Sunday, September 22, 2013

Crossroads / Open / Miracles

It's been a great week to be a missionary. I'm excited for the future, living every day to its fullest, and trying my best to serve and love the people here in Belo Horizonte. Truly nothing compares with being a missionary.

This week began with an awesome surprise. We have known for a while that Elder Gledhill, my current companion, would be training a new executive secretary to take his place at the end of the transfer. Training began this last Monday, and we were thinking about who it would be. I really wanted someone great, because I knew I'd be staying with them for the next six months or so.

So I was very happy when I found out who it was: Elder Cushing, round 2! Yep, my old MTC companion and I are ready to set a mission record of time spent as comps.  And this first week with him we managed to get out to teach a bunch and had several solid lessons and experiences.

1) Crossroads/Dead End- One day, while making a rather long walk home from one of our appointments, we ran across a less active who we hadn't visited in a while. Her grandson was an investigator when I first got here. A little over a month ago, we had visited him for the last time. Since that point, we'd seen neither one in church, and they were never at home. As we approached her in the road, she looked frantic. At first she accused us of not visiting her, but we explained we'd passed by a few times but never found them at home. As she calmed down, she explained what had happened after our last visit.

On that visit, we'd seen that the investigator was on the brink of falling. He was supposed to have been baptized the day before, but it seemed like he was returning to old drug habits. I told him in that lesson that he was at a crossroads in his life. He could either choose to go to church to receive enormous blessings, or turn away. I told him that if he did that, he would see clearly the consequences of his actions. We invited him to call us if he wanted to continue in the church. He didn't call. That was the last time we saw him.

Four days later he was in prison. We had no idea. His grandmother told us he's still there, asking us to pray for him. I was crushed. Wickedness truly never was happiness.

2) Open- Yesterday we had a very different lesson, one I'm not at all used to but that gave me some cool opportunities. It was a follow-up visit, after having invited her to read in the Book of Mormon and pray about it. Upon returning, she let us know that she had not felt anything different while reading. I admit I had a kind of stupor of thought. I read a verse from 3 Nephi 11 and kind of explained what it meant to me, knowing that I was just saying words. I wasn't helping her.

Elder Cushing stepped up and asked some killer questions. She told us she thought that Jesus Christ was a great person, but that's it. She believes in God, but thinks we operate our own salvation. As a missionary in Brazil, this kind of situation isn't so common.  She asked us straight up why we need a Savior.  And so I had a unique opportunity to bear my testimony of our need for Jesus Christ. That we can not make it alone. We need a mediator. Only he was capable of suffering for all of the sins of the world. I love him.

Then we asked about how she prayed. She said that she didn't see the need to ask for anything, because God already knows everything.  Then we got to talk about the nature of God. He is our Father. He loves us and wants to hear from us. I asked about how she felt after a long, difficult surgery ends well (she's a doctor). She said it was a marvelous feeling of success that's hard to describe. I explained that God understands that feeling. That's why he asks us to search, ponder, and truly strive for something. Because in the end, the answer will mean more to us. We are striving not to change his will, but to change our own. It had a lot to do with that scripture I was pondering last week in Alma 5:45-46. It seems to be the theme of my mission recently, actually. How much do I want something? What am I willing to sacrifice to receive answers?

Throughout it all she was very open to our responses and had a genuine desire to understand.

3) Miracles- This week also had a few of those small, tender mercies of the Lord. Miracles, though nothing enormous. Moments that touch me and bring me up, that can sometimes slip by unnoticed. Life is full of those. Teaching an investigator in the chapel and having a random member from another ward accept my invitation to teach with us, before going on to bear powerful testimony of her recent conversion and desire to keep the commandments. Knocking doors in the richest, least accepting neighborhood and marking multiple lessons with amazing families. Entering in contact with an investigator who had dropped off the map months ago and accepting another visit. Finding answers to my questions in the scriptures. Listening to uplifting music. This week I tried to pay more attention to these small things, and I realized just how many there were. Look on the bright side. It's a lot better.

I love you all. I am working as hard as I can and only hope that it makes some small difference in the lives of these people. These children of God.

