Saturday, February 22, 2014

Exploring Cave / Spirited Discussions

Well, wonderful people, it's been quite a week. And an awesome P-day. It's not every day that one gets to go on a road trip with the mission president to explore a giant cave. Taking advantage of my last weeks here in the office? I think so.

In any case, due to this awesomeness I don't have a whole lot of time to write, but I'll jot down some quick fun stuff.

1) Fight, Fight, Fight!- OK, so this first story isn't super "fun", per se. I found myself having some extremely heated arguments this week. Now, for those of you that know me, I'm not someone who loses his cool or is inclined to spark contention. But somehow I found myself in a couple debates in which one side was absolutely furious with me. It was actually pretty entertaining.

The first was in a lesson I taught while on a division with my good friend and AP, Elder Sonnefeld. We entered the house of a Seventh-Day Adventist and taught him the message of the Restoration. We taught pretty well, and he was respectful but also clearly firm in his religion. He only got a little flustered towards the end, and started talking about Saturday being the day of the Lord, etc. I really didn't want to Bible bash, so I decided to just ask questions. I asked him why he loved the Bible so much, or why he knew it was true. Something along those lines, because he had a clear obsession with it, and I was hoping to use those feelings to explain how he might feel about the Book of Mormon through prayer. I don't think he understood where I was going, because he started getting very flustered and saying that anyone could make there own church by picking one scripture and misinterpreting it, that he wasn't well read, but that his pastor could totally convert us. I tried to salvage the situation, but he was upset and didn't want to listen.

I found myself on the other end of an even worse fight the day after. One of the houses I was renting fell through because the rental agent didn't want to change his contract to fit our needs. I assume he didn't like being told what to do by a twenty-year-old American. But I told the missionaries to go to the landowner and try to negotiate something directly with him. The landowner talked to the rental agent, who agreed to let us rent under our conditions. I called, got the information I needed, and sent him a form the church needed filled out. Several minutes later, he called. He started by telling me I needed to stop with all the bureaucracy, that he absolutely refused to sign this form (that's really all he had to do), that we were being ridiculous, and that I had to tell the church that we weren't going to use the form for him. I responded, calmly, that the church has over 1,000 houses rented in Brazil and all of them followed this pattern. He responded, nearly yelling, that we could have five million houses rented in Brazil, but he wasn't part of any "Association" and wouldn't fill out the form. He then said I'd gone behind his back to talk to the landowner. I said that I hadn't done anything, I'm just the middle man, and if he doesn't want to fill out the form we wouldn't rent the house. He told me to talk to the church headquarters to change their requirements. I said I already knew the answer, thank you, we will not need your house anymore. He began to talk again, and I hung up on him. I can honestly say I never expected to have such an animated discussion about house rentals when I turned in my mission papers. And Elder Juergens was very grateful he wasn't in the office at the time to take the call.

2) Going Where?- I also had an interesting visit with a less active early in the week. We've visited him a few times before, and he's always been pretty clear about his lack of interest, his lack of faith in the church and in God, all in a very sassy, intelligent old person way. He's awesome. This time he was a little more explicit about how he thought Christ and God were just legends, the church was full of hypocrites, etc. I was praying the whole time that he talked that the Spirit would guide me when I spoke, as I was preparing to do. But not preparing by thinking about what I would say, but by paying close attention to what he said.

So when he stopped, I started talking. He had mentioned that he wanted to get better, that life was about getting better every day. My first question was "why?" Why try to get better if the only end is death? How can there possibly be a "better" if there isn't a "best" that we are all striving for? And where is that destination, that "best"? I explained that it had to be a higher Being, a God. A "best". He had no retort, but said that there were a lot of ways to get to the same end. He said that instead of a highway where you can see the end, life is like a country road with lots of twists and turns, where you take it step by step. I seized the opportunity and said absolutely. That's why we have the church. We have a lot of little steps to get us to our final destination, because no one can wing it alone and expect to end up in the right place. We need baptism, the sacrament, and the temple in order to get back to our Heavenly Father. And then I invited him to leave the highway and come back to the country road. Come back to the church, because I have no doubt that deep inside, he still knows it's the right thing to do. He's just mad at the members.

