Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lions and Tigers and Camels, Oh My!

Hello family and Happy Thanksgiving Eve! Though, because Thanksgiving is not on a P-Day, we are celebrating today! The whole zone is getting together at the Nelson's, the senior couple in Loulé, for a feast! We are all really excited. So right now my hands are FREEZING! It is pretty chilly here in the morning and at night, but during the day it is fine, so we should be comfortable playing tennis later today.

This has been a CRAZY week! I've had three different companions! Irmã Churak had to go to Lisbon to renew her visa, so I did a division with Irmã Oliveira for about two days. It was great! I picked up my Brasilian accent again, sort of, and we had a great time. We've really bonded this transfer and I learned so much from her. She's a great teacher and we learned more about one anothers' cultures. But she had to leave Friday morning, which left me without a companion until that night. So I went around with Ana Lúcia, who is a young single adult in the branch. I had a pretty normal person day, as she had to do homework and take care of things around the house. This was fortunate because I was pretty sick with a cold/sinus infection. So it gave me the much needed time to rest and recouperate. The next day I was feeling much better and was back in the saddle again.

We've been working a lot with Ana Lucia's family. Her mom, Veronica, was less-active for a while, but now she's back to better activity and she wants to really live the gospel. We are working on helping her have a stronger foundation and also teaching her boyfriend, Carlos, and her son, Elias, as well as talking a bit to her other daughter, Vanha. It's been rewarding to see the changes she has made in just six weeks. I can see the desire that is growing in her to live the gospel.

Albertina had a weird week, but she's back to her normal self and she came to church on Sunday (the whole block, as usual) and then there was a baptism in our building from the branch in Loulé, so she came to that as well and she loved it. She also loved the food afterwords. :)

The branch in Loulé had a talent show that we were able to attend. The Ecuadorian men played some great music for us from their drums, flutes and guitars and the women did a traditional dance from Ecuador. They told me that if I came to their branch again that I would have to stay. They miss having sister missionaries there. We also had enrichment and Cristina, and investigator, came! It was a HUGE step for her to come to the church, so now that barrier has been knocked down. YAY!

Sunday we attended the baptism of two girls from the Loulé branch. Somehow I ended up helping out with almost everything. I got roped into doing the program (at the last minute), and it took longer than expected (of course), and it didn't print out right. But fortunately, there were some elders in the building that figured everything out. However, one of the jets used to fill up the baptismal font broke off leaving a bunch of gunk in the water. So...I got roped into finding a solution. That solution came in the form of a mop. So, feeling like I was cleaning out a pool, I was able to clean out the water in preparation for the baptism. Something I never ever pictured myself doing. Fortunately, I had help, and one of the elders actually touched all of the gunk, and my hands stayed clean. It's the little things really. The baptism was great and we were all edified. Albertina really liked it and I'm so glad that she came.

Well, the circus is in town family! It's right by where some members live, so we took a little side trip to see the animals. There were lions, and tigers, and camels, and shetland ponies. Those lions were HUGE!! Wow! And stinky. I never imagined that I would see circus animals on my mission, but hey, you never know.

I had a cool experience on Monday. I had just been thinking about how I needed to be better at listening to impressions that I get while I'm out in the road. So we walked by this woman who was cleaning up the leaves on the street and she smiled and said hi after we greeted her. We passed her and kept walking, but I felt the clear impression that we needed to go back and talk to her. So, I gathered my courage and we went back. After talking to her for a minute, we found out that she is a member! Woah! She ended up sharing some of her burdens with us and we were able to comfort her. We will be talking toher again on Saturday and I'm really excited. How grateful I am that I heeded that prompting and the help that I am given so freely. I am truly blessed.

So, we got transfer calls yesterday. Irma Churak is going to Setubal and I will be staying her and being put in a tripla, with Irmã Machado (American with a Portuguese name) and Irmã Holtzclaw. They both just got to the field this transfer, so I will be greenie-breaking both of them. It will certainly be a new adventure and I'm sure that I will be given a LOT of help, all of which I will use, to be sure.

