Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Making History and Playing Santa

Hello family! I write to you from a movie theater. Yep. That's the only internet place on this side of town. The smell of popcorn is VERY enticing. But this keyboard doesn't stick so it's nice.

Well, we got our transfer calls yesterday and we found out that we will be the first tripla in history to stay together for a second transfer. We are really excited. Good things are happening here and none of us wanted to leave and we all get along great. We laugh a lot.

Christmas was really good. We successfully accomplished our Secret Santa project. Well...we got lost for about an hour, but it went really well. We went to the first place, which was an apartment building. So I buzzed up to the apartment to make sure that they were home. We didn't know how we were going to get into the building, but they buzzed us up without even asking who it was. I considered this a big blessing. So we jammed the soccer ball into the door so it would stay open and we waited outside for a while so they would dismiss the ring and think that we had buzzed the wrong apartment. It actually worked! So we stealthfully (is that a word or is it stealthily?) went up the elevators, dropped off the food, me and Irma Nelson went down the elevator and Irmas Machado and Holtzclaw knocked on the door and ran down the stairs. We walked along the building so they wouldn't see us (and good thing we did because the elders talked to the family and they said that the first thing that they did was run to the window to see who it was, but we left without a trace!)

The next family took a while to find. They live in the middle of nowhere. Seriously. We had to ask for directions about three times, the first two were guys who had NO IDEA where they were pointing us to, which you'd think the logical reaction would be to say that you didn't know and to NOT give directions. But we finally went to the gas station after an hour of wandering around these tiny towns. I was skeptical because my past experience with asking for directions at gas stations here in Portugal is that it is foreigners that work there and they have no idea where they even are. So, we walked in. I asked, again being a Doubting Thomas. The attendant, who was a Spaniard, responded and gave me PERFECT directions, including the time that each step should take. Really, they were the best directions I've ever gotten. I have no idea how he knew where to guide us to, but I was very surprised and grateful. We found their house and made our delivery. As we drove off, I spotted a bright pink house literally a minute away from the recipient family's house that I recognized. Yes, after an hour of searching, I had known exactly how to get there the whole time because, unbeknownst to me, the family lived by an investigator of mine, but around the corner. Well, it was a learning experience and now I know how to get there!

We heard a couple of days later from the elders that the first family was very grateful for the food. The father had had no money to get his children anything for Christmas and he was so grateful for the gift that we were able to provide through Irma Holtzclaw's generous friends. Being a Secret Santa is my favorite Christmas tradition from growing up and I was so grateful and blessed to be able to continue the tradition here in Portugal.

On Saturday we had a surprise baptism of one of the elders' investigators, Mihail (or as we call him Misha). He decided that day that it was time for him to get baptized, so baptized he was! It was a great baptism and we all enjoyed the Spirit. I was able to play the piano and the three of us saved the horrible interlude by singing accapella. Fortunately, we all sing, so we were able to bring back the reverence.

We had a great lesson with Laurinda, who is less-active, and she said that she would go to church with us!! It was a little miracle. She is so much happier now and is no longer mourning the loss of her daughter, which happened years ago. Truly, the gospel is blessing her life.

Well, that's about it! Things are going really well here. We're working hard and we are seeing little successes. I hope that you all enjoy a good New Year! I love you all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Forgotten Carol Christmas

Hello family! this email is coming to you a day early because perhaps the stores will be closed tomorrow. The endearing joys of Portugal.

This past week has been great! We had a fun p-day with the irmas, we went bowling and I didn't get last place! I only got second-to-last place to Irmã Oliveira, who is Brasilian and was bowling for the first time. (And, I was in last place the whole game until the 10th frame and I rolled a least I saved my dignity at the end and got a whopping score of 50! Some things do never change.)

We had our Christmas Conference the next day in Miratejo and it was FANTASTIC! President and Irma Terry are incredible. They had a few surprises for us at the Conference. One was that they had gotten a DVD version of the Forgotten Carols and they had us watch it. I thought of you all and remembered when Dad told me the story for the first time. For me, that was a tender mercy. They also gave us a book full of our favorite recipes. Thanks Mom for sending those in! We were so grateful to Irma Terry for putting that together. The Spirit was strong as President and Irma Terry testified about Christ's divinity and gave us insights into the scriptures. It was very edifiying and I got to catch up with the elders I was in the MTC with, which was nice.

Well, one funny thing here in Portugal is that there are Santas hanging off of balconies and windows ALL over the apartment building. I guess since no one lives in houses, they don't have chimneys, so Santa just has to come through the window rather than down the chimney. I might buy one of them for next year, as tackey as they are.

Well we've had some success this past week. We marked Diogo for baptism! He is SOOO excited to learn and to be baptized. His face lit up when we asked him and his grandmother cried. Unfortunately, his mother and father are divorced and he's with his father on Sundays, since he works every other day of the week and he doesn't make any effort to bring him to church. But we're working on it. Diogo is SOOO excited though.

We also tried to mark a date with Albertina again. The Spirit spoke through me as I extended the committment to her, and I was shocked when she said no because of the strength of the Spirit in the room. She wants to get baptized, but she has difficulty in accepting some of the commandments. It just about broke my heart, but she has her agency and we're hoping that she will gain the faith to keep the commandments.

