Refreshing the Interior

This week we travelled to the interior zones to try and give some added fuel to the missionaries out there in outer space. Truth be told, they don’t live so far away, but it’s a solid 3-4 hour journey by bus to the farthest interior zones in our mission.

The first city we passed through is called Caruaru. We caught a ride with the Mission President, President Lanius, who was headed to the same place to do interviews. We had originally planned to group two of the interior zones – Garanhuns and Caruaru – but in a stroke of last-minute inspiration, the president decided it was better to save time and money leaving Garanhuns where they were and sending the other two Assistants to make the extra two-hour journey. So Garanhuns descended the bus and gave their ticket back and waited for the arrival of the Assistants.

In the meantime, we chatted a little with the President during the 2-hour journey from Recife to Caruaru. It was a neat experience, being in proximity with the man who was holding the keys both to the car and the mission. It turns out he speaks Portuguese, Spanish, English, German, and enough French and Italian to get by. I was inspired to learn to speak German. I’ll try out some German with my new nephew, Leon, to see if he can teach me any cool tricks. We may or may not have stopped briefly to grab a “coxinha” for breakfast.

When I heard that we would be passing through one of the “interior” zones, I immediately thought that we would be working among the wolves and the bears, the briars and the thickets (or jungle with jaguars and crocodiles, in the Brazil-themed version of this story). But I was surprised upon landing in Caruaru to find out that Caruaru is not only not the jungle, but it’s actually quite developed. More developed than a lot of American cities.

We did a brief division with the Zone Leaders there in Caruaru and I drew the lucky straw to handle the teaching appointments that had been marked. We had a fun experience with one of the Zone Leader’s investigators. We taught a couple about the restoration of the gospel and the fact that there’s a living prophet on the earth and that the literal Church of Jesus Christ is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The wife was understanding and agreeing with everything until, in the final moment when it all started to come together, she just kind of exploded. She asked, “How on Earth can you believe that? How can you believe that God called a prophet and that the Church of Jesus Christ is restored upon the earth?” She said that she didn’t want to believe it. But she showed us the house of one of her friends and we asked her to come along for the ride. In our next teaching appointment, when the new couple we were teaching didn’t understand, the woman who had moments ago denied and questioned the message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ started to teach right alongside us! She began to explain just how it was that authority was lost for a time but soon restored, and that divine authority was once again upon the earth. I couldn’t help my smile and laugh a little, suppressed though the laugh may have been, seeing the Spirit of the Lord work.

We then passed very briefly through a city called Palmares. We stayed with the Zone Leaders and another companionship of missionaries in two small cities called São José and Tamandaré. The congregations are in their fledgling state, branches that are just now starting to grow. The Elders in those areas work as counselors to the Bishop and full-time missionaries. It was neat to see a completely different aspect of missionary work. Studying the church in Pernambuco is a little bit like looking at tree rings or geographical layers looking back in time when compared with the relatively strong and giant oaks of the church stateside. Everybody has a vital role.

Some two weeks ago, the Secretaries that work in the office with us were called from the other side of the street by a man who had an interest in the church. He simply asked when the church meetings would be held and if visitors were invited to take part. The missionaries explained the church schedule and tried to mark a personal visit to explain more, but this man, Sergio, denied the offer, explaining that the people he lived with were Catholic and not so open to other religions. The missionaries didn’t think much of it, but waited no less for Sergio’s appearance Sunday morning.

Sure enough. Sergio came to church. They taught Sergio after church, left him with a prayer and blessing, and marked another night for us all to meet. Sergio had many, many questions, and doubts. That’s all understandable, given that he used to be a pastor for the Universal church. One detail, however, caught our attention. For those who don’t know, pastors in the Universal Church make quite a bit of money. But this Sergio was working as a waiter in a restaurant earning a small portion of what he could earn were he still working as a pastor.

After coming to know Sergio and his family, we invited all of them to the Fast and Testimony meeting this Sunday. After some time had passed and several members had born their testimony, Sergio started to look anxious, wringing his hands and staring at the pulpit. Elder Peixoto, one of the missionaries, told Sergio, “You can go up and bear your testimony, if you want.”

