Monday, October 26, 2015

Week 6 & 7 - The Longest Week

Ben is out of the MTC and in the field at last! I got a chance to speak with his mission president last Tuesday. He calls all the moms to make sure they know their child is well. What a considerate thing to do!! He is in a small city called Itajuba. His mission companion is from a small, Portuguese speaking island off the coast of Africa. It sounds like the first week out is rough. Here's his letter:

"As for me, this last week was probably the hardest week of my life, but the spirit of the Gospel and of adventure was strong enough to carry me through. Things have finally settled down now, and the work is starting to pick up. Since we last spoke, I got a haircut on that Friday at the MTC barber, and it was really cool. He was a super Brazilian guy and he did a pretty solid job overall. It was a test of my Portuguese ability, but it went really well. Then, that night, I started to feel sinus problems coming on. The next day, I felt pretty awful. I had a headache, I was running a low fever, and my nose was running hard. That was our last normal day at the CTM too, so we said goodbye to our instructors, which was really sad, and I cried profusely when Irmao Facinetto and Irma Correa bore their testimonies. But, both of them are trying to get into BYU, so I hopefully will see them again. Then, that Sunday was normal, but really long, seeing as I was super sick, and that day I had really bad nausea too, so I couldn´t eat hardly at all. Monday sucked hard, because they lock you in the auditorium all day for a really long training/orientation session that doesn´t really help you a lot, all spoken in fast, true Brazilian Portuguese. It sucked. We also got to take our last pictures with our district, some of which I will be including here. Then we said goodbye. Tuesday we left that morning, and headed for the field. The CTM really is cruel. You are stuck there with the same people, 12 hours a day, for 6 weeks, that you will bond with a ton and never see again. You learn just enough Portuguese to get by, then they launch you out the door with the worst ending ever. The guy who led the orientation was super doom and gloom too. Just like the first couple weeks of school each year. It was rough, but enough of that. I´m putting it behind me.

Tuesday I took a van for an hour and a half to Campinas, to the mission home there, where we met the President and his family and took pictures, that you´ve probably seen. Check out the Brazil Campinas Mission 2015-2018 Facebook page, it´s cool. Then we had lunch, had some interviews, then we went to the mission office and parted our separate ways. As you´ve learned, I´m now stationed in Itajubá, the furthest point of the mission, a 6 hour bus ride away. It´s so far, in fact, it´s not part of the state of Campinas. It´s part of the state of Minhas Gerais (spelling). My companion is named Elder Gomes, he´s from Capo Verde, Africa, and he speaks no English. Our first two nights we stayed in our old house, which was a complete dump. It sucked. Holes in the walls, piles of broken appliances, it was bad. It was also a 30 minute walk from the center of town, and anything useful. Now though, we have a swanky new apartment much closer to the center. We did the move on Thursday, but the real estate company lied to us, and we didn´t have any power until Saturday. This stressed out Elder Gomes a lot, but we´re doing better now. Our shower head is still broken too, but I´m learning to enjoy the cold showers. I´m slowly buying food too, as we usually only eat once a day, and I do need a bit more than that to keep going. It´s getting better though. Today we´re going to get more organized and get some more needed supplies, and even without power, this house is way, way better than the last one. We walk an absolute ton here. I´m getting used to walking about 4 hours a day, minimum, usually up and down hills.. I´ve absolutely destroyed my feet, with giant blisters and I bruised one of the toes super bad. I´m also still recovering from the illness. But things are only going to get better from here. As far as Portuguese goes, I´ve already improved a load since I got here. My thoughts are getting more complex, I´m losing my accent slowly, and I can communicate with the members and investigators way more.

Now for the good stuff. The members here are absolutely fantastic. Everyone is super friendly, and we have a couple of them that are really, really engaged in the work. We´ve had a member at every single appointment with an investigator so far, even though we only have ~50 active members here in this branch. We´ve had a couple of great meals with them as well, and two of the local young men, Rodrigo and Gabriel helped us a ton with the move. The food here is basically rice and beans with some sort of random topping, be it chicken, or spaghetti, or anything of the sort. I wish we ate more often, but when we do eat, it always tastes great. We´ve also been teaching a family of investigators, and the mother is named Tereznha. They baptized one of the daughters and her family last week, so now we´re teaching the extended family, and the mother is an elect. She keeps commitments, she´s been to church twice, and she talked with her daughter and decided to stop drinking coffee of her own volition, even though we haven´t taught her the Word of Wisdom, or even mentioned it. Elder Gomes is great at teaching investigators, and I´m learning a lot from his teaching techniques. Tereznha also had a dream last week after praying to know if the Church is true. It had a lot of similarities to Lehi´s vision. We´ll have baptisms here soon. We´re also teaching a woman named Karene, who´s 28 and a professor of Portuguese. She sought us out, and went to church last week. Overall, I´m really excited.

