Monday, January 27, 2014

Released as Branch President

Querida familia,                                          27 De Enero 2014

You would not believe how hard it is to melt butter without a microwave, but don't worry because I found a way to do it. 

So lately we've been working a lot more with the members of the branch in order to find new people to teach and the way that we've been doing that is deciding with them who of the people that they know is ready to receive the Gospel.

In Alma we read,

"For behold, angels are declaring it unto many at this time in our land; and this is for the purpose of preparing the hearts of the children of men to receive his word at the time of his coming in his glory." (Alma 13:24)

So like it says, there are heavenly messengers all over the Earth that are teaching people, whether they know it or not, about the Gospel and the lessons they need to learn so that in the moment that someone presents the true Gospel of Jesus Christ to them, they will be able to accept it. So what we've been doing with the members is helping them identify the people that they know who have been prepared by angels and are prepared receive the Gospel.

We've seen a lot of success with this activity and have been meeting some new people this last week. One of them is Ana Rivero, a sixteen years old girl who is a friend of two of the young women in the branch.

She was kind of shy at first, but as we talked and taught she opened up more and more. We had our first lesson and shared about the restoration of the Church and the Book of Mormon, leaving her with the assignment to read, ponder, and then to pray to know if it was true. We went back for the second visit a couple of days later and asked her how everything went and if she had read and prayed. She said that she hadn't read everything that we marked, but she prayed about it and believes it to be true.

We did the same activity with one of the young men named Maxi. In his list of people that he wrote were the names of some of his family members. So we had an additional prayer so that the Spirit could indicate to him which of them was fully prepared to receive the Gospel. He felt impressed that we needed to work with his two younger siblings Valeria and Agustin who are ten and eight years old.

Both of them have received the missionary lessons and been to church before, but were never baptized. We talked with Maxi about the importance helping his brother and sister to get to the waters of baptism because if the Spirit tells him that they need to be taught in this time then that means that the Lord is counting on him to help them enter His fold.

As we've talked with them and with their older brothers and sisters, who are all active members, we've learned some of the reasons why the didn't get baptized before and it is clear that Maxi is key to the conversion of Valeria and Agustin. As an additional sign of his role in things,  Maxi is about to turn sixteen and will be ordained a priest in three weeks, or in other words, he will be able to baptize his younger siblings.

We were also talking to one of the recent converts who is a twelve year old girl who had an interesting question of us. She wanted to know if it was alright to dress up and perform in a certain way, but when she asked us, neither I nor my companion knew the word that she was using, so she brought us a picture of her sister how had performed two or three years ago and it was a show girl. So we didn't want to just flat out say, "no, you can't dress like a show girl and dance in the festival," but rather make it an opportunity to learn. So we asked her a pretty simple and straightforward question, "would you feel comfortable walking around all day in your underwear? How would you feel if your friends saw you?" We explained that just because the clothes are shiny doesn't make it any different and she decided that she didn't want to participate anymore (her mom had also previously told her that she wasn't allowed to participate). 

We burned some trash and dry weeds that  we had collected in the backyard of the church. Unfortun-ately the next day the chapel smelled like smoke when we got there and we had to air it out a bit.Yesterday we had the district president come to our branch accompanied by his first counselor as well as the new branch president, Pablo Portillo. I was released after six months and Pablo was sustained and set apart. We've have some really goods plans for the branch and we're sure that we're going to see lots of growth and development in the coming months and weeks.

os amo,
Elder Burt

Monday, January 20, 2014

"I can't have a girlfriend while on my mission?"

Querida familia,                              20 De Enero 2014

We started off the week with a little bit of confusion and a small issue with our land lady this last Monday. It was time to renew the contract for the apartment, but the secretaries in the mission office said that we should get a contract made by the office and signed by President Heyman and that we shouldn't sign it because it requires us to put our ID number from our DNI and passports in the document and it could be bad if something goes wrong later on in the future. The problem that we had is that the land lady is very stubborn and said that she absolutely would only make the contract here in Campo Largo; even the allure of having the mission take care of all the processes and bills wasn't enough to sway her. So I explained that the mission doesn't want us to sign it because of the aforementioned issues, but she said that if we didn't make the contract in her way then she would kick us out. So we called President Heyman and he said that we could do it in her way and that if any issues came up then the mission and the Church would protect us from any legal issues. So we went and had to make the new contract and listen to all the terms and agreements and then sign it. So now my name is on the contract with my document number for the next two years.