So there went Sergio, the ex-Pastor of the Universal Church – the equivalent of an ex-Catholic Priest or ex-bishop – at the pulpit. All of us were on the edge of our seats, praying, “crossing our fingers,” waiting for what he would say. And he began, “I visited the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for the first time last Sunday after having “flirted” [researched and investigated] with the church at a distance for some three years or so. I used to be a Pastor in the Universal Church, but as time went by I saw some things that I didn’t agree with, and I began to search on my own for the truth. Ever since I came to church last Sunday there has been a deep joy, a peace, a happiness in my soul that I cannot explain but that I know is from God. I saw a profound love among the members that I haven’t seen or felt anywhere else. During a sleepless night this last week, I was tossing and turning thinking about what the missionaries had said with respect to the Book of Mormon [that it is the word of God, revealed to ancient prophets on the American continent, uncovered and translated in these latter days by a prophet called of God – also that the only way one could know the truthfulness of the book is by way of the Spirit of God, given to us through careful study and prayer]. In the quiet of the early morning, I began to read incessantly the Book and knelt to pray, pleading with God that he would reveal to me the truthfulness of the book. I was filled once again with a confirming spirit so strong that, today, I can add my testimony to those gathered here that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the true and literal Church of Jesus Christ here on earth. I am excited to be baptized into the restored gospel and church of Jesus Christ.”

All of us missionaries were with tears in our eyes as he spoke. None of us had ever witnessed anything like it. It was literally the Spirit of God changing his heart, helping him to leave behind everything he had ever learned so that he could fully embrace the church he had for many years fought against. It was like watching the conversion of Saul before our very eyes. I’m grateful to have been witness.

The Gospel and Church of Jesus Christ have been Restored.

I am witness.

-Elder Fleming-

Pictures!

Cookies and Root Beer Floats!

Cookies and RB 1

Cookies and RB 2

Life of a Zone Leader…

Life of ZL 1

Life of ZL 2

More food (it’s the small things that make all the difference).

Lunch 1

Lunch 2

Maracuja Fanta 1

Deliveries.

Missionary Packages

Elder Olpin, out cold.

Elder Olpin Laying in Chair 2

Elder Olpin Laying in Chair

A Temple and a Mission Tour

This week was a bit of a whirlwind.

On Monday, the bishop of our Recife ward, who works as the head engineer of the Recife Temple, invited us to take a backstage tour of the Recife Temple. We started out at the control room, where all of the heating, lighting, and everything else that could possibly be controlled by a computer are brought together. It was incredible to see the complexity and meticulous nature of the systems in the Temple. We saw the basement, the air conditioning units, we climbed up the ladders to the point where we could basically see the feet of the Angel Moroni (and the lightning rods that run from his feet to the ground so as to protect the building itself from any electrical discharge and damage). Throughout the whole process I was taken aback by just how much care is taken to ensure that everything runs smoothly without anybody seeing or hearing just how much work is being taken to ensure it runs smoothly. Back-up systems have back-up systems and a manual override in just about every mechanical aspect of Temple function. Many shopping malls and theaters have engineering teams and hardware that look like Little Peewee next to Big Jim in comparison to the expertise and meticulous care taken by the Temple Maintenance Team. It was an experience for the memory books.

Recife Temple(source)

We had put together a training in my first week as AP in how to change the form and impact of the first visit. Most missionaries know that it’s hard enough to find someone to teach, much less mark another visit. In Brasil, we have the advantage of being able to knock doors, and those we meet in the street and at home are generally accustomed to letting in Missionaries from a wide variety of religions to share a little message. We are not alone, here in Brazil. Jehovah’s Witness, “Assembleia de Deus”, “A Igreja Brasil para Cristo”, and a host of others are also in the streets doing proselyting work, particularly on Sundays. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because, as I said, the people are already accustomed to the process. It’s a bad thing because any negative experience that the people we meet have had with other missionaries, be it with missionaries from other churches or our own, can “poison the well” and make a person less likely to let us in and share our message.

What’s worse, we saw that one of the biggest problems with our missionaries is that generally the first visit they have with investigators is a little too preachy, impersonal, tiresome and monotonous. So we’ve been trying to make a change in the way that our missionaries treat the first visit and first contact to leave a lasting positive impression with those we meet and make them want to accept another visit.

