Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Plethora of Things

This week was considerably different from the last few. We were able to leave daily to work in the area and didn't have quite as many stressful moments in the office. I say not quite as many because life here is always exciting and something new always pops up.

1) Miracle of the Fast- So a couple weeks ago I definitely forgot to fast (general conference threw me off), so I decided to do one this last Saturday going into Sunday. The motive behind it at the beginning was for two particular investigators. I was thinking a lot about what they still needed to do to be baptized, why they weren't progressing, etc.

But as we began to walk to church on Sunday I found myself praying instead very fervently for a miracle to happen at church today. Preach My Gospel talks about how our prayers and what we ask for should be led by the Spirit, and that seemed to be what was happening. As we waited at church, neither of these two investigators was showing up. But, randomly, two youth approached us and, embarrassed, asked how they could enter. Kind of shell-shocked, we invited them in and they stayed for the meetings. Neither actually live in our area, but I could see that absolutely the Lord was showing me that He is able to work miracles, I just need to look for the right ones.

2) Go to Work- So as I said, this week we were able to leave daily to work. Which was exciting as there weren't many current investigators to visit after these last few crazy weeks. So we set to work finding people. It was not easy going, we were working in an extremely rich area, but we still managed to teach a few lessons, visit a couple less actives, and have some exciting experiences. I love doing the Lord's work. It is so rewarding.

3) Interesting Persons- So, as is custom in a missionary's life, we met a number of interesting people this week. Though I must say this week was more eventful then some. First, on Tuesday, Elder Cushing and I ran across a guy that spoke English. Apparently he lived in the US for sixteen years, his dad was a professor at NYU, and he studied at Harvard. Eventually he returned to Brazil, where he has sold his soul to the devil in order to perform miraculous feats, he is the Ju-jit-su champion of Brazil, gets in fights daily and had broken his hand hitting a guy's face the other day. So that was nuts.

Then we met a man in the notary office who also lived in the US for a while but spoke horrible English. He was a missionary for another church there, but was unable to get a new Visa now. He told us he'd tried to ask Barack Obama for a letter of recommendation but never got a response and might have to call him. He was a nice guy and told us we were doing the Lord's work. He writes songs and wanted to do an arrangement for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We encouraged him to go for it.

4) Steadfast- By far the hardest thing I was asked to do this week came on Thursday when the President called. He informed us that a missionary wanted to go home. This is a really good missionary but he was being insistent, and it looked like he would leave on Sunday. President and the assistants were out of town. So President sent us to this elder's area to bring him to the office to stay with us for four days. President told me that something needed to happen in these four days to change this elder's perspective. That was kind of a lot of pressure.

As I got to know and love this missionary (he's a Brazilian and an awesome guy), I prayed like crazy that he would stay on the mission. That something would happen to change his mind. Honestly, none of these other things from this past week seemed nearly as important to me in my prayers. Well, there's still a day left but I believe he will be staying. And he's taught me a lot in the process. My biggest desire on the mission isn't to baptize a lot. It's to be a good example to others here. To help them be better. To be an example to my friends back home. I just want to serve those who need me at this point of time in my life.

So that was this week. Full of prayer. Full of excitement. Full of all the good stuff that makes missions the best two years. I was thinking recently about the grand majesty of this work. We, members of the church and especially missionaries, are part of a work that has been prophesied of since the beginning of time. And that work is now being hastened, meaning that this particular point in time will be remembered for generations to come! What are we doing now to be worthy of that charge? Are we the best we can be? Because the Lord expects it of us.

I love you all. I hope you know that. Be good. Try to be better. That's why we're here.

Much Love,
Elder Burt

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Stuff and Life and Stuff

Lots of fun stuff has been happening down here in good ol' Brazil this last week. Definitely another interesting week as financial secretary. As always. We had zone conferences this week, which I got to participate in, so that kind of dominated everything. There was also some frantic taxiing and calling related to some of the new houses and money situations. But hey, life would be a whole lot less exciting without problems to be solved!

1) Monica's Grand Adventures- Towards the beginning of the week we got back in contact with my recent convert, Monica, who had been in a different state in Brazil for the last month or so. And, wow, did she have some stories to tell. The visit was basically a 40 minute rendition of her adventures followed by a little commentary by us. It started when she went to Vitória to visit her sister and was unable to find the church. She was taking heavy anti-depressant medicine and, at the end of the first week, wasn't doing so well. She said a prayer and told God that he had abandoned her, left her sick and without friends, etc. She then had an overwhelming feeling of peace and love, and knew for a fact that she was not alone and needed to get up and have more faith.

