Monday, May 26, 2014

Travelling / Mission Prep / Mission Donkey Prophet

Well, another week come and gone. It's been good, it's been busy, I've been all over the map. Literally.

1) Travelling- Literally, I spent nearly twenty hours on the bus this week. Last Sunday I went to Belo Horizonte to renew my visa (5 hours). On Monday we came back (5 hours). On Tuesday I went to João Monlevade on a division (2.5 hours). On Wednesday I came back (2.5 hours). On Thursday I went to Governador Valadares on a division (2 hours). On Friday I came back (2 hours.) It was nuts. I was rather tired by the end of the week, but it was good to get around and help the elders out in the cities further away.

2) Mission Prep- While we were here in our own area, we managed to teach 90% of our lessons with members. The members here, as I mentioned last week, are very willing to help. And this week we focused on members who are preparing for missions but having some second thoughts at the moment. We spent entire days visiting other people with them, and getting them pumped for mission service. We taught some excellent lessons, and it was interesting having a day in which we had to focus not only on helping the investigator feel the spirit, but also the member who was accompanying us. Our continued practice of singing hymns seemed to help, and these very timid members began to speak up in lessons without our having to ask questions.

3) Mission Donkey Prophet- This one takes some explaining. So on Sunday a miracle happened--a less active member brought three grandchildren to church who want to learn about the gospel. The youngest, a thirteen-year-old named Artur, was already asking about where he could be baptized before church was over. That evening we went to teach them.

The lesson went well, the place was full of members and investigators. The less active adding occasional funny, non-doctrinal commentaries, the two other members actively promoting the church, the two twin girls not saying anything, and Artur talking a ton. It was hilarious. We were teaching about prophets and their purpose, and asked if they knew of any prophets. One girl said Noah, the other Moses, and Artur said: the donkey. I don't know why that was the first Bible story to come to his head, but we cleared up that the talking donkey was not what we meant when we talked about prophets.

Later we were talking about the church, and they asked if there were apostles today. I said yes. They said, "But they're unknown?" And I said, "No, you can know them." And one of the girls, a little wide-eyed and speaking like she'd had an epiphany, said: "Are you the apostles?" We cleared that up as well.

As we finished, Artur continued to express his desire to be baptized by us, the prophets. We explained, again, that we were neither prophets nor apostles, but had been given authority by God through them to baptize. All accepted to be baptized on June 7th. Good stuff.

This week has been great. I'm tired at the end of it, but that just means I worked hard, gave it my all, and received blessings because of it. I'm excited for the future. I love this work so much. I love you all. Keep the faith.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, May 19, 2014

Get Out / So Close / Members

Hey world! What it is?

I'm going to be honest, after a crazy day of travelling to Belo Horizonte, getting my visa renewed, and running around, I have not had a whole lot of time to prepare a good e-mail for you lovely people. That's a horrible admission to make, because I like to entertain. But I guess I'll just follow the Spirit and we'll see what I say.

1) Get Out- So first off a strange, somewhat shocking little story that happened during a visit to a less active we are working with. To begin with, the less active family was at church on Sunday and the son is going on visits with us regularly. But that's not where I'm going with this.

First thing you need to know: The father was letting an old friend he found living on the street stay at their house. We were in their house to visit, and the father had left us with the son and the formerly homeless "Whitney." We were talking with them, and Whitney was telling us excitedly about how the three of them were planning to move into a nicer apartment together, how he and the father were old friends, etc.

Soon, the father returned, angry. He said to Whitney: "You lied to me. I don't like it when people lie to me." Next thing we knew Whitney had his backpack on, two plastic bags of stuff, and was on the road again. Confused, we asked where Whitney was going. 
The father replied, "He lied to me." 
"So...where is he going?" 
"To live on the street again, I imagine."

I liked the guy, and felt bad for him. And was a little confused at what had just happened.

2) So Close- There is a very bitter feeling in the life of a missionary that accompanies the ending of some lessons. A lesson is like a work of art, that you create together with the investigator. We teach the "first lesson" (The Message of the Restoration) a lot as we search for new investigators. The goal, by the end of the lesson, is their accepting the invite to read the Book of Mormon, pray, be baptized after receiving an answer, and to come to church with us on Sunday.

So the whole lesson is spent building up to this point, helping them understand, adapting to their circumstances, asking questions, reading scriptures, and preparing them for that invite. Usually we can tell whether or not they will accept based on their understanding. If they don't accept even just one part of the invite, we usually leave without planning to return.

