A selfie for mom!

A selfie for mom!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Skyping with Thomas on Christmas Day!

I Know That Whatever Happens, I Can Trust the Lord.

I´m still collecting recipes for you! I´ve got three really good ones, and I´m looking to get the recipe for Brazilian lasagna (MUITO GOSTOSO!) again.
It´s sooooo hot here! So sweaty all the time! 
Today, the whole zone had a churrasco (barbeque) with the stake president. It was great! We all sang to him and the rest of the presidency and their families ("Chamado a Servir" and "I Believe in Christ" (In Portuguese)). Transfers are coming up and I´m hoping I can stay in Mirna. I love it here! And I don´t want to move AGAIN. Can you give me an update on Ben (cousin)? 
How´s everything back home? Lots of fun, I hope!
The work is pretty hard here (no one wants to keep commitments or come to church or pray or read or anything) but we are surviving. Last night, I had a really special moment. Yesterday was rough. Surprise testimony in sacrament meeting. We taught a surprise lesson (it was for me) in Sunday School, all of our appointments either fell through or didn´t keep commitments. And a very special investigator, super dear to my heart, said that she didn´t want to be baptized and that she didn´t want any more lessons or prayers. That was really hard. So we were super discouraged. After planning, around 9:30ish, I was really discouraged and I listened to "Does The Journey Seem Long?" It was so beautiful. It was the one where it was a guy singing a solo in General Conference. Then, "The Atonement", a talk by Boyd K Packer, played. It was just what I needed (it even started with "this is addressed to the discouraged and downtrodden"). It was awesome! You gotta listen to it! And in the end, Pres. Packer reads the lyrics to "Does The Journey Seem Long?" (WHOA), which was written by President Joseph Fielding Smith (whose teachings are in the brand spanking new manual we just got (WHOA)). It was super powerful. Then, I listened to an Eyring talk that was really good! Heavenly Father is so awesome! So many tender mercies. 
A sad note: Elder Pina, a missionary in my district from Cape Verdi (Africa), got a call from President Pinho on Saturday. His dad died. Really really sad! He´s the only member in his family, which is poor and doesn´t have a computer (so no skype for Christmas), and he has had no money, even from the mission (I can´t remember the reason), and he wasn´t adjusting to the climate well at all (it´s super cold compared to Cape Verdi). Poor guy! We are all waiting to see what he´ll do, but I think he´ll stay. I hope he stays. 
I want you all to know that I will stay in the mission until the end. I know that as I do this, our Father will bless me and will bless you more than we can imagine. I really struggled in the first three weeks (first transfer), and Elder Baisden told me this, which really struck me: "If my dad died while I was on my mission, I wouldn´t even think about leaving the mission." And he loves his dad a lot! But that´s the kind of persevering faith that you develop out here. I know that no matter what happens, I can trust the Lord. This mission is so awesome! The Church is true!
I love you so much and have a great week!
Elder Richins

Monday, December 16, 2013

I want to stay in this area forever!

It´s so hot here! And green! It doesn´t feel close to Natal at all! But everyone (todo mundo) is excited for Natal! We don´t get to see the devocional... :C
I can´t send pictures until we find a safe place to do it. I really don´t want my camera wracked with viruses. 
I´m slowly saving up to send a páckage home, with stuff I don´t need, souvenirs, and gifts for the fam. Pictures will be included.
I haven´t got the package yet, but Elder Byers will check the Escritorio today. I did get Sister Nokes´ letter! I loved it! Give her a hug for me!
I just sent an email about Skype. It´s pretty urgent, so I hope you see it!
The work is hard, but fun! We are teaching Fabio and Vanuzia, a couple with three little kids. They are ready for baptism except that Fabio struggles with smoking and is showing little effort, and we need to marry them (always the issue). We are teaching Eleniuza and her familia. They are recent converts, but she´s struggling. We think they are attending a second church. We are teaching Brena and Gilmar, who also need to get married and she needs to quit coffee and he´s probably got other problems, but Brena really wants to get baptized, so I´m excited for her. Luckily, she and Gilmar do not live in the same house, so she can probably get baptized sooner than later. We are teaching Jucilene and her daughter, Yasmim, but we are having lots of problems. Jucilene is soooo close! We are teaching Cicero and Ana, a couple whose son, Luka, is a recent convert. We´re all hoping Luka can baptize his little brother, Juan. Cicero and Ana are super receptive, but he works on Sunday. EVERYONE works on Sunday.
So, we don´t have any rats here, but we do have HUGE baratas (cockroaches). They are about the size of my watch. Think of a normal sized no-bake cookie. Our apartment is really clean, so we think they come from this old ratty sofa on our balcony. It needs to be burned.
Saturday night (and Sunday morning) there was a party outside our apartment. I wish we could have called the police because they were drinking and playing extremely loud music (our beds were vibrating and shaking) ALL NIGHT LONG.  It didn´t stop until 5 in the morning! I remember because I was awake! It´s crazy!
Anyway, today is going to be super fun because we´re going to Longe-de-Real, basically a Dollar General, but EVERYTHING is R$1, or fifty cents for us. Sweeet!
Time is going really quickly and I don´t like it! I want to stay in this area forever!
Oh, and I gave a talk yesterday in church. Everyone loved it. More importantly, everyone understood it. Oh yeah.
And I have a recipe for you! It´s super awesome, from Irmão Madruga, in the Bispado (Bishopric). You´ll love it, it´s a type of cake/pudding thing!
Have a great week!
Seu filho para sempre,
Elder Richins

