Monday, March 31, 2014


Elder Burt and Elder Willden
Well, ladies and gents, it's Monday. And you know what that means. Elder Burt is out of the office. Where am I, you may ask? Ipatinga. With Elder Willden, an old MTC buddy. Both of us newly arrived in the area. Excited like nothing else. We're in a mission district that sends the paperwork in this Wednesday to become a stake. I am crazy blessed.

1) Oh...That Makes Sense- But let me start with an entertaining story from my last few days back in the office. I may have mentioned in the past Maria, on old less active lady who lives alone and we occasionally visit to keep company. The one that now has a helper who has potential to be baptized. We always thought she was going kind of crazy, due to her slurred speech and apparent Alzheimers.

Well, we arrived this last Saturday and started to talk, and I saw a bag full of empty beer cans on the couch. "Are all of these yours?" I asked. "This isn't that much," she replied, "this is just how much I've had today!" There were about twelve beer cans in the bag. Apparently she wakes up at four in the morning and drinks a couple, then doesn't stop all day. Suddenly everything makes sense. We discussed the harmful effects of alcohol and encouraged her to stop.

2) Going in Blind- As I said, we arrived in the area knowing absolutely nothing. But we got right to work getting to know the members, visiting past investigators, and running around working as hard as we possibly could. We were hindered just a bit by the number of baptismal interviews we had to do, one of which required a day-long field trip and a round-trip of five hours by bus. But hey, I'm not complaining. All of the missionaries here in Ipatinga are very excited and we're ready to see a month full of miracles.

Very fortunately, the members here are extremely excited (largely due to the prospect of becoming a stake.) All are willing to go on visits with us, bring their friends to church, etc. This is showing me what it means for missionaries and members to work together, the sheer power that has to work if everyone does their part.

3) Running- A particularly good experience happened here in the area on Friday, As I mentioned, we were running all over the place working as hard as physically possible to visit everyone we could. As Friday was coming to a close, we had to go to the furthest outskirts of our area by foot to meet with a recent convert who had called me on the first day, asking to meet with us. When we showed up at the agreed-upon point...he was nowhere to be found and did not answer his phone. So there we were, at the end of the world at 7:45 at night, knowing nothing of the area. And I had to use the bathroom.
After a quick pit stop at the gas station, we started making our way back, and while looking at my notes I'd taken on possible visits, I found one that was more or less on our way back. So I decided we should probably go there. We found a less active and his son at home, and we were very well received. The son was returning to activity, and had experienced a large number of doubts over the course of the day that left him feeling very alone and wondering on the truthfullness of the gospel. Our visit was an answer to prayer, and both the father and son were at church on Sunday. The son, Rafael, is going to go on visits with us all of tomorrow afternoon. So I guess all of that running did some good after all. Though it also may have had some negative effects on my immune system, as I was rather sick on Saturday and could hardly drag myself out of the house to help out interviewing the sisters' four baptismal candidates. But hey, I'm better now and miracles happened!

I love this work so much. I love devoting myself to serving the Lord and teaching people about the gospel. This church is true. The Lord is our great eternal head and is leading this work, of this I have no doubt. I love you all. Keep up the good fight. Stay tuned for next week, because the amount of miracles is going to be ridiculous.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, March 22, 2014

And Cut! / Life Lessons / Atonement

Elder Burt and the elders from the office.
Top of the morning to you all, and a very merry St. Patty's day! If I'm being completely honest, I totally forgot about it until someone mentioned it in an e-mail. I guess St. Patrick's day really isn't a big deal in Brazil.

1) And...Cut!-  So I'm sure many of you were on the edge of your seats waiting to hear about my marvelous experiences with a general authority this week. Let me tell you- the beginning of the week was crazy. Preparations, cleaning, praying, fasting...the office was stressed out to the max. Then, Tuesday night before the Seventy was programmed to arrive, President called me into his office. "Elder Burt," he said (in English) "we have a big, big problem." The Mission Tour had been cancelled. So the next 24 hours were spent un-preparing everything--changing bus tickets, cancelling hotels, everything. I'm not sure which part was the bigger headache. It was somewhat disappointing, but it worked out fine.

