Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Fro is Back!

It was so amazing to hear from all of you! I realized today that I hadn´t heard from my family since I left. I was used to hearing from Jen almost every day. I was so glad to hear that everything went so well at the open house. I bet that food was amazing. Oh, I would love to eat that food, though everything I´ve eaten here has been good, except for some slimy noodles.

Well everything is going well here in... SEIXAL. Can you believe it? Seriously, it´s the family place to be "born" in the mission. President Terry announced that I was going to Seixal last week and I couldn´t believe it. I should´ve guessed though. Duh. I've followed Jen everywhere up until this point, so why would it change now? My trainer/Mom is Irmã Brady. She´s only 10 months out in the mission field, and I think that Jen met her a few times at the MTC. She´s a great companion, but I don´t think she´s used to being with someone who has an opinion. I think it was an adjustment for her to be with someone more like herself. Sister Skinn and I were pretty similar so I was already used to it. She was also shocked to learn that I already spoke Portuguese, she said in our district meeting that it was humbling for her to be put with me. I think we´ll be able to learn a lot from one another this transfer and I know that the hand of the Lord has been really really guiding my life. Why else would I be here in Seixal of all places? PS I think I´m using Jen´s old water bottle for my bed. It´s red and persnickety.

Oh, before I forget, here´s my address
Rua do Minho Nº 21
2845 Amora
Cruz de Pau

Feel free to send me lots of letters at this address. :)

My elders who were my "companions," Elders Merrill and Walker, were so great and so good to me. They took good care of me on the trip over to Portugal. Let me tell you, the airport in Paris is HUGE! and so confusing. I think we walked a couple of miles to get to our gate with all of the time we spent backtracking and searching around for where we needed to go. Anyway, we arrived in Portugal, finally, after 26 hours of travelling and had no problems with getting our baggage, which was a small miracle, because the different groups have had to wait for almost three hours sometimes to get their bags. We waited about 20 minutes, and with a group as large as ours (16, which was the biggest group that President Terry has gotten thus far), that was a miracle. Then we went to get our visas stamped, and that also went very smoothly and the people there were great. All of the secretaries from the office came to help us get our bags (and ourselves) to the mission office to drop our stuff off. We all stayed at the mission home that night and had a nice dinner, testimony meeting and interviews. We got to go to sleep after we were interviewed and President interviewed me first, so I went to my room at 8pm. I had my own room and my own bathroom. It was wonderful. And I also had a picture of Tyler Terry and Grandma on my mantle. Funny!

The next day we had orientation and met our trainers. The Terrys were so wonderful and made me feel so welcome. They say hi, by the way. It was sad to say goodbye to my elders, but I was excited for the change. I´m in a district of four, me, Irmã Brady, Elder Xidis (who is my district leader) and...Elder Gardner. That´s right. He´s being trained as well in my district. So, as you all know, the members feed us every day here so we see the Elders often. I was a little worried about being with Elder Gardner, because he tends to get under my skin, but it´s been really nice to have a familiar face and someone who I can joke around with about things that happened in the MTC. So that´s been nice. Elder Xidis is hilarious, so we all joke around all the time and it´s fun to get to see them and get to know them better.

It was so strange for me to come back to this area and remember all of the places and remember where Jen used to live. President Terry wants us to be living in apartments without a dona, so we live in our own apartment. I am so glad that we don´t have to live in the house of someone else. We can have the Spirit in the home more and don´t have to worry about anyone else. I think this was a very inspired change.

All of the members were sooo excited to see me. Some of them remembered me, but most said, Hey we have another missionary with that last name? Then I would explain that the other Irmã Thomas was my sister and they were all SOOO excited! PS thanks Jen for being a good missionary. It makes my life a lot easier, but I also have some big shoes to fill. The members are great here! We´re trying to figure out a way to have them help us with the missionary work better. They are wonderful at feeding us, which we really appreciate, but they want to help us, so we´re trying to train them on how to help us best. We ate at Fatima Assis´house on Easter and that´s been the best company thus far. She is so kind and she told me about one of Jen´s first Sundays here when she didn´t understand anything and Fatima became her Portuguese Mom. She´s great and I think is a mom to all of the missionaries in the area still.