Monday, December 2, 2013

We have little victories every day.

All is well, all is well! Tudo bem!
First off, I want to tell you that I saw the MASSIVE RAT in the sewer yesterday. It was seriously the size of the cat. And I saw a smaller one this morning. What am I doing in the sewers? Tracting, sleeping, making breakfast. We have open sewers, here! Sewage flows through the streets next to piles of garbage! Oh yeah! It´s sweet!
I can´t emphasize how ghetto everything is here! More than half of the businesses I see, actually probably more than 3/4 in our area, are ran out of garages. It´s soooo sketchy!
It´s been raining all week, so not much heat nor humidity. It gets surprisingly cold here, like in the 60s! Low 60s at night! I have to use my blanket!
So, Elder Baisden (my American companion) and I thought Thanksgiving was last week, and he got super trunky. Oops! Yep, there´s no Thanksgiving in Brazil, but we have feasts every single day, when we are fed almoço (lunch). Luckily, we walk a TON. We probably spend a few hours a day walking up the hills and through the alleys of the city. We´re always sweaty! Cool thing about Brazil: culture allows you to go up to any house and ask for a drink of water, and they do it happily! Not so cool, you don´t know if the water is clean or not.
Elder Aguiar is 24, and joined the church 3 years ago. He was a member for a year and a half before going on a mission! He´s crazy awesome! And Elder Baisden and I help him learn English. He and Elder Baisden went into the CTM together and are super tight! You should totally send us Natal (Christmas) ties! And some simple recipes would be great! I have a recipe for Brazilian Lasagna for you (SO GOOD) that I´ll send next week, maybe with some pictures (maybe).
Not much else to say. I wish you could just read my journal, because I forget stuff right after I write it down (I´m at 135 pages in this one). But it´s in Portuguese half the time, so that wouldn´t do!
People love me here! It´s fun being an American in Brazil, able to sufficently speak Portuguese after only 2 weeks!
The work here is really hard, and we haven´t had much success, but the people are ready, and we have little victories every day. Something´s gonna give this week! I just know it!
Keep up the scripture reading!
I love you!
Elder Richins

Monday, November 18, 2013

So many hills! So many blisters! It's awesome!

Tudo Bom! (All´s good!)
So you got my package? Tell me more about how much the girls liked their letters. They were really special and took me a LONG time. 
The work is really, really, REALLY hard down here, physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. But I grow every day! My trainer, Elder Aguiar, is the best! He speaks very little English, but I know more than enough Portuguese to communicate with him now, through the Spirit, of course. We share a ghetto apartment with two other missionares (we share the ward/area), Elder Salazar from Chile (Spanish, Portuguese, and a bit of English), and Elder Baisden from Ohio (English, Portuguese, and a bit of Spanish). Elders Aguiar and Baisden are both district leaders (I don´t know how) so technically, I´m the senior companion. I broke down yesterday because I finally was able to talk to Elder Baisden in English, but he quickly brought me back and I´m stronger than ever! I´m losing weight despite the mountains of food because we only get one meal a day (massive lunch with members where culture prevents moderation) and we walk EVERYWHERE. So many hills! So many blisters! It´s awesome! My feet hurt ALL THE TIME, I LOVE IT! Brazil is my home, now. Everything is so delightfully sketchy and ghetto. Sao Paulo is 26 times bigger than NYC and my mission has 11 million people in it, yet it´s the smallest mission (area-wise) in Brazil. Standard of living is very low. It´s extremely humble. But we made 20 new investigators in 3 days, one of which was a Sunday, one potential baptism, and I´ve already baptized a kid, taught by the other two Elders. I had to try 5 times because he squirmed so much. So I had 5 baptisms on my first Sunday. The meeting was great, I think. I didn´t understand much, but I felt the Spirit nonetheless. The meetings are backwards: Elders´ Quorum, Sunday School, then Sacrament Meeting. President and Sister Pinho are awesome! Best mission president ever! Everything is so ghetto! Stray dogs and cats everywhere! Trash all over the streets! No traffic rules, barely any police presence! Lots of loud music, more than half from the United States! And the food is sooo good here! No parasites, yet! The water is clean, but we still are advised against drinking from the tap, since the tap comes from a BIG barrel on the adjacent roof and who knows what could get in there. Not much else to report, except that I love it, here, and it´s life-changing! 
That´s it for now! I love you!
Elder Richins

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Goodbyes are hard....unless you're going to Brazil!

