Monday, November 18, 2013

Brrrrr.... Cold!

     Conquista is cold. Yes, it is. I was shivering the other night and I slept with a BLANKET! I had forgotten what that feels like. I'm not sweaty all the time. My hair stays clean. I can wear makeup. My acne is gone. By golly, I LOVE this place!  
   I've had three baptisms here since I arrived (sorry, I forgot to write about the first two last week, Damaíres and Thiago). This past week we got to baptise a young man named Michael who the missionaries before us had been working with for a long time and no one ever managed to get him into the faunt. He's a smart kid, and I was super impressed the first time I talked to him. I asked him why he didn't want to get baptised and he said he told me a few of his concerns, I told him to read 1 Nephi 3:7 and follow the example of Nephi, be obedient to God's commandments and just trust that all would work out. He read the whole chapter and the next day said, "Ok, I'll get baptised!" It was a super legit baptism and I made a super dry cake for it that everyone forced down with a smile and a polite, "Wow, you MADE this? This is really something!" It was awesome.
    I'm still struggling to adjust to this study-at-night thing. Ma, I think I need glasses. For now we're just going to blaim my poor eyesight on being tired and reading in the dark.
    This week's homework for the family: read Elder Holland's talk from April of this year. Read it, study it, love it, share it. 

    I love you all more than chocolate!

Sister Whitaker

P.S. Christmas is a lot stronger here in Conquista than it is in Salvador. It must be the cold. Everyone has trees and lights up already!


     Ever since the first day in the mission home when I heard that only one area of the mission ever gets remotely cold, I wanted to serve in that area. And now, here I am! I'm fairly certain I'll be here until the end of my mission. Conquista is very different from the rest of Bahia. As in, there is NOTHING in Conquista that even close to resembles the rest of Bahia. It's a pretty calm, less-hot, wealthy area with more white folk than I've seen since leaving São Paulo. There's no loud music playing on the streets, no drunk people dancing in the streets, the sidewalks are well-kept, grass trimmed, parks filled with healthy happy families. Where am I??
    And yet, we are not working in these pretty, well-kept areas. Oh no, the group of investigators that was passed on to me from the sisters before live waaaaay up the hills in the middle of nowhere where it's barren and dangerous. I guess it's so hard to teach rich people that the missionaries before me decided it was worth the long and treaturous walk to find the more humble folk. I decided to be rebelious this last week and I told Sister Quispe, "No! Let's work close to the church like President asked us to and let's talk to these families!" So we spent a morning talking to the servants of rich people through intercoms, trying every approach we could think of to get the home owners to come talk to us. One actually let us in because when she asked, "Who is it?" I said, "It's us!" and she assumed we must be friends, so she unlocked the huge front gate by pressing a button up in her bedroom and said, "Come on in!"  We thought that was pretty cool, but we still had to be recieved by the house keeper lady first and when she saw that we were intruders she kindly accepted a booklet for herself and escorted us out.
   Well, that was a fun experience. We're going to keep trying. But at the same time we need to keep up with the humble folk up in the hills, so we go there every day and, I gotta admit, they are the most open and humble people I've ever worked with yet. They accept the gospel so easilly and they actually come to church when they say they will! It's a fun area.
    The only thing is that we have to head for home at 5:00 because it gets a little sketchy at night. So here our schedule is completely different than the rest of the mission. I'm used to studying in the morning and then going out to work for the rest of the day and not coming home until well after dark. Now we head out to work in the morning and study at night. I'm still adjusting to that. It feels like such a sin to be at home so early in the day. Weird.
    Sister Quispe is a spicy little Peruvian that is so much the Hispanic version of Reana that it makes me want to cry. She has me laughing so hard ALL THE TIME! She's got a thick Spanish accent and long hair that is always full and perfect. She has a lot of desire to work hard and she's always talking about her goals as she flips and fluffs her perfect hair and speaks very fast, slurring all her words together in a very Spanish way. More on her next time.
    Well, I am extremely happy in this area and excited to work! The Bishop here is less than thrilled with missionaries, so I'm excited to work with him and see if we can change that. My goal is to learn how to work better with ward leaders before I go home so I can be of more use to my home ward.