Know who you all are. Know that someone loves you. When life is at its darkest, remember that there is hope of a glorious reward if you endure the trials now.

Never give up. Do good work. See you all in a bit.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, September 16, 2013

More Adventures with Elder Burt

Hello, everyone. Thanks for showing up once again to read just a little bit about me. I'm Elder Burt, a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And this is my life.
Queue theme song, a mash-up of Happy Days and We Are the Champions. I'll let you figure that one out.

All right, enough with that nonsense. This week, yet again, seems to have blown by in the blink of an eye. Cool stuff happened. Lessons were learned. New people were taught. Money was spent. The usual.

1) Israel, Israel God is Calling- So the week started off really well when we got a call on Sunday night from a less-active member who is dating our eternal investigator. He told us that the investigator's sister was in town and wanted really badly to meet us. She's been living in Israel for the last eight years. We set up an appointment for the next day, all kinds of excited to actually have received a reference. (Note to members: Give references. Please.)

On Monday we stopped by and got to talking. The sister (Renata) was very open, and told us a whole bunch about her life as a doctor in Israel. She speaks Portuguese, Hebrew, some Arabic, and a good amount of English. We taught the first lesson which includes the Restoration, and she was very receptive.  She had some really good questions about prophets today (before we got to that part), lost scriptures (as we were arriving at the Book of Mormon), and the authority of the church. Although I think it got to the point where we spent a little bit too much time answering questions. It's important to leave relatively quickly and let the Spirit work.

We haven't been able to return yet, not due to lack of desire on our part. It's just that our eternal investigator and her boyfriend got married this week. Which we had no idea was happening. And they went to another city. But we're definitely very happy for them, and I hope this leaves them even more open to hearing the gospel message about the family!

2) There Is Sunshine In My Soul- This week I've discovered that I have a personality flaw that causes some minor annoyances in my work as financial secretary. I know, I'll wait a second for all of you to pull yourselves together after that heart-stopping revelation that I'm not perfect.

The flaw is that I'm too likable. OK. Just kidding. Not a flaw, I have plenty of those. But it can be kind of annoying. Let me explain why: So as secretary, I have to make sure all of the accounts add up during the week. But the Brazilians have this really obnoxious problem which is a lack of a one cent coin. So things are never exact, they're always rounding. Also, I catch a lot of taxis and always end up talking to the drivers, as I think I've mentioned in the past. Well, due to all this I end up making like R$5 every week just off of minor discounts, though the receipts keep the higher value. Which is annoying, as it means nothing ever adds up. Yesterday I got an extra R$2 in coins. I'll give an example. I was in the taxi with this one guy who was kind of crazy. He had all sorts of "difficult" questions for us. The grand finale was about "dialogue." He said that we could learn a lot from dialogue along with the scriptures. He asked me what they had at the beginning of time to learn from. I said that the prophets talked to God and then conveyed it to the people. While driving, he offered me his hand to shake and congratulated me on my wisdom. The cost of the taxi was R$11.30. I gave him a ten and a two. He asked me if I had a one-real coin, and I said no. So he just gave me back the two and let me go. I honestly cannot remember the last time I've paid a taxi driver the full price of the ride. Sigh. [I inquired of Alex about tipping practices, and he said it wasn't allowed with missionary funds.  Didn't know that.]

3) Lord, I Would Follow Thee- We had another lesson with Jenny this week, the woman who goes to church in the sisters' branch. She's awesome. Honestly, she has every reason to just give up on us and stop investigating the church. We have had to cancel on her like three times due to our own poor scheduling or unseen mishaps with missionaries. Her mom is a Jehovah's Witness and talks to her all about the church. Her friends are Catholic and tell her she can't change her religion. Her boss is just crazy. She doesn't even live in our area. But still she comes. She tells us that she only wants to come to our church, that we explain things so simply and clearly for her, and that she's been inviting all these people to come to church with her. She is an amazing example to me of faith and hope.

