Monday, September 30, 2013

Beware of the salt

Querido familia,        30 de Septiembre 2013

This week started off with service. It was literally the first thing we did all week. On Sunday night, we had been teaching Marta and Omar and asked if there was anything we could do to help them and Omar gave Marta a look that said, "I´m going to ask them," and she replied by saying, "don´t even ask them." So I asked Omar what they needed done and he said that they needed to move a bed frame and the mattress from Marta's mom's house all the way to their house. So I said that we would be there first thing in the morning to get it done and that we would try to get help from someone that had a truck. So we ended up finding a less active member who had a truck, but we never got the confirmation from him if he was available. So we waited in Rosa's (Marta's mom) house and we hadn't heard anything. So I told Elder Miramontes that we were just going to carry it by hand because the frame wasn't that heavy. So we took the frame apart and started to carry it and when we had gotten about halfway there, we got a call saying that the member with the truck would be ready in about an hour. Luckily, the halfway point was close to our apartment, so we left the frame there and then went to go meet the member at his house. However, the member never got back from working in the fields and we didn't have time to wait any longer. So we went back to our apartment and just carried the frame the rest of the way. Afterwards, Marta invited us to stay for lunch and she made us pizza.

Later that day, we went to go look at some things to buy and while we were in the store, one of the girls working there asked us if we were friends of Luis Perez (one of the members with whom we eat lunch every Thursday). She said that he had been talking to her and they were friends and that he had told her some things about the church.

So the next day, we went to talk to Luis about this friend (named Camila) of his with whom he was sharing the Gospel. He said that he had been talking to her quite extensively about the Book of Mormon and the church on Saturday and Sunday and that she was incredibly suprised to see us the day after their conversation. What shocked her was that she wanted to talk to us and we ended up finding her. She had said that to her it was a definate sign of what she needed to do. 

So on Wednesday we had our first lesson with her and it went well. She had told us that she wants us to meet with her friend and room mate who is struggling right now. However, we haven't been able to meet with Camila since.
In January, there is a trip to another provence that the church does every year called EFY (Especially For Youth) and it's a really big deal here for the youth. The only problem is that the trip costs nine-hundred pesos for each person going; last year the price was six-hundred pesos. So right now I'm working with the youth to help them raise funds so that they can start preparing right now and all be able to go on the trip. So we started by buying in bulk all the things necessary to make alfajores so that the youth can put them together and then sell them. The whole thing cost a little over three-hundred pesos and at the end we will end up with a little more than one thousand pesos. Not a bad trade off I'd say. But it will be a good start to give them all a base to work with and from there they will be able to do more fund raisers.

Something really strange that had happened this week was that a member had walked outside the other day to find that someone had place a line of salt around their house. Well apparently that's not a good thing to find, so we were asked to go and to bless the house. I've never heard of anything like that, so I was thinking that maybe the neighbors were just being friendly and wanted to keep the snails out, but Elder Miramontes says that it's some kind of black magic that people do in Mexico.
So you saw in the pictures that I had a trip this week. It was kind of last minute because the office called me on Thursday afternoon to tell me that I had to go and fill out forms to renew my visa on Thursday morning. So we left Thursday evening to go to Saenz Peña where we met up with Elder Muñoz and Elder Sacalxot once again. 
So Elder Muñoz and I left early Friday morning to go to Corriente (the city where we had to be), but it was a bit difficult to get there. When we got to the bus terminal at four in the morning, our bus had already left. So we waited and had the fourtune of another bus that came by that was going to Resistencia (which is just across the river from Corrientes). So we took that bus and then another bus from Resistencia to Corrientes. The sudden change of plans had worked out really well though because when we got off the bus in Corrientes, four other missionaries (the ones from the pictures) also got off the same bus; we had no idea that they were on the same bus because we sat on the bottom level and they on the upper.

So we got all the paper work done and then they told me that I would have to be back next week do some more papers because my visa had already expired and required an additional process. "The good things is," said Elder Hernandez (who is the secretary in charge of visas and paperwork), "that you won't have to come back again because you'll already be home before your visa expires."

