing the Lord´s work. This week I had the opportunity to teach a lot about Christ and his Atonement, and to think a lot about it. I know that He is my Savior and that I can always rely on Him to help in whatever difficulty I'm experiencing. That's a wonderful knowledge.

Keep on keeping on, make the most of every day, and don't stop smiling!

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Week of Madness

Holy moly, people. I would like to say that life in the office is not quite as chill as everyone makes it out to be. This week was absolutely bonkers, due to the placement of transfers, Mission Tour, and really important lessons all at once. But let me take this one step at a time.

1) The First Step - All right, so to begin with let me talk about last Sunday when the week started off right. We went to church a little early, hoping to meet our good friend Elton John. As he wasn't showing up, we went out front to wait and make some contacts, inviting people to enter the church. We weren't having a whole lot of success, until one point when we saw a middle-aged woman walking down the street slowly. She was crying. She stopped in front of the church, sat on the curb, and talked to someone on the phone while still crying.

She got up and started towards us again, and we quickly invited her into the church. She said that a friend of hers (a member of the ward) had invited her but that he wouldn't be here today. We said that wasn't a problem, we'd help her out, and invited her in. Her name is Monica. She was still crying and seemed a little...off. I don't know, not completely there, if you know what I mean. She drank a little water and sat down next to us in the chapel, still nearly sobbing. She was crying all the way through sacrament, but it was clear she was feeling the Spirit. During the talks she stopped and began to furiously take notes on a napkin she had in her purse. She would occasionally turn to us and ask questions, which we hastily answered and said we'd explain more afterwards. Her biggest question was about the nature of the Godhead. She turned to me and asked "Wait, I always thought that God the Creator came to Earth as Christ? Are they not the same?" And I said "There's God, our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, our Savior and His son." I held up one finger on each hand. "The Father, and the Son." She seemed astonished and turned to my companion, repeated the question, and then held up her two fingers like I did and asked, "So there´s the Father and the Son?" He responded in the affirmative and she began to write more notes.

After sacrament meeting she heard about baptism, and absolutely begged us to baptize her. We said it would happen next week, after we taught her a few things and made sure she was ready. By the end of church she was crazy excited, hugging everyone (we had to let her know we couldn't give hugs as missionaries), and telling everyone about the baptism. It was amazing.

2) The Second Step - So the first time we got to actually teach Monica was on Monday. We went to her house after our day in the office, and taught the message of the Restoration, the Word of Wisdom, and the Law of Chastity. She heartily accepted everything, and just has problems with cigarettes and coffee. But when she heard that she couldn't use them if she wanted to be baptized, she agreed immediately to stop. At the end of the lesson, we had left her with the three pamphlets from the things we taught, along with a Book of Mormon and Gospel Principles book that she'd received in church. She seemed concerned, and asked us what she should read. I hastily said that the most important thing is the Book of Mormon. She looked very relieved and said that she was so happy I'd said that, because she had an extreme desire to read it and believed it was a great treasure when she looked at it, and she already believes it's true.

3) The Third Step - Break. Now let's move onto Tuesday and Wednesday, in which no teaching was done as transfers happened. And let me tell you, transfers in the office are absolutely crazy. First came the arrival of all the new missionaries on Tuesday. I tried my best to make them all feel welcome, I remember just how crazy it was for me just six short months ago when I was in their shoes. Especially the Americans. Today I also discovered that of my district from the CTM, five will be training this transfer, one went to the new mission and I believe is now senior, and I'm the new financial secretary. Also, with the amount of new missionaries arriving (it should be another 30 next transfer), everyone will train. It's a crazy time to be a missionary. Crazy and amazing.

So that night all of the missionaries stayed in our apartment. There were like fifteen elders there. And the next night, when there were people staying over for the Mission Tour with Elder Mazzagardi before going back to their far-away areas, there were twenty people in our house and us secretaries had to sleep in a hotel.  I think on both nights I wasn't in bed before 11:30pm, and I had to get up early too. Exhaustion.

4) The Fourth Step - Back to Monica for a bit. We finally got to meet with her again on Thursday, when we had a Family Home Evening with a member. Monica was crazy excited, couldn't stop talking about the gospel and the Book of Mormon (she'd read half of First Nephi already and had a clear understanding, and was even applying it to her life), has been sharing her excitement with everyone around her, and even had a dream about the cemetery where Joseph Smith is buried and how she wants to be buried there. Which was a little weird, but okay! She explained how she felt in a great way: that she is at the bottom of a great stairway, just getting ready to take the first step, and was amazingly excited to get started on this wonderful adventure. The only downer was the member telling her that she shouldn't be talking to other people so much because it will annoy them, and then telling us after Monica had gone that she couldn't wait for Monica to calm down. I really had to bite my tongue. It would not have gone well if I participated in that discussion.

