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 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 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 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Miracle References, Exchange Student, and Monica's Epistle

Well, this week was full of loads of fun, from getting audited in the office to finding six new investigators while teaching. That's pretty good! I'm feeling very excited, and overall we set ourselves up for yet another absolutely ridiculous transfer week coming up.

1) Miracle References- Just to set the scene for the miracles that happened this week and the stories behind them, we need to talk about what happened on Sunday/Monday. We were talking about how we didn't have anyone progressing, how the month was coming to an end, how we needed to work harder --and we decided that this week we'd make sure to do our part, what little we could, completely, and leave the rest to the Lord. Over the next couple days the miracle calls began to come in. First, a young man who'd been an exchange student in Arizona, lived with a member family for a year and a half, and wanted to introduce his family to the church before being baptized. Then a reference from some sisters in the mission of a woman who'd gone to church in their area but was currently living in ours and was loving the Book of Mormon. This week was crazy full of lessons, and out of it came some amazing blessings.

2) Exchange Student- So I'll tell the story of the best of the lessons, which was with Eric, the exchange student. He was very eager for us to come, calling beforehand to double check (that's supposed to be our job!). We showed up Wednesday night a little late, and were welcomed into an extremely nice apartment, with a family of five attentively watching us. Eric is 21, has two older sisters, and all live with their parents (that's more or less common here in Brazil). The mom is a politician and the dad and oldest sister are lawyers. Needless to say they're well off and very intelligent. We got to know them, chatted a bit, and then shared the message of the Restoration. They had good questions, understood everything, and at the end were eager to read in the Book of Mormon. When we invited them to come to church, the dad said that he couldn't because he and his wife were going to the Catholic baptism of his niece, or something like that. But the sisters immediately piped up and said they didn't need to go with them, right? They wanted to go to church with Eric. Eric hastily agreed and the dad said that was fine, and he'd make sure to come next week. Holy moly it felt good. Unfortunately, due to their jobs and busy schedules, the next time we were able to mark with them was Monday. In any case I'm excited to see them at church on Sunday and really hope they keep progressing.

3) Monica's Epistle- On Thursday we visited Monica, our recent convert. She is doing really well, and let us know today that our peace and inner strength have been an example to her and that now she has that same power. She shared with us the news that she would be moving to Vitória to live with her older sister (her mom is kicking her out). At first she didn't want to go, but she shared with us an experience, She woke up in the middle of the night and received a revelation (as she put it, she heard God´s voice.) She needs to go there to bring her sister to the gospel, which in turn will lead to the conversion of her whole family. She gave us a letter she'd written that night, though it was really more of an epistle/explanation of her testimony. It was amazing--she talked about how she knew this was the one true church, talked about the Savior's importance in her life, the examples of Joseph Smith and Nephi...very cool. So after all this, her asking us for our addresses, etc, we assumed she was moving permanently. Then she let us know she'd be back on the 21st of September. Which works, too.

4)AUDITED!- And then on Friday, to end the week, we were audited! It was actually pretty chill, because Elder Wensel, my secretary trainer who's been here in the office nearly 11 months and leaves next Wednesday, had everything perfectly organized and completed. I definitely got lucky coming in behind him, as he tells horror stories of what he did to get everything in order when he got here. The auditor found just a few things that could improve, then told us that this was the best mission he'd audited for a long time. And he is one of the four official auditors of the church in Brazil. He also let us know a little bit, or at least helped us realize, the weight of our job. Alone, one secretary, I will manage a branch of a non-profit organization with a yearly budget of two million reais (a million dollars), deal with the rent and care of upwards of seventy houses, doing so completely voluntarily, all in a language that I've been speaking for less than ten months. And at the same time I'm saving souls! That's all pretty awesome.

So yep. Awesome week. Awesome life. Awesome sauce. I'm so happy to be serving the Lord here in Brazil. I love this church. I love the Lord. I hope you all are doing well and living life to it's fullest, but never forget that you have it all because of a loving Father in Heaven. And it only gets better! What a blessing!

I love you all. Keep up the good fight.
Cool cool cool.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Change of Heart, Landlord Problems, and President's Birthday

Well, folks, it´s been one crazy fast week here in Brazil and I´m almost at a lack of what to say. Very unfortunately we weren´t able to get out to teach much, but we still managed to get some good work done and feel the power of the work that we are taking part in.

1) A Change of Heart- We started the week off by passing by the apartment of a less active that the bishop had asked us to visit. My comps had already visited him and they said he´s very cynical, sarcastic, and not at all willing to go to church. We got there, and he let us in immediately. We sat down, ate a quick snack and had a drink, and chatted a bit. He was very friendly, though I did notice the cynicism as well. But overall it was clear the environment was a little different then what they had seen the last time.

We eventually got around to sharing a message with him from the Book of Mormon. Elder Gledhill gave a good message about the People of Limhi and how they had to humble themselves before they received their blessings. Then he explained to the less active how his name had been picked by the bishop after much prayer, knowing that he was ready to come back to church and enjoy the blessings of the gospel. He started to laugh, apparently thinking we were joking. I bore my testimony to him about the purpose of our visit--to bless his life as I know mine has been by the gospel. That he needs the church, the church doesn´t need him. The whole lesson clearly touched him. We asked him if he would come to church on Sunday, and he sincerely said that he would. Something we had said seemed to have truly helped him to see that he needs the gospel. It was very cool.

