Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday, February 28th 2011

Oí Família!!!

Well, I guess I had better start this e-mail with a big JUST KIDDING. Apparently my mission president has a knack for promising things and then at the last minute changing everything. He had told me in the interview that I´d be the senior companion, but when we got to transfers, I looked at the board and saw that I had stayed as the junior companion. I wasn´t disappointed or anything, just surprised. All of my leaders came up to me and told me that they were sure that I would be the senior this transfer, but I just told them that it´s not important and that I am just happy for a change. My new companion is Elder Thiago. He is a Brazilian from Manaus. Coincidentally, he is from the exact same city as Elder Fernandes, but he has a personality completely different. He is really short and all the members think that he was an exception of a missionary because Salt Lake let him serve as a 15 year-old haha. He´s really great and we are going to have an amazing transfer together because it has already started well.

This Saturday we had two baptisms!!! We were only supposed to have one, but at the last minute, the sister of one of our old baptisms decided that she wanted to be baptized as well. We got to the chapel and took a lot of pictures. Everyone was happy and smiling and even the mom of the girl we baptized told us that one day God would prepare a way for her to marry her husband and be baptized, too. I am hoping that this "way" is prepared sooner rather than later! :)

A funny story for you all... So, everyone is aware of the rule that we have as missionaries and how we aren´t allowed to swim, right? Well, I have a confession to make to everyone... I swam after the baptism. But wait, allow me to explain. So after the baptism, the bishop asked us to leave the font filled because there would be another baptism the next day, but Elder Thiago already removed the plug. So I had to grab the plug and do a nose-dive into the font to plug the hole again. It was pretty fun!

So I have made a pretty good friend out here on the mission. He is our zone leader and he is from Spanish Fork. We did a companion exchange with our leaders this week and I stayed with this Elder Bardsley from SF. Turns out that we already knew each other! He was on Student Council in Spanish and we had already met before our senior year. It was such a good exchange and we got a lot of work done. We both were talking about the mission and he was telling me how he is going home at the end of this year. We both decided that it is a lot better out here because we don´t have to worry about anything in the world. He admitted that he is afraid of marriage, and after re-thinking about the problems I´ve had with my past companions I was finding that I am a little scared as well. So if it´s all right with everyone, I am going to stay here, okay? :) just kidding Mom. But it was a great day and I am so happy that I have made so many great friends out here on the mission. Americans and Brazilians!

This week, I have been able to see just how much Satan is trying to destroy this wonderful plan of happiness that our Heavenly Father has prepared for us. In this ward we have a woman who has always helped out with the missionary work in the area. She LOVES the missionaries and when she used to live in northern Brazil, the elders even lived in her house and on P-day took care of her only daughter whom she calls her "princess." Well, the sad news is that her daughter was abused last week and when her mom told me about it, I got so sad and my mind went racing. There are so many great and marvelous things in this world that make us happy. But at the same time, there are so many people who allow Satan to enter into their lives and then he uses them to do absolutely terrible things to the innocent children of God. I thought about this for a long time. I love this family so much and I couldn´t understand why such a haneous thing had to happen to them. God does not permit these things to happen. He loves us so much that He gave us our own ability to choose right or wrong. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who choose to do wrong and they end up hurting those who are choosing the right. The justice of God, however, is inevitable. Those who hurt the innocent children of our Heavenly Father will have to meet their maker at the end if they do not repent. I know that Heavenly Father loves us and doesn´t allow these horrible things happen to us; it´s the devil trying to lead us away from the straight and narrow path by thinking that it was God´s fault. I know that one day we will all be able to rest from these terrible things in the world and that we can live forever in happiness with our families. :) I love this Gospel and what I am learning from it everyday! Thank-you for all the emails and support that I receive from you all. I love you!

Elder Clark

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday, February 21st 2011

Oí Família!

Wow! So many great emails from you all this week! I am so happy that you are all doing so well and happy! The Stevens girls are back from the tour in the NYC and Grandma just had to rub it in that she saw FOUR shows while she was out there, thanks Grandma haha. And now I know that my prayers have been answered with Grandpa´s health improving. Thanks so much for all the info this week; I am overly-filled with happiness having heard so many awesome things from my awesome family!

Well, this week was filled with so many cool little stories. I´ll start with the first one, because that´s always a good place to start, right?

We had another baptism this week! We were visiting one of our recent-converts who hasn´t been confirmed yet, and we met her little brother. The first visit and conversation we had with him about baptism didn´t go too well. He didn´t like the idea of not drinking coffee and things like that, but something happened between the first visit and the second. We entered his house and left a really spiritual message about baptism and how we all need it if we want to return to live with our Heavenly Father. The boy´s name is Leandro and he said after the message that he wanted to be baptized! We got to Church on Sunday and he loved it! We went to another chapel that afternoon (because our chapel is just a rented out garage for the time being), and he was baptized by Elder Fernandes. After the baptism, I saw Leandro looking at a picture of Christ. He came back and he showed me his cell phone. He had put the picture of Christ as his wallpaper so he could always remember who´s name he represents now. I was so touched by the Spirit at that moment because it really hit home for me. When I was in high school and started to feel weak in my ability to avoid temptation, I, too, put a picture of Christ as my wallpaper on my cell phone. I was so impressed with the way that Heavenly Father used Leandro to strengthen my testimony of my Savior.