So began Monica's mission. She would go the park every day near the house with the Book of Mormon, read on the bench, and talk about it with anyone who approached her. She did this daily, and sometimes had a considerable group of people listening to her speak. She told us to get the church organized down there (I'm pretty sure it already is, but it could certainly use strengthening), and I think she wants to go back to help it move along.

2) Are You Not Entertained Part II- Another couple of quick stories.
              Cheese Threat- A rather embarrassing story. I was walking down the street in my suit going to zone conference, when I saw this guy who was clearly homeless walking towards us with like a half-pound of cheese in each hand. He saw me, and suddenly got a really angry look on his face. He lifted the cheese and violently made like he was going to throw it at me. I definitely flinched (the guy looked crazy. For all I knew he really would throw it). All the people around started chuckling and the guy walked past us, pretending to throw it another couple times. Weird. I'm just glad he didn't throw it. That would have hurt.

              The Great Umbrella Robbery of 2013- On Wednesday we had a zone conference and it was absolutely pouring down rain. Kind of a rough day. So all of the missionaries came in and left their umbrellas in the parking garage to dry, but we left the gate open. We left a little later and all of the umbrellas were missing. Well except for one which was still leaning against the wall (yep. Definitely mine.) So the entire zone didn't have umbrellas anymore. Which would have been pretty rough the rest of the week.

3) Rebellion- This week I nearly had a rebellion on my hands when the missionaries' allowance fell through a day late. Nearly the entire mission called wondering where the money was, and if I could put money in their accounts to help out. To be clear, I do not have that kind of power and have nothing to do with when the allowance falls. That's all with the church headquarters. I just ask them to make the irregular payments when I need to. It was pretty ridiculous at the amount of calls, and I got to lay down the law in my training at zone conferences. Missionaries are awesome teachers, but are kind of dumb when it comes to money, I have to say. President jokingly said that he learned this week a number of people that he would never call as financial secretary.

Overall a solid week, and a little less stressful then those of the recent past. This week I didn't have a whole lot of study time, but I did learn a lot about the power of the Book of Mormon. It is the key to conversion. If you feel like your testimony isn't strong enough, if you feel like you don't have one, or if you just want to feel the Holy Ghost a little stronger in your life, read the Book of Mormon. Study it. Ponder on it. I can promise that it will bring you that feeling that you desire.

I was also pondering today on the spiritual experiences that I have had over the course of my life. How I have come to the knowledge I have today. And, in remembering some very specific circumstances, I came to a renewed conviction of the truth of this gospel. You all need to know that I know this work is true. Without a shadow of a doubt. I know that Christ is my Savior. That God lives. I have experienced things in my life that leave me unable to say otherwise.

I love being a missionary. I love all of you. Stay strong.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, October 12, 2013

General Conference, etc.

This week was really really crazy fast. It's such a cliche thing to say, but it's always the truth. Monday through Wednesday were so busy they were gone before I had time to catch my breath. Transfers are always super nuts, and this one was no exception. I won't focus on it too much in this letter as nothing particularly different happened, aside from the departure of my friend and companion Elder Gledhill, leaving me and Elder Cushing alone as secretaries. Watch out world.

1) Conference- Conference was amazing. I'm pretty sure I said that it would be in my last e-mail, and I was definitely right. It was pretty much the only thing that happened all weekend, but that was just fine by me. I've been reading through the talks again this week and remembering just how inspired the prophets are, and how much we need their words to guide us today.

As a missionary, I must say my favorites were by Elder Uchtdorf Saturday morning and Elder Ballard Saturday afternoon. They not only responded to direct questions I had leading up to conference, but focused on a subject rather important to me at the moment: missionary work. I'd encourage everyone to read Elder Ballard's talk again, and then pray for individual missionary experiences. Help out in this marvelous work!

Also, when President Monson said that the Sunday Morning session was one of the most inspired he'd ever heard, I decided it was probably important to study that a little bit more. He is the prophet, after all. He knows what he's talking about when it comes to inspiration.

