A selfie for mom!

A selfie for mom!

Monday, March 24, 2014

What I learned this week and last.

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I find it harder and harder to write letters home. All week, every week, I learn so much doing this marvelous work. By the time I am able to sit down and write to you, it´s all built up, and I struggle to find words to describe it all. 

I´m writing faithfully in my large plates (stories and daily journal of my mission) and in my small plates (study journal and notebook for meetings), so I´ll have a lot more to share when I arrive home. 
Elder Paiva has been sick for almost two weeks, now. The worst of it ended last week, so now it´s just a lingering cough. My health has been good. I´m getting thinner, taking my meds, taking care of my personal hygene, eating enough, etc. 
We had the baptism of Dayane last Sunday morning. She was very indecisive at first. After EFY, she expressed a lot of desire to be baptized on the 15th, but when we (the missionaries) tried to help her prepare for the 15th, she refused. She avoided us for the rest of the week, until Saturday, the baptism of Nicole (12) and Thayanne (10), the daughters of Paulo and Thassya (who Elder Almeida and I baptized in January). After the baptism, Dayane told her cousin (our Ward Mission Leader) that she wanted to be baptized the next morning. She was baptized yesterday morning before church. It was really spiritual.
And yesterday morning, Jucilene and her daughter, Yasmim (14) were baptized. I taught Jucilene last December, but it seemed to be going nowhere, despite Elder Almeida and my great effort. But now, with the help of Elder Paiva (district leader), Sisters Küster and Wolfgramm brought her to the waters of baptism! I gave the message during the baptismal service: Helaman 5:12, one of my favorite scriptures! We call our bishop the "bispo batizador" or "baptizing bishop" because we are having baptisms every week in this ward, and everyone chooses him to perform the ordinance. 

One day last week, I was a little discouraged. But one of the things Elder Paiva taught me is to always choose to be happy. So we bought pizza. I felt prompted to ask Elder Paiva to tell me his conversion story. Now, I will pass it along, with his permission.
In 2009 in Recife, Brazil, Elders Fonseca and Beeman were talking with a young member of the church. They asked him "Do you know any of your friends who could benefit from our message?" The member thought for a moment before remembering an old friend who he hadn´t spoken to in a long time, Genisblau. He said "Well, there´s Blau... but he likes the things of the "world" too much."
This did not stop the missionaries from visiting 17-year-old Genisblau, accompanied by the same member who gave the reference. He had to be taught in the home of a member because his family was so resistant to the missionaries. The lessons continued, but Blau didn´t take the steps to read the Book of Mormon, nor pray and ask God if it is true. 
One night, he was laying in bed, but couldn´t sleep. All he could think about was that book. The Book of Mormon seemed to have been literally calling his name. The sleeplessness continued until he came to the conclusion that maybe if he just read a little, he could get some rest. He read the part left by the missionaries: 
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."
After reading that, Blau´s heart was touched and he knelt down and prayed to his Father in Heaven, begging to know the truth. That night, he slept with the intent of recieving an answer from God.
It came the next morning.
Blau isn´t a morning person, but this morning was different. He felt excited, filled with joy from the moment he woke up. He knew instantly that this was his answer.
He was baptized September 7th, 2009, a week earlier than previously scheduled. 
But that wasn´t the end of it. The most important year for a recent convert is the first year. And for Blau, it would prove to be the most telling. In the year following his baptism, he started out knowing that he would serve a mission. But as time went on, he watched missionary after missionary, Elder and Sister, violate not only mission rules, but commandments of God. This surely would have shaken any recent convert, or any member, regardless of time in the church, to their core. I, myself, can´t imagine what that must have done to the testimonies of the members of that ward. 
Despite this, Blau remained in the church, because he had received his answer, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, meaning that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the kingdom of God restored on the Earth. He was active in the church, but, like many of us, I dare say all of us at some point or another, he was not active in heart. He went to church, activities, institute, but he was not progressing.
But over time, he developed a hunger for the word of God, and his desire to serve a full-time mission rekindled. he went to the temple for the first time, and returned many times after. He did his best to "put off the natural man and become a saint through the atonement of Christ."