As for my spiritual experience, it´s been a hard week. I´ve looked to the scriptures a lot for comfort. A particular verse that really helped me is 2 Timothy, 1:7. It basically says the Lord has not given us fear. It´s spooky, being here, so far away from assistance, speaking a different language, but I know that the Lord will give me strength if I am obedient and I know that I will help do some mighty things here. Also enjoy D & C 122:7-8. It´s really good to hear that you guys back home are doing missionary work, because the help of the members really helps us. I love you all, and I know that whatever challenges come my way, I will succeed!!

Elder Murray"

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Week 5 - The Gift of Tongues

Another letter from Ben and one of the last we'll receive while he's in the MTC:

"Querida Familia,
Good to hear from you again! I also got a card from Grandma Gentry, but I haven´t had time to open it up yet. It´s been super busy lately. Glad that Jacob is still winning and Gabe has a shot to get to the playoffs. I believe in Gibby! I like the Halloween costume idea too, although we´ll see if I can actually do it. They don´t celebrate Halloween a whole lot here. They have a bunch of other random holidays though, like Dia das Crianças (Children´s Day) on October 12. They dressed up our whole cafeteria with balloons and stuff, and all the lunch ladies wore colored afros(??). We also had really good food that day. It´s too bad to hear that your eye is acting up. I´ve also got a weird eye problem, where my eyelid twitches really hard at random times. It´s super annoying to me, but nobody else notices it unless they are looking super closely at me, so it´s not really that bad of a problem. Just weird. I´m also glad that you rennovated my room. Change is good sometimes, and I´m sure all the brothers are enjoying the space. Also, what are you doing with my computer? I worry about it.

This week was kinda bland compared to some of the others, but it still had it´s sweet moments. Some guy named Elder Farnbach on our floor bought a travel Chess set from one of the stores around here, so I´ve been putting my >1 hour of free time a week to good use. This same guy also had a huge chunk of the granite counter top in our floor´s bathroom fall on his foot completely out of the blue one night while I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom. It was super random and strange. They´ve fixed it up now though. We got one last new Elder last week added to our district, named Elder Flores. He´s a 23 year old Mexican guy who´s also going to Campinas. He´s really cool. Some come and some go every week, and this week we said goodbye to our two Brasileiro roomates, Elder Rocha and Elder Correa. They were kinda weird, oddly inconsiderate, and they liked to stay up super late, so I´m not super sad to see them go, but that means less people to practice my Portuguese on, so that´s a bummer. We had a party with cake to celebrate our 1 month here in Brazil earlier this week. Other than that, it´s really just been the grind. My Portuguese is getting better and better, and I´m ready to head out to the field next week. It´s hard to keep from plateauing here, so I´m hype to get out and speak with actual Brazilians all of the time. I leave next Tuesday, and I have no idea when my P Day will be in the field, so IDK when you´ll get my next message. 

I´ll end with some more spiritual stuff again. First, we had a great story a week ago that I forgot to share. This speaker at our devotional, Irmão Braga, who works at the CTM now, was telling us how they called him the freezer missionary. One of the companionships in his zone when he was a zone leader was struggling to find people to teach, when they recieved a new freezer that week, during his exchange with them. He had a spiritual prompting to keep the box, so he did. He then got a crazy idea. They´d show up at people´s homes with the freezer box, and tell them they had a gift for them, if they´d listen to their message. Then, when they agreed, they´d open the freezer box and give them a Book of Mormon! The next week, that companionship baptized 10 people. 

The other story is from my own life. I have been here for 5 weeks now, and that´s not a lot of time, but I have learned so much Portuguese it´s insane. At last night´s devotional, normally we use headphones with an english translator, and I was sitting there listening to the translator, and I have a thought. The Spirit told me to take off my headphones, and try and understand in Portuguese. I had no idea if I could, but I followed it. I understood more with the headphones off than with them on. I could understand his whole message, in a language I have spoken for 5 weeks, and it was the best discurso I have heard here so far. The Gift of Tongues is real. I know it is. I´m so grateful for the opportunity to be here and to serve a mission. Eu sei que esta Igreja é verdadiera. Eu sei que Jesus Cristo vive. I know this coming week will be one of the hardest of my life once I hit the field, but with the Lord, I can do anything. I will succeed!

Elder Murray"

I am so glad he is being blessed with the language! That can be a huge difficulty for lots of elders or so I hear. I am looking forward to hearing from him once he's in Campinas!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Week 4 - Conference Time!