We studied the way that Jesus Christ treated those among whom he ministered and studied one section from more recent revelation in Doctrine and Covenants Section 75 that gives instruction to missionaries in the early history of the church who were having trouble making their message understood among those they taught and wanted to learn more of their “immediate duties”. There was one passage that caught our eye, which was one of the directions given by the Lord to all of the missionaries present. The direction says, “And in whatsoever house ye enter, and they receive you, leave your blessing upon that house” (D&C 75:19). We were also led to verse 14 of section 42 of Doctrine and Covenants, a similar revelation to a group of Elders that reads, “The Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith, and if you receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach (D&C 42:14).

We pondered on how we could help the other missionaries include these principles in their teachings, and we realized that our missionaries needed to change the nature and power of their prayers with those they taught, principally in their first visit. We came to question, “Could it be that our missionaries are simply praying in the houses of those they teach? Or are they literally blessing the family, the home, and individuals that they encounter?” We came to understand that the initial prayer – or in this case – blessing that we leave in the investigators’ houses could be one of the sweetest, most peaceful and memorable spiritual experience that the investigator had ever had. It is a way of not just telling those we teach about the blessings of a life filled with the spirit, but showing them, helping them experience, what the Spirit feels like so they can understand just how important it is.

We expanded on the idea and passed the training to the entire mission in a series of multi-zone conferences, doing practices and divisions with the missionaries daily to help them better understand how to incorporate the “Prayer of Faith” in their teaching.

The difference has been remarkable. On Tuesday, I did a division with Elder dos Anjos (translated “Elder of the Angels” – a good companion to have by your side), a young buck with energy and spiritual force who is serving simultaneously as Trainer and District Leader. We were both relatively new to the idea of starting our first visit with the blessing/ “Prayer of Faith”, so we went ironing out the details together.

At one point, we called a member to visit the house of a less-active and several non-member friends with us. When we entered into the house, we explained that, as representatives of Jesus Christ, we wanted to leave a simple blessing with them, blessing the lives of each of those in attendance and their families. We asked them, if Jesus Christ himself was in their home, what they would ask of him. One woman said she would ask to see her daughter again, for she had passed away recently. The other said she would ask for conditions to buy her own house, because the rent was making buying food and household supplies difficult. We all knelt and began to pray, and an indescribable peace and warmth descended over the house. As I opened my eyes at the end of the prayer, I realized that everyone was crying. We explained that those feelings of peace and completeness, a proximity to God that they had undeniably felt, was a witness of the Holy Ghost, and that they could have these feelings to an even greater extent throughout their life as they repented and prepared themselves to become spiritually clean through baptism.

Thursday I did a similar division with a missionary who has been in the field for some time (a year and nine months). He has served as a Zone Leader and has been through a handful of different areas and companions. Needless to say, I think he was a little skeptical of the new way of doing the first visit. But after we scheduled the baptisms of two people we met for the first time knocking doors that same day, I think his perspective started to change.

Of course, not every blessing has been quite so powerful as the one I explained. For not every heart is completely ready to accept or help grow the spiritual seed that we are trying to plant. But it’s been an interesting change here on the mission.

The office experience is certainly different.

With Love!

-Elder Fleming-

Week 1 in the Office

Work in the office is much different. To a certain point, I feel like I’ve been given the keys to the brains of the mission. My focus and thinking have increased to a much larger scale. Now my responsibility encapsulates 100 areas instead of 10. We create trainings, distribute leadership and training materials, and write the documents that ultimately define what makes “Missão Brasil Recife” what it is. It’s very different. It’s sort of like being moved from a foot-soldier to a constitution-writer. But it’s fun and an opportunity to get my creative and administrative juices flowing. Sunday and Monday are slower days in the office, analyzing the mission and preparing trainings, dealing with transfers and other administrative details, and Tuesday through Friday we are in the field doing divisions from sun-up to sun-down.

We spent the first couple days as Assistants handling the incoming missionaries, giving a little Mission Orientation, and preparing a training to give to the whole mission as a sort of AED to make the mission wake up. The mission fell into a bit of a slump during Christmas time, what with schedules being interrupted by Christmas and New Years and missionaries dreaming about family and home. So we’ve been thinking about how we can revamp the missionary efforts here in the Brasil Recife Mission, helping the missionaries to become more Christlike as representatives of Christ. I’ll explain more about the training in next week’s email.

