Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fighting the Good Fight (With All My Might)

The combination this week of stressful office days and lesson-filled evenings has left me rather shell-shocked. The house renting has progressed significantly, with only a couple major problems that may or may not leave missionaries homeless. Just kidding. But it has been crazy. And it isn't over yet. I was thinking the other day about what it would be like to leave the office at 5:00, head home to a family, and relax until the next day. Holy moly that would be boring. I get to leave, walking at breakneck speeds up and down miles of hills in order to teach lessons, share the gospel, and save souls. My life is awesome.

1) A Fallen Giant- This week we began visiting a less active member that the ward leadership wanted us to help. He left the church about five years ago for an unknown motive. At the time he was a High Priest, a member for many years, and a leader in the ward. Something I have noticed in my visits to less actives is that the greater the person, the greater the fall. Somehow this beloved, once faith-filled man has reached the point where he believes neither in the church nor God, without any faith or hope whatsoever. The scripture I have shared with him and that I truly felt is from Alma 5, "if you have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?" I believe that he can. I love to visit him-the conversation is entertaining, he's very intelligent, and there are members of the family that have not been baptized. And he wants them to be. The goal: sealed in the temple.

2) Guided Steps- We had some wonderful experiences this Thursday in which I saw how the Lord blesses us when we are in the right place, at the right time, doing the right things. That day all of our lessons had cancelled on us. We went to try and visit a few less actives, but when they too did not answer, we got to street contacting. Ringing apartment intercoms at 8:00 at night. Talking to everyone on the street. Usually we get a couple of "come back laters" and maybe a solid phone number after wringing it out of them.

And then the miracles started happening.

We didn't even have to leave the street we were on. One man stopped at the building we were knocking--on a bike, exhausted. He hastily accepted a visit, and explained that he felt like he needed something to help him with his family as he raises two small boys. A man racing to an appointment stopped, gave us all of his information, and more, and then continued. Another went out of his way to walk past us, got really excited when we made a contact with him, told us he'd studied about the Mormons online but had never been able to talk to them, and invited us to his house. A woman gave us her address, and said her brother-in-law is a member, her husband has been visiting the church, and they're interested. All within the period of under an hour. I honestly didn't know what had happened. Miracles.

3) Looking Toward Eternity- As I mentioned last week, we had two baptisms on Saturday! Neia and Vitoria are extremely excited, and it is catching with the rest of their family too. The other two are really really close to baptism. Over the course of the week they have come to a very sure decision that they want to be baptized, they just don't quite have the courage to accept a date. I'm still hoping it happens tomorrow. In any case I know it'll be soon.

The course we've taken with them is focusing on the temple. Explaining the meaning and blessings of eternal families, eternal life, firmness in the church and gospel...I mean, the blessings we have to offer just don't get much better. I've come this week to really miss the close proximity of a house of the Lord. And I've decided that I'm going to work as hard as I can and do all that is within my power during this short space of time to progress towards a temple in Belo Horizonte. It should have one. It will.

What a great week. Life is amazing. I am so grateful to be serving as a missionary doing the Lord's work. And this is His work. Of that I have no doubt. I can see His hand in it every day. I encourage you all to be a part of it. In the words of President Uchtdorf, "Come, join with us."

I love you all. Try a little harder to be a little better.

Much Love,
Elder Burt

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Family / Fathers / Mothers

Another week flies by at the speed of light, filled with lessons, house renting, stress, joy, and missionary life. This week, on Monday, I was informed about another seven houses I needed to rent, preferably by the end of the week. I was on the phone nonstop talking to rental agencies, landlords, missionaries, and lawyers while running after these fifteen houses. Makes life interesting. Life is certainly never dull as financial secretary. But we still left every day by 6:00pm in order to teach our investigators, at least two of which are being baptized today! We're still praying to have all four of the family members be baptized today, as they're all ready. But I'll get to that.

1) Family- This week I learned a lot about the importance of the family. Our recent success has definitely been due to teaching entire families, accompanied by member families. This gospel is centered around the family unit: its eternal potential along with its importance in this life. The family dynamic makes lessons far more interesting, and the experiences that a family has in learning together are irreplaceable. Seeing an investigator father teach his young daughter how to pray correctly...experiences like that make my mission. The family that will be baptized today received many visits from member families, who joined together to support and welcome these newcomers to the fold of God. Members are marvelous.

