Firstly, many apologies for not sending an email last week. Yes, I´m alive. An unexpected problem arose last week and we had to leave our email session early. Tudo bem aqui, não temais!
Now I have two weeks of information to report... Let´s hope I don´t forget anything!
The mission is very exciting. "My" skill of the language (can´t take any credit, for it´s truly o Dom de Línguas) has reached a point that I can hold a conversation with others without relying on my companion. This proved itself one morning when my companion and I were exercising in a park close to our apartment. My companion was using a machine a bit of a distance from me, so if I were to strike up conversation with anyone, I would be utterly alone. Quite frightening! Two old men began talking with me, and we talked for quite a long while. All by myself! May not seem like much (congratulations, Elder McHardy, you talked to people all by yourself...?), but when you´re learning a new language, this is truly means for celebration. With this comprehension of the language, I have realized that my calling must be grand, for the Lord is wasting no time to prepare me to talk with His children. What´s in store for me? Who knows!
Some fun stories before I get to my spiritual message of the week:
We (my roommates and I), as well as Alex (the member who got his mission call) went on a hike together last P-Day. We rode an ônibus up the trail to Alta de Boa Vista, and entered Floresta de Tijuca - the national park that consists of all the green mountains surrounded by city. It´s strange hiking in humidity... I don´t have to drink every 20 seconds to survive! The view at the end of the trail we took (I think it was called Pedra do Conde) was well worth the long hike. Eh, "long". Nothing compared to the old backpacking days in Scouts, nonetheless, it felt great to get out in nature again.
I have only baked one thing thus far, but that is because we finally got gas just a few days ago. It´s nice to use a stove to cook eggs, and not a sandwhich griller. Oh, and hot showers too. That being said, I have never missed my KitchenAid as much as I did making bread without her. If I keep this up, I´ll have massive arms by the time two years are up. However, on the contrary, baked goods aren´t always the healthiest... So, I´ll probably gain all the calories I burn right back. Well worth it! My first loaf turned out fine, regardless of my doubts. It didn´t survive more than 30 minutes in an apartment of four hungry missionaries.
We had our first baptism yesterday. Well, in reality, the other duple had their first baptism. Elder de Paula and I aren´t "having much success" in relation to numbers, but really, how does one measure success? Regardless, the baptism was excellent. Funny watching my awkward Mexican friend, Elder Vazquez, trying to baptize someone who naturally feels uncomfortable and doesn´t know what to do. The second try was a success, and the Spirit was strong. Not only was this man, Sergio, baptized on Sunday, but he also began missionary work just hours later! Our Sabbath was full of activities, with a baptism before church, grand lunch after church (Brazilians know how to do a church lunch), then an Elders Quorum activity to contact all names recorded in our ward who hadn´t been to church in a while, then lastly, a missionary work devotional with Presidente Kern. Sergio stayed through it all, as well as another investigator the other duple is teaching, Wilson. They and their families are amazing, and are all excited to jump headfirst into the church.
Now to the more spiritual side of things:
As stated with the title, the Atonement of Jesus Christ is for all of us; for member, nonmember, and missionary alike. I am helping my wonderful companion work through some personal problems, and as we both feel the enabling power of the Atonement of our Savior, our relationship and our success grow. Last night we watched a video about exactly this, using the words of President Eyring and Elder Holland (called Missionary Work and the Atonement, well worth the 11 minutes to watch it). All of us, at some point in our mission, will have to experience something similar to what the Savior experienced, be it feeling the pain of working toward repentance, the sorrow of being rejected, the suffering of feeling utterly alone... As we experience these tragedies, we stand closer to our Savior than at any other point in our lives. I´m glad I experienced a bit of this before my mission, and I think it has prepared me to be here to help my companion through his difficulties. Those of you who are struggling, those of you who feel lost, those of you who have the pains of sin on your shoulders... Jesus Christ lived and died for you. Don´t ever forget it!
On the same topic, we were teaching a man named Vanderley a while back. During the lesson, he stopped us, looked deeply and firmly into our eyes, and said, "Nunca, nunca, nunca sai da igreja. É muito, muito difícil para voltar." In English, "Never, never, never leave the church. It is very, very difficult to return." I thought of those who I know in my life who have chosen to leave the church. Have they ever wanted to return? I would like to think that yes, they have felt that desire to come back. Yet just as Vanderley said, it is much harder to come back to church than to enter the church for the first time. Why? Maybe it´s the difficulty of getting back into routine. Maybe it´s the shame of everyone knowing that you have sinned. To me, the greatest reason it is difficult to return is because of the lack of the Spirit. As we cease to nourish ourselves constantly, the Spirit will leave. The prophet Mormon told of how this happened to the Nephites: (I don´t know in English, but I´ll attempt to translate)
"Iniquity, however, prevailed on the face of all the land, so much so that the Lord removed His beloved disciples; and the work of miracles ceased, because of the iniquity of the people. And according to their iniquity and disbelief, there were no more gifts of the Lord; and over no one descended the Holy Ghost."(Mormon 1:13-14)
Later, the prophet Mormon records that he was without hope of saving his people, as eventually all were destroyed. Do not let this happen to you. Please don´t risk missing a week or two of church because you "don´t feel like it". If you have left the church, please come back. Remember, Jesus Christ lived and died for you.