May 27, 2009





May 19, 2009

To Dad,

Despite not having the Suns in the playoffs, this conference finals looks as legit as can be. A bunch of gangsters all going at it. Kobe, Odom, Lebron, Iverson, Carmelo, Howard. So ghetto. I'm so all about it. We'll need to be watching ALL of these games, please. I'm reminding my companion that this is all next week and probably all in HD and he's burying his head in his hands. Haha oh boy. OK, Anyways...

On Sunday I gave a talk in Sacrament meeting. Having considered the counsel you gave me regarding how to give a talk, I used the story you sent me about the conversion of Parley P. Pratt. I translated the story into Portuguese and used it to illustrate the power of the Book of Mormon in converting ourselves and in converting others, and thereby making us great missionaries. I felt like it was a wonderful example, simple as it was, how he had been converted by the Book of Mormon, then turned around and bore that testimony to the world. He was one of the greatest missionaries of this dispensation. Just the example of a great missionary in the early days of the Church is enough to welcome the Spirit, but I hope that at least someone at church was able to grasp on to what I was hoping to tie it to--which is member-missionary work. Something I have tried to dedicate myself to very much in the last few transfers. It is the best way to do the work.

The last speaker at Sacrament meeting was a man named Christian Klein, second counselor in the stake presidency. He talked about missionary work, amongst other things. As he spoke, he thanked me for my talk and then mentioned that the man Parley P. Pratt had special meaning to him because one of his descendants was the missionary who taught and interviewed his grandfather to be baptized years ago in Sao Paulo. The name of that missionary was Wilford Cardon. My thoughts turned to how the early days of the Church in Brazil must have been. How great they must have been. I felt a great love for missionary work. I hope that I can be that special missionary for someone generations from now.

So from that I discovered first hand that storytelling really is the best way to give a talk. Thank you for that suggestion, Dad.

I want to thank you and everyone for so many things that have helped me to learn and become something better on my mission. I want to thank you for being an example of a good man and so many other things. It's a hard thing to put into words how you want to thank your Father for things that have such eternal and infinite significance. One of the things President Cardon taught me in the CTM is that it's difficult to describe the infinite in finite terms. Such is the case with me trying to describe the way I feel about my family, or say thanks for things that have been so important. I guess all I really can do is just say thanks. So, thank you.

I make it sound like something is ending and it's all sad, but really it's more the opposite. I mean yeah, the mission is ending, but all the greater then is my resolve to do what is right and live worthy of an eternal family one day.

Everyone's getting a personal e-mail today so I have to cut it a little short here because I still have to write everyone else. You were the first though. Just one more thing I wanted to say--I'm honestly amazed by the grace of the Lord in my life. This is something I can't help but make mention of. It's hard to think about without becoming emotional. That too is something hard to describe--what forgiveness and learning and testimony and love for the Savior feel like. But those are some of the things that have been mine during this season of my life and I am endlessly grateful to Heavenly Father for having given me these things. My testimony before the mission might not have been something that would have lasted me my whole life. Now it is fixed.

We have a lot to talk about and plan when I get home. Really, A LOT. So I hope you're up for it! I can't wait to see you again, Dad. I love you.


May 19, 2009

To Momma,

To me, it's a miracle that I've served a mission. But I think it's perhaps an even greater miracle that you've managed to survive me being on another continent for two years. Congratulation, Momma! I'm sending everyone smaller personal e-mails today to say thanks for things and whatnot. Really, I don't know where to begin. There's so much. I want to thank you for being my Mom, for having raised me, for having supported me, for having given me so much and for having been an example to me and a standard for what I should look for when I want to get married. There's so much to be thankful for on the side of a son who has good parents--especially a good Mother. I love you, Momma. I wish I could actually express in words how much, but so long as that's impossible, just know that I love you.

