Monday, March 18, 2013

Turn, Turn, Turn

    I saw two nests with baby birds in them this past week and thought to myself, "Oh! It must be spring!" And then I thought, "No, that's not right... It should be almost Fall here now...." But the truth of it is, there's no such thing as seasons in Bahia. It's all one eternal Summer. So how do the birds know when to lay eggs? How do the flowers know when to bloom? I guess it's all just random here. I decided that when I get home, I'm going to write a book called "700 Days of Summer", because that's about how long it will have been before I experience anything but Summer weather again. I left just before Fall began in the US to greet the Brasilian Summer and Spring will be just around the corner when I get home. Strange.
   To everything there may be a season, but I'm not sure what that means in Bahia. I believe this could be one reason why people here seem to have no sense of time. They can sit around in their homes doing nothing but watching TV for days and days at a time and never feel like they've wasted a moment. As a missionary, I feel like I'm in a time bubble. It's as if the world has actually stopped turning and I'm just going to keep doing missionary work until it starts again. The lack of changing seasons doesn't bother me when I'm keeping track of time in mission transfers. But how do these people live their whole lives like this?
    There's a hazy laziness that seems to be draped over the people if Bahia. The hot sun, the lack of change, all these things contribute to the lack of motivation people seem to have here. It's nice to enjoy a summer day every now and then, sipping ice-cold juice and lounging in the sun while kids play in the street. But when does it end? There's never a cold spell to urge the people to get back to work, back to school, back to SOMETHING! It's almost Twilight-Zone-ish. Maybe it only seems that way to me because I only see people while they're at home. I know that they do have work and school. I just never see them there. That must be it. Surely, that must be it!
   Yesterday as we walked for miles under the hot sun to accompany our investigators to church, and as one after the other turned us down because of sore feet, messy houses that needed to be cleaned, a stuffy nose, or a lack of sleep, I reflected on the words of Alma. Just like him, I found myself wishing, "Oh! That I were an angel and could have the wish of my heart! That I could go forth with a voice like a trumpet and preach repentance unto all people!" (Ok, that's not an exact quote because I'm translating from Português) I wanted to stand on a mountain and yell so all could hear me in the whole city: "You lazy people! Wake up and see what's really important! Can't you see that the answer to all your problems is right here, waiting for you to get off your couches and accept it?!" And then I thought of Christ, preaching to people who wanted what He was offering, but weren't willing to do their part to accept it. How incredibly frustrating that must have been for Him. And then He ended His mission by suffering for their sins, weaknesses, laziness, pains... everything. Every person who ever lived, He suffered and died for them. How could He do it? I marveled over this as I boiled inwardly, making the long walk to church unaccompanied by those I've been trying so hard to help. How could he take this heartache over and over again for years and then, having been rejected by the people, suffer for them? 
    Then it hit me. He suffered for all in the hope of the few who WOULD accept His offering. This realization hit me with such force that I burst into tears (probably freaked out my companion and all of the Brasilians around us on the road). His hope for the few gave Him the strength and the love necessary to pay the price for all. I feel like the more I understand the atonement, the less I comprehend it. What infiinite love! I stand all amazed at my Savior more and more every day. 
    As a missionary, I am constantly humbled to represent such a Perfect Being. And it gives me strength, somehow. The more I recognize how unqualified I am for this work, the more I rely on Him and see His hand mold me into someone better. I'm doing this work for Him, because these people are so important to Him. Every soul is so precious, and I'll keep doing this work, sweating and teaching all for the hope of the few who are ready now to accept the blessings of the Gospel.
    This Church is true. I know it. I know it, and I can not deny it. Missionary work is not easy, but it really is worth it, just for the changes I'm seeing in myself and the lives of others. I know that Jesus Christ lives, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is His church, and that He loves all of you more than you can possibly understand.
    Pray to Him. He wants to hear from you.

I love you all!!!

-Sister Whitaker

So Much Love!

Oi família e amigos!

     I'm officially going to get fat in this area. I just know it. It's funny, because the members don't feed us a ton here like they did in Salvador ("Sister, comer mais!"), but all the people on the streets who see us passing by every day have come to believe that we're starving and they all want to take care of us. They don't want to come to church or anything, they just want us to come into their homes and eat all their food and say pretty things about Jesus. There's one young woman, Camila (22), who always wants us to stop at her house every single day. Her house is the cool place to be, and once word spreads that we're there, the kids and teens come from up and down the road to peer through the windows or crowd into the house to be with us. I've never felt more like a celebrity in my life. They're all so proud now that they've learned to say my name (or, the Brasilian version of it, anyway) that I hear it from all directions. "Seester Weetah-kuh! Seester Weetah-kuh!" They all want to touch me and hear me speak in my dreadful American accent. Whenever we enter the house, Camila slips a few reais into the hands of a 13-year-old, gangly black boy named Mataus (who can dance exactly like Michael Jackson) and before I can untangle myself from the crowd of enamored children to protest, Mataus sets off at a run down the street, sandals slapping against the cobblestones, to buy something from the local mercado for us to eat. "No, no," I protest. "We're not hungry!" But Camila won't have it. Sometimes I think I can stop Mateus before he sets off, but Camila is a sly one and she always sends him when I least expect it. Then I have to swim my way out of the crowded house. "No. No! Stop that boy!!!" But it's no use. Whether we want it or not, Sister Ellis and I are made to sit at the table every evening and eat biscoitos with juice.
    We always end up teaching several lessons while we're there, and when we finally convince Camila to let us go, we're only permitted to leave after I've sung a hymn to them (one verse in English and one in Português) and we've all knelt in a circle and had a prayer. Man, I love those guys! Only four of them have come to church so far, but we're working on it.
    It's nice to be so loved. Really nice!  I feel completely spoiled here. The only problem is that it's hard to tell who's actually interested in our message and who just wants us to keep coming to their house. And when we realize that it's the latter, it's hard to know how to tell them that we can't keep visiting with them, because we need to be teaching people who want to be baptized. This past week was wonderful and awful for just that reason. It's wonderful to have so many friends here and to be so loved by all the people, but it's like a knife in the heart when you have to accept that they just aren't willing to accept the restored gospel. Why, people? Why!? Don't you realize how much better your lives could be?!
     I love, love, love this gospel and the effect it's had on my life. Don't you ever forget it, my friends and family: this church is true!
     Thank you all so much for your letters, your emails, your prayers and your love. I promise I'm doing my best to respond to everyone!
All my love,
-Sister Weetah-kuh