2) Landlord Problems- Oh my goodness, some people just shouldn´t rent their houses out. I mentioned last week my visit with the landlord João, the old oblivious landlord. Well this week some more problems arose as I tried to finalize everything:
                -He doesn't have a credit card. I have no idea how he has a bank account without a card, but I need the information off of it and he claims he doesn´t have one.
                -He didn't know what notarizing a signature was. I called, telling him he needed to notarize his signature. He said he couldn´t, because we hadn´t signed it. I said that didn´t matter, it was just his signature that had to be notarized. We´d do ours afterwards. He said that it wasn´t possible. I asked him to just go to the notary office and ask them to notarize it, and they would. He said he wouldn´t. So finally I just asked him to send it to us so we could notarize our signature and then send it back. It was a frustrating phone call.
But it´s all good, because overall he´s not getting flustered or upset that we´re asking so much of him, and is overall very cheerful. It´s always fun to get the phone call when he says "is this Burt?", with the most hilarious accent in saying my last name.

3) President´s Birthday- This week we also celebrated the mission president´s birthday, which happened on Thursday. Wednesday night we stayed up crazy late in the office blowing up balloons, setting up streamers, preparing a birthday surprise for him in his office. It went very well, he enjoyed it, and it was very entertaining. Hopefully I can get some pictures sent of us with the president.

Well, that about sums things up. It´s a wonderful life, being a missionary. I had the chance to study the scriptures a lot this week, and I am always astonished to watch as my testimony is strengthened daily, little by little, as I do these small things. There´s always something new to learn, and I love it. I´d encourage everyone to try to read a little bit of the Book of Mormon every day. And if there are people who aren't members of the church who read this and think "that doesn´t apply to me," think again! I´m talking especially to you. It´s an amazing book and will absolutely help you in your day-to-day life. It has in mine!

Well, until next week. Try a little harder, do a little better, and know that I love you all!

Much Love,
Elder Alex Burt

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Good Days of the Weekend

Good days of the weekend to you! (An English phrase I picked up off a guy in the street back in Pedro Leopoldo) Another week has passed by with some excitement here in the office. So sit back, relax, and enjoy another weekly update on my life!

1) Master of the House- So I was given a rather big surprise early this week. The assistants were assigned to spend the week on a top secret mission in another city, organizing a new branch there and preparing to open a new area. I was pretty jealous. So on Tuesday, as we were getting ready to leave the office, Elder Wensel comes up to me and says "so are you excited to be alone for a week?" Apparently, President decided to send my secretary trainer with the assistants, so I was left with complete control as financial secretary for the week, without Elder Wensel around to answer questions.
And thus I got to deal with a ton of problems with landlords demanding money, missionaries changing houses, a crazy old landlord named João (John) who couldn't understand me on the phone so he showed up at the office to organize a contract with was all really fun! Very exciting, and it left me feeling prepared to run things permanently here in three weeks when I´m officially alone.

2) Needle in a Heaping Pile of Money- So another great part of this week was the amount of time we actually got to get out and work in our area. This particular story actually happened last Saturday. We went out that evening to work in a new neighborhood, called Mangabeiras. This neighborhood is the richest in the entire state of Minas Gerais, and the houses there are ridiculously enormous. And it's kind of hard to get people to let you in to teach when they don't feel like they need anything and you have to talk to them over an intercom. We started knocking doors and weren't having much success. But then we buzzed an intercom, and a bunch of kids ran to the windows. "Awesome, a family!" we all thought. And then the mom actually came to the door (miracle of miracles) and let us in! We taught a very good first lesson and she accepted, promising to read in the Book of Mormon and come to church. She's from São Paulo, and is looking for something to help her family, as she's in a somewhat difficult situation. She clearly understood that the gospel is able to do so much for the family. She also let us know that it must have been God's will that we encountered her, because any other day her husband wouldn't have let us in. She is very cool, but we haven't been able to return recently because, being crazy wealthy, they've been rather busy.

3) I Think Maybe I Should Come Back to Church- On Sunday we visited a crazy less active who loves drawing cars and smokes like a locomotive. He was going on the whole time about how he needs to think about his life, really ponder it out, and see exactly what he wants in regards to coming back to church. I told him he needs to make a decision now: that you can't leave these kinds of important decisions until the last moment. Sometimes you just have to go ahead and take a step without knowing exactly what's ahead. It didn't seem to be going anywhere, so finally I ended by offering a prayer. After I said Amen, the less active looked rather startled. He told me that while I was praying, he heard a voice in his head saying over and over "You need to go back to church." I asked him, in that case, what he thought he should do. He hesitated, and then said that he should probably come back to church. I told him that of course that's what he should do. And then he said he would...just not this week. My goodness, some people are frustrating.