Sadly, in any case, because of everything that happened this week and some commitments she had with family in the evenings, we didn't manage to teach Monica everything. Plus I don´t think she´s completely given up cigarettes yet. I was very excited to have a baptism on the same week as transfers, but she's still definitely getting baptized next week when things are a little calmer.

5) The Fifth Step - The week ended on a spiritual high, when I got to attend a mission conference, at which a member of the Second Quorom of the Seventy, Elder Mazzagardi, addressed us. It took up most of Friday with our half of the mission (the other half had their session on Thursday). The Spirit was amazingly strong and I learned a lot. Some of the most touching things to me were the thoughts he had on the Atonement, our ability to receive a spiritual experience like Nephi (1 Nephi 10:17-19, 11:1) if we pondered on what we learned, and a powerful discourse on the feelings of God. How he loves us and feels such sadness when His children make the wrong decision. I truly love my Heavenly Father.
Throughout the entire thing, he spoke entirely by the Spirit. He had a vague outline of what he wanted to say, but President (who was there both days) said that a lot of things were taught to us that were different then what had been taught to the others.

Afterwards, as a member of the staff, President Fortunato gave me and a few other missionaries the chance to be personally interviewed by Elder Mazzagardi. Mine was a last-second decision and it had to be quick because he needed to get to the airport. But in those few minutes of one-on-one time I felt the Spirit extremely strongly, and the general authority shared some words with me, without asking me anything, that were exactly what I needed to hear. He is definitely a servant of God and has the gift of discernment.

So that was my nutty week. I hope all of you are well and happy. I know I am! My testimony is burning bright and I'm so ready to keep working. I love you all, keep to the course, and remember who you are!

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Rocking in the Office

Sup sup! Another week from the office here in Belo Horizonte, with lots of work to be done and a whole ton of fun. I´m starting to get accustomed to this different kind of missionary life. I´m getting the hang of things, still trying to get used to talking on the phone so much in Portuguese, managing housing contracts, dealing with angry landlords, satisfying missionaries, managing money, and all the while being super cool.

I also have been working very hard to get everyone out of the office by six so we can go proselyting, which actually happened this week, every day! We did a whole bunch more and found some excellent people.

1) Elton John is In Jail - Well, was in jail. This was just a phrase that I heard a ton from the other missionaries in the area when I got here. Elton John is the name of an investigator that the secretaries had before me, who was progressing towards baptism. But then he was arrested for stealing a phone and has been in jail ever since. However, I've heard his story and it's amazing the things he's changed because of a testimony he´s gained of the Book of Mormon and the church. He was a drug dealer and had a number of problems associated with that, but began changing his life as he met with the missionaries.

But this last week, during a division, Elder Gledhill got a call. From Elton. He was out of jail and wanted us to come over! We were in a different area but Elder Wensel went and visited him. Elton still wants to be baptized.

I got to see him the next day and he was really cool. Very sincere, I never would have believed his past if I hadn't been told. He already has a job at McDonald's after just one day out of jail, and is trying to get another shift at a different restaurant. What a guy.

2) Nossa Maria, e Agora?! (Or: My Goodness, What Now?!)-Yet another fun story about an encounter with a drunk man! It was last Sunday after our lunch appointment. We were waiting for the bus when a drunk man walking down the street asked if he could stand next to us. I said sure, and then Elder Wensel asked if we could visit him and share a message. He tossed his arms up in the air, turned to me with a bemused expression, and said (roughly translated) "My Goodness, what now?" I shrugged and said he could say yes. He agreed with me, and then Elder Wensel asked if we could head to his house now. He repeated the same action and words, and I made the same indication. He turned back to Elder Wensel and said all right. And then just stood there. So Elder Wensel asked, "Can we go, then?" For the third time the hands went up and he asked me the same question. And then finally off we went. 

The lesson went all right, as well as they can go with drunk people. He got the point but told us he wouldn't ever leave the Catholic church no matter what. So we left, right after he showed us his photo albums from the year 1981, in which he visited Rome, Egypt, and various places in Central America. Good year for the guy.

But in the end, as we left, he shook my hand and gave me a hug, profoundly thanking me for the visit. He lived alone, and we had clearly made his day just by stopping by and listening a little.