As far as the computer and the Church's program is concerned, we're done with it. We even tried setting up a remote control of the computer so that a specialist could control our computer from his office, but it still wasn't resolved. So now someone is supposed to be coming today to do repairs and troubleshooting.

On Friday we had interviews with President Heyman in Las Breñas. It all went really well, but he is concerned about what is happening throughout the mission. Apparently there have been a lot of missionaries that become boyfriend and girlfriend with the members and that's just something that you don't do; President Heyman said, "we have all these new missionaries who are eighteen years old and they think that they are still in high school." He said that there was one elder who was transferred to another area and even then he continued to maintain a romantic relationship with the girl and because of that he was sent home.

So we had our district, three companionships, together with President Heyman and he started asking questions about how we should react to certain situations and how we can avoid problems. He was kind of funny, but serious at the same time. He asked one of the sisters, "Sister Pipe, what do you do if your companion starts to flirt with a man?" Sister Pipe replied, "Well I would talk to her about it and say, Sister we do do that." President Heyman then asked the followup question, "Alright, and if she keeps doing it, then what do you do?" "Oh, I'd call the zone leaders..." President Heyman cut her off and said, "That's right, you would call me directly! The zone leaders won't be able to help you with that problem, but I'll end it immediately." He then asked the district leader, "Elder Deniston, what do you do if you go to teach a women, and she is there alone with her eight year old daughter?" Elder Deniston said, "Umm..." President Heyman, unsatisfied with his lack of response, said, "You don't go in the house!" He then hanged his question, "What would you do if it was a women, with her eight year old daughter, and her sixteen year old daughter?" Elder Deniston again, "ummmm..." President Heyman said, "Elder, you don't even have to think about that one; you don't go in! That should be instant!" He then asked my companion, "Elder Diaz, what is your greatest source of protection to help you keep the law of chastity?" Elder Diaz replied, "keeping good thoughts, reading the scriptures," President Heyman stopped him mid-sentence and said, "That's exactly right, your companion!"

We had good interviews though; I think that the next time I have an interview with President Heyman it will be my exit interview.

But I talked to President Heyman about the branch and about what is happening and he gave me some good news. He said that when he saw that we sent five youth to the EFY event he decided that he would never let the branch close even if it stays open just for them and that we should be very happy with our efforts to help the youth progress and for having gotten so many to go on the trip. So that was the first piece of good news, then he said that he had an idea of who could be the branch president and that he would be interviewing him that same day to extend him the calling. The brother that he interviewed is called Brother Portillo and he accepted the calling to be the new branch president. Brother Protillo doesn't live in Campo Largo, but rather in Las Breñas (which is an hour away), but will be coming to our branch every Sunday with his family and will travel during the weeks to be here with us and work with the members. I only met him briefly, but he is a good guy; he is probably twenty-eight years old and he served his mission in California; so he knows English.

So with that, President Heyman said that he is going to keep me here in Campo Largo to train Brother Portillo and to help him get to know the members as well as the city. So by the end of our next transfer cycle, I will have been here for seven months and two weeks and will only have six weeks left in the mission, so I may just finish my last three months here. I'd be fine with that though; we're seeing lots of progress in the last couple of weeks and we expect to see a rapid growth in the coming weeks.

Other than that, we had a cool experience in that we were able to attend a special conference for leaders of the Church where the area presidency (Elder González, Elder Viñas, and Elder Zeballos) of the seventy gave talks about how we can help our branches grow through the use of the Book Of Mormon, the individual conversion of ourselves and the members, and how we can work more and help the members to be more united in purpose.

We did a ton of traveling this week because of all the meetings and almost spent more time outside of our area than we did inside of it.

os amo,
Elder Burt

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I am bound when ye do what I say...