  I love you all!

-Sister Whitaker

Belated Happy Halloween

November 4, 2013

Boa tarde família e amigos!
   How was Halloween?! I celebrated the classic, old-school way by knocking doors of complete strangers' houses :D  Doing this as a kid, I remember the excitement (and the nerves) of eagerly waiting to see who would answer. Would they have one of those scary costumes, like the screamer with blood running down the mask? Would it be a smiley, pleasantly plump woman dressed as the tooth fairy who would give cupcakes? A happy fat guy in a Hawaiian shirt with a tourist hat that would give candy by the handfuls? An uptight witch that snaps "Only ONE!"? That sweater-wearing bloke who forgot it was Halloween and is giving out whatever random treats or brinkets he can find in his house? The health nut who gives boxes of raisons or organic fruit leathers.
    Here in the mission, the experience is only slightly different, In honor of the one day a year that it's normal to knock door-to-door, y'all get to hear about the different kinds of responses we get when we do:
The Magician:  We knock and hear a mysterious voice call out "I'm not home!"
    The Universalist: In an attempt to shut you up yells frequently, "Jesus is returning!!!"    Yes. Yes, He is.
    The Ghost: Lights are on, the smell of food cooking hangs on the air and floorboards creak, accompanied by moving shadows, but no one answers.
    The Evangelical: Says "Thank goodness you're here! Come in, I've been needing a good strong prayer. God bless you wonderful people!"
    The Couch Potato: Calls out "I'm busy!" from their cushioned throne as they watch a soap opera.
    The Saved:  "I already know Jesus!"
    The Petrified: Appears in the window and freezes in hopes that, if they don't move, you won't see them.
    The Vanisher: Slowly closes the door as you are speaking.
    The Bible Bashers: "Come on in, my dears!" (accompanied by malicious grins and fiery eyes)
And every experience packs a trick and a treat! :)

Transfers are in and I'm being kicked out of my comfortable beach house to.... Conquista! The only city in Bahia that is rumored to be "cold". We shall see about that. I think I'll be finishing the training of a new missionary from Peru, but that's not 100% certain yet.

  This week's scripture reference is the first chapter of Haggai in the Bible. It talks about the importance of the temple. My favorite part is the Lord repeating "Consider your ways". You try to do things your way and don't get the blessings you want. Consider your ways. Go to the temple! It's great. I challenge all who live within a day's journey of the temple to go at least once every week until March!

All my love,
Sister Whitaker

Humble Boasting

     Yesterday a little girl got up in sacrament meeting to bare her testimony. She talked about how she'd won a singing contest that week and how everyone had told her she was so good at singing and she was the best one there, etc. etc. Then she closed by saying that she know she'd won because she'd prayed and asked the Lord to help her win, and that if we all ask for His help, God will always help us to win. That's what you call humble boasting.
   Now I'd like to humbly boast that Edson was baptized this past week! Yippee!!! It wasn't easy for him, but I was amazed by how much he's putting his trust in the Lord to help him. He's still super quiet and shy in a I'm-too-cool-to-care kind of way, but he actually looks us in the eyes when we talk to him now and he even smiles when he sees us. It's been really amazing to see the light creep into his eyes and his face. He took out his earrings and he tried to befriend some of the members after his baptism. Oh, how I love this kid! It's amazing how much you can come to love people here in the mission.
    This coming week will be the baptism of Lucas, a 15-year-old boy who reminds me of a mixture of all of my PHA guy friends rolled into one! He's still got some doubts, but he's been going to seminary every day for the past week and he's come to be good friends with Leonardo (one of the young men who goes out with us a lot to help us teach). They're such good pals that people in the ward, and the Elders, have come to call him "Leo's friend". We've even had people come up to us and ask if we've started teaching "Leo's friend" yet. The Elders were getting on us for not introducing ourselves to "Leo's friend" at church. Ha! We very proudly have taken to calling him "OUR-investigator-turned-Leo's-friend". That's the way it should be. Every investigator/recent convert needs good friends in the church!
    Being a member of the church isn't easy all the time. And they church itself isn't perfect because the people aren't perfect. But I have no doubts that this church is true. I know that God lives, that He is our Eternal Father, that He loves us, and that He has called a prophet in our day to lead us back to His presence. I feel His Spirit with me here in the mission, and feeling the presence of my little sister, Risa, has also strengthened my testimony of the divine nature of our Spirits. There is more to our existence that merely this life. I know it. And this knowledge was not brain-washed into me s a missionary. If the mission has done anything to my faith, it has challenged it, and it has been up to me to research and pray and discover what is true for myself.
     Get on your knees and pray!