2) Father- Continuing on this theme, I learned a little this week about the role of a father. I learned from our investigator, our Heavenly Father, and my own earthly father. Our investigator is a very humble man who strives to provide for his family and teach them to do the right things. He has taught me about the importance of feeling the Spirit, being an example, and doing what's right against all persecution. We had a powerful conversation yesterday while his wife and daughter were being interviewed for baptism. He opened up to me, explaining that his neighbors criticize him for "leaving the Christian church", mock him for being a Jehovah's Witness, and some have even said he's following the devil. He says he wants to lead others to the truth, feels that it is his calling, but that no one wants to listen and he gets frustrated. But despite it all he has a testimony of the truth and is bringing his family to the truth, the most important people he knows. I also learned this week about the grand importance of having a solid, personal relationship with our Father in Heaven. The world teaches such confusing doctrine about His nature, and I have seen within another family of investigators their confusion over their relationship with Him. So we took a lesson with them to address the importance and nature of prayer. How we ought to converse with our Father. He loves us. And that relationship can be the most prized that we possess. How grateful I am to have a relationship with an earthly father that I can use as a guide to how I want to feel towards God. I realize that in today's world this blessing of proximity and love is not always present.

3) Mother- But the week would not be complete without some lessons learned about the divine calling and gift of motherhood. I saw this in the lives of our investigator, a member, and my own dear mother. Our investigator is a determined woman who works hard in a restaurant while simultaneously maintaining her relationship with her daughter. She is unbelievably converted to the gospel. As she told the AP in her interview: "you know when you're so excited for something you feel nervous, and it feels like the day never arrives? I can't believe tomorrow is finally the day." I have never seen someone so fully committed to baptism and giving her heart to the Lord. And she is a strong example for her daughter, who mirrors that enthusiasm for her own baptism.  We visited them with a member family, and the mother of the family is an example to me. She held a party for her nine-year-old daughter in the church, and invited all of the guests to have personal tours of the chapel with her and the missionaries (us). She bore testimony to our investigators, and informed us afterwards that she would fast especially for them during the week, which she did. She reminds me of my own mother, who is one of the best member missionaries I know. Who truly recognizes what we have as members of Christ's church and isn't afraid to share it with those around her. How grateful I am for my own mother, the example and teachings she gave to me, the relationship we have, and the lessons in missionary work that made me who I am today.

The family is a miraculous thing, truly a divine organization. I have the opportunity to learn so much on the mission about how I hope to raise my own family. This week I have felt the hand of the Lord in my life, and cannot believe how much I have been blessed. We had ten investigators in church on Sunday, have baptisms scheduled the next two weeks, and hope to see a similar showing tomorrow. Hard work pays off. Prayer works. The Church is true. I have a Heavenly Father who loves me. And He loves all of you, too.

How could life get any better???

Much Love,
Elder Burt

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Opening the Windows of Heaven

Everyone knows that scripture in Malachi, right? The one that says that the Lord "will open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." I realize it's talking about tithing, and on the mission I don't really deal with that, but it still pretty accurately sums up this last week here in my area. Let me explain. Day by day.

Sunday: Standing in front of the church with no investigators, as far as we were aware, likely to come. Just the day before we had virtually nothing as far as progress goes. Our teaching group was non-existent. And then I turned around to make a contact with an approaching family. Then I realized I recognized them. My jaw dropped, as I said "I don't believe it." There was a family of four approaching. We'd found them last Tuesday knocking doors, taught the first lesson, and they hadn't accepted very firm, so we'd left them alone. And here they were. After church we went and marked a baptismal date for the 18th of January. Everyone accepted, on the condition of receiving an answer about the Book of Mormon. Mother, father, daughter, and the mother's sister.

Monday: Lots of work in the office. Crazy day. In the middle of the day Elder Dunford got a call from a random man who lives in our area who wants to learn about family history and promised to come to church on Sunday.

Tuesday: Visited the family again. They all read in the Book of Mormon, the sister read like half of first Nephi. As we reached the end of the lesson, the mother asked us how baptism worked, because she was getting baptized on the 18th. Without a doubt. The others aren't quite as committed (aside from the daughter), but they all loved the church and are super ready. In the words of the mother before we had even started on the commandments: "we don't drink. We don't smoke. We don't go to parties. We're tithe-payers. I think we're a pretty good family." Good family? Missionary dream come true. They asked us to visit all of their relatives, and the mother and daughter are bringing relatives to church tomorrow.

Wednesday: Another good lesson with the family. We received references from for a person who wants to be baptized. I forgot to mention that on Sunday the members passed us the names of five less-actives who they'd like us to visit.

Thursday: We taught the family again, and they're living the law of chastity already as well. Then we went to visit another family who had come to church a couple weeks ago (that family of five that have three sons between the ages of 20 and 24.) The lesson went great, the sons said they know the Book of Mormon is true and that this is God's church. They promised to come to church on Sunday and have baptism marked for the 25th. The member who went with us is a friend of theirs and told us afterwards it went over really well.

