So I'm feeling really strange right now. I'm on my way home from the mission field and don't know what to think. Presidente Soares and Elder Ozolin dropped me off at the airport in Natal yesterday and from there I flew to Rio De Janeiro, from there to London, and right now I'm flying from London to Shanghai. It's the first time I've been on a plane for a year and two months, which is strange to think about. Another strange thing I noticed is that I can hardly speak or even understand English, but that might be partly due to the fact that everyone is speaking in British accents, seeing that I'm flying British Airways. They speak so fast! Then when I try to speak English, I find that I speak in an almost British accent. I'm not sure if that's just me wanting to "fit in" or my mind trying to relearn English by imitating the people. These last three days I've just been feeling downright "yucky" if that makes any sense.
Elder Olsen and Sister Marcelino and I took the bus from Mossoro and met all of the returning missionaries in Natal on Tuesday. We had a special training on self-sufficiency and "planning for success" on Wednesday as well as dinner with Presidente and Sister Soares. Dinner was a very spiritual experience. When we entered Presidente and Sister Soare's home, I felt almost like I was entering the Celestial Room in the temple. Their house is so clean and chic. The only other time I had gone there was when I had dinner there the day I arrived.
During dinner (wonderful, chic food prepared by Sister Soares), Presidente told us that whenever he thought about or saw a specific missionary, he always remembered them for a specific area they had served in. He told me that the area he remembered when he thought of me was Abolicao. I think that's due to the fact that when I was serving there, he came to interview one of our investigators and also had lunch at our house with Sister Soares ("Surprise Sisteres! Presidente's going to be having lunch at our house today!") While we were eating, Sister Young asked me where I had sat at the table the first time I had eaten at Presidente's house. I told her that I honestly couldn't remember. Without hesitation Presidente Soares said, "I remember! You sat there," and he pointed to a seat on the other side of the table. "And when all of the missionaries knew that you were from China, they all asked you to speak Chinese," he said with a smile.Leave it up to good old Presidente Soares to remember something like that.
After dinner, we had a testimony meeting. It was the most spiritual testimony meeting I have ever participated in in my entire life. Before we began, Sister Soares told us that it was always a comfort to her to get to know and have diner with the newly arriving missionaries the night before having dinner with the returning missionaries, but she always noticed a big difference between the testimonies the new missionaries bore and the testimonies born by the returning missionaries. As each missionary got up and bore his or her testimony, the Spirit filled the room and literally embraced us. OUt of the 13 testimonies born, I don't think there was a single testimony during which I didn't shed a tear. During my testimony, I pretty much started crying the second I started talking if that gives you an idea of how strong the Spirit was.
After we finished bearing our testimonies, we had the tie cutting ceremony, which I had never heard of until then. Sister Soares explained that she would ask each of us what the most important thing we learned on our mission was, someone would write this down along with our name, and then for the Elders she would cut off a good part of the tip of their tie. She said that the part she cut off would represent the time we had spent learning this attribute on our mission and the rest of the tie would represent the time we still had to put what we had learned into practice and endure to the end. For us Sisteres, she just took a picture with us, seeing that we didn't have any ties. Some of the missionaries said that they learned faith, others hope, others charity.
When it was my turn, I told Sister Soares that the most important thing I learned during my mission was the meaning of "grace", which implies that as long as we are doing our best to follow the perfect example of our Savior (which includes being baptized by someone who holds the true priesthood authority), our Father in Heaven will forgive us of our weaknesses and allow us to repent and change and be perfected at the last day. So I will endure to the end in doing my best to follow my Savior and Redeemer. When we were done, Sister Soares said that when she and Presidente's mission is over, she will take all of the tie tips and the pictures of us Sisteres and will make a large blanket for her and Presidente to sleep with.
Thursday we had our interviews with Presidente and then we had the rest of the day to ourselves. Seeing that I had never served in Natal, I went out with Sister Young to visit some of her recent converts and investigators in one of her old areas in Natal. The whole day I had a yucky feeling in my gut and felt like my heart was being torn apart as the time for me to leave my beloved mission and my bloved brasileiros drew nearer. The feeling started up the second I left Mossoro and is still with me right now. Presidente said that it is natural to feel this way, that it means we are great missionaries, and that he would feel bad if we didn't feel this way. But it's a horrible feeling!
When Sister Young asked me what my heart desired to do my last day in Brazil, I said without hesitation, "Eu quero ensinar!" ("I want to teach!"). I told her that as we had spent time packing, having interviews, hanging out at the mission office, etc. instead of teaching lessons and making contacts, I had felt literally USELESS. I wanted to go out and be a missionary again. I wanted to go out and open my mouth and teach the people, read scriptures with the people, and testify to the people that the truth has been restored! So we went out.
