Letter #99

Dear Family and Friends,

What do you say on your last preparation day? I would like to simply bear my testimony one more time, as a representative of our Savior Jesus Christ and His church.

I know that God is our Heavenly Father. He loves us. He yearns for our good. I testify that He sent His only begotten son, Jesus Christ to atone for our sins. I know that Christ suffered for each one of us individually. He bled and died for us. He has provided all of us a way, through repentance and His grace, to be able to return and live with them in the Celestial Kingdom.

I know that the Holy Ghost really does guide and lead. He testifies of the truth, fortifies against sin and temptation, and helps us become pure. I know that Joseph Smith saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and was called to be a prophet. He translated the Book of Mormon. I testify that the Bible and the Book of Mormon both contain the words of God. I am so thankful for the wisdom and truth they contain, and how they can light our paths and help us reach our potential and have the Holy Ghost in our lives.

I know that today we have a living prophet, seer, and revelator in Thomas Monson. I know that it is through obedience that we come unto our Savior. As He said, if ye love me, keep my commandments. I know that when we make mistakes, we can repent, and return to the path. I know that families can be forever. I will be forever grateful for the chance I had to serve here, in the Brasil Vitoria Mission.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Elder Schenewark

Letter #98

Dear Family and Friends,

Last Monday, we visited an old monastery, built in 1558, above the towns of Vila Velha and Vitoria. We made the hike up the mountain, and were greeted by magnificent views and a morning mass. After that, it was off to the branch president´s house where we enjoyed a barbecue a la American style, complete with BBQ sauce.

Tuesday, we had a huge birthday spread, and at night there was a surprise party (pictures to follow later) at a member´s house. And Thursday, we had pasta and then 5 liters of ice cream we had to eat. Delicious! Yet, the best part happened on Tuesday when we were able to give a blessing to a very sick lady in the branch, and she came up to us on Sunday looking like a different person and told us that she had been completely cured. I have seen so many times the power of the priesthood! It is real, and it works miracles!

Wednesday we had zone conference with the Mazzagardi´s. It was wonderful to meet them, and I have been impressed so far. They are different than the Young´s yet have been called of God. Sis. Mazzagardi is a real trooper and inspiration. She lost her two daughters after they were born prematurely due to her cancer. And, with that cancer, she lost the ability to speak (being tongue cancer). She went two years with out speaking anything, and has spent the last eight years learning to talk again. They have stressed strict obedience and the fact that we are representatives of Christ.

Thursday, we had our leadership council with them, where we could again learn a lot, and know of their faith and courage. Wednesday night, we went to Guarapari to do a couple of baptismal interviews. I talked with Sarah, but she had a doubt, so we decided to put the Book of Mormon to the test to try and help her. After a prayer, she opened it up to a random page and pointed to the first verse she saw. I saw that she had opened to Alma 44, and honestly my faith wavered. The war chapters aren’t the best when talking about baptism. But this time, I was the one who really learned a lesson, when the first sentence she read talked about making a covenant of peace. It answered her question, and yesterday was baptized.

For what has to be a new record, it again poured Sunday morning, making four  Sundays straight, making it very hard to bring people to church. This time, we left the house at 7;30, and after having rained all night, I thought it would hold off. Alas, it was not to be, and 15 minutes later, the heavens were opened. And we didn’t have any umbrella, which is not a terrible problem for us, but when we got to our lead investigator’s house, she too did not have an umbrella, and wasn’t willing to venture out without cover. So, we pleaded, ten minutes, and went looking for one. And miraculously, we got one, and everyone made it to church on time.

Love,

Elder Schenewark

Letter #97

Dear Family and Friends,

This week saw the end of Pres. Young´s tenure as mission president. And the arrival of Pres. Mazzagardi. Pres. Mazzagardi pulled a surprise and arrived a day early on Friday. I´ll be forever grateful for the Young´s service and the sacrifices they made to be here. I’ve learned a lot and have been eternally blessed. I am sure that the Mazzagardi´s will be fantastic and I am excited to meet them personally on Wednesday.

I also finished the Book of Mormon again this week. It is another blessing in my life. Every time I read it, my testimony grows. I know it teaches the precepts of our Heavenly Father. Following its teachings, we will not be led astray. I’ve been studying about repentance, and one part that struck me was in Ether 15.  Coriantumr, the wicked king, had been warned by the prophet Ether to repent, and after fighting wars and seeing countless deaths, he remembered what Ether said. It says, “He began to repent of the evil which he had done; he began to remember the words which had been spoken by the mouth of all the prophets, and he saw that they were fulfilled thus far, every whit; and his soul mourned and refused to be comforted.

