Sunday, December 29, 2013

Week #39

Dearest Family,

How the devil are ya?!  You sound to be doing pretty well from all of your letters.  I always love to hear from you.  Before I forget, I just have a few statements of fact that I want to write, which may or may not be directed at specific people:

1. Peter, this one is for you.  First of all, congratulations on learning piano, violin, and being a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir already.  There are a couple of reasons why you need to never give up practicing those things. First, you will regret it if you do give up.  B, You will take blessings away from other people because they will not be able to hear you play, and last, if you want to learn a language, it is easier if  you have an ear for music.  That last one is a theory of my own, but it makes sense.  If you play music, then you train your ear to listen for different tones and it becomes easier to understand people.  And if you sing, it is easier to speak because you understand the different ways that sound moves out of your mouth.  My companion was very musical before his mission and so it was a lot easier for him to learn the language.  Go to work!

2. Showers in Brazil are dangerous.  They are electric.  Who ever thought it was a good idea to have wires dangerously exposed to running water wherein a person would be bathing?

3. Brazilian culture is very relaxed, and everyone wants to feed you.  Rice and beans every day.

This has been a pretty good week.  It went by super fast.  We had a Christmas conference in Ribeirao during the week, which was super good, but ate up most our time.  I did my first street contacts in Portuguese, which was weird and hard and I didn't like it, but it turned out good.  We also made it to the Pol'icia Federal so that I could become legal.  I am now allowed to be here, officially.

We had another miracle this week.  And you know why? Obedience, that's why. We were going to do service one morning, and there's a rule here that we're not supposed to go anywhere without carrying a Book of Mormon in our hand.  We were on the fence because we weren´t in proselyting clothes so no one would even be able to tell, but we decided we had better.  Because we carried the books, a couple of investigators riding by on their motorcycle recognized us, and they might not have seen us without the Book of Mormons.  Miracles!  These investigators, Odair and Debora, had just recently moved, and we had been trying to find them for a while.  They now have a baptismal date and are planning to get married!  We´re pretty stoked.

We had some pretty funny moments this week.  One was with Irmã Renata.  We always have funny moments with her.  Oh, by the way, Elder Rock says hello. Anyways, we were having a lesson with her the other day, and she refuses to pray openly.  We had a lesson that was probably 45 minutes long about how it is important to pray, and then we invited her to say the closing prayer.  she denied. Because she denied again, I felt prompted that maybe I should offer the closing one.  I did, and here is a full transcription of my prayer.

Dear Heavenly Father,
Please help Sister Renata to have the desire to pray.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

They got a kick out of that.  I don´t know a ton of Portuguese, but I know enough that I can crack a joke every so often and help the people warm up to me. Good stuff.

I love you all so much!  Sorry that I am not able to send personal letters as often. We are allowed less time to write here, but I will do the best that I can.

Merry Christmas!  I´ll be Skyping you on Christmas between ten and noon your time.

Love, Jack

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Week #38

Dear Family,

I probably am catching you off guard right now, because last week I wrote at about 5 pm and today I´m writing super early in the morning.  Sorry to keep you on your toes, but that´s kind of the way that it goes here, you do things when you have the time.

So currently I am not in Franca, I´m in Ribeirão Preto.  We are going to be having a Christmas concert here tomorrow, and my companion, Elder Rock, is participating in a Christmas choir, so we´ve just been chilling here since yesterday evening.  I´m gonna pass my P-day here, not really sure what I´m going to do, but it should be fun.

Something that´s pretty funny here is that in a lot of cases there aren´t Portuguese words for American things, so they just use American words.  For example, we might be going to the mall today, and the word for mall here is "shopping".  So literally we are going to "the shopping" today to shop, obviously.

The language is coming along pretty well, too.  I can speak decently well, the hardest thing has been understanding people.  Good heavens, I swear everyone speaks differently here.  There are some people that I can understand with no problem at all, and others where it´s like someone´s southern accent from Florida followed me here and lighted upon some random Brazilian.  It can be super hard.  For example, we have this one lady who we are working with, Irmã Renata, who is super hard to understand.  Missionaries have been working with her for a long time, and she seems to finally be coming around, but it´s going to take some time for me to understand her.  She really nice though, she makes us eat just about every time that we go over there, and the food here is pretty darn good.

