Letter #32

Dear Family and Friends,

My new companion is Elder Thyslom Santos. He´s from Aracaju, Sergipe, which puts three out of four companions here, from the northeast. He´s 23, been out for a little more than a year, and left a fiance. He joined the church when he was 13, and is still the only member in his family. Judging by this first week, he´s the hardest working companion I’ve had, and I´m happy for that.

Something I’ve been learning to do, and something Uncle Zach wrote a while back, that it’s important to recognize the sacrifices people make to go on a mission. This attitude has been helping me learn to love despite imperfections. He´s made a lot. And is serving diligently. His motto is `Continui a Nadar` or in English, ‘Keep on Swimming.’

And on the subject of the sea, I’ve eaten lots of fish here, but this week, we ate torta de capixaba. It’s the most famous dish of the entire state of Espirito Santo. Basically like a baked fish casserole, it has a bunch of different types of seafood mixed together, also including shrimp, with onions and olives. It’s super-duper expensive, but really delicious.

This week for Easter, the members have been way generous, giving chocolate eggs, acai, and even fried chicken.

This week, I thought I´d share three `portraits’ of the week.

(1) With my new companion, we visited a dentist on Wednesday. You know I hate, I hate, I hate visiting the dentist. But my companion had a problem with his teeth (completely different than mine for the record) so we decided to go. It was not anything like `civil war medicine,’ nevertheless, it was different. Think dimly lit room, no assistants just a receptionist and a lone dentist. We asked a couple people about which dentist is the best, but there was no clear analysis. When in doubt, (and the real is 1/4 of the dollar) choose the most expensive. So we did.

I’ve never really had a problem with the teeth before, and yet the dentist always brings pain. So I went in showing my teeth, but it wasn’t because I was smiling. But, this anonymous angel performed a quick examination and gave me some instructions. Basically, as often happens, three months ago I noticed a little problem. And I go into DEFCON 4. He told me I´m brushing way to hard, and shouldn’t use Listerine with alcohol. I have gingivitis, and have been exacerbating it exceedingly pushing the disease up with my brushing. So, he gave me a couple things to do, and I´ll be checking back up with him on Wednesday. Already, it feels so much better. Lesson: It’s important to talk with the doctor, not just have a herb garden.

(2)  A while back, I mentioned that a person in the street, Ricardo, stopped us and asked for a Book of Mormon. We delivered it, and taught one of the most interesting lessons of my mission. He´s about 40, and if there is a `Brazilian hippie,’ he´s it. Man bun. Fashionable there, unheard of here. He´s currently unemployed and living off his parents inheritance. His mother was Catholic, his father atheist. He was baptized Catholic but followed his father´s example for many years until a couple things happened, and he became Christian, without associating with any denomination.

There´s a mountain near us, Mestre Alvaro, so beautiful. Luscious green grass and trees mingled with stunning rock faces. It really is the prettiest mountain I’ve ever seen. The green in Brasil, is different, more alive and vibrant than the green in the States. Well, this new convert to Christianity hiked up Mestre Alvaro one day, alone, crazy considering all the robbers who hide there. But he made it to the top, next to a small pond, and as he described it, “I felt a strange sensation, something calling me, so I stripped naked, shouted my name and jumped into the pond. Yes, I was baptized as an infant, but this was my real baptism.” Really friendly person, and he´s faithfully reading the Book of Mormon, and believes it, but just can´t get him to visit the church. And he´s the first person I’ve met who´s baptized himself.

(3) Saturday morning, a hummingbird flew into our apartment. Its called a `beija-flor` in Portuguese. Or a flower kisser. It flew around the house moving like a melody looking for spiders to eat. Truly beautiful. A lustrous green and blue, outlined with a black beak. It was one of those moments where time seemed to stand still, me, being captivated, the wings humming. The colors of the bird being in stark contrast to the staid concrete. Jesus Christ taught, “Be a light to the world.” And like the hummingbird, we should be different, bringing joy. Having color in our lives. Eventually it left, but the flower kisser will forever flit and flutter in my memory. Fly free forever.

I´m excited for General Conference this week. For a chance to hear inspired words from living prophets. Make sure to mark it as a priority.

Love,

Elder Schenewark

Nice and tidy.

Letter #31

Letter #31

Dear Family and Friends,

Today we found out about transfers. Elder Soares is leaving to go to Colatina to be a zone leader and I´ll be staying here. My new companion is Elder T. Santos and he´ll be district leader here.