We know what then happened. The entire nation was destroyed. Why? Because Coriantumr began to repent. He never finished the process, and never truly changed, only mourned. This was the moment where the history of that people was changed, and thousands would go on to die. We face pivotal moments too, where we can choose to repent or not. The scriptures teach us we only have two choices. Repent, or suffer. Repentance is not suffering, but not repenting is. To reach our destiny, we must walk the path of repentance, every day.

Love,

Elder Schenewark

Letter #96

Dear Family and Friends,

This week, in an effort to really seek to do the Lord´s will, we met with our branch president and some of the other ward leaders. Pres. Young has taught that their are angels preparing people to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. And, the branch president is the person who has the keys of the ministering of angels. So we met up with him, held a meeting, shared what we’ve been doing and asked for a couple families to visit to help him and the branch, and finally to offer a prayer, asking direction for where we should work. The answer was an unanimous one, and we have since focused our efforts on that area, with an increased level of support from the branch.

One activity that helped a lot in our reactivation and tracting efforts was the Festa de Juninha that was held this Saturday. It´s an annual event that essentially celebrates and remembers the past when once a year everyone in the country would go to town. Think rural country fair. The costumes are elaborate, and it involves lots of country dishes and finally a Quadrille dance. Just a while after starting, the heavens opened up and the rain poured down. We quickly dragged everything inside and the celebration continued. I loved the quadrille dance.

Another highlight this week was a pancake night a member put on for us. Think unlimited pancakes, maple syrup, eggs, and bacon. And that’s after not having it for two years. The family was actually the family that started the church in Itaperuna 8 years ago, and we had some fond reminiscing as well.

We´ve all been a little down under the weather this past week, but E. hatch get hit the hardest, and might even have had dengue to go with his cold. A member was telling us about some miracle drug, the name of which sounds like “chileno.” The three Americans were all buying it, a wonder pill, not too expensive, and readily available at  the drugstore. And then we figured it out- Tylenol. It was a funny experience, and I am happy to report that with the help of this ´´new´´ medicine my companion is much better now. He ended up spending one day completely confined to bed, but we already had a split scheduled for that day with one of the district leaders so the work continued and I sneakily got out of staying home doing nothing.

Reading this week from Ether , in chapter 2;25 the Lord reassures the brother of Jared about their upcoming voyage. “And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come.

And it´s the same for us. We cannot cross the great seas- we cannot successfully complete our mission, or marry, or raise kids or whatever else our challenge might be without having the help of the Lord. But with His help, we can truly do all things (Phil. 4;13!). He will prepare us, and we will make successfully this voyage of life, until we make it back to Him.

Love,

Elder Schenewark

Letter #95

Dear Family and Friends,

We ran out of the gates to start this transfer, especially me, being determined to finish whatever work I have left. We had invited the zone to join us for a special fast on Saturday and Sunday and as we were united with a special purpose, we saw lots of miracles. On Saturday, we met a family that has been hearing the messages and preparing for baptism. Angela, is a single mother and has three kids.

We also received a referral from the sisters of a young man they had met, Richard, who is 17. The sisters met him Saturday, and we had never met him before picking him up for church on Sunday. Definitely a blessing! He was waiting for us, already to go, and loved church, and the Branch president told us that he likes him and wants to give special attention to that future missionary.

We also were stopped by a churro vendor on Friday. He had actually stopped us in the street about a month ago on a bicycle, but we had never ever found him in house when we stopped by. Well,  he started conversing with us and urged us to also try his wares. A regular ploy by street sellers but we each coughed up 2 reais to eat the worst churros I’ve had in my life. Awful. Yet, the spirit had been strong as we talked and he showed up in church at 8:40, even before we did! He loved it, and promised to bring his wife and son next time.

And, we’ve continued working with a member referral, a couple who are trying to marry, and also have been appreciating the missionary lessons preparing for baptism. I am thankful for the doors that have been opened, the people we’ve taught, and the chance to help them find true happiness. I think I’ve worked with more families in this last week than in the rest of my mission combined and that has made me so happy. Families are forever.

Often I’ve reflected on significant dates, such as D-day or even Veteran´s day, that have no real meaning here in Brasil. And one more of these dates is Father´s day. I reminded my house companions of this fact on Saturday, and they both had forgotten as this holiday is not commemorated here. In fact, it doesn’t even exist. Mother´s day would seem to be universal, as everyone has a mother. Yet, it is difficult to find a family in Brasil where the dad stays with his wife long enough to see the kids grow.