It sure has been a short week! Today is P-day (preparation day) because I leave on Monday and I can't any of the necessary stuff on Sunday. I'm so excited for Brazil! I'm going to finish packing (I started earlier this week), finish laundry, buy any last minute supplies, get ready for departing inspection, etc.
As always, this week has been very eventful, but there's not enough time in the world to tell about all of it. My companion who had the surgery last week is a lot better, but has to go back into surgery in two weeks, so has to stay in the MTC for two more weeks! Elder Beyler, my companion, is going to Gilbert, Arizona. Elder Sharp is going to Tacoma, Washington. Elder Anderson is going to Vancouver, Washington (I thought Vancouver was in Canada, myself). Elder Mortensen is going to Cleveland, Ohio. Elder Peterson got his visa, so we're traveling together to Sao Paulo. From there, he's going to his mission in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Goodbyes are hard. Unless you're going to Brazil. I'll miss my teachers, friends, and companions a lot, but my excitement overrules any sadness.
Well, I've got lots more to do. Sorry the email was so boring! I'll do better next time, I promise!
Ate mais!


Elder Thomas Richins
Brazil Sao Paulo Interlagos Mission

Mommy! Thanks for the money info! I'm doing really good keeping track of my expenses! ;)
I'll call you guys from the airport! I'll have a companion with me (one from my district, Elder Peterson, whom I'm really good friend with) while I'm in both airports. We may not sit together, but we'll be in the same plane.
I'm sending a big letter in a second, but I want you to know that I pray for you and the family every night, and that I love you so much! You have raised me so well, and I am grateful. I was talking with my companion the other day about mothers. We decided that you must have been a special spirit to not only get the privilege of motherhood, but also to be a good mother of four! You must have done something good! And I must have done something good to deserve a mother like you! :)
I love you so much!
Kyle wrote me and the girls did, too! Keep encouraging them! Those are my favorite letters! :)
Your son forever,
Elder Richins

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I got my Visa!

There's one huge thing that happened this week that overshadowed all else:
I got my visa.
I'm going to Sao Paulo on Tuesday, November 11th. At 9:40 am, my plane leaves Salt Lake City for Atlanta, Georgia. I arrive there at 3:22 pm, and stay in the airport until 7:38 pm, when I board a plane to Sao Paulo, Brazil. I arrive in the city at 8:15 am the next day. For the flight from Georgia to Brazil, I know of at least one other Elder who I can fly with, so we'll work something out. I'm really excited! This time next week, I'll be in Brazil!
I've already started packing! And I'm getting ready to send home my winter clothes, since it's summer in Brazil. I feel like I just got them, too!
There's so much that's happened in the past week!
Our investigators are going really well!
I've almost finished "Jesus the Christ" by James E Talmage!
I found out I'm related to one of my companions through our great great great great grandfather, Daniel Tyler (give or take a "great").
I got to watch "Johnny Lingo" (now, I can say that I am truly a Mormon) and "The Testaments"!
It's snowing ALL THE TIME!
We ate breakfast in the Provo Temple cafeteria after my last (sad!) temple trip, and it was SO good! Best breakfast I can remember! (Sorry, Mom!)
The two new districts are awesome! They look up to us!
I'm not the youngest in my district!
Elder Brewerton's surgery is today! (They postponed it a week because the doctor went on vacation, and Elder Brewerton's been really suffering.)
There's so much more I want to say, but I don't have much time.
Never in my life have I done anything like this. The past five weeks have been the most difficult weeks in my entire life. The spiritual hardships, the relentless attacks from the Adversary, the tests of faith and courage, all make for a very hard journey.
But the past five weeks have also been the greatest, most valuable weeks of my life. I would give up the last 18 years to keep these. If my mission were to end now, which would be heartbreaking, I can truly say that my life has forever been changed. My testimony is greater than I could have ever fathomed. I've met my Father in Heaven and have learned of Him as well as of His Son, Jesus Christ. Never has the Spirit been so strong. I never want these feelings to end. And they don't have to. I am excited for life! October 2nd, 2013 will always be the day that I was reborn as not just a Mormon or a spirit child of God, but as a servant of my Father in Heaven and as a proclaimer of truth to the world. I have began the life of discipleship to my Lord, my Christ. I want to give all of my life to Him, to bring my friends, family, posterity, and fellow children of God to Him to be perfected and saved.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the one and only way to receive salvation and eternal happiness. Through faith, repentance, baptism and keeping covenants, receiving and using the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end, we may reach the highest point of heaven and live with our Heavenly Family once more, who earnestly ache for us to return to Them.
I love my Father in Heaven. I love Jesus Christ. I love my mission. I know that God is preparing people in Brazil to be taught the Gospel, and that He will lead me to where He needs me. I know, with all of my being, that Jesus is the Christ, the Living Son of God, and that the Church He established has been restored through the prophet Joseph Smith by the wisdom and power of God. Along with this, the priesthood and authority of God has also been restored, and the Book of Mormon, which is another testament of Jesus Christ, has been revealed to the world.
What a glorious time in which we live! I feel sorry that I haven't thanked my Heavenly Father for the privilege it is to live in the Fullness of Times, the Last Dispensation before the Second Coming of the Savior. Never before have there been so many temples, so many missionaries, so many disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel is restored in its fullness, and will never again be taken from the Earth. This is a glorious time. Despite the wars, rumors of wars, disasters, tragedies, and sorrows, I know God loves His children and that Satan will ultimately fail. This is truth from God, that we will win the war which began in Heaven and will continue until Satan is thrust forever downward, never again able to afflict and tempt the children of God.
We are soldiers in the army of God, and He needs us to focus and continue doing good works. As we trust in the Lord and do His will, then everything else will fall into place.
God loves each and every one of you, and He has restored the truth for you, that you may partake of it and live with Him forever in happiness as eternal families. I testify of this, having seen the hand of God in my life daily, in the sacred name of our Older Brother, Teacher, Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What a blessing it is to serve a mission!

