Monday, May 27, 2013

Dange Stikes!

My first days back in Salvador were a dream come true! I'm convinced that this is the most beautiful and pleasant area in the mission. Sister Santana is super optemistic and has a greater desire to baptise than any other Sister I've met in Bahia. Our first day together, our collective enthusiasm got us super pumped to go out and teach every person we saw. I'd never taught so much in one day as I did that first day with Sister Santana. It was awesome! And the next day was just as good.
    There's a new Elder here who's from the Cedar Mill stake. Elder Ray. He's a real darling and he is picking up on the language with impressive speed. I didn't believe it when he said he's only been out 5 weeks. He almost speaks at the level I'm at! If anyone knows his family, tell them that they should be very proud of him. His companion really keeps him on his toes.
     Towards the end of my second day here, Sister Santana and I stopped to eat and when we sat down, I suddenly had a headache. As the night progressed, the headache grew worse and worse until my whole body was aching. Eh, I thought, probably from the heat. We finished up our work for the night and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, the pain was even worse, and after our hours of study were over, I went back to bed in hopes that I would feel well enough to make it to our lunch appointment. I did make it, but didn't manage to eat much and after trying to work for an hour or two, I was in so much pain that I couldn't even think straight, so we went back home and found that I had a fever of 38.3 digrees celcius (or 100.5 ferenheit). The next day was spent in bed, downing Tylenol and wanting to cry because of all the work we were missing out on.
     On Sunday (yesterday), I took a huge Tylenol and went to church, only to find that the Tylenol wasn't helping anymore. Again, we tried to get some work done, but ended up going back home. It was a rapid downward spiral from there. Long story short, Sister Andrezzo suspected Dengue (everyone always expects Dengue here no matter what your symptems are) and I was sent to the hospital. As I was jostled around the backseat of the car, trying not to throw up, I kept hearing in my head the voice of Ursula on George of the Jungle saying, "No, mother, I did not catch dengue fever." I also kept imagining a very Aussie Australian man in a cowboy hat saying, "The girl's got dengue, mate!"
  Dengue, dengue,dengue. Say it with an Australian accent. It sounds cooler, I promise. Go on, give it a try!
 After 5 hours of waiting in the emergency room (bless that Irmã and her son who drove us and waited with us), it became official. I have dengue fever. What does that mean for me? It means another several days of laying in bed (NO walking!), downing more meds, drinking water until I burst, and hoping that it goes away. Goody. :)
     Sister Santana was laughing at me the whole time because she said I looked like an old lady. I was moving really slowly, because of the pain, and thinking even more slowly. I also had on a pink sweater because I got the chills. She wanted me to be sure and tell you all how funny I looked. Laugh it up!
      It all became even more funny when, as we were waiting there in the ER, we got a call from our Zone Leaders to inform us that two new Sisters from Africa were going to arrive on Tuesday and that I would train one here in Stella Mares and that Sister Santana will open a new area and train the other. Oh, how we laughed (I smiled weakly, anyway)! Here I am with dange and going to train a new Sister from Africa! Missions sure are full of surprises.
      Today I'm feeling a lot better! I'm not allowed to leave my apartment, but thankfully a member lives below us and she let us use her computer to email :)
       That's the exciting news of the week, folks! Please pray that I get better soon so I can train this new sister and actually get some work done here.
      I love you all! The Church is true and the Lord is in charge!

-Sister Weezer

Transfers Again!?

Whew! This week was a real whirlwind. Where shall I start? Let's take this email in exciting headline bullits, shall we?

   We got to wake up at 3 am on Tuesday morning to hop on a bus for Vitória da Conquista, where our Zone Conference was held. It was AWESOME! Many times I felt like President Andrezzo had prepared the who conference especially for me and my needs. What an inspired man!  And then we had a surprise training by a random missionary that President chose on the spot to teach by the spirit what we needed to hear. Apparently all of us were supposed to study Teaching by The Spirit the week before so we'd be prepared, but no one got the memo and everyone was too embarassed to say so. President chose Sister Ellis and I was nervous for her, knowing that neither of us had known to prepare ahead of time. But, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, as she tremblingly made her way up to the front of the chapel (she has a fear of speaking in public), I said a quick prayer for her. When she finally opened her mouth, I was reminded that she'd spent the past week studdying Teaching by the Spirit in her personal study time, just because she wanted to be better at it. It ended up being a super spiritual and humbling experience for all who were present.

   Sister Santos was originally only going to serve a 3-month mission. She's from here in Jequié and I met her my first day in Salvador (which was her first day too). We served together in the same district and she got me super excited to serve in Jequié. When her three months were up, she asked for another month. Then another. Everyone here in her hometown has been going crazy waiting for her to come back-- especially her fiance.  For the past two months, her dad has been really sick from a tumor on his neck, and I was wondering why Sister Santos would keep asking for more time in the mission when her father's condition was getting more and more serious. It was because she didn't know. Her mother forbade anyone from telling her. Until Mother's Day when they got to talk on the phone and Sister Santos learned that her father was in the hospital. She took a bus home the next day and her dad stopped eating once she went to visit him. He passed away yesterday morning. President and Sister Andrezzo happened to be in town for the Branch Conference and so they went to visit the family yesterday. I wanted to go visit too, but the entire branch seemed to be heading over and I didn't want to overwhelm the poor family, so Sister Ellis and I put off our visit until another day. Maybe today or tomorrow.