I am so thankful for you dad and for what you did and do for me. I can´t ask for a better example. Father´s truly are essential for a working and thriving society. The Book of Mormon talks a lot about the influence of  ‘traditions of their fathers’ and we are molded by traditions that we are taught. I am thankful for the traditions that I’ve been taught and have been created in our home and hope to always follow them.

Love

Elder Schenewark

Letter #94

Dear Family and Friends,
For my last 6 weeks, I´ll be staying here in Terra Vermelha. I was happy to hear that, and its a bonus that the other two Americans will be staying here as well. It´s been a fantastic transfer, and we´re all excited for this one.
We did a service project this week helping staff a garage sale Brasilian style, in a mall to raise money for a baby who was born with some complications, and needing to go to the USA to have surgery. It was what I needed, to forget about whatever problems the zone is having, and help someone who is in a lot bigger fight.
 Afterwards, I went to the post office and as we were waiting in line Elder Lighten´s nose started to bleed, so we left looking for a bathroom to clean the blood, and all of a sudden security was on to us, and we were quickly escorted into an elevator and into the medical center. It seemed like a movie. We spent the next twenty minutes there, receiving perhaps the best treatment I’ve ever seen. Note to all world travelers, if you are feeling bad, just go to the mall. It beats the doctor any day. This nosebleed put the standby doctors into defcon5 mode, and I was thoroughly impressed by their seriousness and care in treating Elder Lighten. It was honestly hilarious.
The other pair of missionaries, Elders Lighten and Dias baptized two people yesterday. One Vitor, whom we found in a park playing soccer. While I wasn’t the one teaching him everyday, its been incredible to see the change he has undergone. In Ezekiel 18:31, it reads “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit.”
Vitor did just that, cleaning up his life, and changing his heart. Yet it is not just for him. This is something we all need to do. We need to clean up our lives, take out the impurities, and have a new heart. Its not a one week process or even a one year process, but its a lifetime of work to become perfect.
Love,
Elder Schenewark

Letter #93

Dear Family and Friends,

Last week, our branch president here talked with President Young and said we, the four current elders here, are the best he´s seen in his seven years as branch president. I don´t know what we did to merit that exactly, but hey, I´ll take it.

And for whatever reason, or perhaps because of that comment, Pres. Young decided to come to our branch for a church project. They are making some new church video in Salt lake, I don´t know exactly what for, but they asked for footage of recent converts and chose our mission, and Pres. Young chose our branch. So we spent a couple hours with him Sunday helping him get the film made. Yes, it’s brief. yes, perhaps it never will make the final cut. yet, I enjoyed the opportunity as did the new members. And we heard some ´´behind the scenes´´ stories of Pres. Young from his post-mission era.

On Thursday we headed to Vitória and participated in the Young´s last leadership council. Their closing testimonies were touching, especially Sis. Young´s as she talked about how ´´everything good in [her] life came because of the gospel and family.´´ And, how after 42 years of marriage, she is more in love than ever, and certain that ´´only eternity will do.´´

On the work front, we had a zone wide fast and saw the miracles immediately, with everyone scheduled for baptism and confirmation actually happening, and a mission record number of people scheduled to be baptized this week. 17. That number may drop, but this week is still shaping up to be great by all standards, as I prepare to start my last transfer.

Love,

Elder Schenewark

Letter #92

Dear Family and Friends,

This letter´s coming in late, as today we went to the world famous chocolate factory Garoto. I think the tour was even better than Hershey´s and my mind was admittedly impressed by the equipment and machinery. Cost 20Reais, but after just smelling chocolate for an hour, at the end, they put us in a room, with all the types of chocolate they make and let us go at it. A chocolate buffet. I´m not wanting to eat any chocolate today, but I´d recommend making the trip. It is, or is one of the biggest employers in the state of Espirito Santo.

This weekend we had stake conference. Notable as it was the last of the stake president before he is released, the last for Pres. and Sis. Young, and we were visited by Moroni Torgam, an Area Seventy who will also be released this fall. This Moroni is not quite the Mitt Romney of Brasil, but close to it. He´s a famous politician (senator) from Fortaleza, Ceará. And in the church he´s famous as a scriptorian. He had someone writing down all the scriptures he quoted on the blackboard for people to study later. And without notes, or scriptures must have rattled off fifty during his Sunday talk.