Querida familia,                           14 De Enero 2014

I'm pretty sure that last week I talked about the problems that we are having with our computer and the programs of the Church. Well we've spent considerable time in continuing the work of our devices, but we haven't seen success in our endeavors; we see small steps of progress, but then we have to take a few steps back every now and again. We discovered that the cause of the problem was the people who brought us the new computer that we have and that they hadn't done the installations correctly and gave us an old, outdated version of the program which made it impossible for our computer to hook up with the systems in Salt Lake. It's really frustrating when other people don't do their job well.

I haven't mentioned them, I don't think, but we've been teaching a family where the mom has been a member for twenty-years, she was baptized when she was eight, and the husband and kids are not members. The mom, Cristina, got married to her husband, Gustavo, who isn't a member and I guess that years ago he decided that they weren't going to participate in the Church. Well now we've been teaching them and Cristina came back to Church this last Sunday accompanied by their two sons Nahuel, who is twelve, and Jonatan, who is going to turn nine on the twenty-second. Gustavo didn't come, but we'll be working with him. 

We've mostly been focused on teaching them the restored truths of the Gospel like modern prophets, the prophet Joseph, the Book of Mormon, and the fact that the true and living Church of Christ is on the earth. By doing this, we helping Nahuel and Jonatan to learn the truths that build the foundation of the Church while at the same time reminding Cristina about the testimony that she already has. 

So things have been going well with them. The only thing that could possibly be a problem is that Cristina isn't sure if her husband will want their kids to be baptized. they were showing us some old pictures and there was one of one of the boys being baptized as a baby and being held by the priest; he was crying quite a bit in the picture. I told Elder Diaz that I would cry too if I had to participate in such apostasy against my will. But their dad is really nice and has never done anything remotely offensive or unfriendly toward us, so we don't really see any problems.

Martha and Omar on the other hand are not progressing and are actually moving backwards. We read in the Book of Mormon that those who know the truth and then retreat from it become more hard hearted and less receptive to the truth than before. So that's worrying for us because we're seeing that happen with them.

We talked to Omar and they've decided to get back together, but they went right back to where they were before we started teaching them. They're living together and don't really have plans to get married and they're no longer reading nor are they praying and going to church. We very frankly talked to Omar about the situation and explained how they will always have problems and trials and difficulties if they don't change their ways; we explained how the problems that they experienced in their relationship are a result of their disobedience towards the law of chastity and continued disobedience will only continue the pattern of fight, break up, turn to alcohol, get back together, and continue to be irritated and without work. 

It's hard to watch their downfall in such a drastic way because they had already worked so hard to abandon all of those things that they carried before. But we can't help them anymore than they are willing to help themselves, and even more they can't receive divine aid in their situation because the Lord has said, "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." 

We've also talked with the district president and he said that he wants us to be working even more on finding the new branch president and that when President Heyman sees that we have a local leader then he will send a companionship of sister missionaries to assist us in the work. 

We've been training the other leaders of the branch as well as the members in general as to how we can help the less active members of the branch to feel welcome and have desires to come back. This last Sunday we talked a lot about the Savior's example in how He talked to the people and helped them to understand what they needed to do. We shared examples of His life from two extremes: the cleansing of the temple, and the women taken in adultery. In both cases, the Savior acted exactly in the necessary way to make the situation better, not worse. He did not tolerate the sins of the people, but he never withheld His love. One of the key scriptures that we shared with this one:

My final comment about working towards finding the new branch president and putting forth a real effort was this, "It's not just the salvation of them whom we seek, but rather it's our own personal salvation as well."

Later that same day, many of the sisters went out to go visit those brothers who had not been participating in the Church and they had some really good experiences.

Thursday was also an interesting day for us because we were talking about the branch, the leadership, and the future progress of the members, which caused us to start to think about changing some things around in the leadership. We started by writing down where everyone was in their callings and then we thoughtfully rewrote the list to the way we think that it ought to be. So we prayed about it and ended up changing all organizations in the branch except for the relief society presidency and the teachers in Sunday school for the adults.

So between Thursday and Sunday we went around talking the the members who would be released and set apart. The changes will allow us to see more growth and progress in both the members as individuals as well as in the branch itself. 

Sunday afternoon, as we continued to call people to their new callings (for those that we couldn't talk to before Sunday) we met with Alejandra Machado, who was to be called as the first counselor in the Primary presidency, and her boyfriend Paulo. Paulo is not a member, but has a knowledge of the scriptures according to the teachings that he has received. I say "according to the teachings that he has received" because he is confused on some things and thinks that any other book besides the Bible is false.