The other side of this is a reminder that I will be leaving the office next week! So my next letter will no longer be on a Saturday, but will return to Mondays here in a week and a half. These last few days have been spent wrapping up everything in preparation for my departure. I am so excited. So you can look forward to finding out where I am in a week!!

2) Life Lessons-  These last couple weeks we've had the opportunity to teach some graduate students who are researching the church, as I mentioned in the last letter. So on Sunday we had one of them in church, and he really enjoyed it. The student who came to church, Stefan, is really awesome and especially interested in the church's focus on families. Still, we were unsure of the possibility of actual interest since all of this is based around a school project.

We had an amazing lesson Wednesday night. The group of students wasn't the same--only two of the original four were able to attend, and one new arrival. One of them was Stefan. We came without much of a prepared lesson, planning on allowing them to ask the questions. Miraculously, the entire visit was based around the second lesson, the Plan of Salvation. They began asking questions about our beliefs, how it compared to others, the normal school project sort of things. Notes were taken based on my responses. But an interesting thing happened. As the questions went on, they put down their notes and began to ask their own personal questions. And suddenly I realized that they weren't questioning its truthfulness, but accepting it as a given fact. Despite their religious backgrounds, they believed the doctrine because it sounded so familiar. I was astounded as our simple, bold responses were not doubted, and left them desiring to know more. The most astounding question of all came from Stefan, towards the end of the visit, seemingly unrelated to the others. "How can I become a part of the Mormon church?" I don't know if it was a personal desire or part of the project, or a subtle combination of the two. But I did come to a stronger personal testimony and realization of how much revealed truth we have, and how hungry others are to know it.

3) Atonement-  This week I found my studies being largely spent in studying and pondering on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For such a simple doctrine, it's fantastic how much time one can spend studying and learning about it. And it always brings the Spirit and a feeling of edification.

Yesterday in particular I felt extreme peace and love as I thought on this eternal sacrifice of the Savior of all mankind. He suffered the sins of all the world, and gives us the free agency to accept or deny His eternal gift. The opportunity to live eternally with our family and our Heavenly Father. The choice is as simple as that, yet it requires a complete humility that mankind is not prone to, and a realization of our own imperfectness. To say: "I know that I am not perfect. But I would like to be." And strive to show this very real desire through our works and actions. That is how we accept and receive the benefits Christ is ready to give. "Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?...Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive." (3 Nephi 9:13)

And so I will end, echoing the final words of the Book of Mormon: "Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ." (Moroni 10:32)

I love you all. I love the Savior more than I can even begin to properly express in words. He is our hope, our salvation. Through Him we can find peace. I know that He lives. I am not perfect. But I would like to be.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Help! / Wednesday Night Madness / Broke

Hey folks!

This is some classic Brazilian food. Goiabada (which is 
like jelly) and cheese. Weird, but good.
Another good week has come and gone, with everyone dying to hear all about another week in the exciting life of Elder Burt. Well, I'll give you a heads up right now and say that this might be a little shorter than normal. A member of the First Quorum of the Seventy is going to visit my house next week and let's just say I'm not super prepared right now. We have Mission Tour this week with Elder Gavarret. He's going to visit our house, and I'm going to sing a solo for him and nearly the whole mission during the conference. So that's fun.

But you'll hear about that in detail next week!

1) Help! (I Need Somebody)- So these last few weeks we've been occasionally visiting a less active named Maria--an older woman who lives alone with her very obnoxious dog. It really makes her day when we stop by, so we've made it a habit to make quick visits when we're in the neighborhood. This last week we stopped by and made a miraculous discovery--Maria's daughter had hired a girl to take care of her mother! Why is that so great, you ask, aside from the fact that Maria will no longer suffer from complete solitude? What was the first thought that ran through my head when we rang the intercom and someone else answered? Baptism!

Ok, so it's not as easy as that. Just almost. The maid's name is Fernanda, she's interested in the church and wants to find out more. She's excited to go on Sunday and is very open. It was all looking good. It still will work out, but we ran into a bump in the road.