 

Sis. Young talked about tithing and how it has blessed her life. Its a subject that she often teaches and I never get tired hearing about it. Just one story, shortly after marrying, Pres. Young and Sis. Young unexpectedly received family visitors into their house, and were only able to feed them rice and lettuce, as they had nothing else. Nevertheless, they paid tithing and were abundantly blessed. And, one blessing that Sis. Young has seen in her life as she pays tithing, is her wants diminish. She doesn’t have to have a new car, but instead is happy with what she has.

During the morning while getting ready for the day, I like to listen to discourses. I listened to one by Pres. Hinckley called  “Seven pillars of wisdom. While not explaining here in detail anything, I would like to share his seven pillars:

1. God lives and the door of heaven is open to you
2. Life is forever
3. The kingdom is here
4. The family is divine
5. Obedience is better than sacrifice
6.  God is bound when you do what He says
7. He that loseth his life, shall find it.

I know that these are eternal truths. I need to do better to live by them. I am so grateful for prophets, seers, and revelators who reveal the mysteries of divinity and teach is how to live. They are men of God, and I can´t deny it. Let´s always follow them!

Love,

Elder Schenewark

Letter #91

Dear Family and Friends,

The photos were from an activity we put together on Saturday. There are 4 returned missionaries in the branch, and 4 full time missionaries, us, so we divided up into 8 groups, and then separated the rest of the members into one of the groups. Our focus was on the area around the chapel, so we handed each group a couple less actives to visit nearby, to see if they could help, but also to see if the address was even right (usually they´re way outdated).

And in our ninety minutes we were able to visit twenty less actives, and talking with people in the street and neighbors of the members, 44 referrals. My group even ended up bringing a less-active to the second half of the activity. We all returned, talked about what we did, a couple people bore their testimonies, and then it was off to lunch, which was stroganoff, followed by açai and cupuaçu. Delicious.

Finally, the members went at it with soccer and some other games while the three Americans handled all others at the ping-pong table. Aunt Janel beware,  #undefeated. It turned out to be a fantastic activity where perhaps the most lasting effect to be felt will be the members themselves as the morale went way up in regards to member missionary work, including several youth with a new or increased desire to serve full time.

On Wednesday we had our zone conference, where literally everything went off with out a hitch. That’s not rare, it’s impossible, but somehow it happened. Even lunch turned out to be fantastic. It was the last zone conference for Pres. and Sis. Young so we planned a surprise: God Be With You ´til We Meet Again song and then presented them with shirts and a poster.

And after trying to think about how to give a new twist on an old subject, i.e. following up and accountability, we turned to the story of the creation in Genesis and Abraham 4 and brought the house down.

 

Thursday was our interview with Pres. Young. My temple recommend would be expiring at the end of the month, so I was able to renew that, and was touched thinking about answering the same questions to return to our Heavenly Father. Just a thought, but it made my smile bigger and bigger thinking about returning to His presence, or the temple. And one of our district leaders was sent packing, opening up space for a new one, and now I am so grateful for the missionaries we have in our zone, I couldn´t have picked them better.

Love,

Elder Schenewark

Letter #90

Dear Family and Friends,

It was wonderful to talk to everyone yesterday. Priceless. I love you guys so much. As mentioned, yesterday was the baptism of Juliana. She moved from Rio de Janeiro a couple of weeks ago, and we knocked on her door, our first day here. She lives right next to the chapel, thirty seconds away walking. It´s been amazing to see her resolution, and while young, has a couple of kids that are loving Primary, which is nice to see.

This morning we woke up early, and headed to a giant hill, called Morro do Moreno. It sits right on the bay and we enjoyed some wonderful views of Vitória and Vila Velha and Serra. We could see basically 70% of the population of Espirito Santo.

And Saturday, we were blessed with a miracle. Romildo, 49, stopped us on the street and asked us some questions. I thought initially he was drunk, but it turns out he wasn´t, it was just the long term effect of some of his choices. Why do I say that? Because he has a great desire to change. And it’s never too late.

He went to church yesterday, and invited a bunch of his friends, and really does have a desire to come to Christ. I´ve thought a lot lately about Alma the Younger. Reading the Book of Mormon, I noticed something interesting. If you look at Mosiah 29:45, and Mosiah 27, you will see that Alma, the Elder was about 80 when his son repented and turned to the Lord. This changed my perception of Alma the Younger, because when he changed he wasn´t young! Maybe 40-50, or even older. Yet, it really is never too late. I am so grateful for the gift of repentance in my life, the chance to change, and for the grace of our Savior which makes it all possible.

Love,

Elder Schenewark