Well family, I love you! I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Eat too much food for me!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

(No Subject)

Hello family! Thanks for the updates!

Well, this has been a long, yet short week. We had interviews with President Terry this past week and it was so nice. I felt like I was just talking to an old friend. He is such a great mission president and I am so grateful that I am able to serve with him. I also cannot believe that the transfer will be over next week. This one has really flown by. Wow.

Well, Albertina is still doing well. She is kind of struggling with her testimony, but she's so wonderful and we know that she will find out for herself that what we are saying is true. We brought Ana Nunes, the branch president's wife, with us and shew as wonderful with her teaching. She was simple, clear and to the point. It was a miracle.

Right now we are working on getting to the less-actives. I had the opportunity of speaking on Sunday at church, which I found out about on SAturday night. I felt that I should speak on retention. I was actually nervous and I was having trouble with my Portuguese, I have my days. But it really helped strengthen my testimony of the importance of the work with the less-actives. I read through Luke 15 and I was impressed with how the father was looking for his son "while he was yet a great way off" (quando ainda estava longe). That is how we must work too.

Oh, so one thing that I've noticed about Faro is that, while it is wonderful and I love it, there is one thing that I could live without...but I guess it just makes it more endearing to me. Well, the dog owners of Faro do not clean up after their dogs it just does not smell great here. I don't know if it's from the canal thing or from the animal population. But Faro is SMELLY. Wow. Just in case you wanted to know...though you probably didn't. :)

Oh, I've also gotten my hands on a violin and Sister Nelson, who is a senior missionary here with her husband, teaches piano lessons as her mission activity. So the two of us have gotten together and we will be playing things for Christmas. It's been nice to play again. I even clipped my nails even more! It's a nice way to express myself. I am an artistic soul.

On Sunday we got a call from our elders at around 5:00pm saying that there was a baptism right then from the branch in Loulé. So we got there and the church was a madhouse! Everything was last minute, and it started really late. But it was probably one of the best baptisms I've been to. The Spirit was so strong throughout the meeting. The branch in Loulé consists of mostly Ecuadorians (random, I know) and they are such beautiful people! The men and the women have long black hair that they keep in a long braid. I just wanted to touch it! And their children are so beautiful! It's so hard not to hold the children here. They are such humble, kind people. AND they make great food. We had this great corn nuts type thing. So good!

We also helped out a recent covert, Maria Joao, this week. We just randomly stopped by on Friday night with the intent of seeing if she could teach with us the next day. But when we got up there she was a bit distressed. We asked if she needed help and, as it turned out, she had to move out thatnight and the next day and had no help. So we rolled up our sleeves and got to work! We also called the elders and they came right over as well. We helped her the next day as well and she got all moved over to her new apartment. She told us that night that we had been an answer to her prayers and that she had told the branch she was moving but she didn't have the courage to ask for help. How grateful I am that we were able to help her.

To thank us she made us this great couscous bread thing (which is a typical Cape Verdian food). Holy Hannah it was good! Wow. I love the food here. Yum. It was a good food week for us. The members are really starting to feed us here. It's so great. Really. I will miss the food here.

Well, Monday we had a bit of an adventure. We went out to follow up with an investigator, Fatima. She lives in the middle of nowhere. We went out there at 7:00pm and we had a bus at 7:55. So we talked to her and her wonderful daughters (really, they are the nicest people). We showed them "Finding Happiness" and the Spirit was so strong. They were riveted on what we were saying. Unfortunately, as we were heading out the door, we heard the bus go by. So after waiting in the cold and in the hope that it had only passed to turn around, we figured it out and called Noemia. She came to our rescue and picked us up, as there were no more buses. The members are great here.