We actually had a really great conversation with him; we never argued with him about anything, but rather testified about the truthfulness of these things and then told him that if he would pray then he too could know the truth for himself. He also had a lot of questions about the Garden of Eden and the plan that God has for his children. So we were able to help him understand a lot of things that he didn't know before. It was kind of funny because all the answers to his questions came from the Book of Mormon, the very book that he initially didn't want to read.

Regarding that, there was a time a while back when someone told us that their pastor didn't his congregation to read the Book of Mormon because anyone who does joins the Mormon church (as if it was some sort of black magic). 

os amo,
Elder Burt

Monday, January 6, 2014

Scattergories builds unity

Querida familia,                                6 De Enero 2014

Last week on Monday, Elder Diaz and Elder Bell both had to go to a new missionary training in Resistencia and I had to accompany them. So there in the meeting I was asked to translate to English what was being said and the room was divided into Americans and Latinos. It was kind of funny because the missionary the sat the closest to where I was said, "I don't know why we have a translator; I've been here for three weeks and I already speak Spanish." He then diligently took notes of what I told him in English. 

So in that meeting is where we had to leave Elder Bell; as I mentioned he got transferred for medical reasons to be closer to the big hospitals. He was really scared to meet his new companion though because his new companion was also training a new missionary, but that new missionary went home early (I don't know why). So Elder Bell was worried that that missionary went home because of his companion and so, as a joke, Elder Diaz told him, "Yeah, I heard that all of his companions go home early." But I've never heard anything bad about Elder Bell's new companion, so he'll be fine.

So in order to help the branch really progress, we've been giving trainings and making tools for the leaders of the branch as well as for the members. We've mostly been working on how to do missionary work and how to do visiting teaching; then we also taught about developing Christ like attributes. As we were thinking in how to present our trainings, I had the idea that the members probably have never been trained or taught on how to do these things that all the members in the States just know how to do. I don't know that anyone has ever taught them how to do visiting teaching or what is expected of them in their visits. So the things that we're sharing should be of great value and should help a lot in the work here in Campo Largo.

Part of our plan is to have activities and lots of them. We want to keep the members involved in the Church as much as possible, especially now that they're in summer vacation, so that they can constantly be working towards greater goals and personal progress as disciples of Jesus Christ. Another reason to have all the activities is so that there is always something for less active members, as well as investigators, to do in the Church in an environment that is a little more relaxed than the Sunday meetings. 

On Saturday night we had our first activity to help get the branch going a little better than it was before and it ended up being really fun for everyone who came. We split into teams and played a couple of games. One of the games we played was Scattergories, but we played it one versus one on two separate chalkboards and the players had to race to finish their list before passing to the next person on their team. At the very end we had a game that wasn't so much a game, but we did because we wanted to show to the unity and love that everyone has one for another. So what we did was had everyone sit in a big circle to start and we brought with us a ball of yarn. The game went like this: You grabbed and held onto a length of yarn and you then pass the ball of yarn to another person, but in order to pass the ball you have to share something you admire about that person or share a good memory you have with that person. So we passed the ball around and ended up with a big spiderweb to show how we were all linked together. The idea was to have a visual representation of the unity that we have. We then shared about how we need to extend these links that we made to all the of the members who weren't present so that they too can participate in the blessing of the Church.

To go with the ball of yarn activity, we shared this scripture:

And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another. (Mosiah 18:21)

Omar came to the activity as well, but only at the very end because he was waiting to take his niece home. So we convinced him to come in and stay a while. So he had some refreshments with the rest of the members, but he obviously wasn't as comfortable with everyone as he was a month ago. Now his hair has grown long and he has an earring that wasn't there before. But at least we've been able to meet with him now, even if it was for just a few minutes, but now it looks like Omar and Martha will be getting back together. So we're going to see what they want to do about their baptism and if we're going to continue with the wedding or if they are going to continue living separate.

We've been working quite a bit with the computer program from the Church that holds all of the records for everything quite a bit this week because it has been broken for a couple weeks. I've spent hours talking with the people from Salt Lake going through restoration processes and troubleshooting to get all of our records running the way they should be. It's been a tedious and boring process. I'm just hoping it's not some sort of sign as to what is going to happen to the branch in a few weeks.