This week, we prepared Adinto to be baptized, the soy bean broker, and he was interviewed and ready but then on Friday he had to go out of town for work, and we´re still waiting for him to return.

It looks like you all are having lots of fun out there, minus the sickness bug. Congrats to Aunt Tina for the wedding! Cool that all the siblings made it there.

It´s finally been raining here a little this week. It’s hot all day, and then at about 7 pm each night the heavens open.

Dayani who was baptized last week, works selling Capixabi cap, a state lottery, on the streets. She makes practically no money, but doesn’t complain. Some days, she spends more money on the bus fares to get there then she makes. Between the actual work, and the travel, she´s gone about 16 hours. It’s crazy. And Magno, who was baptized two weeks ago, lost his job for the government as a stonemason, and now sells honey on the street. It´s really opened my eyes. They both work hard, make practically no money, and yet don´t complain.

There have been a couple of government protests this week, and people have been trying to impeach the President. They´re both loving the gospel, and you can really tell it brings them hope.

Sorry I haven´t written much today. I keep writing, and then erasing and then writing and erasing. I have some thoughts, but they aren’t quite developed, so I´ll hold onto them for a little longer.

I finished my first journal, am working on the second, so in about 4-6 months, just thinking ahead, it would be nice if you could send one. I ended with these words:

“Texas to Utah to Arizona to Espirito Santo. Immeasurable growth. Innumerable experiences.”

I really have learned lots. And it’s interesting that oftentimes, the lessons we need to learn are the ones we don´t want to. I´m grateful that I’ve had this opportunity to be here, and to learn to say `thy will, not mine.’

I´m excited to be able to stay here in Serra; I feel like there really is a lot of work left to do here.

Love,

Elder Schenewark

P.S. I still need to mail the glasses, and the only place that fixes cameras is in Vitoria, but I´ll be going there to get it fixed, and will have lots more pictures

Enjoy the view.

“This is why I’m on a mission”

Dear Family and Friends,

I knew that there would be miracles on the mission. I knew it. But still, I’ve been blown away by how many. Everyday here, miracles are finding us.

Dayani, who stopped us on the street last week, is wonderful. She has had a tough life, but has absolutely embraced the gospel, and is looking forward to a new life. She´s made new friends here, and has really seen a vision of what the gospel can do. The Bishop talked with her for 40 minutes, as she will need help from the ward and after he said,”Yes, she has a lot of hardships in her life right now, but she is prepared for, wants, and needs baptism.” We held a wonderful service yesterday and after the baptism, she just covered her eyes, overcome with emotion and said she feels like a giant weight was lifted off her back. This is why I´m on a mission. It´s amazing to see the happiness and peace people have with the gospel. And it’s amazing to have this opportunity to bring that message to them, to people the Lord has prepared.  Dayani has so much potential. She understands the lessons, the essence of the gospel and in spite of her own trials and needs, has a desire to help others.

Sister missionaries in Serra, but in a different ward, were stopped at a bus terminal by a someone who said she had been a member of an evangelical church for 26 years (her entire life), but had had a dream about the Mormon church and wanted to know more. In the dream, everyone was dressed in white, she felt peace and comfort and she just heard one word `Mormon.’ She lives in our area, it’s honestly about at the end of the world, the farthest you can be, so we went to visit her on Saturday. It took two hours to get there, as the bus struggled, but we finally arrived, went to her house and knocked. She answers, and says she thought the sister missionaries would visit her, not us, and says she can´t let us in as her husband wasn’t there. Which we completely understand and agree with, so we just invited her to church. Then we took the bus back, much quicker but still about an hour. So three hours of traveling for literally a 2 minute conversation. It was disappointing, but then the Sister missionaries called us, and said that Kuaune called them, and really wants to come to church, but doesn’t know exactly where it is. So we arranged a ride, she came to church, and loved it! She stayed for the baptism and she cried, and wants to be baptized. So, yeah, just lots of miracles happening here.

