Monday, August 25, 2014

Visions / Marriage / Stake Prep

I'm not sure if everyone is aware, but the church is true. Also, miracles are real. Also, life as a missionary is awesome. Also, that is all.

1) Visions- I was astounded this week at the sheer amount of people who have had dreams or visions related to the church. Or whose prayers were directly answered by our presence. It was uncanny.

We taught one man the first lesson, and when we talked about Joseph Smith, he explained that he too had asked the same question: Which church is true? After a fervent prayer, he slept and had a dream. He dreamt that he was next to a river, looking at a house where Christ dwelt. He looked away, and then looked back and the house had disappeared. Confused, he heard a voice: "the true church is that which has the keys of Peter." Amazed, we explained how the church of Christ had been taken from the earth, but was restored with the priesthood keys held anciently by the twelve apostles, including Peter.

Another man said he was praying to know what church to follow, and within an hour the missionaries contacted him Saturday night, inviting him to church. Without any other contact, he showed up at church and said he planned on continuing in the church and being baptized.

2) Marriage- The whole time I've been in Ipatinga, I've been working with a part-member, recent convert family. The son and his wife (Dymrson and Sandra), were living together but not married. Sandra began to attend church with her in-laws, and felt powerfully that this was the truth. She expressed her desire to be baptized, and began to look into marriage. With our help, we managed to work our way throught the complicated marital process they have here in Brazil, and after months of beuracracy and waiting, she was married on Thursday. The baptism was Friday. I honestly didn't expect to still be here to see it, but the Lord left me here in Ipatinga and I had the honor to baptize Sandra.

3) Stake Prep- So this week Ipatinga becomes a stake. Probably another reason the Lord left me here so long. The final preparations are being made, and I am unable to express how excited I am to see this happen, after many months of work in the zone and many years of work by the members and local leaders. You can be sure I'll have lots more to say next week. The hand of the Lord is over Ipatinga. The enemy is fighting back, but the miracles and blessings far outnumber the setbacks and disappointments.

This is God's work. He is eternally and unfailingly at its head. Those that be with us are more than be with them. How can we fail in so great a cause? Missionary work is not easy, it is not relaxed, and it requires everything I have, but it is worth every second. I am on the Lord's errand. And, for at least a little bit more, I am doing a great work, and I can not come down.

I love you all. Stay firm, never say die, and make me proud.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, August 18, 2014

Good to See You Again / Family History / Teach the People

Sometimes I sit down at the computer here to write e-mails and think, "I have nothing to say. I sent them an e-mail yesterday." So if my story title or e-mail introduction creativity have diminished a bit, please forgive me.

But, as you may have noted, my rhyming skills are still going strong.

1) Good to See You Again- On Sunday we had the pleasure of seeing some very unexpected presences in church. As I may have mentioned, we work in the branch together with a companionship of sister missionaries. Often we trade references based on which neighborhoods are part of our area.

The first surprise was Geraldo: we'd taught him a couple months ago the first lesson, but he never came to church, and we ended up dropping him. Miracle of miracles, the sisters had contacted him in the street, he insisted they visit him at home, and accepted baptism. He showed up at church alone on Sunday, and will be baptized on the 30th. The other was a contact we'd made in the street, then passed to the sisters. He came along with two friends, and also accepted baptism for the end of the month. Missionary work is that much better united.

2) Family History- This part is going to make my dad happy. This week we had an emergency mission leadership counsel history work! And how we can use it more fully to improve convert retention and reactivation. We returned to the area and immediately put it to the test, talking about genealogy with all of our recent converts and other less actives. The Spirit of Elias is catching here in Ipatinga.

Speaking of this, I'm feeling it as well, perhaps most of all. So, in a call to all my relatives out there, I need stories! I have all the dates, but I'd love to hear stories about the lives of my grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. So feel free to send them to me via e-mail. Truly this vicarious work is tied to missionary work, though we seem to separate the two more often than not.

3) Teach the People- This week we truly sought to teach people, rather than fall into the regular routine of lesson after lesson of the same thing. It takes a greater effort, but the results are considerable. The Spirit is powerfully present in lessons such as these. The most noteable was to a family that we've been teaching which seemed nearly ready to give up. They were tired and unsure of what to do. We taught a quick lesson on Tuesday night before catching the bus to Belo Horizonte that changed everything. We simply followed the Spirit and spoke the words that the Lord put in our hearts.
The next day, the family appeared at an activity in the church, excited and smiling. They told us that our visit had been an answer to prayers, and that they had never felt before the way they did during that lesson. And they informed us that they had full intent of becoming members of the church.

I love being a missionary. I love doing the Lord's work and acting as an instrument in his hands. I love you all. There are two types of people in this world: those that act, and those that are acted upon. I constantly strive to be the first.
We are children of God. We have so much potential to live up to. Let's try a little harder to be a little better.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, August 11, 2014

On the Road Again / Trust

Another absolutely amazing week. There was a baptism, which always makes for happiness and joy. Two of my favorite things. Baptism would be a third.