I've been thinking and studying a lot recently about desire. I read Alma 5:45-46, and was pondering a lot about how to help people have this same desire that Alma had, to truly lead to extended study and prayer. This is not a passive gospel. And I think it has a lot to due with recognition of the blessings that the church brings to our lives. Which I guess Jenny must be seeing...but I still am trying to figure out how to help the others. I guess we'll see.

People. This work is amazing. There is nothing better. I wish I was better than I am, but I really do give it my best. I hope that's enough. I love you all. Stay strong. Do good work. Follow your hearts. Keep to the faith.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, September 9, 2013

From the Top; You're Welcome, Sisters; and Everybody Move!

Some time off for the Elders
Happy Saturday, world! Honestly I can't believe it's already been a's been really ridiculously fast. Not quite as much excitement occurred as last week, but it was still great. Well, I take that back. There wasn't as much outside-of-the-office action, but dealing with stuff in the office has been kind of nuts.

1) From the Top- So we started the week off with an excellent Sunday. Eric and his sister came to church, and we're still working on visiting them again. Afterwards we paid a visit to one of our ancient, eternal investigators. The one I talked about like two months ago who had problems with coffee. Well, with this lesson we decided that we needed to start over. She hasn't heard the message of the Restoration in forever, so we taught that again. She understood very well, and I'm hoping that this approach works. Especially because she officially doesn't drink coffee anymore, so none of the commandments should be impeding her baptism! It gave me a lot of hope when she said that. She works like crazy as a doctor, and hardly sleeps. I dunno how coffee works, exactly, but I hear people use it to wake up in the mornings. I imagine that could help her at the moment. But she has decided to stop, something that she previously said was impossible. Nothing is impossible with God, that's definitely a fact I've come to learn on the mission.

2) You're Welcome, Sisters- This week we also met with one of the miracle references I mentioned a couple weeks ago. She is kind of crazy. She talks like a million miles an hour, always about the same things, and it can be hard to get a word in edgewise. She showed up at the church for our appointment, and it took us nearly ten minutes to get her in as she almost didn't stop to breathe while talking about problems in work, thoughts about the Book of Mormon, how we all have guardian angels...and more. Fortunately after the prayer and in the lesson, we kept definite control. We read Alma 34 with her, with lots of commentary. As she talked, she explained her understanding of faith and repentance. I began to see that she really did understand the feelings that come with forgiveness, the alleviation of guilt. I explained to her how she could receive this feeling on a greater level with Heavenly Father through prayer and, more importantly, baptism. We marked the baptismal date for two weeks from now, and she said that with enough preparation, she would. She's open to learning and we marked a return lesson for next Monday.

Just one catch. She technically doesn't live in our area. She attends church in a city like five hours to the north, she just works here during the week. She said she'd love to come here and has already invited her co-workers here as well, but on the fifteenth she will be at church in the other city, where she's already attended. So basically we get to be the missionaries who make killer stories for other people by calling and saying "all right Sisters, you have a baptism this Sunday. Make sure you have someone to do it."

3)  Everybody Move!- So the excitement in the office this week is based off of the fact that more than five different houses are in the midst of changing, so I've been on the phone constantly trying to close some houses while simultaneously working out the contracts with the new ones. It's been a lot of work, and things are just now starting to calm down a bit. The other piece of excitement was with a rental agency that was calling constantly, wanting to come visit me in the office. But they kept not showing up. I was a little sick at the beginning of the week and started to get a little grumpy with this woman who sends e-mails only in caps, expulsion notices, and gets mad when I don't give her documents that she doesn't even understand. Finally a different guy came and explained what was up--that they needed something completely different, a declaration of the payments we'd made to the landlord of a particular house in 2011. Because she hadn't declared it and was now in trouble with the government. I honestly can't explain it in English, but I was relieved at the end of it that I wasn't the person in trouble.

So, with that, I'll sign off for the week. I love this work. I don't love being sick, but I do love getting to serve others and the Lord. I love the scriptures. I always find something in them that applies to me and my life, and helps me to be a better person. It's amazing.

You are all fantastic. You are all children of God. This is the true church. Joseph Smith was a prophet. I know it.

Never say die, live every day to it's fullest, and make me proud!

Much love,

Elder Burt