This week was a Birthday Week. I made sure to let everyone in the ward and the zone know that The Elder Sanchez was going to have a Birthday.
Sunday night we went to the baptism of an area in our zone to do the baptismal interview. I played the piano while the ward waited and Elder Sanchez did the interview. We must have song a good 20 minutes when we got the notice that their baptismal candidate had passed the interview and would change clothes. We sung another 10 minutes or so until he came, and then sung one more hymn to start the Baptismal Service. I sneakily left some cake mix, frosting, and candles in the chapel so that the Sister missionaries who live in that area could make the cake on our P-Day and bring it to District Meeting on Tuesday morning. Monday morning, I made American chocolate chip pancakes with banana cream frosting (basically frozen bananas with a little bit of milk and a hard-working blender). It was brilliant, but I think I may have loved it more than he did. Monday night, we passed by the house of one of our beloved Mãeinhas (Beloved motherly figure, roughly translated) who had made a double decker carrot cake with frosting and the equivalent of a fountain firecracker in the middle. Candles are just too boring in Brasil. Then Tuesday morning, the Sister Missionaries with whom I had left the cake mix brought out their masterpiece and the whole zone enjoyed American-flavored frosted cake with Funfetti™ and Melted pudding pieces. It was a sweet moment. After district meeting, Elder Sanchez and I went to our lunch appointment where the Sister who was sweetly feeding us brought out one more fat chocolate cake. It is currently in the refrigerator, mocking our feeble attempts to conquer him and eat more.
We had a Zone Conference on Wednesday, in which all the mission (well, half the mission in one session and the other half in another session) got together and we heard some talks/lectures by the Mission President and the Recife Temple President, who was specially invited. I was asked to play the piano for a special musical piece. The choir (all missionaries called up on the spot as well) were quite good and the music added a sweet spirit to the meeting. We all left hyped up to work. So when Thursday morning rolled around and I was doing some ab exercises with Elder Sanchez to burn off the birthday cake, I had sort of mixed feelings when they called us up on short notice to make the hour long journey into the city and watch the 6 hour conference again because they were short a pianist for the second session. But, we did as asked and passed Thursday listening to the same talks and lectures. The funny thing is, though, there’s always something more to pull out of the same lecture a second time.
We’ve been trying to be more firm with our investigators so that we can make firmer converts. Elder Sanchez and I have become more bold and confident (and more loving) in extending invitations to our investigators to become active in the gospel. We take our recent converts to do visits with us during the week, we call on the ward’s help to get white shirts and ties for the boys and modest dresses for the girls, and we follow up firmly with their reading of the scriptures and personal prayers. As we’ve grown in our teaching, the quality of our recent converts have also grown. Those who more fully embrace the gospel receive the happiness and peace of the Spirit more fully in their lives and, in turn, have even more desire to stay firm in their commitment to follow the Savior, Jesus Christ. This last Sunday, we were ecstatic to see the ward doing a “Blitz” of visits. The Young Men, Young Women, Elder’s Quorum, and Relief Society grabbed all of their participating members and hit the asphalt to see those members who had fallen in their church activity or were passing through difficult times. I think more than 50% of our ward was in the street, visiting those in need. Of those who were doing visits, almost all of the Young Men were youth that Elder Sanchez and I have baptized in our time here. We saw them at around 7h00 at night and they all just looked exhausted. We were all smiles.
If the “Body of Christ” are its members (1 Corinthians 12), then the heart of the church is personal visits by its members to mutually strengthen one another. And the blood, I suppose, would be the sweet spirit of unfeigned love in each of those visits that gives us the hope and strength to keep going.
We had a little bit of a scare this last week, in that one of our recent converts, Richard, got a little disanimated with the work and with the church in general. He gave a talk in church the Sunday before last and has been doing visits with us in white shirt and tie since the day he got baptized. He is an example to his friends, his family (his father is a less-active member who has fallen into an old drinking habit and feels weak due to his time away from the church) and to all of the other young men in our ward. When we spoke to him, he said “I just don’t know anymore. I just don’t know if I want to keep going with visits, or with church, or with any of this stuff”. We started to ask questions, trying to figure out where things went wrong. We asked and asked and asked, but it felt like we were trying to hit a distant target with blindfolds on in the dark. At one point, the Lord must have had mercy on us, because Richard absent-mindedly started to trace the name of his girlfriend on his hand in pen. I asked “How’s your girlfriend?” and he began to open up. He explained that he was struggling because he knew the church advised youth not to date but he really likes the girlfriend he has had since before he was baptized. I asked him why he thought we have been advised to not date until 16 and he really had no idea. So we sat down and talked about not just the “What”, but the “Why” – that the Lord wants us to be happy and safe and there are some commandments and rules he gives us that may not make sense but are for our benefit. We explained that, as he acted in obedience, trusting in the lord, he would be blessed and happy.
The next day he threw on his white shirt and tie and we started doing visits again. We are converted most when we come to understand true doctrine. I hope that every day I can teach a little clearer the Lord’s doctrine and help our investigators truly convert to His Gospel.