It's been a really tough week. It's also been a beautiful and spiritually uplifting week!
I wish I could tell you everything that's been happening around here, but there's no time! I've completely filled up my first journal and I'm starting my second one tonight. Portuguese is going great, but we still can't do 24/7. I got two baptismal commitments yesterday (from practice investigators)! It's getting really cold, especially in the morning! I got your package! It's wonderful! I love pumpkin seeds and mints and the winter clothes and key ring were sorely needed! I shared the rest with the district! We had a devotional from Elder Robbins (THAT Elder Robbins) and shook his hand and he remembered Joplin Stake!
So I've been really struggling with being Christ-like. So much so that I've been more focused on asking for help from Heavenly Father than receiving it. Luckily, after a lot of fasting, prayers, and an outpouring of the Spirit, I received strength to pull myself out of depression and get back to work. There were a couple days that were really bad, but Sunday night was wonderful! There's so much more I could say about this, but there's not enough time!
I'm also having trouble with one of my companions. Elder Beyler (my companion) and I are doing great, but another Elder in our district, who has Asbergers (didn't spell it right), has been giving me trouble. I know that it's not his fault, and that I'm the one who needs to change. At the moment, I can't feel the Spirit around him, which is a serious issue, since I'm around him all the time. But don't worry. I have so many angels guiding me, along with my Older Brother and my Heavenly Parents. And there are so many people on this side of the veil that are helping me, like my branch presidency, teachers, and the rest of the district (as we all struggle with this same problem of not being Christ-like enough.)
I've learned so much here! Every day is something more, something better. What a blessing it is to serve a mission. I encourage all who can to consider doing what I do, be it at home or abroad, full-time or just within your own home.
While I was in the Provo Temple today, I got really homesick. But it was a good kind of homesickness: not for Joplin, or Mannford, or Glenpool, but for my ultimate goal: home with my Heavenly Family. And it's good because I know that home would not be home without my family. So I've decided that I'm going to bring as many of my brothers and sisters home with me as possible. Heavenly Father wants so badly for His children (and we are literally His children, who he raised from the beginning and knows us personally) to come home. Never have I ever felt so close to Him, or to Christ.
I'm sorry it's such a short letter! I wish I could send home my journal but (1) I'll still need it and (2) you'd need the Urim and Thummim to read my handwriting.
I love this gospel, and I know that it's the only way to get back Home. What a wonderful place this is! I've learned more in the last four weeks than I have my entire life. In fact, I would trade everything else just to know what I know now. That God is our loving and very much literal Father. Jesus Christ is our Older Brother, and our Savior, Redeemer, and our Example. The Holy Ghost is real, and He is a wonderful companion for anyone who will accept Him and listen.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true! It is the same church established by Christ in the New Testament. It is the same gospel that existed at the creation of the world! God never changes. His love never ceases for anybody. The fullness of the gospel is restored. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, through which the priesthood, or authority and power of God, was returned to the Earth, never to be taken or driven away. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. It is the most correct book on the Earth. Coupled with the Bible, it contains a power and a spirit that I, myself, have barely scratched the surface of.
Learn His Gospel. Live His Gospel. Preach His Gospel.
This is how we can all be together again, perfected and exalted, living with our Heavenly Family once more.
I testify of this in the sacred name of our Older Brother, even Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

All is good in the MTC!