We have family nights with the members and our investigators here a few nights a week, which has been so great. I love seeing the members and the investigators bond together. We have SO many investigators. It´s so incredible. None of them are Portuguese. We only have one that even grew up here and she´s Cape Verdian. All of our investigators are immigrants.

First we have Ana. She will be baptized in a few weeks and she´s amazing. We went over to her house on Saturday to teach her the third lesson and follow up on how the Word of Wisdom has been going. She told us that she´s been able to quit smoking completely! That was so incredible to see. She truly has been blessed and she told us that it was easy for her this time and has been praying for strength. She amazes me. She is really progressing.

The next ones we have are Anabela and Manafá. They are from Guinea or Angola, I don´t remember. I still havenºt met Manafá, but he really wants to be baptized. They are waiting on getting their papers from Guinea (oh right!) in order to be married. The people here work sooo much. They hardly make anything at all and just work themselves to death.

Our next ones are Leu and Renata. They are brother and sister from Brasil. We´re actually teaching a lot of Brasilians, so my knowledge of Brasil and of the accent has been helpful. My accent is SOOOO weird. Everyone here makes fun of it. I would too. They all look at me and ask very quizically "Where are you from?" because my accent is so strange. But Leu is so nice. Probably one of the nicest, best people IºVe ever met. He is so kind to everyone.

Those are the ones we work with the most, but we have so many more. We constantly have more people to call and visit. The Lord is really blessing us in this area.

The other day we were walking and we were being "O Eldered". So Irmã Brady explained that we were Irmas so they should said "O Irmã" instead. So we walked away and these kids said "O Irmã"! as we walked away. Soooo funny.

Im catching on really fast to the language. I can´t believe how my comprehension and my ability to speak has improved. I´m so grateful that I´ve been able to hit the ground running.

I love you all! I love Portugal! Thanks for the emails!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Laura's New Address

Laura arrived in Portugal today. If you would like to write to her I'm sure she would really love that. This address will be good for the rest of her mission.

Irma Laura Thomas
Portugal Lisbon Mission
Apartado 40054
P-1500 Lisboa

Sunday, March 16, 2008

So Long, Farewell, Auwederzein, Goodbye!

Hey, I could add John on the list now! I hope that all went wonderfully at the wedding today. My thoughts were with you and I'm glad that it has turned into such a nice day. Please give me all the details on what happened/will happen today. It was great to hear from all of you this week, thank you so much for writing. I hope that everything worked out alright with the boys being sick and that they are doing much, much better now.

Well, it's been another week here at the MTC, except that it was my last full week! I'm so excited to get to Portugal and on to new and exciting food. This week has been somewhat uneventful, but I'll try and remember some things that happened that would be good for all to hear about.

I completely forgot to mention last week that Elder Holland spoke to us in our Tuesday Night Devotional. Whoops! Well, it was fantastic! He really gave us some great advice and was sooo funny as well. I learned so much from him and I have not written that fast in so long. He talked to us about how when we have hard, discouraging days, that we need to think of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the last few days that he had on this earth. He talked about how we need to turn to Him when things get rough and to remember that perspective.

Well, we also had Sister Cook speak to us. She recounted mission experiences, which I find to be the most useful for me. I can really relate to them. Relief Society has been so wonderful here. We hear from the leading women of the Church almost every week and it's such a priviledge to be able to learn from them.

We've had some extra group meetings this week in preparation for our leaving to the field, one of which was a health meeting. Here's what I gathered: wash your hands, drink clean water and don't eat any raw meat. Pretty basic. Poor Sister Skinn doesn't know what she's getting into in Cape Verde. It's certainly going to be an adventure and a HUGE lifestyle change for her. Of the three sisters here in the branch, she's definately the most high maintenance, so I hope she's able to figure out how to get ready in the morning there. I'm sure she'll do great. She's SOOO creative.

