Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Week

Elder Burt with President and Sister Fortunato, and Elder Dunford
Is it New Year's already? There's not much left to 2013, a year that has been one of the most unique and miraculous of my life. Good stuff.

1) A Very Missionary Christmas- So I don't know if everyone is aware, but Christmas was this week. I'm still not sure what happened. I had so many Christmas dinners and lunches I don't know what to do with myself.

The Christmas week began on Sunday with a presentation of the musical we performed for the mission. But this time we performed it for all of the local stakes and visitors, which ended up being a packed house of more than one thousand attendees. There's nothing quite like performing for an audience like that, and the Spirit was overpowering. Innumerable hosts of teary-eyed visitors. It was like a missionary dream come true. I was so grateful to be a part of it.

Before I knew it Christmas Eve had arrived. The tradition here in Brazil is to have Christmas supper (supper? Not sure if that's the right word) at midnight with the whole family. That's when they open gifts and everything else. A member gave us dinner to eat at home, so Elder Dunford and I had Christmas dinner in our apartment at 9:30, talking about Christmas memories and traditions.

The next day was Christmas! I had an enormous, magnificent lunch with our mission president and his extended family. I was ready to explode when I had to run to the office to Skype my beloved family (who I may have accidentally left waiting an extra 15 minutes. They were hysterical when I finally called.) I was extremely happy to get to see and talk to them for the short time that I did. The best family a missionary could ask for.

And that was my Christmas! Now you know.

2) Comfort Those that Stand in Need of Comfort- Okay, not quite. A missionary Christmas isn't quite finished without a little missionary work. We headed out, as usual, at 6:00 to teach. Clearly, not a lot of new investigators would let us in on Christmas, so we went in search of people we already knew who would need or appreciate a Christmas visit. This included IrĂ¡, our friend who is under house arrest. He had spent Christmas alone until we got there, as his mother had left the day before. We read a couple scriptures and, hopefully, brightened his day a bit. The next visit was to a less active who hasn't left her house in months because she's afraid to leave her dog alone. This visit was a little sad, as we could see her deteriorating mental health due to her extended solitude. I think we're some of the only people she ever sees. We also shared a Christmas scripture with her and invited her to return to church. She needs it.

So all in all a wonderful Christmas. Focused, primarily, on our Savior and doing what He would do if He were here. Not quite as well, I imagine, but we do our best.

3) Payoff- I mentioned last week that Elder Dunford and I were working like crazy with what little we had--with all of our investigators on holiday and no one to visit. Well, as is prone to happen, the Lord blessed us more than we could have expected. We were going into church on Sunday with nothing. One week after I had sworn that the secretaries would never again deal with no investigators at church, we had nothing. Not a single possible person that we knew of. I was feeling a little downcast Saturday night, but did not completely give up hope.

And on Sunday (as always) a miracle happened. We got to church and found that a member had brought a family (FAMILY) to church with him. What was more, it happened to also be a contact that we had made in the street two months ago. And they live in an apartment next to the chapel. And they enjoyed the church. And did I mention that it was a member that referred them to us? And that they're a family of five?

We visited them once during the week (it wasn't easy due to the holidays), but they received us very well and understood the lesson. The son seems particularly excited, and we'll continue working with them a lot to help them progress.
I love the Lord. I did nothing to find this family, and it just goes to show me that it's not me that has the power to do this work. The Lord does everything. I just have to try my hardest to follow Him and prove my desire. I can't even begin to express how grateful I am. Words fail me.

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas. I hope everyone took a little time to do service and help out someone else. It's the best thing to do this time of year. And if you haven't's certainly not too late.

I love you all. You're amazing. Work hard, share the gospel, don't be afraid.

Much Love,
Elder Burt

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Hard to believe that it's already arrived. I think this was the fastest December I can remember. It's wonderful to feel the Christmas spirit, sing carols, and do the Lord's work. I love this time of year, no matter the place or the temperature!

1) Hit the Streets- This week saw a lot of contacting. Elder Dunford and I didn't have a lot lessons marked due to investigators going on Christmas vacations, but we didn't let that prevent us from working hard and trying to find new people. We are talking to everyone we see, inviting them to hear about Christ. Everyone. I'm a missionary, that's what I'm called to do, so I'm going to talk to everyone I see in the streets, houses, wherever. Elder Dunford and I have a contest going for what we call the "best and worst contacts of the day." The worst rejections and the best acceptances. It makes things a bit more entertaining, and we always feel good coming away from contacts fist-bumping and claiming best contact. There are some great, prepared people out there.