We had two inactive members FINALLY come to church yesterday (after several weeks of meeting with them and encouraging them), and one of them brought his girlfriend, Alani, whom we've been teaching for several weeks now. They're going to get married and then she's going to get baptised and I'm SO excited for them! I've been really looking forward to helping prepare for this wedding and baptism, but .... Well, let's move on to the next headline.

Can you believe how quickly that last transfer flew? It was only a 5-week transfer, but it felt more like 2. Anyway, I'm being transfered to..... Salvador! Back to my first Zone in Imbuí. This time I'm going to serve in the area Stelamares, which is as beautiful as it sounds. It's right on the beach and the house there (I visited once) looks like a vacation spot. I'm going to serve with Sister Santana, who reminds me of Paige Sheppherd and is super fun. I'm very excited to serve with her!

 Well folks, that's all for now.

I love you all! This church is so true and if you have any doubts about it, pray and follow its teachings and you will see the blessings of it in your life!

-Sister Weezer

She's An Angry Elf

Bom Dia!
   Talking to my family yesterday was wonderful beyond Português or English description, and reaffirmed to me that I have the most gorgeous, hilarious, tallented, clever, witty, wonderful family in the world.  It's too bad that everyone can't have my family. What a lucky, lucky girl I am.
     As I've said many times, the people here in Jequié are extremely friendly. The exceptions are few, but one of them lives on our street and we pass her every day. She's a dwarf who has a lot of friends always visiting with her, but who refuses to even acknowledge our existence when we pass her every morning and every night and say as cheerfully as we can manage, "Bom dia!" or "Boa noite!"  I can't help but hear in my head the voice of Will Ferrell every time whispering, "She's an angry elf".

     Last week we had the opportunity to teach a woman who invited us willingly into her house because she had some parts of the Bible she wanted help understanding. Of course we were only too happy to be of assistance! She said she'd already studied with the Jehovah's Witnesses and several missionaries from other churches, but that there were still parts of the Bible that didn't make sense to her. I was a little nervous that maybe the doctrine she didn't get would be over my head, but we just trusted in the Spirit and asked her what it was she didn't understand.
    The woman, Dejanira, then proceeded to open her Bible to several seemingly-random scriptures, some Proverbs, some in the New Testament, and some in Nehumi (I think that's how you spell that one in English...?). As we read each scripture with her, the one thing they all had in common was reference to going "up to the mountains" or "up to the mount". Dejanira was very concerned that the scriptures so clearly wanted her to go up to the mountains, but that she didn't understand why or to which mountains. I explained to her that in the scriptures, "mountains" usually are symbolic of the temple of the Lord. Her eyes lit up and she said, "Yes, yes!" and pointed out that the following verses of these scriptures usually referred to the House of the Lord, and that she didn't understand what that meant either. So we got to explain to her about temples and that, because the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth in its fulness through a living prophet, we have temples on the earth again, just as in times of old. We read with her some more scriptures (the book of Hagai is awesome, by the way) and showed her pictures of the temple in Recifi (the one closest to Bahia). We also explained that through the blessings of the temple, it is possible to be sealed to our families for eternity. She was so excited that she grabbed fistfulls of her hair and cried, "The Lord sent you to me today! This was exactly what I needed to hear!" Her friend had died the day before and she'd been very troubled, reading the Bible and not understanding. She said she wanted someone to sit with her at all times to explain the scriptures to her and we said that we had something even better: The Book of Mormon. We showed her how she can use the Book of Mormon and the Bible together to better understand the doctrines taught and she nearly burst into tears, she was so excited. We sat with her for a while, just looking up specific topics, like Charity, and reading scriptures that talked about the same subject in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon. She LOVED it! And it made me even more grateful for the blessings of the restored gospel.We really have it so good!
    I'm super excited to keep working with her. I can see her as a temple worker already. I think she'll really go to town with indexing and family history work someday.

      The church is true. It is so, so true. I love being a part of this work! It's certainly challenging, but there's nothing in the world like seeing the light go on in someone's eyes when they finally get it.
       I love you all, and I wish you an awesome week!