I did my first divisions as an AP near the end of the week. We went to a zone called Boa Viagem and did a 2-day division with the new Zone Leaders there. The Zone Leaders reopened the area and the Area Book (where the previous missionaries ought to have put the names, telephone numbers, and addresses of every investigator that they have been teaching) was completely empty. On top of that, the Elders in Boa Viagem are responsible for two wards instead of one, so it was a fun opportunity to walk around with the equivalent of an informational blindfold and figure out the mysteries of Who’s Who and Where’s What while finding new investigators with them.

I had the incredible opportunity to spend my first Sunday in the office paying a visit back to the Paratibe ward. I got a call from Elder Olpin on Thursday saying that one of the families we had been teaching for some time – Moisés and Edilene (with their little boy Mateus who’s 6-years old) – decided to be baptized.

I had, truth be told, visited them on my last night in Paratibe before I got transferred to the office. We were scheduled to visit a different family, but Elder Olpin and I wanted to briefly pass by their house to offer some final goodbyes. So Sunday night (January 12th, 2014), knowing that I would be gone the next morning, Elder Olpin and I stopped by Moisés and Edilene’s house. I explained that I would be leaving, but that I loved getting to know them and that I would love to hear any updates after I left.

At the time, we hadn’t really planned on teaching a lesson. We were more or less double-booked in our Sunday night schedule and were already late for a teaching commitment with another family. On top of all that, we had already taught Edilene and Moisés most everything they needed to know to be baptized. We had invited them to be baptized several times up until that moment and had explained several times the importance of baptism that they were ready and had learned everything they needed to know. In response to those invitations, they had always been a little resistant, asking, “Can we just keep visiting and learning?” (to which we replied, yes, but reiterated the promised blessings and significance of baptism).

So in that light, we showed up on Moisés and Edilene’s door-step to offer our final goodbyes. We were chatting briefly in the doorstep, explaining how I would go to a different area and a new Elder would come in my place. You can imagine our surprise when Edilene looked at us and asked, “Well, but now that you’re leaving, who’s going to baptize us?” Elder Olpin and I paused, puzzled, looked at each other for a moment in amazement, and then asked “You want to get baptized?” Edilene looked down, rather timidly, and her husband mentioned, “She’s been thinking about it”.

So, Elder Olpin and I started explaining how great it would be, planning for a baptismal service the following Sunday. Though still a little pressed for time, we asked to enter and say a prayer. We all kneeled together, arms crossed, eyes closed (little Mateus included) and felt the peaceful, sweet Spirit of the Lord fill their home as we prayed, pleading on their behalf that they might stay firm in their decision and stay firm in the Gospel.

I thought that final prayer would be the last time I would ever see Moisés, Edilene, and Mateus, so you can imagine my great joy and surprise when I got the call Thursday night that Edilene had asked that Elder Olpin and I both be at their baptism on Sunday. I got permission from the president to spend my first Sunday in the Paratibe ward.

Moises Edeline Baptism

The baptism service was phenomenal. Practically the whole ward showed up to give their support. Baptisms always carry a certain excitement and joy, but there’s something different about the baptism of a family – the whole ward seems to see themselves, and their own hopes and dreams as an eternal family in seeing the mother and father descend into the baptismal font. Elder Olpin baptized the Father, Moisés, and I baptized Edilene. When she came out of the water she was all smiles, and reached her arms out to give a hug (though I tried to transform the hug into a handshake as tactfully as I could).

It was so good to see the Paratibe ward animated and united. Just one transfer before I had arrived in Paratibe, the frequency in that ward was hovering around 30 per Sunday. Elder Olpin and his companion before me planted the seeds and Elder Olpin and I tried as best we could to carry the momentum, until, on this very last Sunday there, the frequency was up to around 75-80.

I’m grateful to have been a part of the progress in Paratibe, though I know my influence was minimal.

And I’m excited to see the difference we can make in the Recife Ward.

With Love,

Until Next Week

-Elder Fleming-

Last Week in Paratibe–New Position, New Responsibilities

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.

Leucero Baptism

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.

Packing 2

Packing

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.

-Elder Fleming-

Paratibe on Fire

So I realize that my writing this transfer has been a little bit sparse. I’m sorry about that, but I’ll try to capture some of the “Best Of” moments of this last transfer in this email.