I like to think that for every son there's a lot to be sorry for. Part of me learning and changing on the mission is recognizing just what an idiot I really was before. Not that I'm perfect now. I have many flaws. But I've learned a lot. Really, if anyone were to ask me what was the price I had to pay for me to learn to do what is right, I would say "two years of my life as a missionary". That having been said, I'm sorry for anything I've done in the past that has made you even a little worried, sad, upset, disappointed, frustrated or any other mildly negative adjective you can imagine. Now, don't go thinking too much about those things, just know that I'm sorry for all the stupid things I've done to make your job harder in the past. I can't do much to make it up to you while I'm here but you can be sure that once I'm home I'm at your disposal to do WHATEVER YOU WANT! You name it. I love you more than I can say and I've gained an incredible appreciation for motherhood, especially for my own mother. As far as things I can do here, if you remember last Sunday on Mother's Day I did dedicate the song "Hey Momma" by Kanye West to you! I don't know if anyone managed to play it during the day but feel free to take a listen, haha. Really though, it's a good song. I like it at least.

Momma, we've got a lot to do when I get home! I'm excited. I'm SO excited!

Don't worry, I'm not going to be condemning anyone to hell when I get home. You can be sure of that. I'm not here to judge anyone. I've made a goal to not be what they call, in Portuguese, "chato", which connotes anything at all displeasing or irritating. I know a lot of returned missionaries get that way. I would rather not be chato. Nevertheless, if anyone is seeking my counsel for any reason I would gladly share my opinion. But most likely only If I'm asked.

I love you. I can't wait to see you again. As a matter of fact, I HAVE missed you all this time, and I will be so happy to be all yours again. I love you.


May 12, 2009

Just a reminder first... don't forget to call President Gulbrandsen and make sure someone is around to release me when I get home. I assume that's already been taken care of, but one way or another just let me know so I can put my worries to rest.

Phone call was so great! I felt wonderful afterwards, as always. I swear I could talk on the phone every week with you guys. For some, it takes their focus off the work completely. For me it's therapeutic. It makes me feel more calm, more in control, and much happier. The mission is hard, even when you're two weeks from going home, and you need every chance you can get to smile and be happy. There's no greater joy to me than you guys.

After phone call we went downstairs from the little English School we were at and met an investigator named Marcone and his not-so-less-active sister Elda who started coming back to church when we started teaching her brother. She is 29 and he is 39, although he doesn't look it. We hopped in their car and they took us to the church they go to sometimes. The church is called "Sara Nossa Terra" or "Heal Our Earth", which is very a typical, empty Brazilian evangelical church name. Like all of them, they had a rock band and a pastor who yelled a little. He told this Mother's Day story about Abraham's wife. It was okay, but it also kind of reminded me of why there is no mention of our Heavenly Mother in the scriptures---exactly so that her sanctity isn't made a joke of the way Heavenly Father's so often is. Elda turned to me at one point and slipped me a note written on one of the little tithing envelopes that were sitting on our seats when we got there, it said: "they're weird, aren't they?" I looked at her and said "who"? and she pointed all around and said, "everyone".

They dropped us off afterward, we were very polite and very grateful. We marked to come by the next night. So, yesterday, we got to their house where they live with four or five other siblings and taught them about the plan of salvation. We bore testimony of the Book of Mormon. We told them, when we were asked, how we felt about the church we went to on Sunday night. We said it was very nice, but that we ought to be careful not to confuse the Spirit of the Lord with emotion. We invited Marcone to be baptized on May 24th. He accepted whole heartedly. He'll be baptized my last week! I'm so excited.

President Pizzirani is really upset because the mission is baptizing very few men and families lately. I understand where he's coming from, I really do. He sent a bulletin out to the whole mission burning everyone. Which is absolutely fine. Sometimes I need a little kick. Although I feel like he might have been speaking a little bit emotionally, I love President and I always appreciate his counsel. I want to make him happy and I seek to understand his vision more and more all the time. I know it's the right vision. The vision the mission had when I first got here made me want to go home.

Thanks for all the advice, Dad. I appreciate it all very much. I need to remember those things. And Momma, if you'd like to fly here to stalk me I suppose that's alright. My companion might be a little freaked out. Don't worry, two weeks is no time at all. I'll be home plenty soon. As for the airport, I don't mind who's there really. If Hajax wants to come hang that's fine with me. If anyone is afraid to let their emotions show, don't worry, because I'm not! So take peace in that. I don't know if I'll cry. Maybe. If anything I'll probably just be worried about people making fun of my hair loss. I'm gonna look like Uncle John one day. So anyways, yeah, bring whoever, fine by me.