-Sister Whitaker

Monday, May 6, 2013

Practice, Practice, Practice

Bom dia, minha família maravilhosa (e amigos)!
   This past week was a rough one, but this new week is going to be awesome!  Isn't it great that life has so many fresh starts? New years, new months, new weeks, new days, new hours, new minutes, new seconds. Everything is always new! It's fantastic! You never have to get stuck in the same slump, because every moment is a new page, fresh and white and crisp, just waiting to be written on.
    My testimony of the Lord answering our prayers through other people was strengthened this week when I received a BYU speech by Brad Wilcox enclosed in a letter from my angel mother. I remember her telling me in an email several weeks ago that she was sending me an excellent speech, but, oh, my darling mother, had you any idea at the time how desperately I would need that speech? Had you any inkling of knowledge that the letter would fall into my hands just as I was dangling from the frayed ends of the end of my rope? Did you know that it would be the candle of inspiration during a dark time of doubt? Whether you knew it or not, the Lord knew, and He uses those who are willing to follow the Spirit often without them realizing that they're doing it.
    This speech was entitled "His Grace is Sufficient". When I read the title, I didn't think it was what I was searching for as an answer to my prayers. I'd been weighed down with the burden of my own flaws. It seemed to me that the imperfections were being tossed on my conscience by the shovel-full, every day more. I felt like I was in one of those dreams where you're running as hard as you can but you can't seem to move from where you're at, or like I was trying to swim to the surface of a pool, but no matter how hard or desperately I kicked, the surface glimmered eternally out of my reach.
   Why had the Lord called me to do this work? I found myself wondering. I'm not good at this. I'm not clever enough. I'm not wise enough. I'm not loving enough. I don't speak this language well enough. I don't have enough energy, blah blah blah. And there are precious souls at stake here! Sons and daughters of God are wandering in darkness, counting on me to be in the right place at the right time with the right attitude and the spirituality to do and say the right things. If I fail, I'm costing someone his chance at eternal salvation, peace, and happiness! And I felt that I was failing again and again and again. Finally I started to wonder why I was even trying. The goal was impossible. Why struggle anymore? Why not just surrender and let myself peacefully drown?
    Reading about Christ's grace didn't seem to be the thing I needed, I thought. I don't deserve mercy, said I. The Lord has already been so patient with me and I'm failing Him. I need to be whipped into shape! I need someone to slap me in the face and tell me to try harder! And so I set the grace speech asside and punished myself a little more. I was my own personal drill sergeant and I was sick of my own voice yelling at me.
   Finally, exhausted and helpless, I fell to my knees in fervant prayer for the millionth time. Afterwards, I had to wait for my turn in the shower, and the grace speech was sitting beside my bed. So I begrudgingly picked it up and began to read, sarcastic remarks at the ready in my head.
     I didn't understand grace.
     Maybe being surrounded by crazed Evangelicals all day every day who cry "mercy!" drove me to the extremes of Catholic "justice!" Or maybe I misunderstood what I was taught about being a missionary in the CTM. Whatever the case, I realized that I've been looking at the mission in the wrong light these past 8 months.
     I flattered myself by thinking that I had anything to do with the salvation of these people here-- that if I wasn't perfect, I was robbing them of their chance to hear about the gospel in the way they needed to hear it. Silly me. The Lord knows His children. He knows what they need and He knows when they need it. If little Timmy Brown is ready to hear the message of the restored gospel, the Lord has a million tools in His box  so that Timmy can recieve this message-- internet adds, TV, abandoned pass-along cards, and pamphlets in the street, other members of the church, the chapel itself, etc, etc. If a missionary walks right past Timmy, mistaking his spiritual impression for hunger, he's the one who's missing out. Missing out on the beautiful experience of being the instrument the Lord has chosen to help Timmy. The mission experience is meant to be a blessing for the missionaries and for those with whom they speak!
     As for grace... it's all thanks to the Savior's grace that it's OK that I'm not perfect. He already payed the price necessary for me to be saved. By obeying Him, I'm not repaying Him, I'm THANKING Him! I'm putting His investment in me to good use! Brad Wilcox used the analogy of a mother paying for piano lessons for her child. Because she payed for the lessons, she has the right to demand that the child practice. Will the child's practicing pay the piano teacher? No. Will it repay mom? No. And mom doesn't want to be repaid. She just wants to see her gift put to good use. And when that gift is put to good use, through practice, who is really benefiting from it? The child! And does anyone expect the child to be perfect at playing the piano? Of course not, because he's learning. Mistakes are expected. But if the child lets his mistakes discourage him by thinking that he's no good at the piano or has no skills for it and he gives up, what a sad waste of mom's gift.
    I thought of the scripture in Ether that says "If men come unto me, I will show unto them their weaknesses". How do we come unto the Savior? By practicing. By doing what He asks. We should not expect ourselves to be perfect yet, because, well, no one is. And like the child practicing the piano, during practice he will realize what scales are hard for him. Those are the areas that he needs to practice the most. If he skips over those parts in the music, he's always going to have that weakness. But if he keeps practicing and practicing, eventually those scales will become natural and easy for him.
     I testify that the Lord's power is made perfect in our weaknesses (Corinthians something-or-other), and that He is ever patient with us. He doesn't expect us to be perfect. He just expects us to try, and as long as we're progressing in the right direction, He is pleased with us.
     I'm so grateful for the Savior's atonement, which provides this protected space in which to practice, make mistakes, and improve. We are, little by little, learning how to become as He is.
    I love you all and I promise you that the Lord loves you! Never doubt it, even for a moment!
-Sister Whitaker