The trip back to Campo Largo was a little more exciting than I like it to be however. We had gotten to the bus station late and had missed the bus and there wasn't going to be another for two hours. So we got a taxi and raced the bus to the bus stop at the edge of the city limits. We made it.

But we've been really content with Omar and Marta. We were worried that they might have problems with the Word of Wisdom, but when we taught them we found out that they had no issues whatsoever. Omar had previously been involved in a couple of things, but he said that once he had their son, Javier, he didn't want to do such things anymore in order to be the example or his son. 

So Sundays had been interesting the last few days for us. We've been having nice weather every Saturday for the last three weeks and then Sunday morning starts out gray, cloudy, and cold. For the people that means that they can't go to church. So I haven't been able to decide if the bad weather that only happens on Sunday is a trial of faith for the people of Campo Largo or if the enemy somehow has power of the weather and is stopping people from going to church. In spite of all difficulties, bad weather and flat tires, Marta and Omar came to church yesterday.
Yesterday was also the fifth Sunday of the month, which means that we have a combined class with the whole branch and I'm the one who is responsible to teach it. So the subject of the fifth Sunday class is actually whatever I want and feel that the branch needs, so  I decided that we needed to practice the hymns; the people don't really know the hymns and stumble over the lyrics and are completely out of sync. So we picked a couple of hymns that they wanted to learn and we then listened to them and then sung them. It actually turned out to be a really good experience and hopefully it will help to invite the Spirit into the meetings a little bit more.

os amo,

Elder Burt

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Singing Guns N' Roses

Querido familia,          23 de Septiembre 2013

So this week started off with us finding a huge family of people that have yet to baptized. We went to look for a member that had been baptized twenty years ago and hadn't been seen in church for a while, so we went to look for her, Maria Martinez, and ended up finding her with her daughters and grandkids, and sons-in-law. So we talked with the majortiy of them that were there, but it was a kind of tough to teach so many people at once when so many things were happening. But we shared a message about the restoration of the church and afterwards they shared cake with us.

We haven't been able to catch up with all of them since  last Monday, but we've met up with a few of them. We have an appointment with Maria and her youngest daughter, Yamila, tonight. The last time that we talked with Yamila she said that she would bring her boyfriend so that we could teach him too. Her boyfriend was actually in the first lesson we had with the entire family, but he was one of the one's that didn't really get to participate, but he did seem like he had interest in what we were sharing with everyone else who could hear. 

So we went to our weekly district meeting caught an interesting comment in our travels. We were seated at the back of the bus on the second level and as a result we were the last ones to get off. As we stepped down, there was a lady at the front of the line who was talking about us and when I was able to hear her she said, "they're not from the country; they can't understand Castellano," (Castellano is a dialect of Spanish that's spoken in Argentina). In that moment, I wasn't sure if I should have turned around and told her, "ma'am, we perfectly understand and speak your language," and then just keep walking, leaving her standing there embarrassed for having made her unenlightened comment, but I just walked away and ignored her.

In our meeting with the other missionaries though, we were talking about ways to work with the members more and also to get more references from them. I said that a good question to ask would be, "which of your friends do you want to see in heaven?" 

So last week I had said that the marriage that we were planning seemed like it was about to dissolve, but on Tuesday we had the chance to talk to Hugo and Belki and they had resolved their issues, whatever they were, and were planning on continuing with the wedding. So now we are going to go today and send a letter to the court house in another city to request forms that we need for Hugo. 

Getting everything ready for this marriage has been the hardest and most complicated process. A big part of the problem is that the lady at the court house just doesn't want to help us. When we talked to her she just told us to come back when the other lady would be working. But luckily we now have the things that we need and the process should be smooth once we get the forms we're going to request back.

But Belki is really excited for her baptism and is already in Second Nephi in the Book of Mormon for her own personal reading. She has even been trying to help us find some other people to teach. So this last week we started teaching Hugo's younger brother, Carlos, and Hugo's sister, Marta, and Marta's boyfriend, Omar.

The first time that we talked with Carlos, he was kind of hesitant and didn't want to set a baptismal date, but the next day when we talked with his sister, Marta, she had told us that he was really excited to get baptized. So the next time that we talked with him, we put a date for the nineteenth of October.