6:20 in the morning--the phone rings. For those of you that don't know, missionaries wake up at 6:30. So this phone call was...less than welcome. But then Elder Juergens answered and Maria's voice was heard on the other end of the line. My first thought: Miracle of miracles. Fernanda has received an answer about the Book of Mormon and wants to be baptized on Sunday! (I'm a positive thinker.) What it actually was: Maria won't let Fernanda go to church because she has to make lunch for her. And she had to call us at 6:20 in the morning to tell us that. Sigh.

2) Wednesday Night Madness- A night full of miracle lessons happened on Wednesday. The church has ward activities every Wednesday now from 7:30 to 8:30, which we occasionally attend if we're in the area and there are investigators there. This week we got in and were immediately approached by a member of the stake presidency, who introduced us to a man wanting to learn about genealogy. He had walked into the church alone asking where he could find the "3rd room." I guess that's where the Family History Center is. It wasn't open yet and we took advantage of the wait to teach him the first lesson. We were hoping to use his interest in family history to spark an interest in the church. When asked why he was researching his family, he explained. "I have an uncle who is really full of himself and thinks my grandfather is from some kind of pure line in Europe. I'm tired of it and want to prove him wrong by learning more about my grandpa." So I guess that's a reasonable motive for family history.

We showed him in and then went to help the members set up for the activity. Then we went out front to do contacts, since there wasn't much else to do. While talking to an awesome guy who spoke English, we were approached by a group of young adults. They asked us if they could enter the church and speak with the bishop. We said of course and showed them in. They turned out to be students researching the church, and bishop quickly turned them over to us to field their questions. We taught a very clear version of the lesson of the Restoration, and then had the chance to answer each of their many questions about the church's doctrinal and historical background. Our responses clearly left them impressed and a few were clearly interested in learning more. All are planning on coming to church services in a week.

3) Broke- So yesterday saw yet another Friday adventure that seem to have become typical of my last few weeks in the office. This time President threw me and Elder Juergens into a taxi at 2:00pm, with R$3600, to rent two new houses in different parts of the city. So off we went on this wild adventure. The first apartment I had already finished up the contract--we passed by the rental agency, got the keys, booked it to the apartment to let in the furniture, closed up, and kept in the same taxi going to another city. The taxi driver was really cool, but after a while turned on an anti-Mormon preaching by his Baptist pastor. So that was less cool. Also, the taxi cost me R$130, which was also not super cool.

We arrived at the second house where we met up with the landlady in order to discuss the contract. I was expecting (as usually happens) a quick signing and turning over of the keys. Unfortunately, this lady was nuts. She had me explain every single clause of the wordy, law-lingo Portuguese contract and then complained about a part that seemed to be missing. I wanted to say that if she wanted to complain about the contract, she should have come to my office to talk to me like I'd told her to. But I'm more polite than that. She continued to complain, had me write in a new clause on the back of the contract and sign it (I definitely don't have the right to do that) and then threw us in her car to take us to her mother-in-law's house to finish everything. There I needed to pay her R$3550. Do the math with the taxi. Yeah, I was nearly 100% sure I didn't have it. But someone must have paid my tithing for me this month, because somehow I pulled out every last bill I needed (by combining every last bit of money we had), with R$7 left over for the bus ride home. Mission accomplished.

The funny part was when we were on the bus coming back and President called. "Elder Juergens, where are you?" "On the bus coming back." "Why aren't you taking a taxi?" "We don't have any money." And that is why I am now broke. And have another two houses rented.

So that ended up being a bit longer than I expected. But hey, nothing wrong with that. I love you all. The mission is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I'm learning so much--and more than anything else I'm learning to rely on the Lord. How I love Him.

