Saturday, November 30, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! How grateful I am to be here in Brazil serving the Lord. I was blessed to have a number of spiritual experiences this week, which I want to share with you.

1) As A Little Child - This Sunday marked a very special experience for me here on the mission. During sacrament the ward had its yearly primary program, which is always a wonderfully spiritual experience. After church we had lunch with one of the members who has a young eight-year-old daughter. The daughter has been pretty sick recently and the mother asked that we give a blessing to her. I had the opportunity to perform the blessing.

As I began to speak, I was nearly overwhelmed by the amount of love that I knew the Lord had for this innocent child. I was barely holding back tears as I told her how precious she was in the eyes of the Lord, how much He loves her, and told her to be healed. (I must say, it was an even more special experience for me because the girl reminds me a lot of my little sister, Gracie.) The presence of the Spirit was so strong at that moment, one of the strongest impressions I have ever felt. I know that the Lord loves each of us as His children and has a special love reserved for the little ones. I think of 3 Nephi 17:20-23, one of the most powerful scriptures in the Book of Mormon.

2) An Englishman- All right, now for an entertaining story that happened Saturday night. We were returning from a successful visit with a new family we found, when we made a quick contact with a somewhat intoxicated man. He sat down and began to talk to us. Laughing, we told him that we were from the U.S, Bolivia, and England. Looking at me, he told me he knew I was English and called me Harry Potter (welcome to my life). After a very entertaining conversation, we began to leave. He wanted to hug us goodbye, and went with arms extended to Elder Cushing, saying "give me a kiss!" When Elder Cushing forcibly declined, the man asked Elder Echeverria and I to leave so he could have a private moment alone with a bewildered Elder Cushing. We all hastily escaped, shaking our heads at the effects of alcohol on people and making fun of Elder Cushing for drawing the wrong kind of attention.

3) A Prayer of Faith- Last Friday, a little over a week ago, I had a powerful personal spiritual experience. Before going to bed, I retired to a separate room from my companions and prayed for an extended period of time before going to sleep. During the prayer I truly felt as though I was conversing with the Lord. I asked forgiveness for my faults, for not being a better missionary, and committed myself to do all in my power to serve Him. I thought of the expectations of my family, of my mission president and of those around me. In return, I felt the Spirit testify that the Lord has even higher expectations of me, that he knows my full potential better than any other, and that if I do my part He would help with the rest. Grateful for the confirmation, I continued praying about a number of other topics, before going to bed, spiritually refreshed.

Over the course of the next two days, as I tried to fulfill my side of the promise, we managed to find two new golden families (complete families!), I had the spiritual experience mentioned above, and everything seemed to work out. I can see that as we put our trust in the Lord and do absolutely everything we can, He will provide for us. I am everlastingly grateful for His hand in my life, to be here in Brazil, "that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy." (Alma 29:9)

I am grateful to be a missionary. I am grateful for a loving family, for their support, and for all of those praying for me. Your prayers mean a lot. I am grateful for the gospel, for the church, for the Book of Mormon, for Joseph Smith, and for our caring prophet, Thomas S. Monson.

More than anything else, I am grateful for my Lord, Jesus Christ. For His Atonement. For the love He has shown for me. For my Heavenly Father. How I love them.

That's what I'm grateful for. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Good Conversation / Serra Adventures / Visitors

What it is, my favorite people?!

It's Saturday, November 23rd. 1:30 PM. Recently returned from an epic ping pong tournament in which, you guessed it, I did not win, I have decided to bless you all with another update from my life as an LDS Brazilian missionary.

1) Good Conversation- This week we visited a less active that the Bishop asked us to help out. He is one of the most intelligent people I have taught/conversed with here in Brazil, especially due to his quick wit and scathing sarcasm. It's the kind of conversation in English that I loved, the quick back and forth, seemingly light banter about deep subjects, etc. I admit, it was a struggle to keep up in Portuguese: he jumped from liberalism and politics in the US to Brazil to economics to soccer to vocabulary was expanding just talking to him. So I admit the "back" was a bit heftier than the "forth."

But in any case, I did notice something interesting from the dialogue. While it is a very satisfying thing to be intelligent in a number of subjects, there is still a kind of emptiness to it when you don't see any kind of purpose behind the subjects. The gospel, an understanding of God, gives substance to what would otherwise be a flimsy, purposeless life.