OK don't forget to call right away, if you haven't already, and make sure someone is around to release me. I guess if they have to they can release me by phone? I don't know. Either way. Don't get me wrong, I love being a missionary. But really, I only love being set apart as a real missionary in Brazil. Once I'm home it's time to be a normal person.

One other detail about going home---I know I said that going to the Temple was more on the want list, but I've decided to move that up to the need list. Essential. I can't have going to the Temple on the same list with cowboy boots and an iphone.

Next week will be my last e-mail! If you have any last questions or concerns that need to be answered before I leave Brazil, next week is the time. I'm so excited to see you guys, and I'm so content with the feeling that I'm going to be near you again soon. I love the mission, I love Brazil, I love so many people here, but I really do love you guys more than any of that. You are the most important of all people or things or places in the world to me.

Have a good week!

April 28, 2009

So I only have three p days left. It's winding down and I'm getting crazier as the time goes by. Poor Elder Brown. He's full of envy of Japan trip. A simple, begrudged "thanks" is all he has to say. I spent most of the morning sitting at my desk eating Japanese chocolate with a big smile on my face, spouting off spiratic Portuguese phrases that just naturally come out these days when I'm overjoyed.

I'm particularly excited about going to Japan because our best friend in the branch the last few weeks has been this fat guy named Carlos who speaks perfect English and served his mission in Japan. He had a few black companions who taught him a lot of the gems of the English language. He's showed us a lot of pictures from his mission. Japan looks simply AMAZING. I cannot wait. I'm so excited. You got my other email, right? OK.

Dad, to answer the two questions you had (about the stories and about a Japan itinerary). First, thank you very much for the stories. They're wonderful. I particularly liked the testimonies others gave of the Prophet Joseph. I enjoyed very much the story about Thomas Kent. I didn't know anything about that before. I love that kind of stuff, it's so interesting to me. I'm bummed because I probably won't use it here because of the amount of background with the Civil War and all, Brazilians just don't know anything about that and I would have to explain a bunch of other details for them to get it. But you can be sure that story will come in handy for future talks and lessons when I go out with the mission at home. I'm currently in the process of translating what I can into Portuguese and I'll be able to use some of that soon with the members and investigators. Thank you so much!

As for Japan, I'm going to talk to Carlos and I'll get you a list of things next week. Of what I know right now, I think I'll probably want to see the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Apparently the biggest roller coaster in the world is in Osaka. Kyoto would be cool for seeing shrines and learning about history and culture. Tokyo just sounds amazing overall. I don't even know where to begin. Let me just talk to Carlos first and then I'll be a little more sure. Plus I'm sure I'll want to look up a few things once I'm home, and Michelle and Jonny will plan all kinds of tight stuff. I say spending at least one night in the little pod hotel thing is a must.

This week has been great. We had a wonderful family night last night with Joao and his family at a member's house. We taught about the restoration with this kid named Wanderson who is preparing to go on a mission. I love Wanderson. He's kind of a butthead, but he says that it's because of our visits with him and his family that now he's decided he wants to serve a mission. When I got here three months ago he was inactive. We're also working with his friend Wesley who has also become even more decisive about going on a mission. He too was inactive when I got here. These two guys are the best.

I'm pretty sure I won't see Joao and his family get baptized, as much as I want to. The marriage thing just takes too long here. It makes me really upset at Brazil. They could have been baptized two months ago if the government were to have just made things simple with marriage in this country. Awful. But I'm happy as can be for them because they're progressing and they will get baptized. It's just a matter of when. I'll see the pictures.

We had a great experience yesterday after our district meeting--we saw Stella!!! It was so wonderful to see her. It made me so happy. I hope it didn't show but I was a little emotional. I don't think she noticed at all, I do a decent job of controlling myself. We have been praying since we found her that she might understand and accept the gospel. Since it had been a few weeks we got worried, we prayed that we might find her again, and yesterday we did. I was touched at God's kindness with us. She probably doesn't realize it, but she is an elect of the Lord.

Everything else is going great. I had a great last zone conference this week. I gave a talk on Sunday that was probably my last talk in Portuguese. Scary. Be sure to let me know soon how long Bishop wants me to talk the Sunday I get back. I'll start preparing now.