-Sister Railee Whitaker

There's a Prophet For That

     After the first few weeks in the mission, home starts to feel like a dream-- one that is vividly remembered in detail. After the first year, all but the most important things (like family and friends) are all but forgotten. A few weeks ago I was asked to snap a picture of someone using their phone and I found myself fumbling like a bumbling blockhead trying to understand the simplicity of a touch-screen. I was grateful to be relieved of the electronic device when the task was finally accomplished. I found myself in awe at how technologically handicapped I've become. The world of youtube, facebook, and the web in general is so far removed from my memory that to say the words feels like a foreign language. I never have to bother with any of it here.
    Aside from the 1 hour a week I have to email my family, all of my communication occurs face-to-face or over the telepone (old-school style, where you don't use your thumbs). I never even ride in cars! If I want to go somewhere, I walk. If I want to communicate with someone, I talk. My world is not much bigger than the area in which I work, unless I go to the Mission Home on special occasions.
     I've forgotten what it's like to have machines waiting to make your every wish come true at the touch of a finger or the warmth of your breath. Recently the surprise-finding of an American dime at the bottom of my suitcase sent me shooting through space like Christopher Reeves (that's his name, right?) in Somewhere in Time. One of the many random things that I remembered during my phsychological time travel was a commercial on TV showing off the latest iphone perks and boasting "There's an app for that!"
     No matter what your wish may be, there's an app to make it come true. Modern technology makes life easy and comfortable. Like the fat people on Wal-E, you don't even have to exert any physical effort to get what you want exactly when you want it.
     Well, here in the mission, as I don't have a plastic screen or a silicon chip to give me the answers to convenience's every demand, I have grown in my love of the Book of Mormon for this simple fact: no matter what challenges you are facing, there's someone somewhere in the Book of Mormon who's been through something similar and who has something to say to you. Thus the title of this advertisement-disguised-as-an-email.
    Your siblings pick on you? See what Nephi has to say on the matter! (1 Nephi 7:16)
    Caught in a confusion of cliques? Jacob knows what that's like. (Jacob 1:13)
    Don't feel like you have much to contribute? Chemish is the one for you! (Omni 9)
     Received a scathing email blaming you for something you didn't even do?
    There's a prophet for that! (Alma 60-61)
    Rebellious kids? A nagging spouse? There's a prophet for that! (Mosiah 27:8-10, 14 and 1 Nephi 5:2-3)
    Feeling lonely? There's a prophet for that! (Mormon 8:3-5)
     Wherever you are in life, whatever struggles you face, I promise that you will find what you need in the pages of the Book of Mormon. This book was written for our day. The prophet-historian Mormon was led by God to know, out of thousands of records, which ones would be of most help to us today. As they watched their own nation and people kill each other off, Mormon and Moroni dedicated their days to compiling this precious book for our benefit, with the final hope that it would all be worth it in the end. Visions of our future were their last hopes.
     I often think of Moroni, sitting alone in his hiding place, wondering why he had "not yet perished", his dearest friends-- his ONLY friends-- the prophets who had written before him. I imagine the kinship he must have felt with Captain Moroni, Teancum, Helaman, Nephi, Alma and Lehi. How he must have delighted at reading about better days! How he must have cherished the sweet reassurance that every former prophet's writings gave that someday the world would read their words.
     Though I can't claim to know them as Mormon and Moroni came to, the writers of the Book of Mormon have come to be dear friends to me throughout my life and especially here in the mission. 
     Elder Richard G. Scott said that "the scriptures provide the strength and authority to our declaration when they are cited correctly. They can become stalwart friends that are not limited by geography or calendar. They are always available when needed. Their use provides a foundation of truth that can be awakened by the Holy Ghost. Learning, pondering, searching and memorizing scriptures is like filling a filing cabinet with friends, values, and truths that can be called upon any time, anywhere in the world.... To memorize a scripture is to forge a new friendship. It is like discovering a new individual who can help in time of need, give inspiration and comfort, and be a source of motivation for needed change."
    Many Brazilians believe that simply to have a Bible laying open on the table will fill their home with the Spirit and protect them from the evils of the world. Please do not be so superstitious as to believe such a thing! It is not enough to have the scriptures included in your library on the shelf, sitting beside your bedside or even in your car. You have to open them up and read them. FEAST on them! They are delicious!
    Elder Scott promised that "those who consistently read the Book of Mormon are blessed with an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a greater resolve to obey His commandments and a stronger testimony of the divinity of the Son of God."
     As a representative of Jesus Christ, I challenge all who read this email to read the Book of Mormon every day. I promise that as you do, you will be blessed with the comfort and wisdom that you are seeking.