I saw Dallin H Oaks! He was our special devotional speaker. We sang "Praise To The Man" to him! He and his wife gave REALLY good talks!
All is good in the MTC!
They've started putting up Christmas lights! YES!
We're still trying to start doing only Portuguese. We did okay yesterday, but there's still a lot of English. Tomorrow is the day!
I saw "Legacy"! It was a lot funnier and cheesier than I remembered, but I still felt the Spirit really strong!
We went to the temple today! It was a fantastic session! The Provo Temple is really beautiful!
I've written more than 150 pages so far! (70 in my Small Plates and 80 in my Large Plates)!
Our investigators are going well, and my Portuguese is going great!
I'm the only one who hasn't gotten sick yet! I'm still losing weight, though. Those jeans that were a little snug are now too big!
I play volleyball now, and I'm not too terrible, but I love it!
My relationships with my companions are all improving greatly! There's still a lot of work to do, but I'm always trying to be more Christlike. One of my companions has Asbergers (not spelled right) and it reared its ugly head last night. But I know he didn't mean the things he said, and I still love him!
We had a substitute teacher one day and it turns out that he is my mission president's son! I'm going to get a picture with him!
Laundry, pills, retainers, overall hygiene is great!
It's really getting cold here!
I am dying to hear about the Home Front, especially about how the Work is going. I have some challenges! These apply to everyone, member, nonmember; active or inactive; convert or lifelong member. I've come to value these things as I try to become like Christ:
1. Study about Christ daily, using scriptures, Bible videos (really helpful!), and hymns.
2. Pray sincerely and boldly to receive an answer about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. This is so important!
3. Ask God if He really is your loving Father in Heaven. If you ask with sincerity and boldness, then you will receive a witness through the Holy Ghost.
4. Read the Book of Mormon ALL the way through slowly, with purpose.
5. Watch parts of the "Work of Salvation" broadcast or other videos on that site often.
6. Bear your testimony every day, be it to strangers, friends, family, or Heavenly Father.
7. Study "Preach My Gospel" and pray about it!
8. Watch General Conference Talks often.
9. Try to always be like Jesus Christ: do what He would do, say what He would say, react as He would react, and love like He loves.
I have a testimony of just how much my Heavenly Parents love me! It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it is a worthy cause, then Heavenly Father will help me! He's helping me sing! I'm a tenor! He helps me learn to play volleyball because it brings me joy! He's created this beautiful Earth for me to live on! There are so many blessings, some are massive, others small, tender mercies, that I have received because I've believed. There will be miracles if you believe! We are all God's children! He cares about us like any other father! He is sad when we mess up and are disobedient and he is happy when we are on the right track. He wants so badly for us to return to Him.
I've learned that God is not some nameless, faceless, all-powerful being. He's not just a really nice boss, under whom we work happily. He is my Father. He cares about me personally. Just as my earthly father loves all of his children, Heavenly Father loves each and every one of us. As a missionary, I am training to become a Good Shepherd, like my Older Brother, Jesus Christ. Heavenly Father is trusting me to help Him bring His children home. What a glorious calling! I can't wait to share this message with the world, that God is real! He loves us so much, even to the point of sending His Only Begotten Son to suffer and die so that we can return as exalted and resurrected beings! What an example Christ is! For the past three weeks, I've walked beside Him and beside my Father. They have been at my side this whole time. I am backed up by generations and generations of family members, long dead and yet to live. Knowing this, I can do all things!
It's time to log off for this week, but I want everybody to know that I know that my Redeemer lives. He loves us, and wants us to come to Him. His Way is the only way. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is so powerful. I testify that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that we have a living prophet, Thomas S Monson. I know that the Book of Mormon is true, and that the Bible is true. Our scriptures are the words of God. I know that Jesus is the Christ and that His Atonement did happen. The priesthood, or authority and power of God, is returned to the Earth once more. I know that this is the true Church of Jesus Christ, established during His Earthly ministry, and restored to the world. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint is the rock spoken of in Daniel, which will continue to grow and fill the entire earth, bringing salvation to all men, women, and children who believe in Christ. For me, testimony isn't a list of beliefs, it's a list of facts, proven to me through miracles and through the witness of the Holy Ghost. Value your testimony. Nourish it and expand it. It can do nothing but good for you.
I will end my personal and undying testimony of Christ and His Gospel in the His name because I love Him and am proud to be His servant and under-shepherd. He is my Savior, my Redeemer, my Example, and my Brother! I declare this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Elder Richins at the Provo MTC

I know Christ lives. I will never deny my witness.

