Monday, September 29, 2014

A Promise / Acai

Much to my surprise, terror, and disbelief, it's almost October, 2014.Three awful little words are being thrown at me constantly: "one month left." But this doesn't mean despair, or anything of that type. It means the work is moving forward like never before! This is the month. This is October! The last month! It's now, it's today, it's October. It's time to put the shoulder to the wheel, and not let up until the fat lady sings: "All is well, all is well."

1) A Promise- At the end of the week, we felt prompted to call the missionaries in the zone and make a promise. We said that Saturday was a day of miracles, and went on to encourage them to do a few things in order to receive a specific blessing.

Well, I called a companionship of sisters and managed to say: "Sisters! I promise that a miracle will happen today!" when our phone died before I could explain further. I turned on the phone, called again, and exactly the same thing happened. I gave up, and we went on with our day.

Several hours later, we ran across the sisters. They came up to us and asked me what the promise was going to be. I said I didn't even remember, why? They told me that soon after I'd made that call, the miracle had happened. An eternal investigator who has been attending church for the last several months was on a trip, and brought the Book of Mormon. He read, prayed, and received an answer. Soon after my phone call, he had called the sisters and said that he would be baptized. Miracles happen.

2) Açai- Our weekend was rather exhausting, due to a bad decision I made on Friday related to the delicious Brazilian frozen treat called "açai." Let me explain...

On Friday we caught the bus to another city, Pará de Minas, for a baptismal interview. It's a little over one hour by bus, and the plan was to go and return in the same afternoon. All went well in the interview, and afterwards we had a mini-division, since the bus didn't leave until 6:00. I was with a newly arrived American--we made a bunch of contacts, and as our meet-up time of 5:30 was arriving, we stopped quickly to buy açai, which the other elder had never tried. Walking back to the church building, I jokingly mentioned that Elder Souto would kill me for buying açai without him.

Trying to catch a ride for the last bus.
We got there at 5:39, and, as expected, the first words out of Elder Souto's mouth were "I'm going to kill you!" But then he went on to explain that we didn't have time to get to the bus station, and there was no bus after 6:00. I stood, somewhat ashamed, on the side of the street with my thumb out trying to catch a ride. To no avail. Our plans changed drastically and we ended up spending the night in Pará de Minas with the other elders, sleeping on the ground while dozens of mosquitos ate us alive, and without a change of clothes or anything of the type. The next morning we caught a bus to our next baptismal interview in the next city, then returned to Divinópolis where we got straight to work.

It's the final stretch, and time to give it all I have. I love being a missionary. I love this work, and in a way that is beyond my ability to explain, I love the Lord. He is my king, my example, and my best friend. I was touched this week by the words of a favorite hymn:

"Jesus sought me, when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood."

I wish I could be better. I wish I didn't mess up so much. But it comforts me beyond words that, despite my faults, Jesus interposed on my behalf. What a wonderful doctrine. What a marvelous truth.

Elder Burt with other elders in Nova Serrana
after baptismal interviews
This week is General Conference. Listen to our prophet's voice, and you will receive answers to your prayers. I always do. 

I love you all. Keep being strong. Never give up hope.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, September 22, 2014

Today is the Day / Member Missionary / Where's the Coffee?

This week saw a lot of entertaining experiences, several disappointments, and, as usual, a lot of work.

1) Today is the Day!- On Thursday, we woke up excited for what we were sure would be one of the best days ever. Why? I'm still not entirely sure. We had good lessons planned, expectations were high, we were feeling the Spirit, and I'd promised to buy milkshakes for the two of us after lunch.

Things didn't quite go as planned. The difficulties began in the morning when I went to pick up my shoes which I'd sent for repairs...and the cobbler had lost them. We went to lunch, and afterwards to the burger stand for milkshakes. There were no more milkshakes.

At this point my companion just about gave up on life, but I rallied us with the reminder that "Today is the day!" and off we went to teach our lessons. Most went well, some fell through, we visited an older woman whose son was ridiculously drunk and sat crying as we prayed and read in the scriptures, then a member came to pick us up and take us to a neighborhood in the middle of nowhere to teach a young woman who'd come to church on Sunday.

They weren't at home. As we were starting to return on the dirt roads, we heard the wonderful sounds of a flat tire. We pulled over to the side, in the dark on an abandoned road in the middle of nowhere. And the member realized his car jack was broken. Elder Souto and I set off in search of help, and after a number of misadventures (running at full speed to escape an angry dog, the member hitting his head on the car door and earning a bloody goose egg on his forehead) we found help and were soon on our way again.