I love you. Have a wonderful week.

ps: here's a picture of me with Japanese candy this morning!!!!!

April 21, 2009

I have one suit now. I've gotten rid of almost everything. Actually, there was a member in one of my areas that took one of my suits and had it tailored to fit him without saying anything to me. Brazilians...
The suit I currently have will work just fine for Sacrament meeting the Sunday I get back. I'll get it cleaned before I come home.
Thanks for the itinerary info. I read it out loud to my companion and he appreciated it very much. He still has a year and a half left:) You said I leave at 6pm from Brasilia and get into Sao Paulo at 7:45pm, but I think those times are actually am, not pm. Since I've been here, the missionaries have always left early eeeaaarly in the morning Tuesday morning and then spent the day waiting in the Sao Paulo airport. Although if it were nighttime that would be fine with me. However morning would also be good because the plan, apparently, is to have a van from the CTM come pick us up from the airport and take us to the Sao Paulo temple where we would do one session there and then come back to the airport to catch our flight home that night. I don't know if that's true or not or if that would even work, but it sounds nice. I miss the temple.
Regardless of whatever we're busy doing the week I get home, please leave me a little bit of time to go to the temple.
I haven't gotten my secret special package yet but I'm hoping I will this Thursday at zone conference. I haven't gotten the special letter with the pictures of Mom's "changes in appearance" either. My guess is short hair? Fine by me. Anything to make me feel less self-conscious about my male pattern baldness. If you want to say "widow's peak" in Portuguese you say "entrada", which means entrance.
I'm pretty excited about how things are going in our area. We're having a breakthrough with member missionary work. Things are going as planned. We're dedicating most of our time to visiting the members, teaching them, challenging them in simple and easy ways to be the "finders". Little by little we're having results. If this is the last thing I can do in my mission, good then. Our Branch President told us that we're the only missionaries that have ever come to this area that have given an honest and persistent effort to working well with the members and administering the teachings of the gospel through the members, which is how the leadership of the Church wants it done. I know we're doing something good, even though it's not what the majority of missionaries do here. Unfortunately, there are a lot of missionaries that rejoice only in numbers and do everything for the wrong reason and have completely the wrong vision. It makes me so sad. I love this mission! I feel the Spirit tell me so strongly and so peacefully that the way we're doing things here is the way God wants it done. I'll need to keep in touch with the Branch President and Branch Mission Leader after I leave to see how things turn out here.
That's all for this week. Oh, I saw Elder Cosme last Monday on transfer day. He finally came back from the jungle. He cried when he saw me. I saw Elder Chacon too, but didn't manage to get a picture with both of my kids like I wanted. Oh well.

Have a great week! I'll get you the phone call number next week. I love you.

ps: Thanks for the stories, Dad! They're great, and they'll for sure come in handy.

April 13, 2009

You can tell Bishop Boyer that I'm very excited about speaking on the topic he gave me and it will be an honor to be able to speak. And if Bishop Sandstrom would like I would be very happy to speak at his Singles Ward too. Will that be my Singles Ward? I'll be honest, I'm a little freaked out about regularly going to a Singles Ward. I might need to get married as soon as possible to avoid that.
The only problem I foresee in speaking at Church when I get home is that I have NEVER given a talk in English!! For all the experience I've gained to giving talks over the last two years, none of it has been in my native language. I might have a hard time.

Changing the subject, before I forget, I would like to make a special request please:

To help the members here, I'm wanting to get my hands on some Church history stories. What I would like everyone in the family to do this week is search around the internet and books and ask others for interesting Church history stories, and send them to me in this next week's e-mail. Don't mail them. Copy and paste as many as you want. I'm going to print them out and translate them into Portuguese and use them in lessons with the members in their homes. People here love Church history even though it is not their ancestry.
Why I'm wanting to do this is because we've come to the conclusion here that missionary work does NOT work in the way we try to do things here in this mission. I mean, you have success every once in a while because God isn't going to allow the work to stop. But we know that it can be done in a better way---together with the members! Feel free to get on the Church website and watch the talk by L. Tom Perry in the Sunday afternoon session on the fancy Church video player thing. He articulates exactly what I feel about missionary work and the way it needs to be done. Some missionaries don't try to change from the way it used to be. We're trying to come up with new ways to help the members be more involved in the work.