And, Adinto, who is about 45-50, reads the Bible everyday on his tablet, and always sees an ad for our church at the bottom, so he clicked on it and asked for a Book of Mormon. We visited him Saturday, and he is so prepared. He talked about how he lived in Sao Paulo years and years ago, and knew Mormons there and always wondered about why they were different. And, in his apartment building there are two active families right by him that already know his children. So we shared our message, he was super excited to read the Book of Mormon, read some Saturday, visited the church on Sunday, and knows it’s true. So far we’ve only taught him, but he asked that we visit his entire family, so we are excited to help with that. There are a lot of people out of work here, that are struggling right now, but he is doing good. He is actually looking for someone  who knows English to work for him. The bishop here has been looking for a new job, and we´re hoping that this might work out. Adinto has a cool job; he´s a soy bean broker, and right now, everything’s exploding. There are a couple of Chinese groups that are trying to buy millions of tons from him. Not unusual for big firms, but he´s used to selling just to Brasil, and now needs someone to help because international contracts are in English. Cool stuff.

Thursday we went to Vitoria to fill out some paperwork to get more Brazilian documents. Some rule changed, I think in our favor, giving foreigners here more freedom, but I don´t really understand everything. Regardless, it was cool, as the Americans in two zones went to do this paperwork together in Vitoria, and then were treated to McDonalds. Big Mac and McFlurry in Brasil. It felt a little like a field trip.

Friday, we had another trip, going an hour away to Cariocica to participate in a mission tour with the Zwicks. It was wonderful, a true spiritual banquet. There have been a small number of people in my life who I’ve met, and really inspired to become like. And Elder Zwick is one of them. Just awesome. Plus, he started a construction company, which is cool beans.

Well, that about sums up all the news.  I love and pray for you all!!

Elder Schenewark

Take a look around.

Discover Something New

Dear Family and Friends,

Well, it’s been an amazing week. I wrote just a little bit last week about someone who stopped us on the street, and then visited the church. We visited him after, and he has been prepared incredibly. Missionaries in another town taught him almost everything, and when we started teaching him, he showed an incredible desire to follow Christ.

When we were about to invite him to be baptized, he stated, “We´re holding a baptism Sunday,” he interrupted and asked if he could be baptized. He did lots of studying everyday and it was just amazing. He´s one of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life. He doesn’t have things easy, but is still always smiling and so incredibly grateful for what he does have. He shared a couple stories from his life, and I´ll share two.

The first, as a 17 year old, he was working shining shoes in Vitoria, and became friends with one of his customers, who owns a chain of grocery stores, and is one of the very rich in Brazil. The guy asked him one day what he wanted to do more than anything else, and he said snowboard. So, he acted as the guy’s son, flew with the family to Florida and then to Ohio to snowboard. And he loved it.

The second story was hilarious. We asked where he was born, and he says, “My card says Vitoria, but really I was born in a car on the way to the hospital. Here, look, my dad cut my cord and tied it.” He then showed us his navel. Good times.

But in all seriousness, it’s been special as he´s worked towards baptism. Sunday was stake conference, and the zone had planned to do a baptism with all the wards, but eventually, our ward was the only one who supported it. So, with some members of the ward, and Pres. and Sister Young, I baptized Magno, and he was just filled with happiness.

We visited one family this week, and they had some pictures on the wall, with the kids riding a zebra. It was funny, as it was 100% so obviously a painted horse, but hey, if you’ve never actually seen a zebra, but knew they have black and white stripes, I guess it passes.

Wednesday, we received mail, and a wonderful package from the Merritts arrived.

Elder Soares is district leader so we spent some time interviewing candidates for baptism of other missionaries in our district, and I was very surprised when a couple of days later, the sister missionaries here called. Caike, the 11 year old son of a less active asked that I baptize him. So I had the privilege to do that Saturday, as well as José, a 60 year old who has been looking for the right church for years. It was cool to attend the service and hear from José as he testified how finally he knows he´s on the right path.

And, like last week with Magno, we were walking in a neighborhood, when someone sitting outside her house, called us over, said she, Dayani, had been taught  a little bit by missionaries when she lived in Rio de Janeiro, and said at this point in her life, she wants the gospel. We visited her later with a member, and they’ve since become great friends. Last night Dayani called us, and asked what she had to do to be baptized. She is reading the book of Mormon, felt the Spirit very strongly at Stake Conference and wants to be baptized.

And, finally, walking in the street last night, a middle-aged man, Ricardo stopped us and talked about how missionaries had visited his father 30 some years earlier, and had given him the Book of Mormon. His father wasn’t interested, and as a teenager he wasn’t either. But, now, after all these years, he stopped us, asked if we are Mormons, and wants to learn more. The Lord has truly been blessing us with people who are prepared and want the gospel.