Stay strong, keep to the faith, be cool.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Contention / Clarity / Faith

Well, my second Carnaval in Brazil has come and passed. As I have spent it in the center of Belo Horizonte, it has been slightly more exciting than the last one. While returning from our area on Sunday, we were walking down the normal route home and began to see legions of drunk Brazilians in front of us, preparing for all sorts of iniquity. We took a quick detour down another of the main avenues, and realized from the sounds of merry-making that the parade was making its way on the street nearly parallel to ours. We reached an intersection where the two streets met and saw a parade of hundreds of drunken, costumed revelers storming towards us. We waited anxiously for the light to change, and crossed the street just as where we had been standing was filled with people.

The next day we tried to leave the office to work. As we waited at the bus stop, an inebriated 45-year-old woman tried to seduce us. Rather indiscreetly. After opening my Bible to Genesis 39:9 (metaphorically speaking), we made our way back to the safety of the office.

1) Contention- On Saturday we visited a family who had warmly invited us to return to leave the message of the restoration. When we got there, one of the sons (who had excitedly insisted on visiting the church on Sunday), rather timidly invited us to come in. We were met in the doorway by another young man about our age. He seemed surprised to see us, but insisted we enter, and said to the other younger boy "Let's preach the good word!"

Side note: something I've learned on the mission is that, as a Mormon missionary, I am the target of any young religious fanatic who wants to prove his Biblical and religious knowledge superior. They seem to think that "if I can beat the Mormons, I must be the best."

So that was about the attitude of this encounter. He was literally trembling as he attempted to Bible bash us and prove us wrong. We calmly taught the first lesson, trying our hardest to avoid contention. I admit we could have been better and simply avoided the lesson as he wasn't particularly open. Eventually, by the end of the message, Elder Dunford asked a question that left him completely confounded, unable to speak for fear of digging himself deeper in the hole he'd created. We left the lesson less than completely satisfied. Contention never brings the Spirit, and though we tried our hardest to be kind, his desire to "burn" us and our more-than-prepared responses ended up with very little accomplished.

2) Clarity- We taught a lesson yesterday that was considerably different. We were knocking doors in a very rich neighborhood and an old couple let us in. It was clear in the beginning that they were a little uncomfortable-the hour was late, they weren't entirely sure why we were there, and were suspicious of our religious beliefs. I was praying a lot more in this lesson than the last one, that the Spirit would touch the hearts of the couple and that my words would be guided. We taught simply but with clarity, asking questions to help them open up. Still, I knew that our personal force wouldn't be enough. Yet somehow, after leaving the invitiation to read and pray with them, they asked us, before we could even bring it up, if we could return to see how the reading went. They asked for our phone number so they could call and mark a visit in the church. They saw us out warmly, having clearly been touched.

3) Faith- This week I spent a lot of time studying and thinking about faith. I don't have a whole lot of time to go into what I've been learning, but I will share a couple scriptures that everyone can study when they are able. And the underlying thing that I came to realize was that the immediate precursor to faith is humility. It is through humbly realizing our own nothingness that we put our trust in Christ and truly perform miracles. That is not an easy thing for anyone, least of all for me, to say "I am nothing." To completely forget myself. Yet that is what must be done if we want to have the quality of faith that is able to "move mountains." The sciptures I read and pondered this morning were 1 Nephi 7:12, 2 Nephi 26:13, Enos 1:8,11, Jarom 1:4, Mosiah 4:9-12, 5:7, Alma 26:12, and Mosiah 3:19.

It is only through faith in Christ that we can come to perform great miracles. And only through humility that we can begin to understand our need for a Savior, a Redeemer, an Atonement.

I love the Lord. I love this gospel. I am trying so hard to be better. The work is wonderful, there's nothing better. Thank you all for your prayers. I feel them strengthening me. Keep being amazing, and remember your worth in the eyes of God.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Odyssey / Divisions / Houses

This has been an amazing week. Full of miracles, hard work, hilarity, and success. What a blessing to be a missionary in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. It literally doesn't get better than this.

1) Odyssey- Yesterday I went on one of the most ridiculous trips of my life. What was supposed to take an hour and half to take a contract to a rental agency turned into an eight-hour long odyssey, with all sorts of mishaps and adventures. We definitely bonded as a companionship throughout the event.