I remember that I thought it was a joke when people told me that I was going to eat rice and beans every day, but they weren´t kidding.  I don´t think a single day has passed without me eating rice and beans.  But the food is always good, and the fruits are delectable.  You can literally just be walking down the street and pick some fruit off a tree.  They have a fruit here called acerola, which is about the same size and taste as a cherry, but is shaped like a bell pepper.  All sorts of stuff that you´ve never even heard of that are super good, too.

But they also have a type of food here called lanche.  A lanche is basically like a burger, but way better.  They only put like a small beef patty on it, but then they just load it up with all sorts of meats.  It´s probably the worst thing in the world for you, but food is super inexpensive here, so who could resist!  I attached a picture of us at the house of a recent convert family.  We ate the strangest lasgna ever there.  It had a creamy chicken sauce, almost like a soup, and then was layered with mozzarella cheese and ham.  Dang good.

I´m sorry that my main focus has been on food today.  When people talk about food that´s like the only time that I can understand, so that´s what I felt like talking about today.  Food and the gospel, two things that I can understand in Portuguese.

The culture here is very relaxed and friendly, which is awesome.  I think working in the office for a while in Florida kind of stiffened me up, but now I have a good companion and the people are awesome, so we´re gonna have some fun.

Well, I love you all and hope you have an awesome day!


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Week #37

Dearest Family,

I´m sorry that it took me so long to write to you! And I´m also sorry that I didn´t call you in the airport.  Things have been nuts here!

So I was sent to my first area, which is Franca, Brazil.  A few facts about it: it has one of the largest shoe manufacturing industries in the world, is a lot more cooler than Ribeirão Preto (temperature wise) and barely anybody speaks English!  It has definitely been an interesting experience up to this point.

My companion is Elder Rock, and he is super cool.  He´s from Colorado and has been on his mission for a little over a year.  He´s American, so he is very understanding of my situation, but he told me that I can already speak pretty well, I just need to learn to understand the different accents that people have here. Everyone has a differrent accent, so that can make things difficult, but all in good time.

Willy Tomaz has been helping me a lot, too.  He is a member here that pretty much chills with for the majority of the day, and he speaks a little English that he learned from the missionary.  I´m beginning to understand him a little bit more, more than I do other people that randomly come and talk to me.

My experience so far has been as Brazilian as possible.  When I got off the plane, we went to President´s house to eat, driving throught downtown Ribeirão.  Here zoning laws don´t exist, so houses borders stores which border houses which border factories and so forth.  It´s kind of weird.  But cool, nonetheless.  When I got to my area by bus, driving through the country and seeing a ton of sugar cane, we were picked by Daniel, a member.  It was legit, he was driving a fusca, which is one of those old bugs that are all over South America and everyone in the US wants.  Traffic laws are basically non-existent here.  Daniel was driving all over the road, and signals and signs are more of suggestions than laws.  It was super fun.

The food is super good, too.  So far I have had rice and beans at every meal with members, but it´s always accompanied with something else.  We tend to eat less here, it´s interesting, you just don´t get hungry as much.
Last night we had a cockroach massacre.  They were everywhere.  We went wild on them with chemicals because one flew out of Elder Rock´s towel onto his face.  We woke up this morning when it was light and swept all of them up, so I´ll send you a picture next week.  

he trash system is different here.  Instead of nice, clean cans, all we do is stack our trash on this little raised pad outside our house.  And then dogs come and eat it.  I´m not even sure if a trash man really exists.

Well, I´m sorry if this seemed rushed, but I´m only allowed an hour to write here, and we´re running a little bit lit. Know that I love all of you and am so grateful for all that you do for me.  I´m super grateful for all of the prayers and blessings you send, and the great pictures, always!  Love your guts!


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Week #36

Hey, Family!

I'm just sending a quick letter because we have to go get some stuff taken care of before I fly out today.  I should be able to call y'all in the airport in Atlanta; I'll be there from about 6:30 to 7:30 pm, in Atlanta time.  I think that's 5:30 time for y'all, but you might want to double check.  I'll be calling dad's phone so that everyone can hear.

I love you all!  I'm going to Brazil!


Week #35

Dear Family,

We had a pretty solid week this week.  It's funny how as soon as I get close to leaving the work seems to explode.  We had an investigator come to church on Sunday for the first time, and this guy that we found yesterday was practically waiting for us to come because he had been reading in the Book of Mormon and had questions to ask us.  There's all sorts of little miracles every day, and it's crazy to see how much God's hand is in all of this work.  The grace of the Atonement is real, because I find myself doing stuff that I would not be able to do otherwise.