Well, the elders have finally discovered that they can play tricks on each other--and I'm in no way discluded in this effort. They've taken to taking scriptures, books, anything pretty much, and "hiding" them throughout the room. The only thing that there is to hide anything under is desks, so that's one swell hiding place, but it is entertaining for all of us. Can you tell that we've all been in one tiny room for almost too long?

Well, only one time left in gym, which is unfortunate, because I've started to dominate over the elders. It's been really fun to play with all of them. We all have a four-square comradery amongst all of us.

We talked with Marie again this week and she kept all of her committments again, but is up against a wall of faith right now. The closest branch is two hours away and she doesn't think that she can make that kind of sacrifice. I pray that she is able to go to church and that her area opens up again very soon.

Life is good here at the MTC. It's been hard for us not to have teachers, but we've gotten through alright. I'm excited to go out and learn in the field. I went to the RC last night, because we'd had MDT all day and 11 hours of straight studying is a bit much. I did follow up calls and got one million answering machines and one million invalid numbers. It got me really excited to get to Europe.

I love you all and I hope that everything goes wonderfully today! I've been studying about hope this week and I just wanted to share very quickly about what I thought about. The word in to hope Portuguese is esperar, which has three meanings, to hope, to wait and to expect. God wants us to do all three of these things when we have hope. He will bless us, we just need to wait and expect that He will bring these blessings in His due time.

Irma Laura Thomas

Friday, March 7, 2008

Flight Plans, Bird Noises and Makeup!

I hope that everyone is doing well. It seems as if that is the case. I would be sympathetic about the snow in Texas, but hey, it's freezing here. Here's to hoping that it's warmer in Portugal, but if not, I've got me a lot of warm clothes.

This has been a good week here at the MTC. The food all tastes the same to me, but other than that life is good. It's been interesting to not really have teachers, but we've made the best of the situation. I am amazed at the focus that my elders have. They amaze me every day. We have about twoish hours with teachers each day, so the other time we study on our own and we get together every day to do grammar reviews. I've been able to help out with those and explain things, so I'm glad to be of some use.

Two of our teachers are Irmao Hibbert and Irmao Christofferson. We met Irmao Hibbert in Portugal when he was serving in Santarem. Small world. He's been great. He cares about us and we can tell. Last Saturday he created a scavenger hunt for us to do to practice directions, which was so much fun and he always shows that he cares. That is something that I've really learned here: the importance of showing that you care and making the effort to care. That is a lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. We had a great lesson last Friday from Irmao Schlappi, he takes his day off to teach us on Friday nights, about Christlike attributes that we've all taken to heart. We all discussed charity, patience, diligence and humility. These four qualities are SO important in missionary work and in life. It was a much appreciated lesson for our district and we've all been striving to have these.

I also moved seats (again) in the classroom. I was sitting underneath the vent and it was like 12 degrees in my spot and I ALWAYS had my coat on and the elders were so hot, so Sister Skinn and I moved away from the vents. It was an adventageous move for everyone.

I've always been a little disappointed in myself that I can't make good sound effects. Really. I always wished that there was something that I could do that would actually sound like the sound something else makes. Well family, that day has arrived. I can make good bird noises. Yep, that's right. I can sound just like a crow. Caw Caw! I thought I would share that with you all to let you know how much I'm growing here.

We also went to a makeup class this week that they provide for the sisters. They pretty much told us that we need to look our best and gave us free makeup. That was pretty much the only sisters time I'm going to get here and probably in Portugal as well, so it was really nice to be around women. I always look forward to Relief Society because it's SOOO nice to be around women again.

This week we had another appointment set up with Marie, the woman we chatted with in the Referral Center. We went there and I figured that we had about a 50/50 chance of her getting on to chat with us. This woman truly is amazing. 11:30am on the dot she was there and was so excited to talk with us. The first thing she said was "you don't know how many times I looked forward to talking with you again." She's read about half of the Book of Mormon and knows that it's true. She told us that she loves it because it helps clarify the Bible. AMAZING! She's going to have a hard time getting to church, as the closest branch is an hour away and the missionaries aren't in her area anymore, but I'm pretty sure she'll go. Marie has truly taken hold of the gospel of Jesus Christ and I can see the light that is in her life now. She asked us about drinking iced tea (because, don't worry, she'd already read the Word of Wisdom on her own) because she had started feeling guilty about doing it. We committed her to living the Word of Wisdom and I know that she will be so blessed for keeping this commandment. She is so incredible. I can't believe I am privileged enough to be able to help her. She is such a blessing in my life. I look so forward to talking with her again next week. We asked her to finish the Book of Mormon and I know that she will. She loves it so much.