Leandro is also friends with one of our other recent-converts, Dión. Dión was the first person we baptized in this area and he´s been going strong ever since his baptism. Since his baptism, he´s already received the Aaronic Priesthood and passed the sacrament twice, and also started his reading of the Book of Mormon. A lot of recent-converts have a rough time with reading the Book of Mormon because they just don´t want to set aside the time to read. But Dión is already a pro and he´s already passed 2 Nephi! We were visiting him and asked him how he was doing with his reading. He said that reading the Book of Mormon has helped so much that his reading skills have improved immensly! He has already seen the blessings that come from studying the scriptures and now he is set for the rest of his life. That is really what we all need. For ANY of the commandments of God, we need to have a personal testimony that God blesses us based on our obedience to that commandment, and the way to gain a personal testimony... is simply just doing it! Obey and you will see the blessings.

Dión has an older brother of 16 years-old named André. André has heard only one of the discussions but ever since he has been wanting to go to Church, but he only works on Sunday at the mall and only in the morning. I called Dión yesterday after Church and André picked up the phone. This was our conversation:

"Hello. May I speak with Dión?"
"Who would like to speak with him?"
"This is Elder Clark."
"Elder Clark!!! Guess what! I switch my hours at work. Now I can go to Church with you guys!"

I was so happy after that phone call that I forgot why I evened needed to call Dión in the first place.

We also visited a friend of yet another of our recent-converts this week. Her name is Michele and her mom, Maria. We taught the Restoration to them and the second visit they had already gotten an answer to their prayers that it was true. We marked Michele for baptism this next Saturday and we will continue to help her mom quit smoking and get married to her husband (they just live together). Michele is really excited for her baptism and her mom told us something very neat. She always passed our chapel on her way to work and always thought to herself that one day she would get to know this beautiful Church, and her opportunity has come.

We had our interviews with President Moreira this week as well. It was really my chance to settle with him some of the difficulties that I´d been having with my companion. As I sat in the chair in front of my president, I couldn´t think of anything that I could say. There are so many people who run to the president with every little problem they face and they never learn from their experiences. Everything that has happened to me and Elder Fernandes has been a blessing in the sky. Were these last three months hard... yes. Did I want to have a different companion... many times. But I know why I was supposed to be with him. I have improved so much with my teaching and my confidence in my ability to help people and I know that I would not be at the level I am if it weren´t for his help and my perseverance in hard times. The Lord blessed his people with inumerable amounts of blessings when they endure to the end with patience and humility. The difference between the Elder Clark in November and the Elder Clark now is amazing. If you would have told me that it was going to turn out like this back in January, I would have called you a liar, but I have seen the Lord´s work and I am so very grateful.

In our last companionship inventory, or our last set-apart time to work out our personal difficulties, I told Elder Fernandes that at times I didn´t want to listen to him because I didn´t like the way he always made fun of me, and because of that I may have missed out on a lot of chances to learn. I told him sorry for being hard to work with and really meant it. During these last three months, we have never given each other a high-five at any time, but I stuck my hand out after I said those words, with a slim hope of him accepting the apology. He lifted his hand, thought about it for a little bit, and then landed one of the sweetest-feeling high-fives. It felt like every problem just went away after that. Now we are ending the transfer today and President Moreira said that he´d be leaving and I am going to the senior companion from now until the end of my mission. I am so very grateful for the things the Lord gives me. From the tiny little experiences of pain and difficulty, to the great big moments of joy and happiness. I love you all and hope you have a great week! Notice the small blessings and the big problems will go away.

Elder Clark

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Monday, Feburary 14th, 2011

Oí Família!

The optimistic bug is still trying to bite me in this work haha which is a good thing. This week, Elder Fernandes and I worked super hard to try to find new people to teach and baptize this month. We really worked like dogs to find these people and we finally did. We taught them all and got them really excited to go to Church, but when we got around to Saturday to remind everyone of Church the next morning, everyone decided to find an excuse for not going. I got really discouraged because we really worked hard to find these people and just like that they were gone. We kept going on Saturday and the Lord opened a few more doors for us. We visited a few friends of one of our recent converts and two of them said that we could take them to Church. I was already starting to get more excited. Then we visited another less-active family and found an entire non-member family that said they´d all go to Church. I finished Saturday night on a high note and was very thrilled with the help the Lord had given us in finding new people to teach and bring to Church. The next part isn´t so great however. Sunday morning rolled around and we went to pick everyone up, and everyone decided not to go at the last minute. Some slept in too much because they were out too late, others forgot that they had another appointment. I, once again, got discouraged and a little embarrassed at Church. I was there telling all of these members that there would be a new family at Church and I was so excited. But we ended up having no one there at all. It was a humble pill to swallow, but I know that everything is in the Lord´s hands and I will just keep on keeping on!