So here's my little tidbit for the week.  Elder Burnett and I were rulers of the office this past weekend.  All of the senior couples were at a conference with some visitors from church headquarters, so Elder Burnett and I dominated.  He was in the back working on editing the video, and I did my thing up at the front, answering phones and taking orders and sending out referrals.  Living the dream.  

But I had a pretty cool series of thoughts the other day.  Sister Mills asked me if I could design a business card for the mission office since we don't have one here.  Since I otherwise would have absolutely nothing to do, I agreed.  I've never been super good with graphic design, but I felt comfortable enough with some of the design work that I did for Cole and for Sandy Amp that I thought that I could do it.  I sat at the computer and it was super hard, I just couldn't get things figured out like I used to, and it didn't flow.  After working on it for a while, it started coming together, but it took quite a while.  I just haven't exercised the visual side of by brain in so long that it's undergoing some super crazy visual atrophy.  My ability to think in visuals has been debilitated by not exercising it through actions on a medium.

So here's my thought: When we have a physical body, we are able to create symbiosis between the way we think, a creative process to create something, and the actual something that is created.   When we create something based upon a thought, that thing reiterates to our mind what we were trying to think in the first place.  It's like plastering your mind on the world so you can see it in clear light.  
Here's another way to look at it.  This is why we needed to leave our Heavenly Father's presence in the pre-mortal existence and gain a body.  In the pre-mortal existence as spiritual entities, the most we could do was try to create in our minds. 

Here's an analogy:  it is like we are sitting in the middle of a room with yellow walls, and then trying to imagine to ourselves that the walls are actually blue.  It's not super hard to do, but as soon as our train of thought changes or we forget, the walls go back to being yellow, because that's how they really are.  But with a body we can physically change the color of the walls, paint them blue, and then our thoughts and reality are aligned, and they speak to each other.  We can only make our thoughts real by acting with physical body.  Faith without works is dead.  

That may have made no sense at all.  I'm still trying to get it all figured out in my brain, but it did help to right it down.  

But yeah, Portuguese!  I'm gonna speak it here pretty soon.  I'm super excited, even though I'm sure I won't understand a thing when I get there.  I've been studying language every day, so I'm sure that will benefit, but we'll see what happens.  
Thanks again for all the birthday wishes and gifts last week.  Happy Birthday, Addie!  You are 24, going on 25, and Calvin is 23, going on 24.  You can probably take care of him.  

Love you so much,

Week #34

My Dear Family,

MIRACLES!  It's truly a miracle!  This week has been a week of absolute miracles, I say!  It's true!

Miracle #1- Trader Joe's
I'm putting this one first, because it's not as important as my other miracles, but it was just a tender mercy.  Today is P-day, and up until this point I've been trying to figure out how to get more vegetables in my diet so that I don't feel like garbage all week, and lo and behold, A MIRACLE!  We decided to try Trader Joe's for kicks and giggles.  Mind blown.  Can anybody say avocado for 99 cents?  And apples for 39 cents each?  It sounds super dumb, but I was freaking out, I bought so many vegetables, it was fantastic.  I was raving about it to every employee that I saw, and considered going into the grocery store across the street to tell everyone that they were being ravenously cheated.  If there's a Trader Joe's in Utah, try it.  Maybe there won't be the same discrepancy in prices as there was here, but my mind was blown.

Miracle #2
I got my visa!  My travel plans are right here next to me.  I leave here on December 2 at 5:12 pm and then arrive in Riberao Preto the following day at 5:02 pm.  Full 24 hours of jamming in as much Portuguese Book of Mormon reading as I can, only shortly interrupted by two layovers, a dinner, a snack, and a few bathroom breaks.  It's going to be legit.  It will be sad to leave Florida, but the time is now.  A miracle!

Miracle #3
We set a baptismal date with Drake Anderson, aka, Chief Osceola.  He promised us that he would read and pray to find out for himself by November 30 if the Book of Mormon was really true and if it was then he would be baptized!  That would be right before I left, so it would be perfect.  He seems pretty sincere, even though there is some pretty serious flirt-to-convert going on with his girlfriend, but we'll see what happens.  He is a really good guy and very genuine and one of his greatest goals in life is to have a good family well-founded in the teachings of the gospel.  He's totally going to get there.