But it's an excellent question: where exactly are we going? The gospel has all the answers. If you want to know, all you have to do is look. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Or maybe you just have to open your own door when the truth knocks on it.  And trust me, we're knocking all the time.

It's all true. I know it. I know that we have a loving Father in Heaven. I love him. I love that I have this knowledge, this hope, and have the opportunity to share it with the world. Ours is a message of hope. Of love. Of truth. What a marvelous work.

I love you all, thank you for being amazing.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, February 15, 2014

It's a Boy / Odd / Nephi

Well, another transfer week has come and gone. Houses rented, missionaries in place, and lessons taught. And some other fun surprises.

Elder Burt, Elder Juergens, and Elder Dunford
1) It's A Boy- Yes, ladies and gents, the day has finally arrived. I am training a new financial secretary to take my place! By far the most exciting part about transfers was this change-up. I will train him for the next transfer and then finally hit the field again.

Elder Juergens is a great missionary and an amazing trainee--and I'm trying my best not to over-stress him as I show him the ropes. There's a lot to learn, but we've got a bit of time to learn it all. Something I'm realizing in all of this is just how much I've changed and grown, and how much stuff I really do as secretary. I was much like Elder Juergens just a few short months ago--wondering how on earth I was going to manage all of the temporal affairs of the mission practically alone. Feeling excited, but also pretty lost. I do a lot of problem-solving in my job, since every single day presents a new challenge that needs to be handled differently than any before. I don't know if I'll use the specific tools of house renting and ticket buying that I've learned here. But I'm sure the confidence under stress, the ability to find solutions alone in seemingly impossible situations, and management skills will all come in handy later in life. But now it's someone else's turn. At last.

2) Odd- So this last Sunday, after church, we had what I would consider an "odd" day. We spent the entire afternoon in a neighborhood doing contacts
, talking to upwards of seventy people in a couple hours and teaching lessons as well. But throughout the afternoon everything just seemed a little...odd. I don't know how to explain it, but let me share a few of the slightly abnormal happenings:
--Escorting a young woman away from a harassing homeless man.
--Knocking doors, teaching an 85-year-old communist and his wife, who also happened to be a good friend of an ancient member of the ward. His dream is to go to Cuba and, yes, he called us "companion."
--Leaving the building, and ringing the intercom of the next apartment in the complex. Getting buzzed back into the building without having to say anything, but the person didn't answer their door.
--Leaving, ringing the next intercom, and getting buzzed in again, and again no one showed up.
--Getting sworn at by a 30-year-old man for ringing his doorbell at 5:00pm on a Sunday, telling me I was ridiculous for bothering people at such an hour. All the while ringing other intercoms while he yelled at me. When he started to leave, I asked if we could visit him at a different time and he started yelling at me again.
--Having an evangelical pastor try to convince us to join his church, where they need "good youth who are head-over-heels for Christ." And basically saying we would make good money if we did it.

All in all, a bunch of experiences that happen all the time in the life of a missionary, but compressed into a relatively short afternoon.

3) Nephi- I had another good experience while reading in the Book of Mormon, relating my life to that of a scriptural hero. The story of Nephi is pretty easy to relate to missionary work. I mean, as missionaries we're pretty much just like Lehi's family: we left our home and possessions behind us to wander in the wilderness for years. This morning I was reading 1 Nephi 17, in which Nephi is commanded by the Lord to build a ship. This seemed to his brothers like an impossible task, and (verse 18) complained and refused to work because of the task's difficult nature. Nephi goes on to rebuke them and remind them of the scriptures, and the things the Lord did for those in the past. He finishes his lecture by saying: "If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them...And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?" (1 Nephi 17: 50-51)

I would relate this story to missionary work. There seem to be an awful lot of people, members and missionaries, who complain that it's difficult. That the world has changed, people aren't open anymore, that the kind of miracles that happened in the past aren't possible now, etc etc. I would say the same thing as Nephi: the Lord has done such marvelous things in the past, why can't we have missionary success with his help in today's world?

Elders in the Mission Office.
Every single one of you knows people outside of the church, that are extremely righteous, amazing people. I know a bunch as well. They
are my friends, my family members, my spiritual siblings. So why would I think that they couldn't join the church? They're ready, but perhaps our lack of faith, the sheer difficulty of single-handedly "building a boat," leads us to excuse their continued absence.