Everybody always talks about the moment when a missionary starts dreaming in the mission language as the watershed moment of the mission. I had started to wonder if the moment would ever come, given that I couldn’t really tell what language everybody was speaking in in my dreams. But one morning I woke up in Garanhuns and my companion at the time, Elder Withers, asked me if I had a custom of speaking in my sleep. Apparently in the middle of the night I started tossing and turning a little and began repeating the words “Você consegue! Você consegue!” which could be translated as “You can do it! You can do it!” So I’m not sure if I dream in Portuguese, but I know that at least I’m practicing the mission language in my dreams. Since that night, I’ve used that little phrase a number of times with our investigators – encouraging them to make the difficult but worthwhile changes in the lives, telling them “You can do it now!” (shout out to Elder Uchtdorf).

We had a fun little experience in our 2nd week when one of the water pipes in our building exploded and thousands of gallons of water poured into apartments and elevators in our building. I was in a division in another area when it happened, but E. Olpin told me that the staircase looked like a waterfall. We spent week 2 walking up and down to our apartment on the 12th floor. One time, we were tired and beat after a long day, dreading our long hike when we met with a young woman climbing up to the 16th floor. Count your many blessings – even when they’re stairs.

We had another fun little experience that same week in which we had a Leadership Conference in the mission and

Elder Olpin and I have been enjoying a more regular and rigorous exercise routine. I’ve found that I’m much happier and have much more energy when we’re exercising regularly.

district

Our ward in little sleepy Paratibe is starting to wake up and catch fire. One of the things I sensed and felt when I came into the ward was that everybody had, at some point, a marvelous experience in their church service and activity, but that the energy they once had had become dormant. The bishop, our ward mission leader, a handful of less-actives – everybody talked about a time when the church here was bustling. So we’ve been calling on almost every priesthood leader to go out and teach with us. Young men, old men, young single adults, the elder’s quorum president, the young women’s president, the bishop, his counselors, our ward mission leaders, the people we asked the bishop to call as ward missionaries – everybody gets to go out and teach with the missionaries. And the difference it’s making in the ward is remarkable. We had one experience recently with a less active young single adult woman. Apparently someone had said something to her at church that wasn’t exactly roses and butterflies and she felt offended and decided not to go to church the next Sunday. Then she missed the next Sunday. And the next. Until, all of a sudden, she was less active in the church. When we showed up Saturday night with one of the young men’s counselors (it was his first time doing visits with the missionaries since he was baptized a year and six months ago) and one of the priests in our ward, she said that she had resolved to go to church that Sunday, but had been praying for someone to come and give her a little extra incentive. This Sunday she went to church and was called as the young women’s counselor the same day. The bishop is going to visit our baptismal candidates with us tonight and is excited to hold the first ward counsel in months this Sunday.

I’ve come to understand on the mission that our powers as missionaries are limited – we cannot coerce or manipulate annyone to do anything. But I’ve also come to understand that there are great powers within our reach to influence those around us for good – principally by way of the Holy Ghost, “Espírito Santo”, or the “Spirit of God”. As Elder Olpin and I have done our best to live within the Missionary Guidelines and pray sincerely and profoundly for charity and the presence of the Spirit, we have seen miraculous changes in our teaching and in the way we interact with families. We’ve been blessed with a handful of incredible families (with married, working men who are interested in our message) in our condominiums (an area previously considered “unworkable”) and in the surrounding area.

It seems those we teach have also come to feel “something different” in our teaching and in our visits. One older woman we have been teaching, named “Jane”, has passed through some difficult times with her family and in her personal life. She recently lost a parent and the financial negotiations among the children and siblings have come to a breaking point. On several occasions, she told us that she doesn’t even want to think about trying to forgive her sister – rather, she wants to pretend like her sister doesn’t exist because she simply doesn’t see any way to resolve the situation. The first time she went to church, she cried a good three or four times. At the end of sacrament meeting, she told us “If I had a revolver at home or the strength of will necessary, I wouldn’t be here right now; but here I felt the will to live. We took her to the baptismal font and explained to her that as she made the necessary changes in her life and repented and let go of her hate and was baptized, she could feel the sweet spirit she felt continually. She recognized that the path we taught was indeed the only way for her to find happiness in her life and agreed to progress towards baptism. Some days later, after various visits, Jane told us that when her sister called, she felt something from deep inside her come out and she told her sister “God bless you, I love you”.