I still don't know how to start these letters.
I'm no longer the old Thomas. I've changed so much for the better! Words can't express the things I've seen, the things I've felt, and the things I've heard.
I want to start with my testimony: that as you try to become more and more Christlike, and do His Work, then there will be miracles. I've heard the voice of God. I've felt the presence of Grandpa Frei, of Bradley, and of countless concourses of angels. I've been reassured that great men, like Joseph Smith, Dan Jones, and Brigham Young stand with me, ready to lift me up whenever I stumble.
And I have stumbled. I've felt the forces of Satan trying their hardest yet to drag me down. I can feel the mist of darkness waiting just beyond the light, ready to strike at any moment. But my success is assured. I have the power of God with me. Jesus Christ is always beside me, leading me onward to where I need to go. I've felt His love, His embrace, and His presence. His is my Older Brother. And never before have I been so close with my Heavenly Father. I may be separated from home, and from my earthly family, but my spiritual family, whether already passed, or yet to live, are always around me, fending of the advances of the Adversary.
I know that Christ lives. As long as I live, and even afterward, I will never deny my witness.
The power in this place is real. The MTC isn't just a school for missionaries, it is a place of worship. I've seen some of the most powerful, most influential people, just walking down a hall, or studying Portuguese, or eating in the cafeteria. They may not realize it, but every missionary here has a power within them. We are called to this work. As we work diligently to become like Christ, to become master teachers, then we will gain power beyond our own.
I am a testimony of this. In everything, I've seen blessings from God, tender mercies of the Lord. For example, I've quickly learned that I love volleyball. So I do that all through my gym time. I've only played three times, and I'm improved so much. I'm still not good, but I've scored some points (even though we don't no keep score in the MTC). This is proof to me that God cares about us, not just about getting His Work done. Volleyball is not an essential missionary skill, nor does it really bring me closer to Him, yet He loves me enough to give me strength. God loves each and every one of us so much more than we could ever know.
A more relevant example of His love for me is the gift of tongues. I've taught several lessons, including 3 different investigators in only Portuguese. I knew none of the language two weeks ago, yet I can carry on a conversation in it now. And I've noticed that when the Spirit isn't present, or isn't as strong as it could be, I struggle. It's not me teaching, it's the Spirit of God. The Holy Ghost is the teacher, the interpreter. As a district, we watched "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration" in all Portuguese, no subtitles. I understood all of it. Not only that, but I felt the Holy Ghost so much. I wrote down some of the promptings I received, the best being: "We [missionaries and members in general] are furthering the Work initiated by Christ, restored through Joseph Smith, sealed with the martyrs of both men, and continued through the hardship and bloodshed of pioneers throughout the last 200 years. We are not alone in this work.
I'm so glad to hear that the ward is starting to "catch the wave." That's been my biggest fear: that the fervor that I feel won't reach the home front. But I was foolish to think that the ward would not step up. I now know that it was the Adversary who was telling me that I would be alone in the work. I'm so proud of everyone back home, for pressing on. We are pioneers for our posterity. Continue to endure, and bring others to Christ!
I've learned so much! And I have so much to learn! One of the greatest things here is the opportunity to watch devotionals. We've had so many spiritual giants speak to us! And only one was a general authority: an emeritus Seventy. But tonight, as the choir (I'm in it) sings "Praise To The Man" (the really hard Mormon Tabernacle Choir one), we will be graced by the presence of some very important. Rumors are flying, but the fact is that it will be a general authority. I don't know if it'll be a member of the Twelve, but even the teachers are hinting at it.
Thanks for the package! I haven't gotten to get it yet, but I'm just tickled that I'm getting something. I was getting really discouraged (again, it was from the Adversary) that my lack of letters was my fault, or that there was something wrong with me. As a member of the branch presidency explained to me in an interview, Heavenly Father doesn't want to do anything to discourage me, but He does have a duty to refine me and to help me become like Him. This is done only through trials. I've gone through so many! But I know that they will make me better. And they already are.
Happy birthday, Dad! I forgot when it was! I feel like I've been here for several months, not two weeks. Each day seems like several, and I'm already forgetting details about home. I think it's a tender mercy. I haven't really been homesick, at least not in the traditional sense.
To update you on the secular stuff, I'll just say the following:
The food is great! But I'm still getting skinner (my belt is going to be too big very soon), even though they feed us like every meal could be our last. The weather is chilly, all the time. They are putting Christmas lights up already! I forgot about Halloween! It's been really foggy lately, but the view is beautiful! The Provo Temple (been there twice now) is right out our window, with the mountains (that still have their fall colors) right behind.
I've got a calling! Elder Beyler and I are Online Training Coordinators. We help new missionaries figure out the computers.