Due to the difficulties, I promised milkshakes for everyone present (us and the two members) from Bob's, the local milkshake place. However, the hour was late and there would be hardly enough time to buy them. And, seeing another car pulled over by the side of the road needing help, we decided that service was more important then milkshakes. We stopped, asked what we could do, and one of the passengers asked if we could take him to his school, where he was scheduled to give a class at 9:00. We said of course, and asked where the school was. He gave the address and said "right next to Bob's. Do you know where that is?" We all began to laugh--we got there at 8:55, in time for his class and our milkshakes.

And so the addage was born: "Every good day ends with milkshakes."

2) Member Missionary- So after that rather long, very random story, I guess my time is short for other stuff. I wanted to mention quickly a very succesful activity that we planned and performed on Saturday. It was a missionary related activity with the branch in the park--we set up a number of banners explaining about the church, and set the members making contacts with people using an "opinion poll" about the Plan of Salvation. We were surprised when the members caught the missionary spirit and spent more than two hours talking to everyone in the park, showing the banners and actually getting adresses. We ended the day with over 60 member references. So that was cool.

3) Where's the Coffee?-  I went on a division on Tuesday, which went well. I learned a lot with the other elder, the district leader in Itaúna. We taught one fun lesson about the Word of Wisdom to a simple man named Ezequiel. We invited him to stop drinking coffee, and he was very hesitant in commiting to stop, just saying "I can try!" Not satisfied, I stood up in the middle of the lesson. "Where's the coffee?" I asked. Confused, he said in the other room. I asked him to show me, and off we went. He showed me the thermos full of coffee, and I told him to throw it down the sink. Without another word, he made his way to the bathroom and proceeded to pour nearly two liters of coffee down the drain. In the words of my dear old companion, Elder Newman, "sometimes you have to help people use their agency the right way."

So that was my week. Well, that was a very small part of my week. I wish I could talk a bit more, but my time is up. I love you all. I love being a missionary--not because it's fun, but because there is not a more satisfying, rewarding work in existence. We're in the middle of a war saving souls. The best and the worst of Heavenly Father's children are with or against us, and I'm at it full time. It's exhausting. But I love it.

I love the Lord. I wish I could be better. I'm trying to be better every day. That much I can promise.

Much love,

Elder Burt

Monday, September 15, 2014

Family Nights / Piano Man / Finish Strong

The first full week in Divinópolis has passed by at lightning speed. The weather is heating up, the work is hastening, and the miracles don't stop. This is Brazil.

1) Family Nights- This week was full of family home evenings with numerous families and lots of great opportunities for members to interact with investigators. It was a great chance to show how the family environment can promote the feeling of the Spirit and God's love.

We had one on Monday night with an active member family and a family of investigators. It was cool to see these investigators who had never even been to church yet singing along to the hymns and participating in the lesson. The second was on Wednesday with a less active family who accepted our invitation to hold a family night for the first time in years. In attendance was their whole extended family and some visitors we brought, along with a couple active members. The house was full and everyone had a good time and all of them spoke of a desire to return to church. On Sunday a number of them came (for the first time in 10 years) and the others will soon follow.

2)Piano Man- For those of you who aren't aware, for a number of years I took piano lessons, up until about five years ago. Many Brazilians were also not aware of this, which I took advantage of for the last two years of my mission when members asked me if I played the piano, and I gave a half-hearted, "kind of," and they left me alone. Well, due to an error on my part, the secret got out here in my last area, and I've been recruited as the official branch pianist. I don't play well at all, but since they're used to a young 11-year-old kid learning to play, I'm one step below Beethoven and two below Bruno Mars on their scale of talented musicians.
I didn't invent the scale.

3) Finish Strong- This week I went on a division with one of the elders in my zone who has one year and eight months on his mission, and has officially stopped trying. He has the number of days remaining written on every single day of his planner, he is having a lot of difficulty staying focused.

So we spent the day working hard and talking. I talked to literally everyone I saw on the street, and soon he was doing the same. He began to get more excited, talking about the best parts of being a missionary and past experiences on his mission.

As we neared the end of the day, I asked him what he wanted from the rest of his mission. What he was hoping for. I talked a lot about my feelings at this point of my mission, and challenged him to make some goals as to things he wants to accomplish.

Because, the fact is, and I can't deny it anymore, the time is drawing near. In Book of Mormon terms, it's almost time for me to "give up the ghost." I'm not ready yet. I don't like people drawing attention to it. And it isn't over 'til the fat lady sings. But the time came this last week to ask these same questions of myself while there is still time: What do I want to accomplish before the end?

That question is still bouncing around incessantly in my head. There are a lot of answers, but what I most desire is to use every last second in this metaphorical refiner's fire to perfect myself. To become more like Christ. To become more loving, more patient, more humble, more diligent, more obedient...because I keep seeing how much more there is to learn and change and grow.

I love being a missionary. I love this work. I love the Lord. And I will finish strong. The end of a race is the moment for a runner to speed up, to give it all he has. And that is exactly what I will do.

I love you all. Work hard, live every day to its fullest, and try a little harder to be a little better.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Monday, September 8, 2014

One More!