This Sunday all of Irma Nelson's piano students had a recital for Christmas. The sacrament meeting room was PACKED with standing room only. President and Irma Terry came down to watch it and it was wonderful. The room was super stuffy and the students are progressing really well. I was proud of them and of Irma Nelson. She does a great job with them. She also had me play the violin at the recital with her at the piano. We played "O Holy Night" and I had flashbacks of when that went horribly wrong years ago in church, but it went well this time and everyone seemed to enjoy it. It was nice to play again. I also directed our missionary choir at the conference as we sang "Where You There?" It's nice to be able to participate in music again.

Another way that we are participating in music is that we are going door to door caroling! It's actually been a GREAT experience. We've found some great people (families!!!) and we have fun with people thinking that we want money...but it's been very positive.

Oh! About Christmas, you can call this number at 4:30 my time so I think 10:30CST, 289801488. I think you need to put 351 before it. You have my cell number if you need it.

Well, I'm out of time. I'll talk to you soon! I love you all! I might be able to email tomorrow, so please let me know how you are all doing! I love you! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

Hello dear family! Thank you so much for the emails and the updates about everything going on in Texas and Utah. Let me just say how grateful I am that it is not snowing here. It's gotten really cold at night, and unfortunately someone dropped the heater and now it's broken (and no, it was not me, surprisingly enough), but we have the hope that we can fix it as we have some handy elders in the area. But my hot water bottle and five layers between clothing and blankets keep me nice and warm at night.

Well, I write to you from Lisbon. Yep, that's right, I'm actually in Lisbon right now. We have our Christmas Conference tomorrow in Miratejo (just south of Lisbon), so the whole Algarve zone came up for the conference. There will be bowling today. We are all excited. Most of the irmas are getting together to go bowling today. It should be really fun.

This past week has been BUSY! Albertina is doing well, she has a testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, but she just needs to act upon it. She knows she needs to be baptized and really live the gospel, but something's holding her back. But she'll figure it out. Diogo is also doing really well. He came to church and has been doing his reading. He is really participating in the lessons now and is excited to see us.

Felicia, the less-active that we found on the street about a month ago, came to church! We walked with her to church and she loved it. She really wants to get her life in order and is starting to really comprehend the gospel better. I was so excited that she came to church! It's been a few years for her. She is reading from the Book of Mormon as well. She's progressing very well.

We've run into a surprising number of Muslims this week. First we met Behrooz, who is from Iran. We don't know if he is Muslim, but he really wants to learn about the Church and is the nicest person ever. We also met Abido, who is from Morrocco. He was VERY Muslim, but very respectful, though he spoke a mixture of Portuguese and Arabic. Fortunately, Irma Machado speaks a little Arabic, so she was able to understand what he said. It was a very postitive experience both times.

Saturday it was POURING almost all day. Fortunately I had my red polkadot umbrella with me, but my legs and feet were SOAKED all evening and night because we were at the chapel all evening for the branch "dinner" that turned into a party, as I had predicted. We all had a good time and ate great food. There are some members of the branch that can really dance. Wow! I was shocked! Before the party some people were decorating and they set up the Christmas tree. There were some extra decorations, so Ana Marta, the branch president's daughter, who is very serious, quiet and a bit sullen, went to town and decorated me! So I became a Christmas tree as well. Don't worry, we took pictures. :)

The next day we had a couple of devotionals. We watched the First Presidency Christmas devotional, which was wonderful and way too short! I loved when President Eyring talked about making aluminum foil balls to throw at Samuel the Lamanite. Albertina came and watched that devotional, well, actually, we picked her up as she has a broken foot with a member, Noemia. Then she stayed for the branch's devotional. The devotional was actually pretty good, not too long and "Silent Night" was only a little funny...I maybe might have had to stare at my hymnal to keep from laughing...

We've been finding some great people to teach and one of our new investigators, Lena, even made us lunch on Monday! The work is going really well here and I am loving Faro.

I am excited for Christmas! I can't believe that it's next week! Wow! This month is going by soooo fast. I hit 11 months in the mission yesterday I realized this morning. I'm almost a year out! I can't believe it! Well, I hope that you all have a great day. I love you all! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Who Would Want to Cancel Christmas?

Hello family! It was so nice to hear from all of you! It sounds like things are all going well and that you are all preparing for Christmas. I really just realized that Christmas is coming today. It's only two weeks away and we all know what that means! Phone calls and good food!

Well, it has been a HECTIC week here in Portugal. We had a special zone conference with Elder Gérald Caussé of the First Quorum of the Seventy this past Saturday in Lisbon, so the whole Algarve zone came up and we enjoyed the company of the other missionaries as well as Elder Caussé. He was SUPER funny. Wow. The whole conference was about the successes that we are having in Europe. The Area Presidency is really customizing the way that we do missionary work here in Europe. It's so inspired. Really. Elder Caussé said numerous times how wonderful President Terry and Irma Terry are and how priviledged we are to have them in our mission. Apparently our mission is the complete opposite of the rest of the missions in the area, where we are working well with the members but have a hard time finding people to teach. This is the opposite of the rest of Europe. But we got some great counsel and training and the whole conference was so positive. We all left with a resolve to do better and the energy and the excitement to do it.

