Monday, July 28, 2014

Just Families / Tickets / You Do What?

Hey everybody!

Things are looking great here in Ipatinga, as we speed into another month and, for me, another year of life. I'm not sure if that makes sense in English, it does in Portuguese, I promise.

1) Just Families- This week was awesome. The beginning of the week was a little slow, there was a transfer--nothing changed in our area but it still set us back a bit. Our teaching pool was getting a little low. Then Thursday and Friday hit.

We found 13 new investigators who accepted baptismal dates within the space of two days, a majority of which are families who live within five minutes of the chapel. And a majority came to church on Sunday, which was awesome. I love teaching families who are open to the gospel. This truly is a gospel that blesses families, as I have said in the past, and I love seeing how it changes the lives of the people we teach.

2) Tickets- We saw a kind of crazy miracle here this week, last Tuesday. As I mentioned, there were transfers. And for some reason the financial secretary (my beloved "son") decided to buy the tickets in my name, so I was the one who had to go to the bus station to pick them up. Which I did that evening, then stuck them in my back pocket and ran back to the chapel where the sisters were having a baptism.

We got there and...the tickets were missing. Five tickets, which were worth about R$300. And anyone who found them on the street could trade them in for the money. We retraced our steps, looking urgently on the ground for the tickets. Nothing. We got to the bus station and asked if they could reprint the tickets and they said, no, that wasn't possible. I would have to buy new ones. And the bus the missionaries had to catch had no other openings. They would have to leave the next morning, arrive late at the transfer, and cause an enormous headache. And an enormous hole in my wallet.

So we left the bus station, offering a silent prayer and shaking our heads at how this had happened. At this point, a woman approached us to ask if we had lost something. She directed us to a man who had, miracle of miracles, found our tickets and returned to the bus station to find the owners. He explained how he had been lying down in his hotel room (he lives in Belo Horizonte), when suddenly something told him he had to go to the bank. Off he went, and found our tickets.

Then things got even crazier when he said that, in fact, he was a member of the church. He's been less active for a few years, but still remembers everything and we got his address to send the missionaries after him. Cool beans.

3) You Do What?!- Sometimes we get funny responses from people who learn just exactly what we do as missionaries. This happened on Sunday when Peterson, an investigator we're working with, came to church and offered us a ride an hour early in order to pick up the other investigators with us. As we passed by each house, he asked a ton of questions about what we do. We explained that we spend two years in a foreign country, working 16-hour days full time spreading the gospel, visiting people in the rain or the extreme sun, without pay. In fact, we pay to be here. We can't watch TV, we can't date, we can't go to parties. The list kept building up and he finally arrived at two conclusions, one spoken and one unspoken.
First: You guys are crazy
Second: There must be something special about this church, this gospel that they devote themselves completely to spreading.

And there is. Something awfully special. It's true! Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. The truth, the priesthood authority, the keys to salvation were restored in these, the last days. Our familes can be together forever. We can have peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come. And we know all this to be true.

Elder Burt w/ a 104-yr-old man.
I know that it is true. That's why I'm here in Brazil, doing kind of crazy things. Because it's completely worth it. There is no greater work. No greater cause. How blessed I am to know what I know, to have seen what I have seen. And now I have the solemn responsibility of sharing this with my brothers and sisters.

I love you all. Never give in to doubt. Christ is our Redeemer, our Eternal Head. My dearest friend. How I love him.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Bible / Child's Prayer / I'm Leaving in 3..2..1

Hey folks,

Here I am again. More miracles happened this week. That always seems to happen. I went to Governador Valadares on splits (that word doesn't make sense to me) with a great district leader, Elder Luz. We invited people to baptism. They accepted. The work continues to move forward rapidly in Ipatinga, as we get closer to the organization of the stake next month.

1) The Bible- There has been a theme this week, and that has been the Bible. Or, more specifically, the fact that people here in Ipatinga worship the Bible. I would like to make perfectly clear that I love the Bible--it is full of important doctrine, uplifting messages, and the incomparable life of our Savior, Jesus Christ. But I do not worship the Bible.

We taught several people this week who knew the Bible incredibly well, able to quote it backwards and forwards, cross-reference until my eyes crossed, and prove their point seemingly irrefutably based on the scriptures they used. The thing is, we managed to do the same. With a different outlook. And then we taught other people from other religions who knew the Bible equally well and drew a different conclusion entirely.

And so I gained an even stronger testimony of the need for modern revelation, the Book of Mormon, and a true and living church which Christ himself leads. To me, that's the only thing that really makes sense.