I almost named this one "Drunk Guys and Witch Hunts" but we are focusing on the positive! Here's the news from Brazil this week:

"As far as stuff I´ve been doing here, life is pretty good. This week was pretty cool, so I´ll break it down day by day. Quarta-feira, a week ago, we bought some random stuff in Brazil, then enjoyed pizza night. Not too exciting.

Quinta-feira not a whole ton happened. We mostly just refocused on our goals to speak more Portuguese. Kinda boring.

Sexta-feira was awesome. To prepare for the epic occurence later, we did a jejum de ingles, or an English fast, where we didn´t speak any English all day. That day was our first time going out into the world and proselyting! We were each given three Livro´s de Mormon, so six per companionship. We went out to this market on top of this massive bridge that people walked over. We gave out all of ours in like 35 minutes even though we had a whole hour. We mostly talked with older men who weren´t moving too quickly, as they were the majority of the population up there and the most likely to talk to us. Our first Book of Mormon we gave out to a super drunk guy who was leaning on a wall so we didn´t notice it at first, but then he moved and he nearly ate it on the side walk. He gave us both hugs as thanks for the gift, and I checked all my pockets to be sure he didn´t steal my crap. It was a really cool experience overall. The buses in this city are absolutely crazy too, they just yolo all over the place, right next to people, cars, anything, and all the roads are super bumpy, so it´s like surfing if you try to stand up at all. It felt really great to go out and do actual missionary work, even when some guy faked a phone call so we wouldn´t talk to him. We also got our first member referral, as some guy was just walking along with his friend, and he turned around and came up to us and said that he was a member and his friend wasn´t. We got to give him a LDM and share our testimonies in Portuguese. It was really cool.

Sabado was mostly General Conference. We watched both Saturday sessions that day, and I really enjoyed a lot of the talks. Holland´s talk about Moms was fantastic. You should really check it out. We also nearly got in a fight with the Hispanics on our floor because they have no idea how to follow the laundry schedule. They took all of our clothes out of the drier and combined them on the washer so that they could dry the clothes that they should have been done with 3 hours before. We posted a guard by the drier and then later, when I had lost three g-tops and we had found a bunch of random clothes in our pile, we went on a witch hunt for the guy who left his shirt in our pile. He never fessed up, which was good for him and for us because it´s not very Christ-like to beat up another Elder in the MTC. We made up with the hispanic guys in the end, and hugged it out but I still have no idea who stole my clothes cause they´re all like 5 5. 

Domingo was even more Conference. We watched Priesthood that morning, and both other sessions. Nelson´s and Bednar´s talks both nearly made me cry, and I think Bednar´s talk is maybe the most powerfully I have ever felt during a talk. Really really really good. I also enjoyed Schwitzer´s talk, you should check that one out again, cause he´s just one of the seventy, but it was a great talk. Overall, Conference here at the MTC was a really really cool experience. It´s rare that you can focus that hard on Conference, and I feel like I got a ton out of it, spiritually and knowledge wise. That night one of the toilet´s in our bathroom flooded and there was poop water all over the floor, you couldn´t get to the sinks, the showers, or the bathroom proper without stepping through it. Some guy mopped it up, but guess what, some random Braziliero flushed the same toilet again the next morning. It was rough, but good news was yet to come.

Segunda-feira we were told that we were getting a room change! There are so many Sisters now that they moved us up to the 5th floor to make more room for them next week. We had to pack all of our stuff and move in yesterday. Crazy stuff, but that means we didn´t have to be in the bathroom with the flood toilet anymore!!! Sweet deals! Other than that, we spoke a lot of Portuguese and taught a lot of lessons. 

Terca-feira was yesterday, and it was really pretty uneventful. We´ve been doing 150 pushups a night, so that was pretty good. In fact, if Dad wants to send me that 100 pushup challenge pamphlet it would be cool. We also spent about an hour while we swept the patio for service trying to figure out the opening to Love Comes Quickly by the Pet Shop Boys, and eventually Elder Westenhaver remembered it. 

Today we went to the Campinas Temple this morning, and it was absolutely jaw-dropping. It´s on this huge hill that overlooks the city of Campinas, and seeing my mission area was really cool. The inside was really beautiful too, with one stain glass wall that was like 45 feet high. It was super awesome. I´m getting tons of really good pictures that I´ll send as soon as I get to a computer where I can send them. I plan to see if I can find a hair trimmer for cheap somewhere around here, maybe I´ll learn to cut my own hair. I am now completely out of time."

Wow, love this email! Ben keeps it real, no doubt. I am glad he got to experience General Conference in the MTC. I think that's a unique experience.