4) Sisters- On Wednesday we did a division with a couple elders who were here in the office just for the day, and I went out to teach Monica one of the post-baptism lessons. We called beforehand, and she told us she wanted to have the lesson in the lobby of her apartment building. We got to the building a little early, called on the intercom, and were buzzed in. But she wasn't coming down. So we called her, to find that she was shopping or something like that and would return soon. The question then arose, "so who let us in?" Eventually, we decided not to wait down below for Monica and instead went up to the apartment, in search of a potential new investigator. And we found one! Monica's sister, Luciana, was there and let us into the apartment. When Monica arrived (a little surprised to find us upstairs) we taught the first lesson and Luciana agreed to be baptized! And I have a lot of faith that she'll come through, as she's very attached to her sister and believed in each part of the lesson as we taught it.

So, overall, a solid week. Awesome sauce! I wanted to end by wishing congratulations to Tasha Szilagyi on her mission call to Georgia. I have no doubt she's going to be a great missionary and convert a whole ton of confederates, or whoever lives down there in the south.

This is an amazing work and a wonder, that I'm so happy to be taking part in. Love you all, do your part, and I'll see you on the flippety-flip!

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, August 3, 2013

How to Save a Life

Well. This week began with a wonderful couple days of missionary work that make a missionary feel likes he's on the right track, though the rest of the week was kind of tough as we had a ton of work in the office and very little time to teach. But still, some great stories to show you that this is a marvelous work and a wonder!

1) How to Save A Life- Honestly, I don´t know how it can get much cooler than this one. So on Sunday Monica was baptized, and the sheer joy on her face was amazing to see. She was so excited after the ordinance, and it was easy to see that she truly felt clean, born again. As she said afterwards, she wished she could do it again. She also explained the wonderful power and warmth that she felt as she was being baptized, and that she wished she could have stayed under the water for hours.

The next day we visited her to continue teaching and preparing her for confirmation the next week. She shared with us a story that I can never forget. It was early on in our visits with her, but we hadn't called in a couple days due to a lot of work in the office. Monica has problems with depression, and had convinced herself that we had given up on her and that she wasn't worth anything. That night, she was walking alone and saw a semi-truck speeding down the road towards her. She made a decision in that moment to kill herself. She took one step down off the sidewalk, and as she was about to take the next step into the truck's path, which surely would have killed her...
...the phone rang. In this exact second. She stopped, the truck screamed to a halt, and she answered. It was us. I have no idea which one of us called, all of us had made an appointment at one point or other, and she couldn't remember who it was. But I believe that was the Lord letting each of us realize that perhaps we had been the one. It testified to me of the Spirit's power, even when we don't fully realize its guiding influence. And I saw that the Lord cared deeply for the physical and spiritual life of His daughter. And I truly felt like we were instruments in his hands.

2) The Only Way- The baptism on Sunday was followed by a somewhat frustrating lesson with our old, coffee-addicted investigator and her member boyfriend. We talked, she went on about her hectic work schedule as a doctor, and how it was impossible to come to church. She also indicated that she didn't want to be baptized as she didn't see the point of doing it again (she was already baptized in the Catholic church). The boyfriend said he wouldn't come to church as long as she couldn't, because he was worried it would place false hope in the young single women of the ward, seeing him there alone. Ridiculous.

So I asked them both questions. To the investigator: Why do you need to be baptized? She responded that she had no idea. To the member: Why do you need to come to church? He went off on a long monologue about how our church was so good at teaching the gospel and he needed to learn, etc.
I waited for him to finish and then explained that that was partly true, but not the main reason to come to church. I said that he needed to go to church for the same reason that his girlfriend needed to be baptized. Because this is the only true church, the only way to salvation and eternal life. I explained how baptism is a promise with God that we will do our part to attain this goal, and that we go to church to renew this promise by means of the sacrament. That´s the purpose behind it. Learning is great, but there is more. This is His church.

3) Feeling Old- Well, it was my 20th birthday this week. I'm feeling a little older and a little wiser. But I actually felt pretty young on my birthday. There was a leadership conference of the mission that day, to which the zone leaders, the assistants, the secretaries, and the sister trainers are invited. As I stood in that room with all these people talking about their missions, I felt extremely young on the mission. I have nine months here, and the next youngest guy had a year and five months. That is a long time for a missionary. This is definitely a great blessing of being secretary, getting to see the good examples and leaders of the mission on a regular basis, as well as take part in these meetings. I learned a lot.

So that should be about enough for the week. It flew by crazy fast, I can hardly believe it. I'm learning a lot more about how to manage all the finances, and had several fun experiences this week with missionaries calling about lost power (fortunately not because I forgot to pay the bills) and angry landlords calling about not getting paid, with whom I got to angrily retort that they haven't been sending us the bills in months which has been creating big problems for us.

Fun stuff! Let's see, I also wanted to send out an official congrats to my great friend, Devin Munk, on his official mission call to Ogden. The fact that he's overcome everything that's been put in his way throughout life, never complained, and is now full-time dedicated to serving the Lord is an amazing example to me of diligence and love of the gospel. Good work, sir, you're going to do great.

Goodbye for now, look forward with faith, and love the journey!

Much love,

Elder Burt