2) Serra Adventures- This week we began our first adventures into a neighborhood of Belo Horizonte called "The Serra." I don't know how many of you are aware of the term "favela," but that about sums up the place. Imagine this: you're walking down a street, which promptly ends and you just see a stairway leading into a narrow alleyway. You enter the alley, which continues winding along and doesn't end, just splits off into other alleyways just barely wide enough for motorcycles to pass through, which they frequently do forcing you to back up into any nearby doorway. The place is essentially a maze of these narrow passages, leading you up and around and through hundreds of small, humble houses built into the side of the hill/on top of each other/in any place possible.

It's pretty exciting. And also an opportunity for a ton of lessons, as nearly everyone is willing to let you in. A very humble and accepting part of our area.

3) Visitors- We had a number of visiting missionaries pass through the office this week. The most notable (or at least story-worthy) came from the small city of Pirapora, which just recently opened as an area. They told the story of how over the course of six weeks the group has gone from six people (including the 4 missionaries) to fifty members, with baptisms happening nearly daily. They started off baptizing in the river, though have recently moved to a baptismal font. It is exciting to see the work of the Lord growing here in the mission. These kinds of things really happen. The world is ready to hear our message. It has me even more excited to go out and teach. The field is white, all ready to harvest.

It's been a good week. Hard work pays off. I love being a missionary. Happy birthday to my beloved grandmother, MorMor. I love you, thank you for all the things you've taught me throughout my life!

Fight the good fight, endure to the end, and never give up.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Sunday, November 17, 2013

New and Old / Sketch Bus / Worth

Hey Folks,

Another transfer week come and gone. I'm still alive. Everyone is where they're supposed to be. The money is in the bank. Life is as it should be. Not that I'd accept it any other way.

1) New and Old- I figured that in this post I'd mention a fun part of transfers, which is having the unique opportunity to see missionaries arriving completely fresh on the mission, along with watching the old ones go home, one right after the other. Of course both groups are extremely excited and it's hard to determine which is more so. Both are clearly leaving something behind that means a lot to them--but to me the leaving missionaries seem a little more sad. They know they can't really come back. The contrast is kind of interesting. The greenies this time around are ready to baptize the world--the new sisters made a contact with the hotel clerk and figured she was as good as baptized. (She lives in our area and we'll make sure they're right). Enthusiasm like that helps the mission out a lot. On the other side, two years (or 18 months) on the mission and they will have experienced a ton. I get to see the different types of missions people led, whether or not they feel fulfilled at the end of it or if they're just eager to get home and leave it behind.

Anyway, cool side benefit of being in the office. The trick is to pay more attention to the new guys talking about the mission and not to the old ones going on about what they'll do when they get home.

2) Sketch Bus- Fun, little story of the week. Yesterday was a relatively chill day in the office after getting everything wrapped up post-transfer. So we took the opportunity Friday afternoon to head to another city in order to fix up a house that was left temporarily empty due to the transfer. The bus ride usually takes about an hour and a half. As we waited at the bus stop, an old, beat-up 10-seater van pulls up and a person hops out, shouting out "Veneza", our destination. So in we get, paying the R$4 bus fare to what can't possibly be a legal operation. But due to his driving antics, we got there in less than an hour. Worth it? Yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

3) Worth- While teaching relatively few lessons this week due to the transfer, we did manage to get out and visit some good people. One such lesson was to the non-member family of a less active that we're helping back to church. The same less active whose son is under house arrest. She came to church last week, so things are going well. This time we also taught her daughter and grand-daughter, who live in the area.

They were extremely happy to see us in and have us bring the Spirit into their home. It was clear to see that our presence really has meant a lot to them, and they recognize that we are helping their extremely troubled family. We taught about baptism (of course), specifically directed to the daughter (who went to church once a couple months ago with us), as well as about the importance of church. The daughter seems extremely interested in baptism--stating that it is necessary and would be a wonderful blessing in the home. She also, however, stated that it would be difficult and she'd have to give up a number of worldly things. As we were finishing up, I felt prompted to press her a little on what these "worldly things" were, along with promising greater blessings in return. That this could be a hard choice. But it is worth it. She emphasized that she couldn't be baptized while living in sin, and clearly there is something in her life that she believes to be holding her back. Elder Echeverria told her powerfully that her time had come to turn her life around and come to church. We left with a prayer, many words of gratitude from the less active, and suppressed tears in the eyes of the daughter.