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Enchanting Thoughts

    Six-thirty a.m., the alarm goes off. Four sister missionaries crammed into the same room one by one slide onto their knees without ever opening their eyes and slip naturally from sleep to prayer. The day begins without a word from anyone as they each find their own corner of the tiny apartment in which to exercise. This morning's breakfast of choice is the same as yesterday's and all the days before: bread and milk with Nescau powder and vitamina. Then begin the hours of study, practice, and preparation for the day. 11:30: Fully clothed, hair pulled away from the face and neck in the captive knot of choice, Chaco sandals securely fastened, the four sisters kneel in prayer. I think of the people we've planned to visit for the day, and of the people we might encounter. Joselha's husband doesn't want her to go to church, what can we do to help her? Tamiris has been keeping all of her commitments, but she didn't come to church. We need to try again to find the house of that one man who asked us to visit him.... All these thoughts swim around my head as I rise to my feet and, together with my companion, descend 4 flights of stairs and make my way down the long, dark hallway of our apartment building. The big metal door opens with a deep groan, and we are splashed with the almost blinding light of the sun. Good morning, Jequié! 
Anything can happen today. 
We are missionaries!

Yes, my life really is that epic. Someone should make a movie about it.

I think one of the most tragic words in the English language is "disenchanted". If you ever were once enchanted by something, stay enchanted! If you're not enchanted by life, you need to stop. Look around you. Breathe in the scents. Take in the colors. Listen to the sounds. Allow yourself to be swept off your feet, if only for a few minutes!
    What enchants you about your life currently? Here in Jequié, I'm enchanted by the gorgeous green mountains that surround the city. I'm enchanted by the clip-clop of horse hooves on cobblestones as they pull carts through the streets. I'm enchanted by the children who gather to whisper about us as we pass and then urge the bravest of the bunch to call out to us, "Fala Inglês!" (speak English!) and when the request is granted they split into peals of delighted giggles. I'm enchanted by the little boys who play futebol in the road. I'm enchanted by the man who gives us bushels of bananas for free just because he likes us. I'm enchanted by all the houses that sell gelaginho for 50 centavos. I'm enchanted by the terracotta rooftops, the daily-baked rolls of bread that everyone eats for breakfast from their local bakery (pre-sliced loaves are a joke to Brasilians), the many fruit stands that sell bananas, coconuts, mangoes, oranges and avocados the size of your limbs for super cheap. I'm enchanted by the women who walk around with umbrellas to protect their skin from the sun (it's so hot here I finally joined the ranks last week).
   Overall, I'm just enchanted by Brasil. Sometimes it's easy to become so focused on work, work, work, that one starts to forget the magical scent of mango trees on the air and "disenchantment" starts to set in. What was once "Ah! Brasil!!!" becomes, "eh, Brasil." Then I have to skid to a halt and  ask myself, "Just Brasil?! Did I really just think that??" And then it's time to stop in the shade for a few minutes and soak in the blessing of living in such a place for 18 months of my life.
   I think the same thing happens to us all in our day-to-day lives. We become so caught up in our routine that we forget how blessed we are. There exists a cliché dream in the US of lounging on a tropical beach, sipping coconut milk through a straw. Well, that's people's reality here and they can think of nothing more glamorous than taking a car to the McDonald's drive-thru. One of my companions had a packet of mayonnaise from Burger King that she kept on her desk like a trophy.
    Now that I'm here, sometimes I lose myself to daydreams of sitting on my couch at home during the cold autumn months with fluffy socks on my feet and an over-sized sweater that I can slip over my knees while sipping chamomile ginger lemon tea and watching the fallen leaves get soggy in Oregon's rain. It's the little things like that which make life enchanting and, no matter where you are in the world, these "little things" exist in some form or another. Never become disenchanted with anything! Relish the good where you are when you are! It's in treasuring the simple joys of life that we become truly grateful people. It's a form of worship, really-- recognizing the blessings that God has given us. I love what James E. Talmadge said in his book "Jesus the Christ":
      "Though the sun shines and the rain falls upon the just and the unjust, the righteous man is grateful for these blessings; the ungodly man receives the benefits as a matter of course with a soul incapable of gratitude. The capacity to be grateful is a blessing, for the possession of which we should be further grateful."

I love you all so much! I'm so grateful for every single person in my life!

_Sister Weezer