What it is, everyone!

One more transfer, one more area, one more stake. Yep, this week I was transferred to Divinópolis, my new companion is Elder Souto, and I'm crazy excited. So many miracles before the end.

1) Dream Come True- So let's back-track six months to the week before I left the mission office. President Fortunato was working on transfers, and I knew I would be leaving. One night, a few days before I found out my new area, I had a dream I was going to Divinópolis. President asked me, "where do you want to go," and I said Divinópolis.

And he sent me to Ipatinga! I take that back, the Lord sent me to Ipatinga to see so many miracles, change lives, and be a part of the stake creation.

But last week I got the call--transferred. To Divinópolis. Which, you guessed it, is the next on the list of stakes to be created in Minas Gerais, Brazil. I'm loving it here. We're working like crazy to send off the papers for one more stake. I'm not done yet!

2) Far-Away Places- Soon after arriving in the area, we decided to work in a new neighborhood a little distant from the chapel, so relatively few missionaries have worked there recently. However, at one point the area had a functioning branch with an attendance of 50, so we figured there must be a lot of potential. We arrived and started visiting everyone.

And we began to find person after person accepting baptism, less active after less active that wants to return but just needs a little push. Our new investigators are having dreams confirming the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, members 15 years absent from church are bearing testimony to their neighbors...we're pretty excited!

3) How I Feel- One of the touching experiences from this week in finding new investigators was with a family--mother, father, and daughter. At the end of the lesson, I invited the father to be baptized on the 20th if he felt the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the existence of a true restored church. He quickly responded, "I have no doubt that what you're saying is true. I feel different while you're talking. Since the moment you talked to me in the street, I knew there was something different about you two. You know when you just feel that something is true? That's what I'm feeling right now."

So...that was cool. The Holy Ghost truly bears witness of the truth, and I can see that so clearly when teaching people with an open heart. This message that we bear is true--Joseph Smith was a prophet, and Christ's church has been restored on the earth.

And that's the same way I feel. I can't deny that it's true. I know it. I love this work, I love being a missionary, and I plan on taking advantage of every last moment.

Stay strong, keep to the faith, and don't ever give in to despair. Have hope--the future is as bright as your faith.

Much Love,

Elder Burt

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

We Have a Stake!

The missionaries in the Ipatinga ward
and a part of the new stake presidency
The Ipatinga, Brazil stake is officially the newest stake in Zion. The joy is overwhelming. Seeing the saints here receive what they have worked towards for so long brought tears to my eyes more than once during the conference. I wanted to spend this e-mail talking about the events of this weekend. 

The first session was Saturday night for the general membership of the Ipatinga District. The chapel was packed, and the subject of the night was "Hastening the Work." All about missionary work. The visiting authorites were Elder Audikatis from the First Quorom of the Seventy, and Elder Leal, an Area Seventy. The spirit was strong as they talked about the various aspects of the Lord's work of salvation. Classic line from the night: "Some people want to read D&C 18:10, the worth of whales is great in the sight of God. But God's most precious cause is to save souls, not whales." I guess we need to get our priorities straight. We all left the evening session excited for the next day.

Victor, a good friend of ours from the ward
who helps us a lot making visits.
And if I thought the chapel was packed on Saturday, I was proved wrong on Sunday morning. Hundreds of members packed into this tiny church, filling the chapel, and overflowing into all of the classrooms to watch via broadcast. Members watched in their individual cities, João Monlevade, Governador Valadares, and Caratinga, where the chapels were also filled. I had a seat in the back row of the chapel itself--half of which was filled with just the choir (there was no room on the stand.) The meeting began with the creation of the stake. I don't know of many other times that my arm was raised so quickly and firmly as after the words: "It is proposed that Ipatinga, Brazil be organized a stake in Zion. All those in favor?" The branches that would become wards were then announced, followed by the stake presidency and bishops. A number of men were sustained to receive the Melchezidek preiesthood, including my own recent convert Jaime and a number of men who I had the privilege to interview prior to baptism or interact with during my time here. Tears ran down the faces of many members, especially the leaders as each bore their testimony in turn, including the stake president's wife (who is the most loyal sister in giving us lunch).

The visiting authorities then addressed us, speaking powerfully about the importance of having a personal relationship with God, the organization of the church, and prosperity due to keeping the commandments. The Spirit was so powerful--my testimony was strengthened and I truly felt that angels were present during the meeting.

Elders and Sisters from Ipatinga
I know that this is Christ's church. He is at its head. He is our Savior and Redeemer. Our king. My dearest friend. How I long to feel nearer to Him. Experiences like these help. I love the Lord.
Never give in to despair. Pray always, and you will come off conqueror. Know that there is a missionary in Brazil who knows that all of this is true, and who loves you all.

Much Love,

Elder Burt