   All my love,
Sister Whitaker

Just Stoppin' In

    The first two times I was in a trio were awkward and uncomfortable, but I'm really loving it this time around. Sister Durelli and Sister F. Santos are awesome! We had another baptism this week: a 16-year-old girl named Jaqueline who is dating one of the members here. She was a little wary at first when I talked to her and gave her a little booklet to read, but in our first visit she was completely open and said that she had loved the booklet so much that she'd made her whole family read it and they all wanted to know more! She humbly and sweetly learned and accepted all that we taught her and then was baptized and her sister and brother are next in line. Then, once her mom and step-dad get married, they'll get baptized, too.  I love watching the gospel bless families! There's really nothing like it in all the world.
     Lucas still has a few doubts that he wants to work through before his baptism, so we're going to help him this week. He's already changed so much. He said he loves the people in the church and the light that they have and he wants to be more like that, and more happy. But he's still unsure about a lot of things. I can't even believe how much I love this kid. 
     I fell down the stairs this past week (yeah, right in front of the Elders, how embarrassing) and scared everyone half to death. Elder Viera almost had a heart attack. But I didn't break anything. My hip is currently a color I only thought possible for cartoon hippos and angry unicorns, and it feels mushy when I walk (strange feeling), but I am still alive. Miracle of miracles! I swear, I'm tripping so much more these days than I used to.
    People, I LOVE this gospel! I know that it's true. I KNOW that God lives and that He loves all of us so much! 

-Sister Whitaker

Conference High

Oct 7
Oi minha família e amigos!
   Wasn't General Conference just the most awesome thing ever!?  I got to watch it in English this time around, so that was pretty exciting. I absolutely ADORED President Uchtdorf's talk (as always). He seemed to be speaking to the people of my area specifically. So beautiful!  I also really liked ... oh shoot, what was his name? I can't remember now, but he was one of the last speakers in the Sunday evening session and he spoke about not letting something as simple as a country drive with the family on Sunday get you to let go of the iron rod. Sabbath day observance here in Brazil is a real struggle and it makes me wonder why I ever let a single Sunday go by back home without going to church. One of the covenants we make with God at baptism is to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Why is it so easy to take that commitment lightly and buy gas on Sundays or to use Sunday as a day to drive on vacations? The biggest struggle we have as missionaries is getting people to come to church. It doesn't matter if they're doing everything else right, if they don't come to church they can't be baptized and receive the saving ordinances of the gospel. Without going to church they can't progress. It's really no different after baptism. Without going to church, we can't progress.  In Preach My Gospel it talks about how the first thing to slide before the corruption of a nation is Sabbath day observance. Once people get lazy or lax with that, everything else slowly starts to become less important, too. It's heartbreaking, as a missionary, to see my investigators choose work or family traditions over Sabbath day observance. It's even worse to see the members do it and think it's ok because they're so firm in the gospel
     Honor the Sabbath day, folks! In the words of Forrest Gump "that's all I have to say about that."