Alright, to preface miracles #4-5, I need to give a quick introduction.  Our district leader and one of my favorite missionaries of all time, Elder Musgrave, gave us a challenge in our last district meeting to find a unique way of contacting people and inviting them to come unto Christ and feel a bit closer to him.  I chose to invite people to come participate in our church choir, and Elder Burnett studied up on the stripling warriors as a way of talking about how the gospel blesses families.  We put these together on Sunday in preparation for that evening when we were to go out.  And then we ventured forth.

Miracle #4
I wish that I had a picture to send you of this miracle, but I don't, so I'll try to paint the image in your mind with my words.  So we went to visit Darrel Alfred, a young man who we had only spoken to briefly once before and then had never been able to contact again.  We finally caught him.  He lives with his mom in the Tallahassee Housing Authority, which is one of the nicer groupings of projects in Tallahassee.  When we knocked he opened his door to give me a swift reminder of what he looked like: ridiculously huge fro and a nice little mustache that was thin and crisp just like his bodily frame.  He was wearing this multi-colored shirt with a picture of King Tut's sarcophagus on it.  He couldn't have looked like more of a hippy if he were wearing a tie-dye shirt.  I felt like I was about to evangelize to Jimmy Hendrix.
He told us that he was tied and about to lie down because he had just gotten back from working at Whole Foods, an organic foods place just down the road that he bikes to.  But, a miracle happened.  When we were talking with him, it came to my mind to invite him to come participate in our church Christmas choir.  Even though his response seemed a bit apprehensive at first, we could tell that he was actually considering it.  He had been taught choir in school by a member of our ward, and we told him that that same member would be participating.  We started talking about music, found out he could play guitar, and me, having no reservations about that kind of stuff, I struck like a viper and asked "Wanna play some music for us?"  
Again, he hesitated, but after a second agreed and brought us into his house.  We sat down and he played us a couple songs by The Decemberists which were super cool, he was actually pretty good.  You'd think him being a hippy and all he would say things like chill or cool or whatever hippies say, but his saying was "true".  He said it to everything, and it was way awesome.  
After the music, we started talking about Brandon Flowers, the lead singer of the Killers and how he is a Mormon.  And by some crazy link between that and the Restoration of the gospel, we started teaching him from the Book of Mormon.  Miraculous!  His beliefs were somewhat out there, but we're going to be going back on Wednesday to visit with him and do some gardening.  Stoked.

Miracle #5
After that, we started making out way to the Valentines, a member family that we had planned on seeing that night for no particular reason.  On our way over there, we started coming close to the house of an inactive member who we had tried a few times but to no avail, he was never there.  When we were almost to his house, we decided that we would try him again to see if anything might come of it.  We pulled into the Rolling Hills apartments on John Knox Road and went up to number 131 to see if we could finally contact Dwight Webbe.  We gave it a knock and within ten seconds an elderly African-American gentleman answered the door.  He wasn't Dwight Webb, his name was Johnny Threatts.  Apparently Dwight had moved.  We had a pretty ordinary doorstep conversation, asked him about what he did for a living and if he had a family and all that jazz.  We found out that he had been in the military for a long time and had also contracted out to train different military and police forces around the world.  It was interesting, but we kind of reached an apogee in the conversation.  There was that few seconds of silence that usually ends with us being left on the outside of a closed door.  But all of a sudden he spoke up and said, "Y'all want to come in?"

Yes.  Yes I do.

We came in and started talking with him, and Elder Burnett whipped out the stripling warriors bit.  And it worked PERFECTLY.  We found out that Brother Threatts had retired from his most recent contract in Afghanistan after nearly having been killed by a suicide bomber.  He attributed everything, his life and family, to God and the great blessings from that.  He was one of the most humble men that I have ever met.  Elder Burnett testified like nobody's business and seemed to say exactly what Brother Threatts was feeling.  When things started winding down, we invited him to read and pray about the Book of Mormon.  With eagerness, he avidly said that he would.  He said that we could come back anytime and that he would love to hear more.  We are going back Friday.  Miracles!  God is on our side!

Miracle #6
We finally made it to the Valentines' home, and they just happened to have made a huge turkey and twice as much food as they actually needed.  Miracles are real.  That was some of the best tasting turkey that I have ever had.

That's my splurge for the week.  Thank you all for your fantastic birthday wishes and gifts.  I got my birthday gift, which was delicious, my Christmas gift, which I have not opened, and my hard drive, which I keep protected in a sock.  Being a missionary is great, and I have a ton to learn, especially about my relationship with Jesus Christ.  But those things that I do understand, I am so grateful for.  My testimony of the Atonement is really growing, even when I try to resist it because of pigheadedness.  I love my mission.