I want to help complete families prepare to go to the temple and be sealed forever. That is my desire. I know it is President Pizzirani's desire as well. The problem in the mission is that a lot of missionaries are still trying to use all those old techniques but with new vision. It doesn't work. We're only going to have success if we work together with the members. It's as clear as day to us now. We can't do it alone, just the missionaries. In the last two transfers we've met a lot of really great people but no baptisms yet because we haven't figured out a good way to really work with the members well. We've got some new ideas now though, and we're going to put it in practice this transfer. Things are going to be really different, but I'm excited. My goal is to leave this area ripe for the harvest when I leave. Pray for us and for the members that we'll have success together in building up the Church here.

No one was transferred!! Elder Brown and I will stay together another six weeks. I'm really happy about that. I love him like a brother. And he'll kill me! In doing so he'll be orphaning two children, but I'm sure they're okay with that. Elder Brown's excited to be getting his first taste of blood in the mission. I don't know what I would have done had he been transferred. He helps me a lot and is an inspired missionary.

Someone mentioned Joao's family two weeks ago I think. He has not been baptized yet because we are waiting on the marriage. Joao needs his birth certificate to be legally married and he does not have it. We asked for a new one to be sent to him from his home state. That was two months ago. It still hasn't come. Our Branch President has decided that he and the Branch Mission Leader are going to drive 100 kilometers into Goias to get his birth certificate so that we can finally get the ball rolling. That's needing to happen because I haven't been feeling very good lately about Joao and his family, they seem to be getting a little stagnant with the lack of progress with the marriage and everything. We're running out of things to teach them. I believe things will turn around soon and they'll be married and baptized by the end of this transfer.

Stella is another person on my mind a lot. I get so happy when I think about her. Bel says she is always reading the copy of the Ensign (Liahona) we gave her. She's being taught by the sisters in a different city. I hope all is going well. The only thing I worry about is that she has a lot of questions. Not that it's bad to ask questions--we should all be courageous enough to ask the important questions. But if we're not careful it can be like building a huge house without any foundation. Each piece of wood is another question, and when it's answered it fits into its place in the house and helps build up something beautiful. But when the wind and the rains come, if there's no foundation then none of it matters because it won't stay grounded. Our knowledge of the gospel, great as it may be, can all come crashing down if we don't have the foundation of testimony. For every bit of knowledge we seek, we should seek testimony to go along with it. A lot of our investigators need to understand that, not just Stella. But I mention her because she has the ability to learn so much, and it will end up profiting her nothing if she does not gain a testimony.

It's important to remember that testimony is simple. All a testimony is is a confirmation by the Holy Ghost of gospel knowledge. Knowledge can be gained by the human mind alone, testimony can only be gained by the Spirit. That's why scripture study and prayer go hand in hand. We learn about the Book of Mormon by reading it and pondering its message, we gain testimony of its truthfulness by praying and feeling the way that Alma describes in Alma 32:28. It makes sense in our minds, it feels right in our hearts, it's peaceful. But that is not enough for a lot of people. That's why I worry. Not just for Stella and our investigators, but for Jonny as well.

OK I'm really, really, really, really excited about this trip business. I better get some information on it, quick! I'm hoping to get my last package this afternoon when we go to Asa Norte for the little transfer day family night with President. Which reminds me, two of my companions are going home tomorrow. Elder C Nunes and Elder Tenorio. I'll miss them. Next family night it will be me going home. Freak.

OK don't forget, Church history stuff. I love you guys.

ps: Tell me how the itinerary looks on my arrival home. What time I'm getting in etc. I'm sooooooooo curious!

pps: Tell Uncle John hi from me. Is he still dating the girl who doesn't shave her legs or arm pits? I'll be sure to pray for Eric and Sam, and especially Grandma D.

ppps: Tell Gma Hoon I hope she has a very happy 77th birthday! She deserves it more than anyone. Also, please ask her if she and Grandpa have gotten the letter I sent to them several weeks ago.