Well, things are wonderful. I love Faro. I love this work. I know it is the Lord's work that I am doing. Next week is transfers so I'll let you know if we have any changes. There are 19 new missionaries coming in so there will be big changes in the mission. I hope that everything stays the same down here though. I love my district. Well. Have a great week! I love you all!

Com grande amor,
Irmã Laura Thomas

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One Open House and a Christmas Dinner

Hey family! Thanks again for the updates and emails. I hope that your week is still going well.

Did I mention that we use the internet in a Western Union? Funny, huh? I sure have used the internet in some interesting places. But there's no crazy Indian music and body odor in this one and they don't kick me off after a half-hour, so I count my blessings.

This has been a good week for us. Albertina is doing GREAT. We talked to her about baptism on Monday, but she doesn't know how she can pay tithing because she's on a fixed income and she can barely eat as it is. So today she is fasting and praying to know how God is going to help her pay tithing. She wants to get baptized, but only if she can keep all of the commandments. She is an amazing lady and every time we see her she just lights up. It's so refreshing to be loved by your investigator. She is changing and growing and becoming so much happier. She's so great.

Diogo is doing well as well. We're encouraging him to read from the Book of Mormon and we worked with the branch to try and incorporate him better in the branch. He's a good kid and I like teaching him.

There is also a young single adult here, Ana Lucia, who is great. We go over to her family's house every Monday night and I think it's my favorite appointment of the week because I can see how much they need to hear what we say. They are hungry for the gospel. Her mom, Veronica, especially really listens to what we say and applies it. It is a bit difficult to keep everyone on subject and focused, but they are just wonderful people.

So last week I mentioned that we were going to Ponta da Piedade in Lagos. That was an adventure. So we got there and had to find a place to keep all of our stuff. So we went to the old chapel and were able to keep our stuff there. That took a while. I was also flooded with memories of last year when we went there together. I took a picture on those stairs right where Jen and I were last year. I'll get that to you.

Travelling in a big group while sightseeing is a big NO. Everyone always has a different pace and idea of what to do. We finally made it to Ponta da Piedade with two hours before our train was to leave. So we (thankfully) split up into smaller groups and fortunately Irma Churak felt like being a mountain goat with me. So the two of us went with Elders Dimick and Curtis climbing around. I was grateful to have jeans again. I've missed them. It was really refreshing to be out in nature and I felt like I was back in Moab. We had a good time and took some good pictures.

Unfortunately, we left Ponta da Piedade a little later than we should have and not everyone wanted to run for the train. So we missed our train, but were able to catch a bus back to Faro. It was an adventure and now I will travel in smaller groups. But it was good to see everyone.

We also had an open house at the church that the branch set up as a missionary opportunity. So we and the elders were there all day to show people around and walk them through the different organizations in the Church. Only three people showed up, but it was a good opportunity for us to show our support to the members. I was able to talk to Presidente Nunes and his wife quite a bit about what they wanted for the branch and it was so nice to be able to see more of their perspective on things.

To set up for the open house included a display for each organization that each class did itself. But they wanted some pictures hung up on fishing wire from the ceiling tiles. So Elder McKinley and I set to doing that. He would climb up on the chair, get the ceiling tile out, hand it to me. I would stick the fishing wire on then I would hold the picture while he stuck the ceiling tile back in. I mention this process because it REALLY reminded me of my youth, helping Dad with any type of project. He would do the real work and I would "hold the picture" in the process. A simple, but necessary thing. It was a funny reminder of home and it made me laugh when Elder McKinley got covered in a bird's nest, while I just watched. Good times at the church were had.

On Sunday we had our branch council and it was wondeful as always. I love how this branch really counsels with one another. They bring up concerns and they figure it out TOGETHER. I've never seen a unit in Portugal do that and it's so good. They work in unity to figure things out. They discussed the upcoming Christmas devotional that we will be doing in place of the Christmas party. The branch president mentioned that they could do a dinner or some other type of social activity if they wanted to (I chimed in on that one. The Church here needs to have more fun!) I asked when we could have the dinner and after a good 15 minutes of discussion dates were set and everyone was excited for the "non-party" dinner. This is an activities branch.