   This past week we worked a lot with two awesome young men: Edson (whom I mentioned last week) and Lucas. We're preparing them both to get baptized this coming week. Lucas has been going to Seminary all this past week with Leonardo (our happy helper recent convert) and loving it. Edson could have been baptized this past week, but the baptismal interview freaked him out and he was nervous that he wasn't ready or worthy. So we moved the baptism back a week. Then on Saturday he was all gung-ho about baptism and feeling great! We have this new rule in the mission that you have to let at least 2 days pass between the actual baptismal interview and the baptism, and since he'd chickened out of letting the Elders give him a legit interview, we really do have to wait another week now. Kinda sad, but it'll be better now because we can actually plan a beautiful baptism and have more members there to help out.
    I'm loving my new companion, Sister F. Santos! Sister Durelli was transferred to Mussurunga for a couple of weeks to help out there while one of the sisters recovers from a knee injury, so it's been just the two of us. She reminds me SO much of myself when I first arrived-- full of love and fire and a little uptight in her determination to do everything just right. It's weird being the one who has to say, "Relax, Sister! Have fun!" That's usually what MY companions do.  I'm really loving working with her!

Well, time's up (as always).  I love you all and I LOVE THIS GOSPEL!!!! This is the best church EVER!!!!!

Sister Weezer


    Ok, so I tried to send pictures, but it's not working on this computer, so you'll have to wait until next week to see..... My NEW DAUGHTER!
     Sister F. Santos is from Campinas, São Paulo, as is Sister Durelli, and she is such an angel. I was kind of afraid of her at first because she looked really serious, but I got over that quickly enough. She's super mature and extremely intelligent, and she has such a strong desire to work. Our first day out she walked right up to a man at the bus stop and started sharing the Book of Mormon with him without me or Sister Durelli saying anything. I don't even have to train this girl! I'm pretty sure she's the one training me and Sister Durelli. She's also so loving and sees the good in everyone. Basically, she's everything you could ever want in a companion. How am I so blessed all the time?
   Sister Durelli is a firecracker. She's more outgoing than I or Sister F. Santos, so she keeps the trio fun and spunky, and makes people not as scared of us. I was kind of bummed to be put into a trio for the third time (aka, more than anyone else in the mission), but I'm really loving it this time around! I feel like we three make a good team and we're all pretty chill. I'm super excited for this transfer!
    We started out the transfer with a baptism (woot woot!). Iasmin, the younger sister of Italo (who we baptized a month or two ago), has been close to the waters of baptism for the past couple of weeks but just never had the courage to go for it. Finally our Zone Leader, Elder Mariz, counseled us to tell her that instead of praying to know if she should get baptized, we should invite her to pray for the courage to get baptized, because she already knew that she should. It worked! The moment I invited her in this way, a light went on in her eyes and she smiled and said, "Yes, I'll get baptized this Saturday!"  It was a beautiful moment! Sometimes people just need to realize that they really already have the answer they've been seeking, but they just need the courage to do what they know to be right.
    On the morning of her baptism, Sister Durelli and I tried to prepare Sister F. Santos for whatever we knew would happen to stop the baptism. Something always happens. "It could be anything," we said. "Just wait, you'll see."
    As we were finishing up our morning study, Elder Viera called to tell us that the Church building was out of water (as was half of the city) and that the baptismal font wouldn't fill. "Didn't we tell you?!" we both said to Sister F. Santos. We then pulled our faith together to come up with ideas. Everyone here has those huge blastic water jugs, so we thought we'd ask all the members to bring one to help fill the font. We even started filling two of our own and went to knock on our neighbor's door to ask for his. He's the ward mission leader, our neighbor. He scoffed at our faith and said, "That's ridiculous. It'll take you all day and a lot of work! Just get permission to baptize on the beach or in the lake."
    Ohhh yeahhh, we thought. We live by the ocean! And by a lake! Then we got all excited to have a baptism in nature and called the Elders to see if we could get permission from President Andrezzo. President didn't give us permission. He told us just to use the font of another chapel close by. Why didn't we think of that?
    So we hopped a bus with our sweet little Iasmin in toe and left the city of Salvador (ooo, how exciting!) to hold the baptism in the neighboring city of Lauro de Freitas, where Sister Durelli had previously been serving.
    The new American Elder, Elder Hall (who finally got his visa after 7 months of serving in Colorado) got to perform the baptism and no one gave the poor guy a chance to practice saying her name before they both got into the water. Iasmin da Anunciação Santos. There was a good, awkward 5 minutes or so of Elder Hall trying to get her name right while every body in the room tried to put in their two cents to help him out, which only caused more confusion. In the meantime, both Elder Hall and Iasmin were bright red from embarrassment. Ha ha ha! Oh, how ya gotta love baptisms in Brasil!
    I'm glad to say that it was all smooth sailing from there on out. We're now preparing a young man named Edson to be baptized this coming week and he is SO shy that it's hard to teach him. The only reason we even know he's actually interested is that he keeps coming to church on his own. Sister F. Santos knows exactly how to talk to him, so I'm pretty sure the Lord put her here on purpose.