Omar and Marta are also not married, but we've talked with them a few times and they are already committed to marriage as well as baptism. 

On Wednesday, I had to go to Resistencia to do paperwork for an extension on my visa (it has to be renewed every twelve months). The whole process was actually much shorter than the trip to get there. There was another Elder who also had to go and do his papers and it just so happens that he is the  current companion of my previous companion, Elder Sacalxot. So we went Wednesday night to another city called Saenz Peña and then at four in the morning Elder Muñoz and I went to Resistencia. So now I´m good for one more year with the Argentine government.

That night when we had gotten back from our trip, we went to visit a sister in the branch to give her a blessing because she had caught some kind of cold that wasn't treating her very well. So while we were there, she invited us to stay for hot chocolate and cookies. So while we were there, her two sons, Luis and Jorge, made me sing Sweet Child of Mine by Guns N´ Roses because even though they hear the song in English all the time "it's just so cool to hear someone who speaks English sing in English live."  

os amo,
Elder Burt 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Weddings and baptisms

Querido familia,                            16 de Septiembre 2013

This week we have been working really hard on getting everything ready for the wedding of Belqui and Hugo and we've not been as successful as we had hoped, but by no fault of our own. The last time that we went to civil records they basically ignored us and when we finally got help from the lady at the counter she told us to come back when there weren't so many other people; we catch a lot of disrespect for being foreigners. So we told Belqui and she said that she would be going with her would-be mother-in-law.

But we hit another, bigger, snag in the whole marriage process. Something had happened between Hugo and Belqui, or the process had just become too complicated, because the other day Belqui was saying that they may just cancel the wedding. So last night, when we were with Belqui in the house of Hugo's mom, we talked about the Celestial Kingdom and those that can enter. We also talked about how trials are what refine us and prepare us for the eternal worlds; like the fire that turns iron into steel, the fires of trials make us stronger and more valuable than ever before.

So now we're waiting to see what happens. We have an appointment with them tomorrow and we'll be able to talk to both of them together a little better about the whole situation.

So on Tuesday night, we taught Karen, the girl who was just baptized, and Dayan's dad for the first time. I've never actually really met him before because he is never home when we teach the rest of the family, but his wife is always there. So we were reviewing the lessons with Karen and we just happened to be teaching the plan of salvation. Karen's dad, Daniel, really liked what we taught; he even said the prayer at the end of the lesson. So we asked him when he would be home so that they next time we passed by he could be in the lesson too. 

So we went by again on Saturday with the plan to teach them about the Sabbath day and invite them all to church. Karen's mom never goes to church, not even her own, so we were hoping that Daniel would accept the invitation and bring his wife with him and his kids. Well, it didn't all go quite like we had planned. We taught them about what the Lord expects on His day and how we can honor Him and ultimately, receive His blessing, which include the "abundance of the earth." So we invited them all to come to church the next day and Daniel said, "no." Immediately I thought to ask him if he had heard all the blessings that were promised or if he hadn't understood, but his wife gave the same answer. So all I said was that the blessings are there waiting for them, but at the same time are only reserved for the obedient. Well, they didn't come to church anyway. but maybe some other time they will be more prepared to receive the Gospel. All we can do for now is lay a good foundation and help the kids to stay active.

But now we are going to be teaching the daughter of Rosa and the sister of Hugo, Marta with her boyfriend Omar. Rosa was baptized just a few weeks before I had arrived here, and she is really excited to get all of her kids into the church. The problem that Omar has is that he goes to work in the fields for twenty days at a time, so it will be really hard for him to get the church attendance that he needs and will miss out on a lot of instruction with us. Besides that, he isn't married to Marta and they already have kids together, so we have another wedding to work on. Because of the situation  we set with them the goal to be baptized on the second of November. It's pretty far off, but we just need to keep them excited and focused so that they can keep the goal of getting baptized together.

os amo,
Elder Burt

Monday, September 9, 2013

Families are Forever

Querido familia,              9 de Septiembre 2013

I've been talking about Rafael Salvatierra and he is so close to baptism now. He almost got baptized this last Saturday, but we could never talk to his dad and get his permission to baptize him. So now we're going to be trying for this Saturday. We did, however, hit a snag in our plans. We went last night to talk to his dad and he wouldn't even talk to us; not even just to say, "I don't want to talk to you." We knew that he didn't want to be a pàrt of the church, but he doesn't even show us any respect whatsoever. So we talked with Rafael's mom, who is a less-active member, and she told us that the dad will not talk to us. So now we're trying to see what we can do if we only have the verbal approval of one parent. I can't imagine there would be problems because Rafael is already coming to church every Sunday and we talk to him three times a week.