The mission has begun to try to focus even more on working with families. Lots of missionaries tend to just baptize one family member, the children, etc. So anytime we see a couple or family on the street we run (figuratively, sometimes literally) after them. This message is for families! We also sang carols as a zone in the park, and got a lot of attention that way. I love singing, and it's a good way to help people feel the Spirit.

2) Conference- This week we also had the mission Christmas conference, which was an amazing experience. It started with the musical program, which I participated in. It has been a long time since I felt the Spirit touch me as strongly as it did during the songs. For me the best part was getting to testify by singing "This is the Christ" and seeing it touch the listeners, including a few tears running down the face of our mission president. What a spiritual giant he is.

It was my turn to cry a bit when we sang the classic EFY medley as an entire mission. I echo the words of the song: "I have been born as Nephi of old, to goodly parents who love the Lord...we are as the army of Helaman, I have been taught in my youth. And I will be the Lord's missionary to teach the world his truth." I am so grateful for my loving parents who did teach me the truth and raised me in a gospel-centered home. That has been such a blessing in my life, and helped me become the missionary I am today. (I hope Mom is crying right now :)

Afterwards I got to talk to all of my good friends that I have made while on the mission. That's a cool part about being financial secretary: I know all the missionaries and can call a majority of them my friends. Lots of picture taking, lots of food and chocolate, and lots of singing of Christmas carols as an entire mission, ending (of course) with a rousing rendition of "Called to Serve" that nearly brought the chapel down around us. Missionaries have got power!

3) Remembering- And in the midst of all this, there has been a lot of remembering. Of course, remembering of Christmases past (cabins with friends and family, sledding, snow-shoeing, caroling, Christmas mornings and dinners), but that hasn't been what most dominates my thoughts or memories. Of course I miss it, but I'm making Christmas memories now that I will also never forget.  What I actually ended up remembering most was my motives and feelings at the beginning of the mission. I know I already had a "looking back" segment a couple weeks ago, but this was a little different for me. I remembered the excitement I had, the desire to serve, to be the best missionary ever. I felt, during the conference, a spirit that I remember telling myself over a year ago: "Don't ever forget this feeling. Don't get caught up in the mechanics, the numbers of missionary work. You are going to help others experience this for themselves. How? I don't know yet. But don't you forget it." I hope that I have remembered it. Because now I've learned the "how". But it's worth nothing without the "why." I'm now reinvigorated to bring these feeling of joy, peace, and certainty to the hearts of the people I teach.

So here we go. A very merry Christmas to all of you. I hope it is wonderful. I hope you make new memories. But I also hope you never forget the true meaning of Christmas. Which is Christ. Our Savior. My Redeemer. How I love him. What a wonderful time of year. What a wonderful life.

Much Love,
Elder Burt

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dedicated, Prepared, and Touched

My oh my, how the weeks fly by,
Check out those sweet rhyming skills.

This week has been excellent. It's awesome being companions with Elder Dunford. We're working hard, talking to people, finding people, teaching people, and moving the work along here in Belo Horizonte.

1) Dedicated- So the name of the game has been dedication in order to find more success. As a mission, each missionary needs to make at least ten contacts per day with new people, inviting them to hear our message. As secretaries, with a third of the normal amount of proselyting time, this has always been a struggle. But it's also very doable if you just step out of the comfort zone and talk with literally everyone. So that's what we've been doing. And sure, there's a large amount of people that turn you down. But you also find the people who are being prepared by our Heavenly Father to receive our visit. And at the very least we show Him that we're willing to do our part. And as we do that, I've come to see that He makes up the difference.

2) Prepared- This was especially evident in a visit we made on Thursday. We received a reference from another missionary contact for a person named Mariana who lives in our area. We went to visit her in the pouring rain on Thursday night. I, as usual, had forgotten my umbrella. We were standing outside her apartment and no one was answering. It was like 8:00 and we were wondering what else to do, when a guy came outside. We asked if he knew Mariana, and he said he'd go get her. A few seconds later, the door was buzzed open. We stood there, a little confused, when a younger woman appeared at the door and ushered us in. She seemed to have been expecting us, which left us even more confused. It was about then she realized we weren't there to check out the apartment for rent, but to teach her about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. She was very hospitable and talked about her cousin who is going on a mission in January. She seemed interested in the church, has never been before, and is passing through a rough spot in her life. We had to run as it was already late, but returned on Friday.

We sat on the floor as she doesn't have a couch, and taught her the first lesson and paid attention to her problems and desires. It's so important to listen to your investigators and teach directly to them. She explained how she felt lost, that her life was extremely difficult, that she'd already yelled, cried, but nothing seemed to get better. She was beginning to be convinced that God was chastening her. I explained to her that God doesn't necessarily put these difficulties on us, but he always provides us with a cure. In like manner, when the world was lost, he provided the "cure" by means of Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel. And I explained that this was also the "cure" for her problems and difficulties. The gospel applies so specifically to her. I could see that God has been preparing her, helping her be humble enough to accept His help. What a marvelous thing.