So that was my week! Awesome as always. I have been thinking a little this week about a particular question that has been circling around my head: "Who do I want to be?" I feel like I've always had a number of traits, personalities, and examples that have drawn my eye, despite their clear differences. I know who I ought to be. What example I need to strive to emulate. I have always wanted to be the best I possibly can. The difficult part is setting aside the world's "perfect person" and trying to be God's "perfect person." Our goal, my goal, should be to become more like Christ. It's a long road. But as we take small steps, we will improve. And we will have a stronger relationship with God. "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

I love you all. And I promise you, any sacrifice we make in His service is worth it. Because it is true. I know it.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Flying By

Elder Burt and companions
Hello, good morning, howdy all of my favorite people! Prepare yourselves for another spectacular and breath-taking letter from everyone's favorite Brazilian missionary. No, I'm not full of myself. It's just a lesson I've learned here on the mission: to be more honest.

 1) What'd I say?- Remember when I mentioned last letter that this week would be full of miracles and awesome stories? Yeah. Called it.

We started off with a solid weekly planning on Sunday, in preparation for what I was sure would be an awesome week. We had good plans for every day, and were ready to work hard to ensure they came through. For now I just want to talk about Wednesday, which was probably the best day of the week. We scheduled a lesson with the investigator we've been teaching for a while who technically lives in another city. It was starting to rain and, as she had to walk, we were a little worried she wouldn't make it. Wrong! She showed up at the church, and had brought a friend along to start hearing the lessons as well! We taught the message of the Restoration, and the Spirit was strong during the lesson. I bore my testimony of Joseph Smith being a prophet and restoring Christ's church, and taught about the Book of Mormon. I've been working really hard on asking more questions--of understanding, application, and of deeper analysis, which I did a little more in this lesson. And it paid off for me as I saw that they understood the importance of the Book of Mormon.
"If The Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was...what?"
Quick response from Jenny, "A prophet."
"And if Joseph Smith was a prophet, the church he restored is whose church?"
Even quicker. "Jesus Christ's." 

Simple as that. So now they have to pray to know the book is true. Our new investigator (the friend) accepted baptism as soon as she receives an answer. Jenny is so ready for baptism--we just need to resolve this technical problem of her moving around every weekend. She knows it's true and wants to be baptized.

But the night wasn't even over. We went to what we thought would be our last English class, as it wasn't getting us any references or leading to real growth in terms of helping people follow Christ. As we ended the night, the student/non-member we speak English with asked us to bring him a Book of Mormon in English to read with him, and to start teaching him about the church. We hastily agreed and he seemed excited for next week. I know we are.
Miracles happen.

2) Drenched- Tuesday was also pretty awesome. We went to visit a less active and found her at home with her son, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter. We've visited them before, and they've been to church. Only the one is a member. We taught a lesson from the Book of Mormon and invited them to church. The son, who I've never met before, is under house arrest and recently left prison. He's nearly 60 and has likely been in prison for a long time, and has a sincere desire to turn his life around. Of course, he can't come to church for a while, but we'll continue to visit periodically to help him progress towards a more Christ-centered life.

As we taught we began to hear the rain outside. A lot of rain. A straight-up thunderstorm. Dumping buckets. Raining cats and dogs. And guess who didn't have their umbrellas!

But we had a meeting with our Ward Mission Leader to get to. So out we went into the storm with no protection, and walked a half hour to the meeting in the dark. Holy moly was I ever wet. 100% soaked. I didn't know if it was easier to see with or without my rain-covered glasses. Fortunately, the awesome new shoulder bag I got from my aunt and uncle turned out to be waterproof. I didn't even know that before.

3) Looking Back- So for those of you who don't know, this week marked a rather big milestone on my mission. I passed the one year mark on Thursday. As I stand in the middle of my mission, I've been thinking a bit about what I've learned thus far and what I still have to learn. Have I changed at all? What do I still need to do? I'm hesitant to call it a mid-mission crisis, but it certainly has me pondering.

I have met so many people in this last year who have made enormous impacts on my life. Companions, converts, church leaders, crazy drunks, beloved investigators...  I've had experiences I never could have dreamed of. I sometimes walk down the street and think: I never in a million years could have imagined myself doing this a year ago...and now it almost seems normal.