On Thursday we were looking for a family that lived on the very edge of our map, but that didn't live where they had been marked; it was much, much farther. We were walking down the street and stopped to asked some people if they knew the family and they told us that all we had to do was just keep walking straight down the street until we got to a brick making place and that there would be a driveway on the left. Well we walked for ten minutes and there wasn't anything but fields and  trees. After a few more minutes we found the brick making place and asked some people working there where we could find Epifanio, the grandpa of the family. They said that we had to go deeper in and even farther in the direction that we had been going.

Well eventually we got there and we talk to Epifanio, his daughter Noelia, and his grandkids Rafael and Candela. So we talked and found out that epifanio was previously the branch president, but hasn't been active for five years. But we had a great conversation with him and he said, "perhaps God is touching my heart right now." What was even better was that he came to church yesterday with one of his grandkids; or maybe it was one of his own kids, I'm not sure. The only reason I'm not sure if because when we first met him, there was a child of nine months sitting and playing next to him and I asked him if it was his grandson and he said that it was actually his son. So that was a little embarrassing and I don't really feel like asking him about if the person who came with him to church is his son or grandson.

I need to send the pictures of the brick making place; it's pretty incredible... and powered by horses still. 

But we were having lunch with some members and they told me that Japan had declared war on the United States. So as we talked about all the things that could happen, I thought about two scriptures: "this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God," in the book of Alma and "if you are prepared, thou shalt not fear," in the Doctrine and Covenants. The conversation, combined with those two verses, put a new perspective on those scriptures for me. Despite all the things that can and do happen here on earth, we don't really have any reason to fear what lies in the future if we are prepared to meet God again. 

Inline image 1

It also reminded me of this image of the youth of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis and the confidence that they had in their Savior and how that confidence inspired them to press forward in spite of the challenges that were before them.

So now we're preparing a baptism for Belqui and Hugo, but first we have to get their wedding taken care of. So we've been working really hard on getting everything we need so that we can get them married, but the record systems here are so complicated and inefficient that the process is just becoming slow and clumsy. We got their documents and birth certificates all gathered up and took them to the civil records and they said that they need a birth certificate that has been printed within the last six months. The only problem with that is that we have to request the forms from another city and we can't just pull the records from some computer data-base. So now we think that this wedding and baptism will be a three week process.

I sent a picture last week of me sitting on top of the baptismal font and two younger kids; the boy is the little brother of Karen and his name is Esteban, or "Steven" in English. So I started calling him "Steven" and a couple days ago his  mom told me that he asks everyone to call him "Steven" now.

We also had a baptism for an eight year old named Elias on Saturday that went really great. The branch has been growing and we had thirty-eight people in church yesterday; up from the twenty-nine or thirty-twoish that we had last week. All in all, we've just been having some really great visits with the less active members and part member families.

President Heyman called me on Sunday morning to tell me about Conner, and after having had time to think about what had happened in church as well as having had time to study the scriptures I came back to one of the greatest sermons on hope ever delivered by the angel in front of Jesus´tomb, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!" I know that through the sacrifice of a loving Savior that we will all live again in eternity as a family forever.

un abrazo fuerte
os amo,
Elder Burt

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"What are you doing with your testimony?"

Querido familia,                     3 de Septiembre 2013 
So we were going to write yesterday, but there is only one place to use computers in this city and it was closed all day and we didn't have time to go to it while it was open during the morning. The city is so small that there aren't any supermarkets, just mini mart type stores that sell basic things; there isn't any one stop shopping. 