3) Touched- When we reached the end of the lesson we invited her to be baptized on the 22nd. She asked if it couldn't be this Sunday. Kind of stunned, we said we would have to teach some other things first but would see if the date couldn't be pushed back a bit.
She explained that while we spoke she felt a kind of warmth that pushed back the despair she was feeling. We explained that it was the Spirit confirming to her the truth of these things--and that she could feel this constantly by reading the Book of Mormon and coming to church.

And so life is good. Actually, I'd go so far as to say it's great. The Lord is helping us and I am so happy to be a missionary. The field is white, already to harvest. We just have to get down to work. I'd encourage all of you to do your best, and try to invite someone to church, to hear the truth, this Christmas season. What a wonderful gift you could give to Christ.

For those of you who aren't members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (I imagine there are a few readers in this category): talk to the missionaries. Or if that seems like a lot, shoot me an e-mail or letter. Feel free to learn a little more. Because it will change your life. I know that, because I've seen it change people here in Brazil. And because it has already changed mine.

I love you all. Work hard. Smile a little more. Remember it's true.

Much Love,
Elder Burt

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Conference / Heaven-Sent / English

Merry December, everyone!

It's been a crazy week, with tons to do and lots happening. There was a transfer this week, and my new companion is Elder Dunford, an old friend from the CTM. I'm excited and ready to work like crazy to reach our goals this month. December has to be the best month to be a missionary. Christmas is awesome.

1) Conference- Let's start at the beginning, with stake conference on Sunday. As a missionary thinking a lot about the kinds of spiritual and uplifting experiences that people need to have at church, I was extremely excited for the conference with an Area Seventy participating, as I knew it would be a good Sunday for visitors to feel the Spirit and realize the strength of the Church. I was walking to church in the morning with a number of people in mind, and was firmly confident that today would go well. I had absolute certainty that a miracle would happen. I didn't know what. But I was ready for it.

Fast forward. We were in charge of greeting people at the doors, and we had a kind of weird experience out front (this is not the miracle. I'll get to that.) This weird homeless guy with voodoo bracelets was yelling at us and the members about Satan, and tied some kind of red voodoo band to the fence around the church. Then he picked up a good-sized rock and hurled it at the church building, and then punched a couple cars. Fortunately, he soon left and we were left in peace, and kind of spooked to have seen someone who seemed pretty possessed.

Fast forward again! The members brought a bunch of investigators, we had a couple less actives show up, but our own investigators didn't come and we didn't get any firm responses from the visitors. We left, uplifted by the conference but still waiting on that miracle. That night was Ward Council, and it was there that the members passed us a reference of two people who had visited the church and had some kind of fight, but at the end of it one desperately asked to be baptized, if we helped cast a demon out of her daughter. So that was a weird set up, but I accepted all the same.

2) Heaven-Sent- So on Monday off we went to visit them with the Relief Society President. We were well-received, and taught an extremely powerful first lesson. The Spirit testified powerfully that there was one true church, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon was the key to all of this. And so they accepted our baptismal invite for the following Sunday. Boom. Miracle. And they both are extremely good people. I haven't really seen anything crazy, they just have some tensions in the relationship. Guess what the cure is? The gospel!

We visited them on Tuesday, taught the Word of Wisdom, and again on Friday to teach the Plan of Salvation. We arrived on Friday and they asked that the baptism be moved forward, as they didn't feel prepared. We talked to them about it, but as we haven't had time to teach all the commandments yet, we moved the date forward a bit. But I'm sure that it will happen this next week. They're very accepting and willing to follow, and have already expressed the desire to continue attending the church. Awesome sauce.

3) English- An entertaining thing about this week is the sheer amount of English that seems to have been spoken. We taught English class, taught a lesson on Wednesday in English, the new investigators I mentioned speak English well...and I realized something funny. I feel more comfortable talking in Portuguese to these people than I do in English. It just seems more natural. So that's kind of cool. The language is going well.

It's been a great week. I'm so excited for the Christmas season and the chance for everyone to remember Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. It's a little warm (96°) in Brazil, which as I mentioned last year makes it feel a little less like a normal Christmas, but for me, being a missionary, it seems even more special as I have the chance to focus completely on the Savior. And on helping others to recognize Him. There isn't a better time or place to be a missionary!

Work hard, do good, and take a little time to remember the true purpose behind the Christmas season.

Much Love,

Elder Burt