Elder Beyler and I are doing much better. It's an uphill battle, but we are winning. Satan loves planting contention and anger and judgments into my head. I've been bottling it up, then snapping occasionally, then we talk it out and grow closer together. I've had him tell me his life's story, and I only was able to tell him half of mine. We are starting to trust each other and communicate better. My relationships with others in the district are improving even more! We are brothers!
There's so much more I want to tell you! Like how I've started a new study method for the Book of Mormon! (It's really, really good!) But I've got to end soon, so I'll end with my testimony. I'll send pictures next week, by the way.
Life is hard, even in the MTC. Especially in the MTC. But my testimony has gotten me through so much. There have been some really terrible moments here, but those are microscopic compared to the wonderful things. And just like how microbes can hurt our bodies, guilt and shame and anger (even small things) can harm our spirits. But focus on the good things. Look to God and live. He loves all of you individually and personally. He wants so much to know us, we just need to know Him. Invite Christ into your live. Watch what He does, and try to be like Him. What starts as an imitation can turn into conversion. As we become more like Christ, everything will get better. There is nothing that Christ can't fix. I testify with all of my heart, mind, and strength that God is alive, that Christ lives, that the Holy Ghost is for us, and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. The priesthood is restored! The Book of Mormon is true! If you look hard enough and pray earnestly enough, then you can see it, too. I look forward to becoming truly converted. Until then, I'll try my best.
I know this to be the truth, that Christ is the only way. I end in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, Redeemer, and Older Brother. Amen.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Everything here is Christ-centered.

I'm not really sure how to start this letter. Maybe I'll start with this: Being a missionary is absolutely nothing like I thought it would be. The language is harder. The rules are stricter. The expectations are higher. And Utah is chilly... all the time.

But the Spirit is much stronger here.

Everything is completely different knowing that, feeling that.

From the first moment I stepped onto the sidewalk of the MTC until now, I've felt my Savior's love. It is expressed through others. Immediately, I was accepted, embraced, and welcomed.

The very first thing we (my escort, Elder Brewerton, and I) did was pick up supplies and take my luggage to my residential hall, 15M. It's named after Dan Jones, one of the greatest missionaries in this dispensation. Sparing no time, I was hurried to a classroom in 18M. This became my district's own classroom. No one else uses it, so we can leave our study things in there.

Our teacher, a return missionary from Brazil, spoke Portuguese to us immediately. And immediately we felt the gifts of the Spirit. The Holy Ghost interpreted a language, which I had honestly never heard before, for me so that I could at least understand, if not reply in Portoglespanol (Portuguese, English, and Spanish). In the last week, I have learned more Portuguese than I have Spanish in one year! And it's because of the grace and mercy of God.

The MTC is beautiful! The entire campus is dedicated and consecrated ground for the teaching and training of missionaries. There's a bookstore, gym, cafeteria, copy center, mail area, etc, in addition to a lot of classrooms, residential dormitories and bathrooms.

My companion is Elder Beyler, from Chicago. The two Elders who share our room (and are in our district) are Elders Anderson from Gallatin, MO, and Mortenson from White City, New Mexico. There are four other Elders in our district who live next door: Elders Sharp from Tennessee, Wood from Atlanta, GA, Brewerton (the brother of my escort) from Colorado, and Peterson from Utah.

Our district leader is Elder Sharp.
Elder Wood got his visa on Friday and left this morning for Sao Paulo.

My relationship with my companions is a good one. I can see the Lord's Hand in choosing who I serve. I love all of them. We are all brothers, and our friendship will last, as we keep in contact and look each other up in 2 years. But I'm also noticing that the companions I spend more time with are the ones that I have the most trouble with. The four Elders that live next door I have no complaints with. We get along great! I don't have to really ask for patience or humility from God to deal with them.
But the companions that I room with are a little more difficult. They have certain personality traits that clash with mine. For example, I'm cheerful all the time! And they are either goofy or solemn all the time. But we do get along good. We still like each other after a week! Prospects look good.

I know that I am placed among certain people that I need to learn from. I also know that there are people who need to learn from me. Every night, I ask God to give us patience and humility and love, one with another. Contention still comes too easy, but we are working on it as a district. Contention drives away the Spirit, and we really need the Spirit. Through the Spirit, I have received wonderful gifts, as my companions have, too. The gift of tongues and the interpretation of them helps us to learn and speak and understand Portuguese. We have already given two lessons in it, we can pray, testify, and discuss the gospel in Portuguese. Of course, we still have a long way to go before fluency, but the MTC is designed to quicken this process. Starting next week: no more English. Period.

The food is great. BYU students are the majority of the workers in the cafeteria and bookstore. We get delicious food three times a day. It is exactly like a college cafeteria, except that there's no caffeine, no tea or coffee, and there's always several people praying. Mealtimes are at 6:30, 11:00, and 4:00. We get ice cream from the BYU Creamery twice a week.