3) Intelligence - This week we found a couple new investigators, and they had something considerably in common. They were extremely intelligent. Clearly they came from wealthy families, each was about twenty-five, lived with their parents, had spent their whole lives studying...it was great because they understood the message, but also a little tougher because they're far more questioning and skeptical. But in the end they accepted the invite to read, pray, and be baptized upon knowing the truth of the Book of Mormon. The first was very sincere in his acceptance and shared with us spiritual experiences he's had in the past, so I have a great hope that he will progress. He also lives close to the church, which is helpful.

So that about sums up the week. I'm happy to be here in BH, serving the Lord. I know that this is His church. That he calls prophets today as he did in ancient times to teach and warn the people. I have the opportunity daily to spend a lot of time reading the words of the modern prophets, in between phone calls and work in the office. These men have been called of God. Thomas S. Monson is the prophet today, with the same authority and power that Moses and Abraham had. That's pretty cool.

Keep on keeping on. Never give up, and on, on to victory!

Much Love,

Elder Alex Burt

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Office Life

Hello my beloved friends and family!
So my first week as financial secretary has passed. And fortunately the mission still has money, no one has yelled at me yet, I'm eating well, and I still have progressing investigators! It's amazing how easy it is to get people to say they'll be baptized when you have full control over the mission funds. Just kidding!  I would never do anything like that. Cough cough. Let's just get on with it.

1) Portuguese Law - So I admit that when I arrived in the office, one of my fears was that my Portuguese would deteriorate - or at least not progress as fast as it would with my Brazilian companion. And while this could be true, I have discovered one way in which my Portuguese is improving rapidly despite this respite from regular conversation. This blessing appeared in the form of reading housing contracts to see what exactly we expect from the houses and what we promised so I can be ready to deal with angry landlords -- which I hear I have to do a lot.

And I thought reading the scriptures in Portuguese was hard! My vocabulary and reading comprehension improved considerably while reading these hefty law-lexicon filled texts. Lots of stuff that I never would have learned in the field, it's actually pretty cool.

2) Fred - So I mentioned that despite a severe lack of proselyting, we still managed to have a progressing investigator. And it was a miracle. Throughout the week, Monday through Wednesday, we never managed to get out of the office before like 9:30 at night. As I had recently arrived from the field, they were three days of feeling rather cooped up. So when we finally got out on 7:00 Thursday, I was raring to go. But it was 7:00 on a Thursday. Without prior plans, it's extremely difficult to get a lesson in. We had one reference that had been given to us by some other missionaries, and it was on the other side of our area, so it was pretty much our only shot at a lesson. But for some reason I didn't have any doubt that he'd be there. I knew the Lord would bless us since we didn't have any other time to teach. And bless us He did! The reference swiftly let us in, and was excited to hear our message. He's an absolutely golden investigator. He understood the doctrine, explained that he was looking for a true church, and accepted my baptismal invite for the fourteenth. He told us that he believed we were an answer to a fervent prayer he offered that morning, and that he could see we were full of the Holy Ghost. Very cool.

We returned on Friday. He had read in the Book of Mormon, but hadn't prayed about it yet. We encouraged him to do this extremely important part, taught about the Plan of Salvation, and continued to teach with the Spirit. I am so grateful that we found this man who is so prepared to receive us, and recognizes us as servants of God.

3) Give Me Coffee Or Give Me Death! - The other investigator we're currently working with also has a lot of potential. She has been an investigator for a while with the secretaries here. Like eight months, which is pretty crazy in Brazil. Her boyfriend is a member, and she has already said that she will be baptized. There's just one itty bitty little problem. She absolutely refuses to give up coffee. She says it's impossible. My goodness it's frustrating. She could be baptized tomorrow, but she is having a ton of problems with this small commitment. We're working really hard to offer substitutes and figure out exactly what is the problem. I believe it's a big fear of commitment. Of any kind. Because, seriously, coffee can't be all that hard to give up if you really want to! Not that I'd know...in any case, that's the deal there. She's very cool, just a tiny step away from where she needs to be.

And that's my life! Still awesome, still great, still working hard, and still the coolest missionary. Always learning and always teaching. Doing what must be done.

I am so grateful for this gospel. I'm grateful for the amazing promises that it has for the family. I know that, by following the steps of the gospel and keeping the commandments, I can live with my family forever and have a wonderful life with them here. I'm very grateful for loving parents who provided a place for me to learn these things and to feel the Savior's love. I'm trying now to share this joy with other families.

You guys are awesome. Keeping doing what you're doing! Unless you shouldn't, in which case don'
t! I love you all, and keep you in my prayers.

Much Love,

Elder Alex Burt