This week we had the privelege of baptizing Laercio. We met Laercio by way of a tender mercy. Elder Olpin and I were given an incorrect address in an apartment building in a well-trodden part of our area. As we clapped our hands (given that there are no wooden doors to knock and few doorbells here), an older man descended the apartment stairs and gave us a warm smile. We waited for a few moments and decided to ask the neighbors about the address when who walked up but the same older man with a bright smile. We stopped him momentarily in his path and introduced ourselves. He said that he had had some contact with the missionaries in his previous residence and had actually taken the opportunity to visit the church. We asked if we could visit with his family and he accepted.
In one of our first visits with Laercio and his whole family together, we explained the message of the Restoration to him, his wife, and his son. We explained and clarified the fact that divine authority was given by Jesus Christ to his apostles, that divine authority was taken from the earth due to the distortion and corruption of true doctrines, and that the divine authority to administer and baptize in the Church of Jesus Christ was restored in these, the latter days, through a prophet of God. We explained and testified that we had been given this divine authority to preach and baptize in exactly the same way that Christ gave authority to his apostles and that this authority came from God. The Spirit descended upon the room and as I opened my mouth to speak, it seemed the words were given me in that very moment to invite Laercio to be baptized. Laercio, without hesitating, accepted the invitation.
That next Sunday, we confirmed with Laercio that he would go to church and waited for him at the chapel. I sat, anxiously waiting while staring out the window until, at 9h30, Laercio showed up. He seemed a little lost in the beginning but instantly made friends with all the members at church. When we spoke with him Sunday night, he said when he stepped foot in the chapel, even before speaking with anyone, he felt at home. He said he felt a goodness and completeness that completely washed over him and filled him with peace.
He then explained the effect that his visit at church had on him. Laercio explained that Sunday that for more than 5 years he had spent every Sunday afternoon visiting the bar next to his house to drink a beer or two with his wife. The Sunday afternoon after his first visit at church, Laercio decided to drink coke. His wife was shocked. She asked him why Laercio had suddenly stopped his long-established habit, and Laercio explained “I went to the Church of Jesus Christ”.
During the week, we taught the rest of the commandments to Laercio. We took the bishop to Laercio’s house and explained the Law of Tithing – that all are asked to return 10% of that which they receive from God in order to be obedient, show their faith, and receive even greater blessings – both physical and spiritual. Laercio explained that in all his time visiting or even baptized in other churches, he had never committed to pay his tithing. But, he explained, he would without a doubt pay his tithing in the Church of Jesus Christ.
Sunday I descended in the waters of baptism with Laercio and helped him start his new life as a disciple of Christ. After briefly submerging Laercio under the water and quickly bringing him back up again, he said “Poderia ter demorado mais um pouco” – or, “It could have been a little bit longer/more drawn out”. We both laughed and hugged and he cried as we changed clothes. He said he’s excited to help his family get to know the church and eventually be baptized as well.
Sunday night, I got the telephone call that I would be transferred. I had no idea to where I would be transferred to or what I would be doing in my new area, but accepted the fact that I would need to pack my bags for the third time in four months. Packing bags as a missionary is a little strange. You pack up literally everything you own into 2 or 3 bags in a matter of more or less 3 hours, staying up into the late hours of the night, then wake up extra early lugging 50 lb. bags by hand onto packed buses in peak transit time in mid-summer. And then, all of a sudden, hot, tired, and quite a bit out of it, you sit with all the other missionaries and hear basically your life unfold before you as the Assistant reads out all of the designated assignments.
Only this transfer was a little different. As a Zone Leader for some time, I was expecting to either be put in another zone or to take some time as a district leader again. There were a handful of zones and areas on my mind of where I would like to go, where I thought I might be placed. And the AP started reading the transfer assignments. They gave out the transfer assignments in each of the zones, passing carefully through every area, saying who would be placed where with what responsibilities. I waited patiently, smiling as I saw good mission friends get placed throughout the mission to help lead in the work. But my name wasn’t called. There are 14 zones in the mission and I counted as, one by one, each one of the zones was called. I started to wonder if they had simply forgotten about me. The AP called the last zone, Recife, and each of the areas there, mentioned that the Assistants would stay the same, and paused for a minute. I thought for sure somehow I had slipped through the cracks. And then came the phrase, “In Area Recife, as new Assistant to the President . . . Elder Fleming”. I wasn’t forgotten after all. But for a minute, I did have quite the scare.
As it turns out, the Mission President decided to call four assistants to the president instead of two. In these last months of President Lanius’ time as Mission President, he is carefully considering how he will make the transfer of the mission to the new mission president. Whenever he discusses his decisions with us about new Assistants or Secretaries or opening new Branches or Areas, he has in mind how things will be for the new President a good 6 months from now. From what President says, he wants to cut down to 2 Assistants to the President again by the time June rolls around and the new President comes in, but as for now, 1 assistant is leaving for home this next transfer, 2 will be leaving for home in August (the transfer after the new president comes in) and 1 will be leaving for home the transfer after that, though he has already been in the office for some 5 transfers. So the President’s trying to work something out.
In any case, I’m still running a little behind, and I wanted to send off this email that has been under the works as I wrap up our training for a four-day interior tour. I wish all my best to all of you and love you dearly.