So what is that bitter feeling? When you feel you've taught a great lesson, that you and the investigator are learning and being uplifted together, and are sure they will accept...and they don't. And you leave the house, asking yourself if you had missed an opportunity, because they should have accepted. This happened more times than I like this week. But, at the same time, we found a large number of extremely prepared people. And we know that there are people the Lord has already prepared for us, we just need to find them.

3) Members- To all of you "regular members of the church" out there, I love you. Thank you for everything you do for the missionaries. The food, the kind words, the friendship, and the help in the work. We appreciate it. I appreciate it. I'm so happy to be serving in a branch where I consider the members my friends. It's because of you that missionaries are able to handle being far from their families, and it's because of you that the work moves forward. Never underestimate your role, or what you are doing. I know we're always asking more of you--more references, more visits, more support--but first you need to know that we're inexpressibly grateful.

I have felt that a lot here in Ipatinga. A great love for the members, in large part because of the great love they have for me--without knowing me very well, simply knowing that I am a missionary.

It's good being a missionary. Thank you for all your help. We're here to help you, your families, your friends. Don't be afraid to ask.

I love you all. Next week I promise a better letter. This is the Lord's work. We are fallible servants, but we do our best. I'm doing my best. I wish I could do more. But I'm getting there. And I think that pleases Him.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, May 12, 2014

Magic of Music / For the Strength of the Youth / Nearer to Thee

Happy Mothers' Day to all you wonderful mothers out there. I'm sorry not everyone is privileged enough to have the best Mom in the world, but that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

This week has been great. We're working like crazy (as always) and seeing very real results from our work. Be prepared for many baptismal pictures in the upcoming weeks, it's going to get real.

1) Magic of Music- So I have been blessed this transfer with a companion who knows how to sing well. And I have been blessed with a good voice. So we're putting that to good use. We sing hymns in nearly every visit, and it's amazing to see the way the people open up after hearing two Americans touch their hearts with the spirit of song.

It really has made a difference in helping our investigators feel the truthfulness of the message, and softening the hearts of otherwise unwelcoming people. And we get a lot more references by doing this.
One entertaining visit was to an elderly couple. When we began teaching, only the husband was there--we started with a hymn and he loved it. He accepted everything we taught enthusiastically and wanted to be baptized. Then his wife showed up. She angrily said that we could discount anything he said, he only ever did what she did, and wouldn't be going to any other church. We said all right, can we end with a hymn? They agreed, and we sang again. Afterwards, the wife said the prayer, blessing us with success in the work. As we left, she excitedly said that we could count on the presence of her husband at church, and asked if we sold our hymnbooks there. She insisted that we return, and kept going on about the song. It was pretty funny. 

We've been put on Facebook several times without our knowing, taped, recorded, asked for encores...I feel like a show. It's awesome.

2) For the Strength of Youth- I don't know what's going on here in Ipatinga, or what the Lord has prepared, but we seem to have been finding just youth recently. And something cool about youth is that when they find something they like, they invite all their friends. And talk to each other about baptism and help strengthen each other. And so we have a ton of investigators coming to church, all within the ages of 15 to 17. Gabriel is the best of them--a young man who we found knocking doors. He invites all of his friends and family to church, is up at 8:00 every Sunday for us to walk a half hour to church with him and his friends, and has his baptism marked for this week. He's a little more quiet, but clearly loves the gospel and also has an enormous desire to change his life. His mom already wants him to serve a mission, and she's not even a member.

The youth are the future of the church. You who are youth--you have an enormous power to spread the gospel and change the lives of your friends. Speak up. Don't be afraid. The Lord will help you say what needs to be said.

3) Sidenote- So this isn't really a story, but a fun fact. I saw a dung beetle walking down the middle of the sidewalk Saturday night. It was enormous, with a big horn on it's head...I've never seen anything like it. I didn't even think they had those in Brazil.

4) Nearer To Thee- So for those of you who don't know, I only get to talk to my family two times a year, and one of those times happened yesterday for Mother's Day. So that was amazing, but it had me thinking of something else. About someone else who seems so far away at times. I was thinking about it as well during the week as I read a verse in Doctrine and Covenants 19:20. It explains that the closest we can come to imagining "hell" is when we do not feel God's presence in our lives. Those moments when we feel alone, abandoned, unloved, unsure. Just as Christ felt on the cross before his death.
It also reminded me of the words to my favorite hymn: 

"Nearer my God, to thee, nearer to thee,
E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me.
Still all my song shall be, nearer my God to thee
Nearer my God, to thee, nearer to thee.