2) Are You Not Entertained?- In case you are feeling a lack of entertaining anecdotes recently and an overload of slightly more hefty, spiritual things, here's a couple fun little experiences from this last week:

Nilton- Saturday night, while making contacts outside of the church, we encountered a homeless man named Nilton. We had an extended conversation with him, which made me laugh a bit. Classic Nilton quotes: "Me and my friend over there on the sidewalk (Gestures at trash can) were just talking about how we wanted to come to church." "I live on the street. I take a bath once a week, if that." We actually ran across him the next day after morning conference. He seemed really surprised when we called him by name and shook his hand.

Pharmacy Girl- I went to the drug store the other day to buy some medicine for some missionaries. I went with one Elder Tsukuda, a Brazilian elder. The girl at the counter asked him how to pronounce his name, and he told her. She asked if he was of Japanese descent. He said he was. She said that he was the most attractive Japanese person she'd ever seen. I don't think I've ever seen an elder so embarrassed.

Office Olympics-We had the office olympics between conference sessions on Saturday, featuring competitions of Chubby Bunny, paper airplane flying contests, office rolling chair races, etc. I won. It was awesome.

3) The Right Moment- We had one investigator at conference, the same eternal investigator who drank coffee and hasn't been coming to church or progressing at all. We were pretty happy to see her, and went to visit her on Monday. We found out that she's pregnant, and is extremely excited. She's thinking a lot about her son's future, what kind of a life he'll lead, and about the significance of family. She even said she wants him to be baptized in the LDS church and maybe even to serve a mission. She recognizes our value system and wants it to be a part of her family's life. We also found out that they will be moving at this time next month. She's not drinking coffee anymore and doesn't have any problems with the commandments. I earnestly believe that this is the right moment for her. They say that people have moments in their lives where they are particularly open to the gospel message, and I hope and pray that this is hers. And that she decides to be baptized and join the church. Not just for her sake, but for her little future missionary! And for this potentially eternal family. And I'd also love if it was before they move...

All righty, then. I think that's about enough of that. Next week I'll try to pull some even crazier and even more spiritual stories out. I'm looking forward to a week full of hard work and whatever God has in store for me. It's always something good. And usually pretty fun, as well.

I love what I'm doing. I love the Lord. I love the people of Brazil. I hope you all are well. Work hard, do your best, never stop praying.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Hit the Ground Running

Hi my favorite people!

What a week. Remember when I said last week was nuts? Yeah, I just hadn't lived through this week yet. Holy moly, if anyone ever says life as a secretary is laid back, I might just...disagree strongly with them.  In fact, the work is continuing as I write this. President just came in to talk to me about the houses, and I have to make a few calls right now.  But let's focus on the important thing, which is this e-mail and letting you know why this week was crazy and why it's awesome to be a missionary.

1) Rain- So I heard the rainy season started back up over there in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Well, know that you're not alone! This week has been super rainy here in Belo Horizonte as well--thunderstorms, and all that fun stuff. I love it! The smell of rain and wet city streets. Walking with just a light rainfall, enough to keep cool but not get soaked. It felt like home, honestly.  I was happy on Sunday as we got to work/walk outside a bit.

Admittedly, it also created some problems Sunday morning: two investigators who were excited to come to church were either sick or put off by the rain. They're excited for this upcoming Sunday though, and I'm sure they'll love conference.

Moral of the story: rain is awesome, but I wish it would just hold off until 9:30am, at least. I guess I need to pray harder.

2) Limits- And it's a good thing I got to enjoy the Sunday weather because the rest of the week saw very little field work. And a whole lot of office work.

Every day I was receiving dozens of calls, making dozens of calls, sending off contracts, talking with the church judicial department, dealing with money shortages, making payments, and all the while praying, working, and stressing about the one week deadline to rent at least seven new houses.

Let it be enough to say I was stressed. But through it all I also learned a whole lot. If there's something I know about myself, it's that I like to push my own limits. It's when I can actually see what I'm capable of. Running on all cylinders, I guess. Having to keep track of all these different things, my mind running through all of it and trying to get everything to move along and solve any problems that pop up as they pop's exhilarating. And exhausting.

Honestly, that's something about life in all of its aspects, even spiritually. You have to keep pushing yourself if you want to grow. It's not always going to be comfortable, and it's certainly not going to be easy, but results, stronger testimonies, faith, knowledge, progression--they only come with work.  And when you're doing the kind of work that pushes you right until the brink and then you come out at the other end successful, it feels so much better for the effort.