2) Child's Prayer- Something touched me profoundly this Saturday. We were conducting baptismal interviews at a different branch's chapel, and as we were leaving a woman arrived with her 3-year-old daughter. I'd participated once in a family home evening at their home during a division with the other elders.

The woman said "Oh, it's Elder Burt!" motioning her child to shake my hand. "This is Elder Burt, who you pray for every night." She turned to me, "Every night, when she says her prayers, she never forgets your name. You are being prayed for." I thanked her and the daughter, telling them I could feel the difference.

I'd seen the child very few times, and the truth is that Brazilians have a hard time pronouncing or remembering my name. The fact that a child is praying for me means so much. I don't know who all is praying for me here or back home...but whoever is needs to know that it makes all the difference in the world. Thank you so much.

3) I'm Leaving in 3...2...1...- I saw a couple cool miracles this week, where Heavenly Father stepped in to make sure we were in the right place at the right time.

The first was a visit we decided to make to a less active named Alexandre, who is a potential elder and whose mother is an active member. We arrived at their apartment later in the evening...and they weren't at home. We waited a few minutes, and then decided to leave. But at that precise moment, a 70-year-old lady showed up and started to enter the apartment complex, dancing to "I Want to Be a Billionare" which was playing in the street. Which was kind of weird. She suddenly saw us, and asked us what we were doing. After a rather long contact (she was low-key crazy and didn't understand much), she entered and we prepared to leave again...and Alexandre showed up in his car. We entered, talked a bit, and he ended up coming to church on Sunday and was interviewed by the branch president in preparation for the Melchezidek priesthood.

The same thing happened the next day. We went to visit Altamir, who had disappeared off the map since two weeks ago, since he's been at his ranch in the middle of nowhere. We went to his house...and he still hadn't returned. We were preparing to leave, and spotted a young man who we'd contacted the day before. He didn't let us in to teach, but offered a glass of water. We entered quickly, then left...and at that precise moment saw Altamir walking into his house. He waved at us and told us to come over. He said he was only back for a few hours, would leave the same day...but wants to be baptized next week. We taught him the last lesson, and left, shaking our heads at how God's timing works. It feels good to know when you're in the right place at the right time.

This upcoming week is looking to be amazing. Every week seems to be that way. I'm not sick anymore, so that's a plus. I love this work. I love being a missionary in Brazil. There's nothing quite like it. I love you all. I believe in the power of prayer. Thank you so much for yours. Know that I pray for many of you. And if you need anything, all you have to do is ask. I can't do much so far away. But there is One who is always nearby. And He is able to do an awful lot.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, July 14, 2014

Trial of Faith

Hey everybody,

Yes, Brazil lost 7-1 in the World Cup. I may not be Brazilian, but it still hurts. It also hurt that the entire day on Tuesday we had to stay inside. And it also hurts that Brazilians always assume that anyone pale with blue eyes is German, so I feel like people are a little bitter towards us even though I'm just a poor American. People ask us where we're from and we always say "no, we're not Germans." They think it's hilarious.

Actually, it's pretty impressive how upbeat the Brazilian people still are. And when they ignore us and still think we're German, they just tell us that now they want us to win. I love the Brazilian people.

1) Today I Don't Feel Like Doing Anything- We taught a funny old man this week while knocking doors. He was very cheerful and welcoming, and he quickly informed us that his greatest problem that kept him from putting God first in his life is laziness. He told us that he sits in his house all day watching soccer, fully awake, but the moment he steps foot in the church he gets the enormous desire to sleep. We focused the lesson on getting him excited, and he understood fully the message of the Restoration...but when the time came for him to accept a church visit, he refused to commit. Because of laziness. He told us not to be mad at him, and offered a prayer asking God to take from him this terrible plague of laziness that was ruining his life. I learned that one of the greatest illnesses that is threatening the well-being of Brazil is called "preguiça." Look it up.

2) Trial of Faith- Friday was one of the most memorable days of my entire mission. One that I will always remember in detail.

We had a division scheduled with the elders in João Monlevade (2 hours by bus), and the plan was to catch the 7:35a bus there,  I would take the 10:00a bus back with the other elder, eat lunch in the area and get to work. That just didn't happen.

Some important facts to know beforehand: we had a young man, Jaime, with baptismal potential for Saturday. We hadn't talked to him since Monday, when he told us he wasn't ready for baptism yet since he didn't feel he had received an answer about the Book of Mormon yet. We promised him that answer, but couldn't get a hold of him all week and Friday was the last opportunity. And he starts work at 5:00p. Also, I was feeling absolutely horrible that day, coughing and with a fever.