 Well, that's all for now, folks!
I love you all and I LOVE this gospel! GO ON A MISSION!!!!

-Sister Weezer 

It's That Time Again

September 23, 2013
IIIIIIIIIIIIIIt's Transfer time! Again. And I'll be staying here in Stella Mares (woot woot!). I'll be in a trio again, and training, again. This time it'll be with Sister Durelli (a classy 19-year-old from São Paulo who speaks fluent English and who's been in the same Zone with me for the past three transfers) and tomorrow I'm going to the mission home to pick up my new greenie. I don't know who it'll be yet. We've got 16 new missionaries coming in (the biggest group I think this mission has ever seen), and 6 of those are sisters. I think. Maybe it was 5? I don't remember. The point is, you'll all get to hear all about it next week! :D
   As for my baby, Sister Mártir, she'll be going with Elder Ray down south to work in the same district with Elder Leite (who was in my district and zone, too, for the past three months). It feels like everyone is leaving together for the same place, and I'm getting left behind :(  I'm super sad, because I grew so close with this District. But at the same time, I'm really excited for this new transfer and the party that will be my new trio! We're going to have so much fun, just wait and see.
    This past week we had our Sister Training Conference thingy and it was really great. All of the sisters in the mission (20?) stayed at the mission home the entire day, eating too much and having one inspiring training session after the other. It was every Elder's nightmare, with plenty of tears shed and heart-felt testimonies full of "I love my companion"ness. Good thing the Assistants were there to keep things real with their very masculine sense of humor. It was overwhelmingly fun to see all my former companions all gathered in one place. I wanted to talk to all of them at the same time! Everyone felt that way, so it was wild. Just imagine, all of those sisters buzzing around like excited bees in a hive, trying to talk to and hug everyone at once. Good times, good times.
    I'm convinced that my mission president and his wife are the best in the world. They just are. I feel so blessed to be here in this mission with these wonderful people! Everything is so GOOD!!!
    Alright, enough of this foolishness. Let's get serious here.
    Actually, I'm out of time already (how does his HAPPEN?!).  
So, I love you all! The church is true! Know it, live it, love it!

-Sister Weezer