1) On the Road Again- In a flashback to days gone by, I once again hit the road on a trip with my beloved mission president, President Fortunato. He passed through Ipatinga on Thursday and we spent the day with him as he went from city to city, interviewing the missionaries in our zone. You can't help but learn a lot while spending time with such a spiritual giant. We talked about the power of prayer, and the authority we have as literal representatives of Jesus Christ.

At one point (and this was the biggest motive for our company on the trip) we left President in Governador Valadares while the branch president from the city took us to a nearby town called Frei InocĂȘncia. We were to investigate the potential in the town to open the church there. Unfortunately, we didn't have much time, but we visited a few houses, checked it out, and got a feel for the place. Not sure what the verdict will be, but we expressed our opinions and President puts a lot of trust in us.

2) Trust- Speaking of trust, I learned a lot about trust this week with our investigator (turned recent convert), Peterson. The week began without surety as to his thoughts on baptism. He was unsure, as the first time we'd visited him was two weeks ago. We visited him daily to teach and uplift him, and the changes were visible. However, he was considering leaving the city for work on Monday, and didn't want to baptize and then disappear from the church. On Wednesday we left him with the invitation to pray about baptism, and returned on Friday (after our road trip). Following President's advice, I made a specific promise. After a moment, Peterson accepted baptism for the next day. He informed us that he had denied the job offer because he had a commitment now with the church.

Something hit me more than it had in the past with this baptism. How much trust he was putting into two young men, foreigners, who he knew for two weeks, and was making considerable life changes because of the things we taught him. This message we bring changes lives. I know that it has nothing to do with me: it is the simple yet marvellous fact that Christ suffered for all sins, organized a church, and that church exists today. And people change the direction of their lives completely because of that simple fact. I am where I am today because of that fact. I cannot escape it. I wouldn't even if I could.

I love you all. Keep to the faith, press forward, and love your neighbor. Do good work, and remember: You are a child of God.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, August 4, 2014

Open Hearts / Birthday / The Price

For those of you who didn't know, I turned 21 this week. So that's new. Nothing seems that different, but it was a good birthday which I'll talk about in a bit. It's August now. That's also new. And frightening.

1) Open Hearts- This week was excellent, as we continued teaching some very open families that we found the week before. It is something very refreshing when someone you recently met accepts you into their home time and time again, talking openly and listening attentively to whatever you have to say. This week was full of those families.

One in particular comes to mind. We met them a little over a week ago, and in the first visit they explained that they had heard that we are a cult, worship Satan, "Mormon" is the name of a demon of whom the Book of Mormon teaches, and other rather blatant lies. (For those of you reading who aren't members of the church, none of these things are true. As far as I'm aware. And I consider myself to be pretty aware.) Yet, despite the fact that it was trusted family members who said this, the family said they refused to judge until after hearing us out.

So they began to read in the Book of Mormon, come to church, visit activities, and hear the lessons. And they loved it all. And they love us. The wife, Claudia, said that if any other missionary aside from us showed up at her door, she wouldn't let them in. She informed us that we weren't allowed to leave Ipatinga, and she would say as much to our "leader." At the activity, when she was introduced to the branch president, she immediately informed him that if we left she would not come back or be baptized. I love Brazilians. We'd only entered their house three times and we're already close family friends.

2) Birthday- So for my birthday I had the great privelege of going to Belo Horizonte for a mission leadership counsel. Which, in part, meant 10 hours in the bus round trip, but also meant a very spiritual meeting in which I learned a lot and began to think about how I can work harder and apply myself more in these upcoming months.

On the way back to Ipatinga, I had a touching spiritual experience in the bus. I was reading in the Book of Mormon, and once more received a spiritual witness that it is true. I was reading in 2 Nephi 31 and a strong feeling of peace distilled upon my heart, and a certainty in my mind that what I was reading was true. Suddenly it just made so much sense and everything seemed to "click." I love that, even after years in the church and study of the Book of Mormon, the Lord gives me these tender experiences to strengthen my testimony.

3) The Price- We learned something else rather shocking in the counsel. Elder Holland will be in Belo Horizonte in two weeks...but does not have in his schedule a meeting with the missionaries. An apostle. In Belo Horizonte. Elder Holland. And I'm in Ipatinga.  And so begins two weeks of work, dedication, and prayer with the whole mission fasting for a change in Elder Holland's plans so that it would include a mission conference.  Every individual missionary made a promise with God of what more we will do to live up to our potential.

We've been working without stop these last few days. Calling people to repentance.  Feeling the Spirit testify that our words our true.
I know that this work is worth any price. I cannot deny the things that I know--Joseph Smith was a prophet, he restored Christ's church, Christ is our Savior and Redeemer, and we are God's children. The only way we can return to his presence is through faith on His name, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. And then endure to the end. I never cease to learn about these simple steps. And the more I learn, the greater desire I have to teach these things to everyone I meet.

I love you all. Know that it is true. I know it. I cannot deny it. And I never will.

Much Love,

Elder Burt