President Terry asked our zone to prepare a special musical number. Well, he asked Sister Nelson to arrainge it (I can't spell anymore, sorry...) So, fortunately, my companions have GREAT voices and the three of us sang a beautiful arrangement of "I Stand All Amazed." It was such a pleasure to sing and feel the Spirit edifying us and the other missionaries. I was so glad that there was finally a musical number at a conference.

So we all know that the Church is very young here and they are all trying to figure it out. Our branch president does a fantastic job in training the members and helping them figure out how to fulfill their callings. He is a great teacher and usually branch council is a very uplifting experience for us all, but this month it was a little different. Many things happened that caused some feelings to be hurt in the branch, though they were smoothed over by the presidency. One member of the council raised his hand and asked why we celebrate Christmas since it is a pagan holiday. (Keep in mind that they already cancelled the Christmas party because they thought it wasn't appropriate and they don't celebrate Halloween or anything like it in Portugal, well, at least here in Faro.) So to me when he said that I thought, oh no! Don't cancel Christmas too! He went off on the birth of Christ being around April and how we shouldn't celebrate pagan holidays. Our wonderful branch presidency responded in such a loving way and showed the joy of the Christmas holiday and season. Just so you all know, Christmas will still be celebrated here in Faro. Fhew! We are all very excited about it.

I am so excited for Christmas this year. What better way to celebrate the birth of Christ than by being a missionary! The streets here are filled with lights, they don't light the buildings, but the streets and it's beautiful. Christmas music is playing in the stores and there are red carpets lining the downtown area of Faro. I love Christmas.

Albertina is doing great, family. She broke her foot last week in her apartment when she tripped over something, but we've been able to help her out. We talked to her on Monday and she told us that she knows that it's true! My heart was filled with joy as she said that. She is changing and being filled with the happiness of the gospel. She always calls us her angels. I am so priviledged to know her and to help her.

We were able to teach Felicia, the lady that we contacted a couple of weeks ago on the street, who is less-active. She is very receptive, is now reading the Book of Mormon, and wants to come back to church! I'll keep you updated on her.

Well, things are going great here really. My mission is really flying by. I can't believe how fast the time is going. The weeks just fly by and so do the days. I love this work and I know that it is the work of the Lord that I am doing. I am so excited to talk to you all on Christmas! Have a great day! I love you!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

One Funny Poem Song

Hello family! I am glad that everything went well for your various Thanksgiving celebrations! We had a great one here last week. The Nelsons made us dinner and it was SOOO good. Wow. I love American holidays and I'm a little nervous about the Christmas food here, but I'm sure it will be good. Everything else has been good here.

Well, first let me say how much I am loving the tripla. Wow. I love it. Irmas Machado and Holtzclaw are soo amazing. Irma Machado loves politics and the Middle East and Irma Holtzclaw has so much energy and is a theater major. We are all constantly laughing and singing. I am so impressed with them and their willingness to learn and to serve the Lord. They make my life so much easier.

Albertina is doing well. She's at the point of decision whether she wants to act on what she knows is right or not. I know that she knows that we are saying the truth, but she just needs to have the faith to act. But, I'm confident that she will find the faith that she needs.

Sunday was the Primary Program in church and it was so great. I loved hearing those sweet children sing. It is such an inspired program. We were all edified by the simple and powerful message of the primary hymns.

Sunday night we had a funny experience. So instead of having a Christmas party we are having a Christmas devotional. So each of the auxiliaries are in charge of having a musical number. So the Relief Society for some reason decided to invite the elders to sing with us and so we all practiced on Sunday night. We are singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem", I think, and "Silent Night". So, I volunteered to plunk out the parts as one sister conducted. She hovered over me and almost bumped into me the whole time and I had a hard time following her. So, I delegated to one of the elders.

So we started singing "Silent Night" and the director thought it would be a good idea to, instead of singing the hymn, have one person recite the hymn while everyone else "oooed" in the background. So various members of the Relief Society recited the hymn in their most dramatic way, while the other half tried not to laugh. Then someone thought it would be a good idea for ME to try reciting it. (I have no idea who thought that I could maintain my composure with having a choir backup.) So I recited the first verse and tried really hard not to laugh, but then I broke down in the second verse and laughed so hard that I was crying, my face beet-red of course. The rest of the choir (including the director) busted up laughing and we all had a good time. Let's hope that we can keep straight faces during the devotional.

We had a great family night last night with a family with only three girls, the Pintosillgo's. Those girls jumped all over me and entertained me, but the oldest girl really knew the gospel really well, I was impressed. I also learned how to make a really pretty snowflake/icicle thing. So, bonus.

But things are going really well for us. I am happy and loving being a missionary. The time is really starting to fly by. I know that this is the Lord's work, that I am His representative of His church. I love you all and I hope you have a great week remembering the birth of our Savior.