But now it's halfway done. So I have to ask, seeing all that has happened: is it enough? And while I have learned a lot, it's rather daunting at how much more I have to learn and do. It's been a good year. This next one is going to be even better.

A few shout-outs as I finish up. Happy birthday to Kayla Marcum, my first ever and absolutely never-forgotten baptism and friend from home! A very happy birthday to my beloved little sister, Madeleine, who is turning 19. And good luck to my good friend Tasha Szilagyi, who leaves for her mission next week.

Thank you all for what you do. You're amazing. And you're all children of God, no matter what you do or who you think you are. He loves us. I love Him. Let's make Him proud.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Let's Get Rolling

Happy Halloween, folks! Hard to believe that November is rolling around already. Time flies. Have I ever said that before? I don't think so. In any case it's worth saying again. The office has been good this week, I've had a few great experiences that really only happen in an area like this. Which has been swell.

1)Trust- The coolest part of the week by far happened on Wednesday. Well, I was approached by the mission president on Tuesday night, when we'd returned from working in the area. These last few weeks have been zone conferences. We attended the first couple and haven't been going to the further away ones, just the assistants go in order to give a majority of the conference. But President talked to me and said that on Wednesday he wanted me to go to the conference with him. Just me. And President and Sister Fortunato. I gave the training of the secretaries and was President's point man throughout the day. It was kind of crazy and it was great to spend time with the president and see that he really trusts and respects me. He's an amazing and powerful leader and I know the mission is going to go far this next year. We got to talk a lot on the two hour car trip there and back, and he gave me a bunch of good insight on how to be a better missionary.

 2) Halloween- Brazil doesn't do much for Halloween...I saw one kid with a costume and he also had a USA shirt on. We got really excited when we saw that. Other then that, life was pretty chill. We did celebrate that night in typical American fashion--eating a mountain of candy and wanting to throw up. We did the most possible as missionaries to dress up that night, switching name tags and messing up our ties. So it was pretty crazy.

The elder we helped out last week stayed with us another week, and is returning to the field tomorrow. I'll be sorry to see him head out, he's an awesome guy who has become one of my best friends on the mission. Though we're just glad he's staying!

3) Clean Slate- So after a number of events and investigators moving, etc, we have been left in an interesting situation. A clean slate. A new beginning. Starting from nothing. Well, that's kind of an overstatement. But not really. We're leaving the office every night now and working like crazy to find people to teach, using the bare-bones that we have--a list of members, a map of our area, and the members themselves. We don't have an area book, have three hours to work per day, and are working in an area that is literally just apartment buildings. Wish us luck, right?

Wrong! Luck ain't got nothing to do with it. I'm actually excited about this fresh start thing because I know it's going to teach me how to be a smarter missionary. I talked about it to President on our car ride, and he offered his help. That's no small thing. He took us in yesterday for a private training on how to plan and improve in our area. So we are beginning to visit less actives, asking the Bishop, Quorum Presidents, and Relief Society President for names and families to help, and offering our service. We're doing a ton more contacts and talking to everyone we come into contact with. And miracles are going to happen! Are happening, actually. And I'm excited to see what's going to happen this next week. I'll make sure to let you all know afterwards all the amazingness that happened.

The first miracle happened yesterday, as we headed to the area after our meeting with President. As we walked down the street to contact someone the Elder's Quorum President gave us, we heard a call from behind us. Looking back, we saw a young man nearly running after us. He asked us if we were from the church in the Savassi. We said we were. He said he'd been there before and wanted to go back/learn more, was looking for a church in his life. Yes, that's right, someone made a full contact with us on the street. That does not happen. We got his info and he promised to come to church on Sunday. So that was cool.

So that's about that. Next week is going to have some awesome stories of miracles and extreme missionary work, so stay tuned! I'm super excited about life and absolutely love being a missionary. This is where I need to be right now.

This gospel is remarkable. The blessings it offers to the world, to the broken-hearted, to the weary, to the family, are unfathomable. They defy the imagination. They surpass our comprehension. They are for everyone. Be it knowledge, understanding, and strength that help us overcome difficult times or the sheer joy that accompanies a testimony, these things are universally promised to those who follow the Lord's path with all their heart, might, mind and strength.

And we need to share it!

This church is true. This work is vital. I love it. I love you all. Stay strong.

Much Love,

Elder Burt