I'm just doing great! We got our flight plans today, I leave 18 March and fly directly to Paris. I don't know what I'm going to do there, it's not like I can speak French, but I am so excited to be able to see that great city and to finally get to Portugal.

I love this work. I am so blessed to be able to be a missionary. This is the true church and Christ is at the head of it. The Book of Mormon is the word of God translated by the prophet Joseph Smith. I love you all! Have a great week!

Irma Laura Thomas

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Miraculous Chat

It was so good to hear from all of you. I love getting the updates on what is going on with everyone. I'm glad to hear that the wedding plans are going well and are moving forward. I can't believe that Jen gets married so soon! Crazy! And, to think, I'll only be about 20 minutes away. I'll be in the temple that day though, so I'll be with you all in spirit.

This week has, yet again, been a week of a lot of change for my district. We love being in a classroom with a window, but we don't really know if we'll be staying there. The TEC took Jen back, so my district is, yet again, without teachers. At least this time we only have two and a half weeks left. For this we are all grateful. Hopefully the MTC figures out what they are going to do with us.

On Sunday I was in my PEC meeting and the branch president told me that they were working on my leaving on Tuesday (like three days ago). That news completely surprised me because I thought that I was pretty much just here for the duration. So I went to the travel office on Monday to see if everything was in line and they told me, yet again, that I had not been advanced. I needed to be advanced to be able to get my visa. Clearly, this was a problem. So I talked with Irmao Harmon and he called Irmao Christoffersson, and then on Tuesday night I was finally advanced, but I won't be getting my visa for a couple of weeks, which, fortunately, is when my district leaves. At this point I'm really hoping that my visa comes in time to leave with my district. I know that everything will work out alright though. The two elders in the zone that spoke Portuguese left this week for the field, so I'm finding that my patience is growing with each day. I miss being able to work with them on the lessons, that was a great blessing for me.

Well we've had some leadership changes in the branch. I'm no longer the coordinating sister, now Sister Skinn is. We also have new zone leaders, Elders Merrill and Walker, who are in my district. They are doing a great job, but I don't think they quite realized how demanding that calling is. It is a great opportunity for them to grow and develop leadership skills that they will use for the rest of their lives.

We also got a new district in this week. There were only supposed to be 3 come in, but the US is having visa problems going to Brazil, so we have 9 visa waiters here. Five got their visas and will be leaving on Tuesday (which includes the two sisters. Sad!) It's fun to have some missionaries going to Brasil. Some of them are going to be really fun to have around.

This past Wednesday was probably the best day I've had at the MTC so far. It was just a nice day to begin with (the weather is really starting to warm up here. There's no more snow on the ground!!!) and we were going to the Referral Center, which is where people call when they see a commercial from the Church and want a free Book of Mormon or Bible or Lamb of God video, etc. So we go there every Wednesday to work there and this week we were lucky enough to get a chat. Sister Skinn and I chatted with this woman named Marie. She was incredible! I was so incredibly impressed with her. She wants so badly to know that the Book of Mormon is true and I think that she knows it, she just doesn't recognize the answer that Heavenly Father has already given her. Sister Skinn and I committed her to do some reading and she was so excited to read what we assigned her. I understand now why we give people committments: it's because they want to do what is God's will and they want to come closer to Christ, they just don't know how on their own, so we help them get there. We set up a return appointment with her next week and I'm SOOOO excited! She really is incredible and I feel so blessed to have been able to help her. I can't wait to get to Portugal and meet more people and invite them to come unto Christ.

I am doing really well. I'm loving life as a missionary. I know that this is God's work and that we can all come unto Him if we repent and have faith in Him and His Son, Jesus Christ. I love you all!!

Irma Laura