Yesterday we sent five of the youth to the EFY event in Formosa. We've been helping them get ready since November and they finally left yesterday for their five day trip. As it is an event from the Church, all the youth are required to have basically missionary haircuts for the event,so we had two young men who needed a trim. One of them was very, very unwilling to cut his hair (his haircut is short on the sides and back and very, very long on the top like a super mohawk). So we trimmed his sides up and cleaned up around his ears and neck, but he wouldn't let us touch the top. So we said that they'll just make him cut it hen he gets there and he said that that would be fine. So we'll see if he comes back with short hair or not. The other young man was fine to let us cut his hair because he already knew, as did the other, that they were getting haircuts. So we gave them both their haircut just two hours before leaving.

os amo,
Elder Burt

Friday, January 3, 2014

Christmas 2013

Querida familia,                                  De Enero 2014
I saw this goat the day before and it was alive then
We're writing really late this week because the computer place has been closed for the holidays, so I'm just going to write as if it were Monday anyway (that way I can have more than half a week to write about come Monday).

So last Monday, the twenty-third, we had a Christmas party with the entire mission in Resistencia. So I was able to see all the missionaries that I've met, but I also realized that I don't know the majority of the missionaries that are in this mission anymore. President Heyman said that of the current two-hundred and fifty-two missionaries that we have, one-hundred and seventy-two have arrived in the last six months. So I guess that I'm old in the mission, but I don't feel like I've been here for that long.
A field close to a member's house who lives 20 minutes outside the city
It was also on Monday at the Christmas party that I meet my third companion, Elder Bell. Our apartment isn't met for three people and we didn't have a third bed. or even a mattress, so for that first night I just put a big, thick blanket on the table and slept there and let Elder Bell sleep in my bed. The next morning on Tuesday, we bought a closet for Elder Bell to store his clothes and another mattress. 

I told him that it was his Christmas gift and his said that it was the best Christmas ever because for the last week he had been living with some other missionaries in an apartment without air conditioning or running water; so he had to use the same set of clothes for five days and couldn't escape from the heat. So the changes and the purchases that we made were a pleasant change for him.

So remember that Christmas Eve is when all the parties happen here in Argentina, but we still had the restriction of having to be in the apartment at eight o'clock and we couldn't go anywhere to eat with members. So one of the young women from the branch brought us a bunch of food to eat (chicken, potatoes, sweet bread, fruit salad, soda, candy, etc...) But when she got to our apartment she was distressed and just simply not doing well. So we asked what was wrong and she said that her family was fighting back at her home instead of celebrating the evening together. So we invited her to stay and eat dinner with us for the night. 

She happily accepted, so we put a table outside and we all ate together, talked, sang hymns, and played board games until midnight when we watched the fireworks. It was a really good experience and it helped her to feel better; she said that it helped her, "to remember the true spirit of Christmas."
Christmas Eve dinner
The next day, we got up and went to the chapel to make our phone calls home. While Elder Bell was talking to his family, I had some interviews to do with some members that had requested interviews. Elder Diaz, unfortunately, was only able to talk with his family for seven minutes that day. His card had the same problem that mine had in that it only gave him very little time, but it just didn't work at all for him. So we're now going to have to plan another time for his parents to call from Peru so that they can talk.
presents on Christmas morning
We've started to work with Martha again. She still has that fear that her life won't change if she gets baptized. What she has told us and what she sees is what we're seeing with her as well; every time that she tries to do what's right and the really put forth a great effort to keep the commandments there is always a new, bigger trial awaiting her. So we're trying to help her increase in her understanding of the plan of salvation and the Atonement. She came to church this last Sunday after having missed a couple for weeks, so that was really good for her. Now she is preparing to be baptized on the twenty-fifth of this month.

Sadly our trio didn't last long; Elder Bell has a condition that affects him in the heat and has to get some doctors appointments to figure out what is wrong, so President Heyman moved him to Resistencia to be closer to the hospitals. So it's good for him that he'll be taken care of medically, but we were sad to see him go just as much as he wanted to stay with us.

os amo,
Elder Burt