Believe in miracles. Believe that God touches hearts, that He will help you. Go out and serve, give everything that you have, and your loved ones will come to the truth.  They need what we have. We need them. Let's get our act together.

I love you all. You are amazing, and have so much potential. This is God's work. I can see it in my life every day. Miracles happen. Keep to the faith.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Kind of Stressed, But Loving Life

Hello, everyone! It's another sunny day here in Brazil. My air conditioner is going at full blast, the sun is shining through my office window, and it seems like a wonderful day to take a nice cool dip in a baptismal font.

Sorry to hear it's still winter over in the states. Ha.

1) Stressed Out- I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but the week before transfers is easily the most stressful thing in the world. Especially when we have nearly twenty missionaries arriving, only six going home, and like a million houses to rent. I literally get a call every day from a new missionary who wants a new house. To give you an idea, the mission currently has 70 houses. I am trying to rent 21 new ones.

But that was true last week too. This week just turned it up a notch, since the missionaries need the houses by next Wednesday. The week was a roller coaster of emotion. One day I had all the houses  I needed, the contracts were approved, and we were ready to move. Then I would get a few calls and find out that some small problem had led to the whole contract being dropped. I was living in fear of my phone ringing. One moment I'd walk into President's office saying "well, President, I've landed five contracts. You can pick where you want to put the new missionaries." Then moments later I'd return and say we had nothing. And so on and so forth.

The funny part about all of this? I love it. I don't know that I could go home and have a profession that wasn't stressful. That being said, I'm a little tired. Like butter spread over too much bread.

2) The Economist- We started this week with an entertaining lesson with a new investigator. His name is Mario. And no, he is not an Italian plumber. He is an 88-year-old Brazilian economist. In fact, as we found out near the end of the lesson, he was one of the three founding economists here in Belo Horizonte. He's old, a little senile, but extremely intelligent. He went on a tangent (encouraged by a visiting member) about the history of Europe and how the English are stubborn and don't want to do anything like everyone else. He didn't seem to like them very much. I was a little offended, but didn't let that affect my teaching.

His daughter is a firm member of the church. She bore her testimony in church about how her mother had died last Friday and she prayed that she could go with her still-living father to be sealed together in the temple. Obviously we went to visit her that afternoon.

The lesson went well with him, and I have a lot of hope that this family will be able to fulfill that dream.

3) Meetings- This week was also crazy full of meetings. Ward council, leadership council, zone meeting, etc. There was a lot of good training from our leaders, especially President. It was pretty hard on the Zone Leaders, focusing on the theme "You need to change. You can do more." As leaders, far more is expected of them. But at the same time, in leadership positions, we have the right to so much more in terms of blessings. So we need to take advantage of that. When we receive callings in the church, the Lord qualifies us to that calling. I've certainly seen that in my time as financial secretary, doing my best at all times.

There were a number of messages that were powerfully delivered in the meeting. Defy all expectations. We have far more gifts then we are aware of. And that's so true. To any of you who feel like you are being asked to do difficult things: step up and do it. The Lord will help, and you will do more than you ever thought possible.

I want to leave the mission stronger than when I arrived. And for that to happen, I'm going to have to pass through the refiner's fire. What are we willing to do and experience in order to become better?

More then anything else, we need to remember the Atonement. Apply it to our lives. Christ's path was anything but easy, anything but smooth. And from Him we can learn patience, diligence, and love. As we study and apply these things, we become better. It isn't easy. But it is simple.

I love you all. You have so much potential. I wish I could communicate that to you, but it's only through a lot of prayer that you can really come to realize it. Pray. Study. Work. Love. It's all good stuff.

Much Love,
Elder Burt

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Back and Forth / Dreaming / The Phone Call

Today started well with a joint effort by my companion and I to write a new song called "Baptismal Day" while I ironed my shirt. We're still working out the finer details, but I think that our enthusiasm more than makes up for the lack of musical precision. And the enthusiasm was immense, due to the miracles that happened this week and the two baptisms that will occur tonight.

1) Back and Forth- That enthusiasm (coupled with stress) was only fueled by the work within the office this week. Aside from the other twenty houses that I now am on track to rent, which involved many visits to rental agencies, I was ridiculously worried about finding an apartment in downtown Belo Horizonte for the recently arrived senior couple.