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down
Darkness be over me, my rest a stone,
Yet in my dreams I'd be nearer my God, to thee
Nearer my God, to thee, nearer to thee."

We need never feel alone. God is our loving Heavenly Father. He is always there. My greatest desire has always been to feel closer to Him. How I love Him. I end with the profound, touching prayer of President Monson, given last conference:
"Heavenly Father, I thank thee for always being here, and there."

Much Love,

Elder Burt

[ed.  Elder Burt sang "Nearer My God, To Thee" in a sacrament program at the MTC Brazil when he first got there.  We added Madeleine's voice over his recording of the rehearsal to form a duet, so here it is again for those who missed it.  You can tell how much Alex likes this song!]

Monday, May 5, 2014

Baptism / Your Country / Never Give Up

Elder Newman and Elder Burt
Yet another week of entertainment and miracles here in the grand city of Ipatinga. It's been crazy...transfers happened and, after a few short weeks with Elder Willden, I have a new companion: Elder Newman, from Ogden, Utah! He's a great guy and we're hard at work here. This last week has been amazing.

1) Help Thou My Unbelief- I wanted to start by finishing a story that I had begun last week, about a young man who struggled with doubt and yet decided to be baptized. On Tuesday I was on my way there by bus to interview him when I received a call from the missionaries in that area--the young man had asked that I be the one to baptize him. I was honored and happy to know that I'd made an impact on him. Of course, I also didn't have a change of clothes or a towel. It was looking to be a wet night.
Also on the way there we got called about transfers. That was a surprise too.

We arrived, and I interviewed him again. Of course the first question out of my mouth was "what changed since Saturday?" He was hesitant to reply, but explained that he was willing to act on the small amount of faith he had. That he wanted to believe, wanted to have more faith. He wasn't very forthcoming, but I could see the sincerity in him.

Then came the baptism, and nothing compares to getting in the water with someone who has come to mean so much to you. As we left the font, I could see the very real joy on his face. This is a very special family.

As I said, the rest of the night was cold and spent in wet underclothes. Of course this was the coldest night of the year to date as well. Makes everything more memorable.

2) Your Country- Funny experience of the week, in which I remembered why I don't miss the U.S too much, was a run-in with John, an American missionary from another denomination. We began talking to him in Portuguese, and I came to realize pretty fast he was a foreigner. 
So I asked in English "Where are you from?"
"Boston", he said. "You speak English very well,  can we talk in English and you'll understand?" 
Me: "Uh, sure." 
He began to go off on the horrible state of Brazil, how it was a country full of sinners and that Christians here didn't know anything of Christ's love, blah blah blah. "Here in your country," he began, when my comp cut him off. "Wait, you know we're Americans, right?" "Oh, that explains the English."

He continued ranting, now attacking us saying we weren't doing the Lord's work the right way, we needed to be in normal clothes in the bar, etc etc blah blah blah. So we just left. But it's official: I look Brazilian.

3) Never Give Up- We had a baptism this week in our area. It was awesome. And unexpected. An investigator we've been visiting forever named Juliano has been giving us some difficulties--not wanting to keep commitments, not accepting baptism, etc. We brought the branch president on Wednesday and had an amazing lesson on the gospel of Jesus Christ. We ended with each person present offering a prayer to strengthen Juliano. Afterwards I said once more to Juliano: "So Juliano, will you be baptized on Saturday?" Then came a very, very, long pause. Juliano is very quiet and doesn't like to talk much. Finally he said "what time is the baptism?" Joyful, I responded: "7:00". Then came another long, unexpected pause. Then, "Couldn't it be after noon? I work before that." Laughing, the branch president explained I meant 7:00 at night, and he accepted. The baptism went through, the confirmation on Sunday, and I learned more about perseverance. I was going to this house nearly daily for a transfer, and it finally paid off. Perseverance and always using new ideas.

Baptism, many investigators at church, potential, excitement. And thus it is. I read a verse in Mosiah 4:6-7 that really touched me. These last few months I have been focusing completely on learning more about the Atonement and the nature of God. This scripture confirmed that I am right to be doing this. It is the most important knowledge we can obtain, and I realize I'm still just scratching the surface. I'd encourage you all to give it a little more thought. Who is your Father in Heaven? The more I learn, the more I love Him and want to be like Him. (John 17:3)

I love you all. Keep up the good fight. I'm giving it my all down here in Brazil, but want to do more. I will do more. Count on it, and you can bet that the upcoming e-mails will be memorable.

Much Love,

Elder Burt