The Spirit is the only way we can undergo true conversion. Indeed the “Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance” (Galatians 5:22). I’m so grateful to have the companionship of the Spirit in my work and teaching, and I hope to always stay worthy of its companionship.

That we all might live worthily to have the gentle, deep refining influence of the Spirit in our lives. And that we might use that influence to bless those around us.

-Elder Fleming-

Christmas Week in Paratibe

Hello There!

It was marvelous to see all the faces of my family on Wednesday (Christmas). I would be lying if I said that I didn’t get a little bit emotional seeing my niece Eliza, the little stinker, saying “Hi Uncle Scotty!” The last time I saw that little munchkin she couldn’t even walk. Much less speak! Man, how time flies.

This Christmas was a fun one in Areaa Paratibe, Zona Paulista. Elder Olpin and I did our best to bring the Christmas spirit to all and put the “Christ” back into “Christmas”. On Monday, we were able to realize a long-awaited Christmas Choral Presentation in our Condominiums. We had coordinated with the Syndicate, rented the space in the middle of the condominiums, made special invitations for the 400 some-odd apartments in our apartment complex, and brought the ward choir to come sing for everyone. It must have been the lowest-budget ward activity I have ever realized since I’ve been a missionary. We got a little dinky electronic keyboard from one of the youth in the ward, used the chairs and tables that were already in the rented space, printed the invitations in the mission office – but in the end it worked out beautifully. There were some 4 families that came to see the ward sing. And of those four families, three showed interest in going to the regular Sunday church meetings.

I also came to realize why Elder Olpin and I had been put in this specific ward, in our specific missionary apartment, at this specific time of the year. It just so happens that Elder Olpin sings bass and I sing tenor. We’re not particularly good at singing, but we get along just fine in your average church hymn and the harmonies are simple enough to put smiles on your average Brazilian apartment-living family. Between Christmas Eve and Christmas, we knocked on about 130 doors, sung for some 30 families, and are following up with about 15 of them. But as I was reflecting on our experience, I thought to myself – man. Out of all the missionary apartments, I think ours must be the only one that is set up the way it is – in a relatively nicer condominium complex, with upper- to middle-class families Out of all the missionaries in the Brazil Recife Mission, there are painstakingly few that know how to sing harmonies, and even fewer that are Elders that sing Bass. And out of all those few Elders, I was put at this moment at this time of the year with one of them in that very apartment complex that is basically impossible to open to missionary work using the normal street- and door-knocking- techniques (given that many apartment-goers would complain to the Condominium Syndicate and our work would be shut down). So I was grateful to get a glimpse of why God chose to put me in the Paratibe Area during the Christmas Transfer with Elder Olpin.

We did a surprise visit with an area that has been passing through some difficult times this transfer. The two missionary companions have had a hard time getting along and there hasn’t been a whole lot of work coming out of the area. So Elder Olpin and I took a Christmas box that one of the Elders had received and we took it to them Friday morning as a surprise. We spent about an hour interviewing the two of them and asked what we could do to help. That afternoon, we just went crazy in their area, teaching almost 10 lessons, making about 40 contacts in the span of around 3 hours. The effect was as hoped for. The missionaries are much more excited and happy to work. So we’ll see how things go. It’s always a little different working with missionaries rather than working with investigators…

-Elder Fleming-

Another Hurried Letter, but…

I’m sorry about not sending a general letter this last week. We’re running like chickens with their heads mostly on here in Zona Paulista, Area Paratibe.

I had an interesting experience this last week doing a division with my “Grandson”. In other words, I trained Elder Bochi, Elder Bochi trained Elder Cuevas and this last week Elder Cuevas and I did a division. It was kind of eerie. All the techniques and ways to explain things and idiosyncrasies that slowly surged and developed during my time with Elder Bochi were present in the teaching of Elder Cuevas. It was like teaching next to my clone, launched in a time capsule to where I am now. He teaches much better than I did when I had his time on the mission, so that’s a difference. But, regardless, it was a fun experience. He would be a great companion. Who knows…

There was another tender mercy near the end of the week when we were on our last legs. Elder Olpin and I have been doing our best to find new investigators and I just couldn’t take it anymore – we needed a family and a man. We met with Laercio descebnding the stairs to grab bath water.