I'd been working on the rent for a while, but the date of arrival was fast arriving last week and the rental agency was taking forever. I was the middle man as the contract was sent back and forth between the church's lawyer who takes care of all of Brazil, and the rental agency. That happened over the course of a week, and the day they arrived looked like it still hadn't been resolved. So, with President's permission, I dropped that apartment right as we were finishing to use an apartment offered by another rental agency that I've already used and are friends of mine. We made the contract within a day, got it signed and notarized, and I was ready to get the keys on Friday...but then it turned out the landowner was having doubts. I waited anxiously for a response over the weekend and got one on Sunday during lunch, when I was informed the apartment was no longer available. So then, on Monday, I had to return to the first rental agency asking for the apartment again. That was embarrassing. We began to finish that up when the second rental agency called me back in, offering a new apartment that was far cheaper and already ready to go. This time, though torn, President didn't let me switch back because he didn't think it would be good for the church's image. I agreed, and I finally got the keys to the apartment yesterday. Moral of the story: bureaucracy is frustrating. And I have a stressful job.

2) Dreaming- This week I did a lot of dreaming. Some very vivid dreams while sleeping and some even more vivid dreams while awake. We had a meeting on Friday with all of the district leaders in the mission, and President talked about that. "Don't be afraid to dream", he said. Dream big. Things that don't seem possible. I like a particular quote I recently heard: "The impossible is only a matter of opinion."

This was particularly evident to me after an amazing lesson that we had on Wednesday with recent converts Neia and Vitória, and Neia's sister/our investigator Adna. We had a very spiritual lesson and talked a lot, without any formal lesson guideline, about the Holy Ghost and baptism. All of our explanations were on-the-spot answers to questions she brought up. She was worried about falling away after baptism, and not keeping the commandments. I asked if she had ever seen a child learn to walk. I compared the difference between a person learning with the help of a parent, versus a child learning alone. Both would stumble, but clearly the child alone would fall more. Similarly, a new member who is given the Holy Ghost will have the help of a loving Father in Heaven, and will fall considerably less than someone trying alone without baptism. At the end of the lesson we had everyone kneel in prayer and each, in turn, prayed to know if Saturday was the right day for the baptism. Adna said that she would have a serious discussion with Daniel (Neia's husband) about baptism. Before leaving, I left a pamphlet with her stating the date of baptism as Saturday, and our number to call when she had talked to Daniel.

As we left the lesson, I was feeling very excited and doing a lot of dreaming. I began to imagine (and explain to my companion) how people and missionaries need to stop assuming that their personal efforts can't individually change things. Many people assume that they can only play a small role in the progress of the church. And someday, down the line, when there's a temple in Belo Horizonte, they can say "I laid a couple of bricks in that temple."  Well that's true. But I think it's putting an awfully small amount of trust in the Lord.

Sure, as an individual I can't do much of anything. But as an individual surrendered completely to the Lord, letting Him work through me, I can do miraculous things. Imagine if Ammon had showed up in the land of Nephi and said "well, I'll baptize a couple of these servants and fifty years down the line, if they work hard, we might have a whole ward here." No. Like Ammon, I'm not entirely satisfied with that. The Lord can do a lot more. Stop waiting for other people to step up and do things. Stop waiting for your situation to change. Just do it.

And so I sat there after the lesson, at a bus stop in the evening, dreaming of how the work offered by me, by my companion, by the mission the work of us as individuals, if sanctified by the Lord, will directly result in a temple here in Belo Horizonte. In the salvation of thousands of our spiritual brothers and sisters.

That's what I dreamed of.

3) The Phone Call- And then, after arriving home a little while later, we did our daily planning. We finished, said the closing prayer, and stood up. I realized that my phone, which I had left on the bed on silent, was ringing. I didn't recognize the number. I picked it up.
"Hello. What time can we mark the baptism on Saturday?"
Miracles happen. The Lord has so much to offer us. I can't even begin to explain the miracles I saw this week. They are many.

I love you all. This is the Lord's work, and we need to realize that. We are capable of so much more. Dream big.

Much Love,

Elder Burt