We didn't exactly get to teach a bunch of people. We talked with church members, visited recent converts, made contacts (WOOHOO!!!), and then, during our last visit of the day, we were able to teach! I was finally able to open up the scriptures again and share a message to a couple trying to decide if they want to get married or not about the importance of faith and how the gospel blesses families. It was so nice to feel that same sweet Spirit again, and I hope I will be able to continually feel it again and again even after I get back home. Because every member is a missionary, right? Vou Batizar!
1. came to the airport with Presidente Soares and Elder Ozolin
2. gave a bunch of envelopes with photos and cards to Elder Ozolin to give to members, recent converts, and investigators
3. found out that I forgot my camera in what I thought was the "empty bag" I left at the mission office. borrowed a lady's phone to call Elder Cancino and asked him to find my camera and give it to Sister Young to take back with her to BYU.
4. caught my flight
Natal to Rio:
1. sat next to an older couple from Rio Grande Do Sul that were in Natal visiting their daughter and are going to Rio to visit their other daughter, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. spoke with them about my mission . said they had seen missionaries before. gave them a Liahona (Ensign) from General Conference and invited them to talk with missionaries and visit the Church.
*observation: Rio has a bunch of beautiful mountains. Well at least it appears so from a bird's eye view
1. 6 hour layover
2. let an adorable 2 year-old girl who liked giving thumbs up signs color in a picture of Jesus in a LIahona
3. spoke with a family from Finland who have been in Rio for over a week (It's so hard to speak English!) told them I was a missionary and had been living in Brazil for a little over a year
4. Ate a coxinha and had my last guarana with a woman from Germany whose daughter lives in Brazil. Told her I was a missionary. She said she wasn't religious and didn't believe in the Bible because it was written by men (um...that's men inspired by God) but believe in God and maybe Jesus Christ. She said she believed in spiritualism and reincarnation. Her description of her beliefs sounded really Buddhist to me. She said that some people needed religion and others, like herself, didn't. Was confused about why there were so many religions and Bibles. Said that when she prayed, she never asked God for anything only thanked Him. I bore my testimony of the power of prayer and how when we have questions our Heavenly Father is always there to answer them. Shared that I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is true because I prayed and asked God and He answered my prayer and because of thisI left my family, friends, and school in China to come to Brazil to share this with others. She said that she felt that what people really needed was not people talking to them about Jesus but true service. I opened up my journal and showed her the photos of all the people I had helped enter the waters of baptism and shared some of their stories (ex. Alexandre - "we found this man drunk on the road and helped him stop drinking and get baptized in two weeks. His children were also baptized afterwards." Francisca and Uerle - "This couple lived in the ghetto. We helped them get married and baptized.") She warmed up a little. :)
5. Bought a small statue of Salvador e Redentor (the large statue of Christ in Rio) and spoke with the lady at the store about my mission. She had seen missionaries before.
Rio to London:
1. let man seated next to me switch with me to have the aisle seat. He was really grateful
2. lost my glasses
3. put contacts in *it's funny because on my flight to Brazil, one of my contact lenses ripped and I had to switch to glasses
4. lady seated next to me found my glasses. "muita obrigada!...I mean, thank you so much!" English is so hard! I think the people her think I'm Brasileira
5. asked the two men seated in front of me where they are from. They were both speaking English but both had accents. One is from Hungary, the other from Brazil. The Brasileiro had never heard of the Church.
1. bought some English toffees for Dad
2. Man is it weird hearing British English!
London to Shanghai:
1. It's even more amusing listening to the Chinese flight attendant speaking British English and then switching to Chinese. Sorry, I'm having trouble understanding either of the two. Vish! My life is going to be difficult this week!
2. Why do so many people like to drink so much on airplanes?!?!?!?!?!?!? "Can I have a vodka?", "I'll have some white wine.", "Red wine please." ME: "Would you like some wine madame?" "NO! thank you." :) *I was tempted to ask my neighbour if alcohol helped her relax on airplanes and then start in on the Word of Wisdom, but then I thought better of it. Plus I don't have a pamphlet
3. Am I supposed to take my nametag off? We're not technically in China yet right? I think I'll wait until we touchdown.
Eu Amo Minha Família!
Well, homecoming turned out to be great. I was nervous until I walked out of the baggage claim but then when I saw my family, the "yucky feeling" disappeared (hopefully permanently). Although, I am having a really hard time speaking English and Chinese. I keep speaking Portuguese without thinking. My parents say that I speak with an accent. It's really weird being back with my family, but I love it. It's going to be interesting adjusting to the chinese culture and normal life again. I think I'm going to be going through a bunch of culture shock this week. English and Chinese are so HARD to speak!!! I will never lose my missionary fire! I love and miss all of my Brasileiros!
So Beijos, Cheiros, e Abraços (kisses, smells, and hugs) to all of them! Eu Amo vocês!
*yeah, in Northeastern Brazil, they like giving "smells". :)
Official Statement: Brazil Natal Mission has China's support for 300 Batismos this month!