The day didn't go according to plans. First off, the 7:35a bus was late and didn't leave until 8:15a, so we got to João Monlevade late, and already had to reschedule our lunch hour. Elder Newman headed off to the other area while I waited for the bus. At this particular bus station, you can't pay for the ticket beforehand, you have to wait in front of the ticket window, standing, until the bus shows up, and if it has space, then they let you on.

Second, it's important to know that João Monlevade is really cold in the morning. Especially when you're sick. And the buses kept arriving...and leaving again without any space. This had never happened before. We were left waiting for four hours in the cold, without lunch, sick, not knowing when we would catch the bus and not able to contact our investigators.

We finally caught the bus at 2:30p, and I sat back in my chair for the first two hours, half-sleeping and trying to readjust my plans now that I would arrive in the area at 5:30p--too late to contact Jaime. But I didn't lose hope. And I nearly cried when I received a call from the sisters in our branch, who went to visit Jaime's girlfriend, who was also investigating the church. They told me that both of them had decided to be baptized tomorrow.

The baptism went through without a problem, and everyone's joy was full.

The sisters, Mariane and Jaime (the baptized),
Adão (the baptizer), and the elders.
I have never had such an experience before of truly putting everything in the hands of the Lord and waiting until the last second before receiving an answer. It was a great trial of my faith--but I feel that it was in part because of that trial that the miracle happened.

Oh, and both Jaime (19) and Mariane (18) want to serve missions. So that's cool too.

This is the Lord's work. It isn't mine, but I am so grateful to be a part of it. To see people change their lives, to see the joy that the gospel brings to the hearts of those who need it. I feel that joy constantly on the mission. Even when I am a little under the weather. Because sickness passes, but these memories will last a lifetime.

I love you all. Make memories, work hard, and trust in the Lord.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Moved by the Spirit / Laughter / Lions

Elder Burt painting tables for a service project.
So I wanted to start by sharing some good news. On August 31, Ipatinga will officially be a stake. We found out this week that Salt Lake has approved the papers. We're working harder then ever now, but it was immensely gratifying to hear that the Lord had accepted the work done here in Ipatinga and that the church would be more permanently established in this richly-deserving area.

1) Moved By the Spirit- We had a really cool experience in the bus returning from the leadership counsel in Belo Horizonte on Wednesday. We were pretty beat after not having slept the night before (I was in division until 10:30, then caught the bus at midnight to BH where we arrived at 5:00 in the morning), so it would have been nice to have just slept in the bus. But there was work to be done even during the trip.

A man who was sitting across from us turned and began to talking to us, asking if we were missionaries, then what church we represented, why we were in Brazil, etc. We asked where he lived, then the conversation died down and we returned to near-sleep. As we were arriving in Ipatinga, he talked to us again, sincerely insisting that he would visit the church. He said he felt an enormous need to find out more about us, that the Holy Ghost had moved him to talk to us.

We passed the reference to the missionaries in that neighborhood. They visited him, and without them having to say anything, he asked to go to church, learn more, and watch a baptism that was scheduled for that Saturday. He needs to get married before he can be baptized, but he plans on acting as fast as possible. The church is true.

2) Laughter- This week I laughed so hard I cried more than once. During lessons. Which isn't a good thing, usually, but there were some really funny things that happened. We were teaching about the Great Apostasy, and this 81-year-old man wouldn't pay attention. He kept going on about how the Bible had books for 11 of the 12 apostles (really?), but where was the book for Judas Iscariot? These were the kind of questions we needed to be asking, he insisted. I boldly tried to bring us back by informing him that Joseph Smith had restored all things. He said "one man took the place of 11 apostles? He must be really smart." And then he just started laughing. The situation was so ridiculous that we started laughing too. And there we sat for several minutes, two missionaries and the investigator laughing for completely different reasons. We couldn't really get a hold of the lesson after that and soon parted, and he promised to come to church when he had the chance.

3) Lions- President Fortunato spoke in the leadership counsel about courage and facing difficulties. He told us we need to be like lions, not turtles. Trials will come, we will be attacked...but we can't back down and let it happen. We have to fight back, working harder, not letting the trials distract us, and work miracles. Faith overcomes all fear. And God works miracles according to our faith.

I felt kind of attacked after that point. We taught pastors, atheists, people who did all but outright ridicule our beliefs...but we didn't back down. And at the end of the week we had investigators at church, less actives returning, and baptisms marked for Saturday. When life gets rough, we stand up and face it with all the courage that we have. All the courage that comes with a surety that Jesus is the Christ, this is His church, and we are doing His work.
And I have that surety.

I love you all. Thank you for your support and prayers. Stand firm for what you believe. Be of good courage. Remember you are not alone. This is the Lord's work. Forwards, and not backwards, and on, on to victory.

Much Love,

Elder Burt