Elder Zwick, of the Seventy, and his wife, will be doing a tour of the mission, and I’m excited. We’ll be having a conference with him and three other zones this week.

On July 4th, if I remember right, in 1939, the great baseball player Lou Gehrig was honored at Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium. Not only could he play like few others could, but he also lived honorably like few others could. He had traits that are rare in the world, and perhaps even rarer in professional sports with its fame and fortune. On this day, mortally ill with ALS, he called himself the Luckiest Man in the world. At this time, he had been forced into an early retirement due to ALS, or as it’s commonly known, Lou Gehrig´s disease, and less than two years later would die. He had every right to complain, and yet he only offered gratitude.

For me, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. And like him, I truly feel like the Luckiest Man in the World. I’ve been so blessed by the Lord in my life. There have been so many miracles here on the mission, and I am blessed to witness them. This week my testimony was strengthened that this truly is the Lord´s work. We are only his servants here.  And I am so blessed to have family and friends that support me, and lift me up constantly. Love you all,

Elder Schenewark

Discover something new.

Letter #28

Dear Family and Friends,

Again, I have seen the Lord´s hand in our lives. But to start from the beginning.

Last Monday, we went and visited the beach. As a rule, we can´t touch the sand, so I can´t really tell you much about the beach, if it’s really all it’s hyped up to be or not, but I can say it was beautiful. We stayed there for a while, taking pictures, reflecting, etc. Towards the end, a guy came up to us and asked if he could do a sketch of us. So we pooled 15 reias together and posed. Cool remembrance.

My love of açai continues. Originally we just bought a bowl of açai, at a set price but this week we decided to go with the self serve pay by the kilo. We tend to buy a little bit almost every day. It’s so refreshing in the afternoon sun (and healthy). I also ate my first Brazilian hot dog, which was different, and delicious.

We received a referral from a bishop of another ward for an elderly lady, 86 years old, (not unusual in the States, but here, almost unheard of) so we try calling her, but she doesn’t answer her phone; the only other information we have is the address of her store (she still works!!!! as a seamstress). We finally found her getting a manicure and pedicure at a store close by, and we learned about the referral.

She was Catholic for much of her life, but became convinced that baptism needs to be by immersion, so she currently affiliates with Assembly of God church, but has wondered about all the Catholic family members she´s outlived, and the Bishop said he´d send the missionaries over to talk about vicarious baptism. So we taught the restoration and vicarious baptisms. She loved the message, and the Book of Mormon, but her 88 year old sister was having a birthday out of town, so she couldn’t come to church this week. Hopefully more news to come.

Willian, 17 years old who visited last week, and has 5 siblings, was interviewed, and asked that I baptize him. So, this Sunday, after many miracles, we both descended into the water. Definitely a special moment. During the service, it was a little chaotic, but as soon as we started singing the opening hymn, everything went perfect, and the Spirit filled the room. We talked with Willian´s mom, and she talked about how he has already changed, and is now spending more time with the family, helps her more, and is much more obedient. She called it a miracle, and hopes we can help some of her other children. She thanked and thanked us for helping Willian.

I’ve learned it’s not us, as missionaries. We are messengers, bringing a message of hope and of peace. It’s the Savior’s message, and it’s through Him and His atonement that people change. We try to teach people individually, as the Spirit guides, but our underlying message is the same. And it’s amazing to see how the Lord has prepared people to hear the message. It’s sad to see them reject it, usually just out of apathy, but it’s even more amazing to see someone who has been prepared, accept and love the gospel. Willian has changed, and watching his life change with the gospel, as he has embraced it, has changed mine as well.

We went with a member to visit another referral, and unfortunately the referral didn’t really work out, but as we were wondering around lost, trying to find the house, a guy called out Elders! and we talked with him quickly, wrote down his number and continued on. Sunday, we called him, re-invited him to church, and he came and loved it. He´s already visited the church when he lived in a different town, and had wanted to know more.

Like always, there´s been lots of special moments that I won´t recount at this moment.
And I´ll close with this thought. D&C 59;4 “And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me.”

Commandments are a blessing. As we keep them, honor our covenants, and serve God, he will BLESS us with additional commandments. Commandments are here to bless us. They are not something to grudgingly attempt, but honestly to glory in. As Alma said (Alma 29;9), “I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy.”

And especially in this wonderful time of my life, this is my glory and work as well.

Love,

Elder Schenewark