So I had even more changes that I really wasn't expecting this week. Just last week the mission received almost forty new missionaries, mostly sisters, and as a result that are quite a few changes in the mission. So Elder Sacalxot was sent to open up a new area in a nearby city and I got a new companion fresh from Mexico. His name is Elder Miramontes (Looks At Mountains). 

So what happened is that we got called at nine-thirty at night and were informed about the changes. Elder Sacalxot started to pack and we left just a few hours later at three in the morning to be able to get everywhere on time. I went to Resistencia to pick up my new companion and there we had lunch and a presentation/welcome to the mission for the new missionaries. Even though Elder Miramontes is new to the mission, he already has five months as a missionary that he served in Mexico, so I wont actually be training him as a new missionary from the MTC. 

It is pretty funny and interesting the difference between his Spanish and mine because for the last eleven months I have been learning, listening to, and using the words that they use in Castellano and Elder Miramontes only speaks Spanish from Mexico. Needless to say, there are some differences. So what happens is that he doesn't understand me or the people sometimes because we use words that he has never heard or that have another meaning in his country. So he is always trying to learn the differences in words and culture. I think the funniest observation that he made was when he said, "I though that Argentina was better off than Mexico, but now I see that I was wrong; I never thought that Mexico would be so much better than Argentina."

This week we've been talking a lot with the land lady of our apartment. I'm not sure why we didn't before or what has changed, but we've just been conversing quite a bit lately. She is a really nice lady and is eighty years old. She always wants to chat because she says we make "healthy conversation" instead of just talking about the neighbors. She always calls us "the angels in white shirts and ties." On Saturday, we had a baptism and I invited her to come, but she already had something to do, so I gave her a copy of the Liahona magazine. Then yesterday morning when we talked to her, she said that she was thinking about suicide and saw the Liahona that I had given her, so she started to read and felt a peace and didn't have those thoughts anymore. She said that she has a lot of questions for us about what she read, so we invited her to church and she said that she would have to come one of these days.

I've always been working quite a bit with the branch in the capacity of branch president. It's a ton of work and I've been trying to find a way to balance my responsibilities as a missionary and as a branch president; with so many things to do it seems like there is never enough time for either one of them. Right now I'm planning an activity with the leaders of the youth groups from my branch and the branch of a nearby city in the same district for the youth to have. It's a huge effort and it's no wonder why all the leaders in the church have two counselors to help them. Right now I really want to get the church put in order because right now I fell like the organization was left in chaos and was not organized well and the church is supposed to be a perfect organization; a house of order. 

I've been doing a lot of interviews with the members as well lately; helping leaders by advising them and giving brief trainings to help them magnify their callings as well as extending callings to those who don't have them. I always like to start every interview by asking people about their testimony and sharing the scriptures in Matthew when Peter gives his testimony of Christ. Then the penetrating question is, "what are you doing with your testimony of the Savior?"
Karen's little brother, Estaban
So we had the baptism of Karen Gonzalez this last Saturday that went really well despite the challenges that we had in preparing things. It took us basically the entire day on Friday to clean out the font because we had to drain the whole thing using buckets; throwing water out the nearest window. But we got it done and got the font nice and clean before filling it with fresh water. 
The baptism itself was really nice because there was good member support and a lot of Karen's friends and other kids from the primary came to see it. Even her mom and grandma come to the baptism and they don't have any interest in the church; Karen's mom says that she is more than happy to provide support in the home with their scripture reading and prayers, but won't go to the church. So it was really nice to see them there. Afterwards we all had sweet bread and soda for refreshments.

We're planning to have another baptism on this Saturday for a boy who just turned eight and we're also going to be seeing if we can make it into a double baptism with Rafael, the twelve year old boy that we've been teaching. He's already been to church quite a bit and we were waiting to see if his brothers would progress so that they could get baptized together, but that hasn't been the case.

On Sunday, when we had our fast and testimony meeting, there was a man who is evangelist that comes with his wife who is a member. I'm pretty sure that I mentioned him last week; his name is Francisco and I gave him a haircut last week. Anyway, he went to the front of the congregation and shared his testimony for fifteen minutes and then sang an evangelist hymn at the end. It was actually better than I expected it to be; the only apostasy that he said was that Christ went to Hell during the three days between His death and resurrection. 

os amo,
Elder Burt