It started soon after lunch, as we walked down to the center of the city in order to catch a bus to Santa Luzia, a nearby city. We were sitting at the stop for a bit, wondering why nearly nobody else was there. When we asked, after having waited for twenty minutes, they informed us that the bus stop had been moved recently. We walked for a while to find the new spot, and stayed there, standing, with the sun beating down on us, waiting on our bus. After a while, we saw our bus waiting at the next stop, about 200 yards away. We booked it over there, but arrived too late to catch it. We then waited at that stop for another half hour, during which Elder Dunford and I bought belts from a random guy on the street. Then we saw our bus pass us and stop at the next bus stop, where we'd been before. We ran back, again too late. Tensions were running high in the companionship, and then the Jehovah's Witnesses set up camp about fifty feet away from us and started preaching. Due to the patience and wisdom of Elder Dunford, we did not engage in combat.

After nearly another hour, we saw our bus return to the other bus stop. Exasperated, we ran at full speed just in time to catch it. What good luck. Or so we thought.

Traffic was horrible, and there was standing room only on the bus. We made our way to the other city, when the bus missed the turn off I was expecting. Let it be known I'd never been to this area before and was going off of the guidance of the elders who worked there. Well, we all started getting a little antsy as the bus kept going and going...and finally stopped at the end of the world. We figured out that we had caught the wrong number that went to the same neighborhood...but this one didn't pass the right street. We asked around and discovered which bus we needed to catch to arrive at our destination. It was a humorous moment: three missionaries, sitting on a rickety bench overlooking what looked an awful lot like the Amazon jungle, with a dirt pasture and soccer field in front of us. The journey had gone from frustrating to ridiculous at about that point.  We waited for a while and finally got the right bus back, getting off as we passed in front of the rental agency a few neighborhoods over.

Side note: this rental agency happens to be the same one that fought with me over the telephone last week. I salvaged it. The formerly livid rental agent (clearly somewhat ashamed of his former behavior) welcomed us in like family, gave us the keys to the house, his wife insisted that we enter and share a snack/juice, and then they sent us on our way, insisting that we return to have lunch with them in the future.

We met up with the missionaries who would be moving just as the sun was setting. We sat for a bit on a high point, looking over the city and into the surrounding forest as the sun set on one side and an enormous storm approached on the other. The bus ride back was far quicker and more relaxing, and we arrived in the office just before the rain hit. It was 8:00 at night.

2) Divisions- But despite that one day of mishaps, the rest of the week was amazing. After a couple weeks of small success, this week exploded. Through working in the neighborhood of our recent converts (which apparently has never seen missionaries before) we managed to find nine new investigators in three days and get the entire neighborhood excited about our presence and the church. We found several families, each with legally married parents and three children. It feels awfully nice to be running from lesson to lesson. We divided [our companionship] with a member, and even with two companionships we didn't manage to visit everyone we could have. The four of us were running up and down the small streets of the neighborhood teaching lesson after lesson after lesson. The work is accelerating rapidly. Everyone is accepting, and I am happy.

3) Houses- That success has been matched in the office, house-hunting front. I have rented another five houses this week, including the one that took up all of Friday. The work goes on, and miracles never stop.

I was studying a chapter this morning in the Book of Mormon about miracles (Mormon 9). It explains in very clear terms that miracles still happen. Verse 20 lists three things that impede miracles from occurring: Doubt, disobedience, and ignorance, especially of the nature of God. These are the key factors that lead to a world that seems, at many times, to be so empty of the mighty miracles wrought in times of old. As we work to improve our faith, obedience, and understanding, we will begin to see miraculous things happen in our lives. I am absolutely sure of that. The miracles that have happened this week are just the beginning. I have so much further to go. But I'm awfully excited to get going.

Thank you all for your prayers. Thank you Calvert family for the Christmas package (it got here this week)--my absolute favorite song on the mission is "I Love the Lord" from that album, and I've loved listening to all the other tracks as well.

I love you all. Stay strong, remember who you are.

Much Love,

Elder Burt