-Elder Fleming-

Paradise Lost

I was transferred…again!

This time to a an area called Paratibe in the City of Paulista. It’s located north of Recife but still is part of the Metropolitan Area.

My last week in Boa Vista, Garanhuns, was a dream. Elder Withers and I finally got the swing of things. We taught well together, traded well in our teaching, got accustomed to each others’ routines, got to know the members more and marked a baptism.

We had a great lesson with the Catholic wife of a returned missionary, Pamela. Pamela has strong Catholic roots – she grew up Catholic, goes to mass about once a month with her mom, and considers herself Catholic. But, these last few weeks she has been visiting the Boa Vista ward, she has gotten to know (and love) the other members. She participated in a 1960’s dance presentation with some other female members of the ward and has become fully integrated with the young families like her there. Elder Withers and I have been coordinating closely with the members, and every week she is in a new member’s house for a Family Home Evening or dinner or something of the sort. But this last Sunday was the first we taught just her and her husband. We taught the Restoration. She understood everything perfectly, but when we asked her how she felt about what she had taught, she expressed some doubt. Her husband talked about  the importance of reading the Book of Mormon to gain her own testimony and she consented to reading and praying. And getting baptized, when she understands the answer she has been given. She was torn between her nuclear family and her husband, and the weight of the decision brought tears to her eyes, but the room was full of love – love her husband had for her, love we had for her, the love that God has for each and every one of us, and the powerful testimony of the truth. I’m anxious to see what happens here in the future.

We had another sweet experience with a young man of about 22 years of age who has been missing church for about a month. He received the priesthood and then just kind of disappeared. The bishop asked us about him, and given that I had only been in the area for less than a month, I said that I hadn’t the foggiest who the kid was or where he had been. But we said we would visit. So last Saturday we went to Ronildo’s house to talk to him. It turns out we played football together in the park when I was serving in a different area in the city of Garanhuns a year ago. And he remembered me! As we talked, I had the strangest deja-vu. I swear I had already dreamt about that whole lesson before. But we talked about the importance of Sacrament Meeting and he committed to go. Sunday, being the first Sunday of the month, he went up to bear his testimony and afterward went to talk to the bishop about going to the temple. I was all warm and fuzzy inside.

Sunday was an interesting day. We were fasting, being the first Sunday of the month, and when we woke up to shower we were surprised to find that our house was without water. So we stood outside for a little bit to see if the fresh morning air could take some of the musk off, applied deodorant, and went out on the hunt for investigators. Our Sunday lunch fell through, but we were lucky to be invited to eat feijoada with the former bishop’s family. It was an awesome last supper. Sunday night we taught Pamela, and shortly thereafter I got the call that I would be transferred. We planned, got the zone’s numbers, and I started packing my bags at around 22h30. At around 01h00 in the early morning I grabbed my broken-wheeled bags and we called up a taxi to the bus. The bus didn’t have any seats left, so we stayed standing for the first two hours trying not to fall asleep on the passengers in front of us. Then about 06h30 we got off the bus, and caught one more to the transfer. I had forgotten how hot Recife is. The bag I use to carry all my books has one busted wheel, so I kind of tilted the bag to one side and walked like a hunchback to push the thing around. I’m considering buying a trolley to lug the beast around. Needless to say, I built up a sweat. I was called to be the Senior Zone Leader in Zona Paulista. Zona Paulista is known to be a difficult zone – the people are not exactly the friendly interior of Garanhuns, it’s generally hot, and the president has a history of putting the slackers there. As it turns out, there were some hot debates between the missionaries and the last Zone Leader, so I’ve come to fill in the hole, as the saying goes. I also found out the chapel is a good 20-30 minute walk from the closest point in our area. The rest is all by bus. Needless to say, there are and handful of naysayers that want to pass a vision different than the paradise that Paratibe is.

Transfer day, being P-Day/Monday, I tried writing the Stanford essay, which delayed a little (2-3 hours), and just as I was wrapping up the LAN-House suddenly shut off all the computers. And…I didn’t save. So, being that our Tuesday lunch had called us to cancel, we went and quickly bought some groceries. I dropped my bag off, changed ties, and we went out to work. No marked commitments. No investigators. I came back to the house hot, sweaty, having not showered a good 2.5 days, having left without teaching a lesson, and tried planning. I fell asleep in the prayer, then 1 or 2 more times during planning, until my companion decided it was better for us to just go to sleep and handle Tuesday on Tuesday. I consented, and conked.