We study a LOT. Probably 60% of our day is studying (besides sleeping). Personal study, companionship study, group study, language study, and language class. We read, discuss, testify, debate, sometimes argue (we're working on it), and counsel over gospel principles and doctrine in Portuguese, trying to understand all that God wants us to.

We were lucky to have General Conference on our first week. West Campus joined us. During this time, I saw Elders Hobdy from Webb City, Wallace from Joplin 1st, and Hoyd from Carthage. I also saw Sister Peterson from Pittsburg, but that was earlier.

At least 3,000 missionaries were in the auditorium, watching all four sessions. It was fantastic. The Elders and Sisters split up for the Priesthood Session (the Sisters went to a rebroadcast of the Relief Society broadcast. After the last Sunday session, we had a devotional by BYU's a capella group, Vocal Point. That was really good. And to end that night, we watched Elder Bednar's devotional: "The Character of Christ". It was a mission changing experience. I exhort all of you to watch it. Look it up. It is truly a life-changing talk.

After the Priesthood Session, our district gathered in the classroom for a discussion/testimony meeting. We shared experiences of the past, from conversion stories to heart-breaking tragedies. All of them strengthened us. There were angels in that room.

I've seen, heard, and felt the presence of angels throughout my stay here. I can look anywhere and know that they are there, ready to help us. I've felt the presence of Grandpa Frei, cousin Bradley, and one of my companion's cousin. It's fantastic. Personal revelations and promptings happen every day. I know this will continue as I work hard and rely on the Holy Spirit. How great is my calling! To enjoy the presence of the Lord in all that I do and say.

I've been blessed in many ways. I can run faster, farther. I'm happier. I'm healthier. My mind is usually clearer, and the veil is very thin.

I went to the Provo Temple, today. It was so beautiful! I'm very glad to have this opportunity. Right now, I'm my laundry. Today is preparation day, a day where there is little studying and is meant for personal and group preparation for the coming week. There is some fellowshipping time ("hanging out" as you might call it).

I haven't gotten many letters or things, but that's okay. My companions always share their care packages with the district.
I had to buy some things (clothes hangers) while I'm here, but I've been very frugal. We all share laundry detergent.

For recreation during the week, we get gym almost every other day. We can play foursquare, basketball, volleyball, or run the track or lift weights. I run for half the time, then play foursquare. No shame foursquare is pretty intense. There's a lot of pent-up energy being released.

Everything here is Christ-centered.

I am determined to make my future home an MTC. Maybe with a little less rules (it's extremely strict here, which is for good reason), but with the same Spirit.
I want to end with my testimony.
The Church is true. There is no question of it. If I did not know for a fact that this was correct, I would not be out here, spending two years preaching it. God is our loving Father. He gives us no trials that we can't overcome. I've had some trials of my faith already, and I've overcome them with the help of the Spirit. The Spirit is so important. It's the most important thing to have with you at all times. I can't emphasize this anymore. Keep the Spirit! Fill your life with the light of the Gospel. Read the scriptures. Say prayers. Be united. I have received a witness of the power of prayer. Every night, I talk with my Father in Heaven, for as long as it takes. My companions tell me that I went a whole hour once. I don't believe it, though. But I do take my time. Every prayer I say, I try to make personal, even the short, simple Portuguese ones. Yet there's something special about night prayers, when I can cry to the Lord for comfort, exhort Him to send me aid, beg for the Spirit and thank Him for all of the wonderful things He has already given me. And, by the power of faith, the Holy Ghost, and the Priesthood, Heavenly Father always gives aid. Never doubt the Holy Spirit. Never take Christ and His Atonement for grant it. And love God with all your hearts. I've learned that there's a difference between having a testimony and being truly converted to the Lord. I'm working on becoming converted. Through the grace of God and His Son, I can do it.

I exhort all of you to pray. Talk with your Father in Heaven. He wants to hear from you. Trials are coming, and you will need all the help you can get. Ask to gain a testimony. That's a great step towards conversion to Christ. If you ask God with a sincere heart and real intent, then you will receive a witness, through the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, God is our Father, and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored through prophets, old and new, and through the power and glory of God. I testify, with the power of the Holy Ghost, and with the support of countless spirits and angels behind me, that Jesus is the Christ, the Atonement is real, and that through faith, repentence, baptism and keeping covenants, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end, we will achieve exaultation and will bring others to Christ. What a glorious time to be a missionary. What a glorious time to be on Earth. The Work is Hastening. As a missionary of God, I beg you to help me, help us, in furthering the salvation of all men, women, and children. We can't do it without you.
Take a chance: ask God.
Gain a testimony.

Grow your faith through study and trials.

Share your testimony with others.
Become truly converted.

It is the only way.

I say these things in the name of our Older Brother and Savior, the Master Teacher, Jesus Christ.