Because of that one reference from a member, so many people have been blessed:
1. Genisblau Paiva became converted to the Lord, and joined the one true Church of Jesus Christ.
2. The family of Elder Paiva is now open to the Gospel, receiving the missionaries. His two older brothers and younger sister have since joined the Church.
3. Elder Paiva´s ancestors now have the opportunity to recieve the Gospel and have their work done.
4. Elder Paiva´s future family will be blessed by having a husband and father with a strong testimony and dedication to God.
5. Elder Paiva is serving a mission in São Paulo, baptizing many and declaring repentence to countless more. He is also strengthening the members of the wards in which he serves. 
6. As a District Leader multiple times, Elder Paiva is teaching and being a blessing in the lives of various other missionaries, including myself.

In the end, can you imagine the consequences if that one member didn´t give the reference to the missionaries? Or if the missionaries decided not to visit Blau, who was said to "love the things of the world too much"? The result would be this: millions of people, dead, living, or not yet born would lose a chance to recieve exaltation. After waiting for so long to have their work done, Blau´s ancestors would have to wait, perhaps another generation. More personally, I have learned so much from my companion. He has really helped me to become more converted to the Lord. There are things he has taught me that I doubt anyone else could, at least not in the same way, or with the same Spirit. 

We are members of the one true Church. We have the only correct baptism. There is no other way to salvation. Do we fully appreciate what this means? We were chosen, before this life, according to our faith and valient courage, to be here at this time as members of the Church. It is a privilege and also a great responsibility. If we do not endure to the end, we will be separated after this life, torn apart by the justice of God, left as individuals, tortured by regret and dissatisfaction. That is not paradise!
As latter-day saints, we have this duty, having made this covenant with God, to stay together with our family after this life, and help our fellow ward members do the same. We cannot convert anyone if we are not converted ourselves. 

So what will we do?

1. Become converted. Every single member of this Church needs to have a testimony. But not just that, the difference between a testimony and conversion is that conversion lasts. This can only be done in our hearts. No matter how much time we have in the Church, the necessity of confirming sacred truths never goes away. We need to be reminded that the Church is true, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that Thomas S. Monson is the prophet today. I ask every latter-day saint to ask God, our Father, if these things be true.
2. Help our families become converted. The family is an ancient and sacred institution created before the world began: father, mother, and children. That is how we left the Pre-Mortal Existence and that is the only way we can return to the presence of our God in the Celestial Kingdom: hand in hand with our family. We must do all that we can to support the edification and exaltation of families. This includes indexing, family history work, and participating whole-heartedly in temple ordinances, vicariously for those who could not during their alloted time in this life. . 
3. Help the missionaries convert our neighbors and friends. Christ declared during his Earthly ministry that it is the duty of every saint in His church to preach the gospel to "every creature". No one is too worldly, too far gone, too wicked, to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, we can only do missionary work through our example. But other times, we can act, and we must act, to save our friends and neighbors! Giving good, detailed referrals to the missionaries. Opening our homes to missionaries and their investigators. Giving our time to the Lord by not only driving the missionaries, but helping them teach, bearing powerful testimony of the restored gospel of Christ.

Without conversion, and without performing this vital, sacred work, whether it be in our own homes, the house of an investigator, or in the House of the Lord, we cannot recieve the fulness of joy that is salvation. In section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith said: 
"And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect (Heb 11:40)."
By proclaming the gospel and redeeming the dead, we are perfecting the saints. 
I know that this work is making me better. I know for a fact that without this mission that I´m serving, I would be for the worse. If we can truly lose ourselves in this miraculous work of salvation, we can become more perfect, more like Christ, our Standard. 
In the next two weeks, I will finish the first quarter of my mission, having 6 months. Six months of hard, difficult work. Yet I feel like i´ve just arrived here. Every day, I have more joy, peace, energy. Every day, I feel the love of Christ and I feel closer to reaching my goal of salvation. To see just what missionary work can do for you, I turn to the following quotation, again, from the Prophet Joseph Smith:
"I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priestcraft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women—all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty..."

This work is true. 
This church is true. 
This gospel is true. 
And if we are true to this work, to this church, and to this gospel, we can be perfected, with our families and our friends, and with all the multitudes of our spirit brothers and sisters, who will one day thank us, tears in their eyes, for trying to help. Let us remember that this work exists not just in this world, but the the one before, and the one to come.
I bear solemn witness to the divinity of Christ, and to His infinite wisdom and power to bring people to repentence. People can change, including us. The gospel of Jesus Christ is all-encircling, all-accepting.
I know that my Redeemer lives. And I testify of this in His sacred name, even the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

With love,
Elder Richins

Elder Thomas Richins
Ala Jardim Mirna 
Estaca Grajaú
Missão Brasil São Paulo Interlagos

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