Today was pretty great. Our mission president doesn´t like group P-day activities, so when we get to have one, it means that we did really well. Our zone baptized the most people last month with 36, so today we had a barbaque and played soccer! I am still horrible at soccer, but it was fun still. I am practically the only American here, so the culture difference has definitely been something cool to experience. I love my zone and district because there are a lot of great missionaries and friends that I have made. I am so happy to be a part of this great missionary program, not just to serve the Lord and His children, but I making a lot of great friends from this great country.

Well, I am really short on time today, but I wanted to send my best wishes to Grandpa Stevens. I will be praying for him for sure and I know that Heavenly Father is taking care of him better than I could even if I were still at home. I know that this plan of happiness that He has for us is real, and I am so happy that I have a grandpa that understands his purpose for being on this earth, too. Get well really soon Grandpa! I love you and practice everything you´ve taught me out here. I won´t quit trying if you don´t :). I love you all! Happy Valentines Day!

Elder Clark

Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday, February 7th 2011

Oí Família!

I can´t even begin to explain to you all how much I loved this week. Well, I guess I will just start from the beginning, right? Since that is always the best place to start.

So Elder Fernandes and I both gave talks last Sunday. I had mentioned something to the congregation to try to get more references from the members. We have this neat little thing called "the Golden Family" award. This goes to whichever family that gives five references to the missionaries and visits them with us. The diploma will have their names on it, along with the signiture of the Stake President and the Mission President. When I announced that at the pulpit, it seemed as if a fire had caught in some of the eyes of the members. The more prideful members wanted to be the first ones to get the diploma so they wanted to let us know that we´d have references very soon (sometimes pride is okay if it´s going to help the work haha). But that is where we started this week. We first taught a family that was super nice and ready to hear the Gospel. We taught the Restoration and the wife accepted baptism if she received an answer to her prayers. She said that her husband would as well because she is the one who runs the house around there (some things in human culture just don´t change from country to country).

The next reference we got was from a couple of recent converts. The husband had a friend at work who was going through a rough time at home and he suggested that he hear our message. His name is Gilmário and he is a dwarf. He has to live with his brother because of his height that restricts him from doing things normally. His brother is married and she treats Gilmário really badly. I could tell from the first time we taught him that he was hurting. He offered the closing prayer and he had forgotten to say "in the name of Jesus Christ, amen." Which was okay because he fixed it afterwards, but he felt so embarrassed because he thought he had messed up. We haven´t been able to teach again yet, but I really want to help him out and let him know that God is extending His arm out to him to help him through this rough time.

The last thing that I will tell you about my week is that I got EXTREMELY sick on Saturday morning. I don´t know what happened because I was completely fine on Friday, but when I woke up I was practically already on my knees throwing up. I didn´t have any strength to get up and I was really worried about our English class that we have every Saturday afternoon. I got in the shower to try to wake myself up a little more and then went right back to bed with a fever and headache from the devil! Luckily, Elder Fernandes helped me get ready and we went to the Church to teach the class. It was probably one of the worst classes I´ve taught so far because I couldn´t stand up for more than five minutes at a time. I felt so bad because there was this little girl, Thais, that came for the first time and she had never taken an English class before. She was super nice and polite, and afterwards she told me that she liked it and she would bring her dad to the next class. It made me so much happier and really gave me the pick-me-up that I needed. The next morning, I saw her come to Church all alone! She made friends with the other young women and she loved Church! We went to her house that night and taught the Plan of Salvation to her family and they liked it so much that her dad said that we are more than welcome back again. He is a truck driver for some cookie company and as we were leaving, he filled our backpacks with cookies that he delivers. He sure knows how to sugar up the missionaries.

I looked back at my week this morning and thought to myself, 'what happened that I could really tell my family and friends about?' I heard that if we don´t have at least one good thing worth telling someone about everyday of our lives, we have wasted a day. I would like to say that I have been recognizing every good thing that I have been doing out here, but I would be lying. It´s been a rough few weeks and I have felt a definite lack of the Spirit because of one thing or another, but this week Heavenly Father really made His love known to me. Unfortunately, we sometimes get so overwhelmed on the fact that we aren´t having the success we´d like, or things aren´t necessarily going our way, and we ignore the small blessings that God puts in our path. This week, I tried much harder to put aside the selfishness and self-pity, and I saw so much happiness return to my life. This work is true. This Gospel is true. My Heavenly Father loves me and He has given me the best family in the world. Thanks for everything! All of your help and counsel is very much cherished. Have a great week!

Elder Clark