Mondays, man.

Mondays.

Some days on the mission are just difficult. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t stoked to be here. The ward is good. The companion has a vision. We’ve already been able to teach a handful of awesome lessons with powerful members, each of whom has their own incredible conversion stories. I told Elder Olpin that I expect nothing less than Kick-Butt performance from the both of us and Kick-Butt Results from the Ward. He’s on-board. We’re gonna light the world on fire.

Naysayers are just people who can’t see the “possible” in “impossible”.

I say Yes to Paratibe, Yes to Zona Paulista, and Yes to Work, Work, Work.

Amen.

-Elder Fleming-

Progress, with Understandably Limited Powers

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what powers we have – and what powers we don’t have – on the mission. Perhaps one of the most beautiful yet brief passages on the power that missionaries have is given in Doctrine and Covenants Section 121:

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

Perhaps one of the most distinct aspects of this passage of scripture is the lack of some forms of persuasion – insistence, manipulation, coercion… It seems that all the tools we have to change lives are tools that are rather slow but ultimately effective. The changes that happen with every person we teach need to come from within. We simply plant the idea and do everything we can to make it grow. Perhaps the most accurate and powerful analogy of missionary work is that given by the Savior – the analogy of the seed. One cannot force a seed to grow, pulling from the top, or the plant will loose its roots and all hope of future growth. Nor can we abandon the seed and hope that it grows by itself. A fertilized and watered plant, with pre-planned sunlight hours and protection from the outside elements will doubtless grow faster than its wild and unkempt counterpart.

It is so important that we understand that we do have influence over other people, and that this influence can be one of the most powerful forces for good. I’m so grateful for the way we do missionary work, teaching individualized lessons for each of our investigators. Sometimes I’ve gotten frustrated on the mission thinking that, given that seeds must grow by themselves, there was no way to accelerate the work. But I’ve come to understand that the better we know the seeds we care for, the more effective our care becomes. As we work more carefully, with more and more planning and preparation, we can help not just one, or two, but many seeds to grow and sprout and blossom.

seedling

Franciane went to church with Wesley another time this week. She loved the experience. The ward ran its primary program and Wesley, Franciane’s 10-year old son gave the longest discourse of all the other kids – and he’s not even baptized! Franciane said, at one point, “I think I’m more Mormon than Catholic now…”. So, that night, we passed by her house and invited her to get baptized. She was excited about the idea, but feels that she still isn’t prepared. We explained that practically nobody feels ready to get baptized before descending into the waters of baptism. Just as almost all copilots will complain they are unready before taking the steering wheel, almost all people feel they need to know more or understand more or feel more before being baptized. But after a year and a couple months on the mission, I explained to her that without a doubt, she was prepared. She said she’ll think on the idea.

She said something sweet to Elder Withers and I. She said, “You missionaries, you carry a certain presence with you. I know that the most important part of your work is the message you carry, but I don’t think anybody would convert if it wasn’t for you two. You two represent something bigger…the Gospel… the Church… You embody what the Church teaches. You’re the heart of the Church.” I felt all warm and fuzzy inside. I was so grateful to hear that our work, at least to some extent, was effective. At the end of the day, people will only accept our message when they see us as true representatives of Jesus Christ. All of our rules, our obedience, our language study, our schedule, shaving every day, smiling, and more than anything else the way we show others that they are important and that we love them – it all contributes to just how well we serve as representatives of Jesus Christ. I’m nowhere close to where I ought to be. But I hope to become more and more the image of Him, our Savior and example. That we all might do everything within our means so that His image shines in our countenances. That we might walk the path He walked and let His mighty hands guide ours.

I hope that, at the end of two years, my heart will have changed permanently. I’ve come to love every second of proselyting time. Sometimes I get the urge to go out on P-Days and just keep going. But I know I have to write emails 🙂 I love dearly hearing all of your whereabouts and doings, comings and goings.

Christ lives, and His Gospel has the power to change lives.

I testify of him.

-Elder Fleming-