3) Results- And so I was happy when this week ended with good results. Four houses rented by yesterday. Two today. And two ready by Monday. Talk to me at the end of next week and we'll see if everything worked out how I want it to, but I'm happy, at least.

I have to go now. Conference is about to start. We have a prophet on the earth today, Thomas S. Monson. He is inspired by the Lord. I love the opportunity to hear him, I love this church, and I know it's Christ's church on the earth today. The words I'll hear this weekend are modern scriptures.  So that's why I'm pretty excited right now.

See you all on the flippety-flip!

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

House Hunter / Lift Where You Stand / What English??

Hello, everyone!

Well, I'm not entirely sure how well this blog post will be able to sum up this last week. It's been really crazy. In all the ways. Stress, sickness, success, and super-cool experiences. I'm all kinds of excited.

1) House Hunter- I'll start out with the office/stressful side of things. At the beginning of the week I had to pay all kinds of things for the executive secretary, the president, and random dying missionaries. I was all over the place. There was an emergency transfer, the assistants moved into our house...

And then things got real on Wednesday when President Fortunato explained how we're receiving a whole ton of missionaries next transfer (a week and a half from now), so we need to open a lot of new houses. As in I am currently working on renting ten new houses as fast as humanly possible. All I did Friday was sit on the phone trying to figure it all out. I think the last ten houses have been rented over the course of the last six months. Maybe. So this is a lot of fun. Definitely a challenge, which is something I enjoy.

2) Lift Where You Stand- So in the midst of all this madness I've been striving to continually remember my calling as a missionary. I was studying a couple days ago and thought about how everyone needs to start where they are. Whatever point I'm at, I should be spreading the gospel, working, and doing my part. I read an awesome article by President Uchtdorf, entitled "Lift Where You Stand." He talks about this idea, which helped me realize that even with such little time to work in the area during the day, that doesn't mean I can't do much. I am a representative of Christ, so one of the first things I've started to do is testify to everyone I can. Taxi drivers, people sitting next to me at the notary office, street contacts. I need to share our message right off the bat. Which has gone really well this week since I started focusing on it.

I also was thinking, at about the same time and along the same lines, about the 2000 stripling warriors. We don't know any of their names, yet they are some of the greatest heroes we have in the Book of Mormon. We don't need to be recognized, or have the greatest personal success. We need to do our individual part, and rejoice when the work as a whole progresses. I'm working hard at that, and being a secretary has certainly helped me to focus a lot more on the mission, and even the work as a whole instead of my personal achievements.

3) What the English??- This week ended with one of the coolest lessons I've been able to teach on my whole mission. Which was only in part because we got to teach it to someone who is fluent in English.

The person was a contact the assistants made in a supermarket that happened to live in our area. She works a lot, but made sure to take some time out of her schedule to meet with us on Friday. We left the office and headed over there, hoping that the assistants were right when they said she was a very accepting person. She let us in and straight up starting talking to us just in English, with a slightly British accent. So, for the first time on my mission, I got to teach the first lesson in English. It was kind of weird at first, but it also helped in a couple of ways. First, and more obvious, I felt more comfortable. I mean, I'm totally fine teaching in Portuguese at this point, but I still feel more flexible and more confident in their understanding when we both speak English. I know that I've been given, at least to some degree, the gift of words, and that's more manifest to me in my native tongue. Second, I mixed up how I taught a little more, having to think about the wording and how I wanted to present the message instead of falling into a few habitual phrases or explanations. And in the end the Spirit was clearly strong, and she was extremely excited to come to church and to work on preparing for her baptism!

There's nothing quite like seeing a person really understand what you're teaching--and then straight up accept it. There are people like this in the world. Everywhere. We just need to be on the look out to find them. Because it could be the random lady in the supermarket telling you how to make re-fried beans.

So my time is quickly running out. Yet again, I found even more inspiration from what is fast becoming my most overused scripture. I read Alma 5:43-47, starting a few verses earlier this time. I want to speak with all the energy of my soul, clearly, about Christ and his gospel. That is my calling. I was ordained to stand up and testify. I know it is true. No matter the language. Or the place. Or the time. It doesn't change what I know.

Watch conference next week. It's going to be awesome.

I love you all so much. Keep fighting. Make a stand. Help each other. We're all in this together.

Much Love,

Elder Burt