Well, things are going well here. We're in the process of finding, but we're working on working better with the members. Things are progressing and I am happy. I hope that you all have a wonderful day! I love you all!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Members Take to the Streets!

Hello family! How are all of you? It sounds like everyone is doing really well and had a great week. So I see that we will be having some big changes here soon in the States. That should be interesting to see.

It's been a good week. Last p-day we went to Loulé to play tennis with the elders there. The weather was beautiful and we had a good time. I was on a team with Elder Dimick and fortunately, he did all the running around for me. Elder Rodrigues did the same for Irmã Churak. She did her best to learn how to play tennis. However, the next day at zone conference I was still sore even though I really didn't do that much. Oh well. But it was fun to play tennis and we have a great district. We laugh a lot when we're all together.

The next day was Zone Conference and it was really different because there were only about 18 of us and as there were three native Portuguese speakers, the conference was in Portuguese. Hearing from President Terry in Portuguese is just not the same. But we had a good spirit of comradry amongst us. I translated one of the trainings of the APs and I was surprised at my ability to translate, when I had tried before and it did NOT work. I'm growing!

Albertina is still doing REALLY well. We want to invite her to be baptized tonight. We'll see how it goes! She is really understanding and loving the Book of Mormon. She's starting to just teach us the lesson. She is praying and really growing. Last week we had an integration night with the branch. The Branch Presidency was in charge and they talked about prophets. Each one talked about a different prophet and then they subtlely (I can't spell anymore..sorry. but you get what I mean, right?) slipped out of the room and then popped out in costumes. One was Nephi, one was and apostle of Christ, Simon, I think, and the branch president was Spencer W. Kimball. He was already wearing a suit, all he did was put on his wife's glasses. I took a couple of pictures and we had a good time. We invited Albertina that Monday before but she had forgotten. So we reminded her as we were heading out the door to go to the activity. She was like, "oh it's right now? Let me get my jacket!" She had a great time and we are so excited for her. Really, she becomes happier and chattier every time. She is really understanding what we teach her. It's amazing to see.

On Sunday we did a training in Relief Society and walked them through doing street contacts because later that afternoon we took to the streets! (Mind you, none of this was planned by the missionaries, it was planned by the branch!) So we took to the streets and it was great! I went witht he Relief Society President, Maria Furtado, and a Young Woman, Ana Marta. Maria Furtado talked to EVERYONE! Wow! I was so impressed with her. She was incredible. I ended up spending a good amount of time jsut talking to Ana Marta. She's having a hard time right now and I really click with her. I hope that I can help her. But I am really liking being here in Faro, it's a good fit for me.

Well, I guess I should say I like the Algarve, right now I'm in Portimão, which is on the other side of the Algarve on a division. I went with Irma Oliveira and we had a bunch of time to find yesterday. I was so fun to be with her because it reminded me of being in Brasil. I have such a love for Brasil and the people from there. I love being able to talk about that culture again. It's fun to speak more Portuguese too.

I love being here in Portugal because there are so many cultures! I have learned so much, and tried out so many different foods. A couple of weeks ago I tried squid when Irma Brady came to Faro with her family and they ate lunch with us. Family, you can skip that one. Ick. But instead I ate salmon and it was GREAT! (I know family what you are thinking, "who is this girl and what have they done with Laura?!") I am turning Portuguese family. I can't speak English anymore, I wave my index finger around to mean I don't want something, I wave my hand in front of my face when someone does something less than intelligent, and eating with just a fork is weird. Yes, family, I am Portuguese/Brasilan/American. I accept it.

Things are going well here for us. I am happy and I am loving the work. Today we are going to Ponta da Piadade and I'm really excited. Pretty much the whole zone is coming. It should be fun. I am loving being in jeans! I hope you all have a great week and I'll talk to you soon! Happy November! (Where did October and September go?)