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.