Friday: I did a division with our District Leader, and went to his area. I was a little reluctant to leave our now-bursting area, but we had a good time over there and taught some good lessons. Elder Dunford started giving out fliers to an English class we'll start next week, to great success.

Saturday: Returned from the division and went to clean the chapel. Our investigators are so excited that they went as well (we had more investigators cleaning the chapel than members.) Two random people walked in off the street and promised to come to church tomorrow, and they're super excited. The bishop gave us more names of people to visit.

In conclusion: Miracles. Happen. The Lord blesses us. I'm absolutely sure that someone with a lot more faith than me has been praying for us, because everything changed this week. We have so much to do I honestly don't have any way to receive it all. I am overwhelmingly grateful to the Lord for these many acts of mercy, and will do my best to make the most of them.
I love you all. I sincerely, absolutely thank you for your prayers in my behalf. Stay strong, it's all true.

Much Love,
Elder Burt

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Years, everybody! It's 2014, which is awesome. I dunno why, but it just seems like a bigger number then 2013. Figuratively speaking. I mean, obviously it's literally bigger. Does that make sense? No? Just think about it a little more.

This week was transfers, which were crazy as usual. Now the stress has passed, but that was pretty much the focus of the entire week. It'll be nice to settle back into the normal, post-holiday routine on Monday.

The Odinist- So this week started off, after church on Sunday, with the coolest contact I have ever made. Easily. Let me explain. We were doing contacts near the church and ran across this guy sitting down on a bench. He had giant tattoos of vikings on his arms. We approached in normal contact form, when he interrupted us by saying (in English, with a cool British accent) "I don't speak Portuguese." We replied that that was fine, because we speak English! We chatted with him a bit, and he quickly let us know that he has great respect for us, but isn't Christian and, in fact, believes in a religion far older. He explained that he was from Sweden and, like his ancestors for thousands of years, is an Odinist. As in he believes in Norse mythology. Explains the tattoos. I'm embarrassed to admit I was now far more interested in his religion then he was in mine. We talked for a while, he explained that he was a priest and had eventually convinced his son to convert to Odinism with the following phrase: "Other gods ask you to kneel down and pray to them. My god tells you to stand up, stand up for yourself." Pure apostasy, but pretty awesome combined with the accent. I felt like I was in Thor. We invited him to church and left.

Resolutions- I wanted to spend what I assume will be the rest of my letter talking about my New Years resolutions in what I consider to be an extremely important year of my life. A slightly "larger" year than 2013. Again, figuratively speaking.
1) Baptize _________ people. My purpose here on the mission is to help other people come unto Christ by being baptized. I will do everything possible to reach this goal throughout the year.
2) Become more like Christ, especially by working to love everyone. I was given a promise in my setting apart as a missionary that I would be able to love everyone I came into contact with and express to them God's love. I hope to be able to successfully do that this year.
3) Sacrifice everything that I have to the work. Everything. I don't want to hold on to anything for myself, just lay it all out in order to serve God and His children.
4) Return home not just with honor, but with full certainty that I did everything I possibly could during these two years. That my work was sanctified and accepted by the Lord.
5) Come home in shape. Pretty confident on this one, since I managed to pass six months in the office up to this point without gaining anything. I'm gifted.
6) Read the New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants in Portuguese and English (after the mission) over the course of the year.
7) Change all of the areas I pass through on the mission. If the ward, the area, the work, isn't better when I left than when I arrived, I'll feel like I did something wrong.
8) Improve my relationship with my Heavenly Father. This has been one of my number one goals throughout my mission. This relationship is more important to me than any other, and I feel like my success, happiness, and life depend on being able to communicate well with Him. I am always thinking about it and always praying for it to improve.
9) Help those who are back on the home front come unto Christ. While not a primary focus, I certainly haven't forgotten all of you, and hope that my letters and prayers help or touch someone out there. Of course, this also applies to the last couple months of the year when I can help you more personally.
10) Never waste a day. Make it worthwhile in someone's spiritual growth. Every single one of these 365 days that makes up 2014. Every one is precious. Don't let any slip by without making the most of it. I'd encourage all of you to have this same goal. Time is swift. I'm seeing that now more than ever before. Don't let the precious moments get away from you. Spend time with family. Do service. Tell someone you love them. I certainly love all of you.

So that's that. 2014. Big year. Looking forward. Living in the present. Saving souls. Life is awesome.

Much Love,

Elder Burt