Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wonder of Wonders: READ THIS ONE.

Dear Family,

This week was HUGE.  The most miraculous, stressful week of my life.

I will try to relate it as concretely as possible.

The magic started on Monday night, when our District Leader in our nightly phone call invited us to make a list of all our investigators who could possibly be baptized the coming Sunday and pray about them.  He promised us that if we did this, we would have a baptism this weekend. 

Now, I feel it's important you understand Elder Silva.  He is AMAZING. This is his second-to-last transfer.  He is this tall, gentle Cabo Verdian who wears sweaters and is just plain good.  We interact with him for seriously 2.5 minutes per night on the phone because he's a very get-the-job-done-and-don't-dally-around kind of missionary, but we know how dedicated he is and he is super close to the Spirit.  Like, we know he was getting all sorts of pressure from the ZL's all transfer to pressure us to mark people for baptism but he would always ask us if we prayed about it and how we felt and therefore didn't pressure us to do anything we didn't feel was right.  (Hallelujah!)

Anyway, so when Elder Silva makes a promise like that, you just KNOW it's real.  Both Sister Gutz and I felt it when he said it.

So the next morning in Comp Study we made a list and talked it over and made a decision and prayed about it. We decided to mark Sonia and Marina for baptism THIS SUNDAY.  We called the RS pres and the Branch Pres and Pte. Fluckiger to make sure it was okay, and made plans to mark them that night.  In our Skype district meeting (Elder Silva's area is 200 km away! I'm telling you Evora is isolated!!) we asked Elder Silva and Diaz to pray for us at 7h00 when we would be having our lesson with Sonia and Marina. Elder Silva said he would pray at 6h00.

So we went through our day.  At about 6h10, Sonia called us.  She had to cancel our appointment for that night because they had to go have dinner with a relative.  Pants!  We had felt so sure about marking them that day!  We made plans to visit the next day, and as the phone call was winding down, I asked Sonia, "Sonia, are you feeling like you are receiving an answer about the Book of Mormon and our message?"

"Well, yeah, I think I am.  It is going how I hoped it would go"

I got wide-eyed and gave Sister Gutz a look that said, "I think we are about to mark Sonia for baptism over the phone!" She immediately started praying with all the fervor of her bright 19 year old soul. I really believe that what happened next was largely a result of her faithful, earnest prayer.  And Elder Silva's. And yours.

"Sonia, will you follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized?"

"Yeah, I will.  I was thinking we could do it all as a family."

"Well, we actually don't baptized kids until they are at least 8 years old..."

"Oh, yeah, so they can choose to do it.  That makes sense."

"But you and Marina can do it together!"


"So, will you do it this Sunday?"

"Wow!  This Sunday!?  ... Tá Bem! (Okay!)  We'll talk more about the details tomorrow."

"Okay,  See you tomorrow."

I hung up and almost collapsed.  Sister Gutz and I both started crying and hugging each other and laughing.  It was just so weird and intense and there we were in the middle of a deserted dark Portuguese street on a Tuesday night with a cell phone and something much bigger than ourselves.

The next day when we arrived for our lesson, Sonia was like, "All right, how is this Baptism thing going to go?"

We talked about it and taught our lesson (we still had a LOT to teach them before the baptism.  Really, anyone in their right mind wouldn't have marked them so soon.  But the more I've thought about it the more I know it just HAD to be this Sunday.)

The next day the STL's were here and we taught her tithing, which was a little tense at first but she ended up accepting.  We finished teaching everything on Friday and reviewed the interview questions. 

I had a freak-out moment on Friday during weekly planning when we were calling to invite members to the baptism (before church on Sunday, our Branch President prefers it that way) and they were all like, "That's EARLY!", and Americo was like, "Who's SONIA!?", and I was like (in my brain), "SONIA HAS COME TO YOUR HOUSE FOR FAMILY NIGHT TWICE!  HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW WHO SHE IS!??"  But Sister Gutz helped me calm down.

It really was remarkable.  Although it was extremely stressful and so much could have gone wrong, we both just had this underlying calm all week.  We knew that everything was going to turn out fine.  Every time we taught, there was this great warmth and rightness.

The Elders from Beja took a bus up here to do the interviews on Saturday.  They are the closest missionaries to us -- about an hour bus ride away.  Our branch president arrived that night as well (he lives 2 hours away) and was able to meet Sonia and make sure everything was right on the fichas. (forms? records? whatever the word is for the document they have to fill out before baptism.)

Sunday Morning.  I washed my hair in the freezing shower water because we were out of propane to heat our shower.  We had also hardly drunk any water for the last 2 days because we were out and were too stressed to go buy more water.  Ha!

We got to the church early and checked the font.  It was warm! YES!!  Sonia and Marina and the two little boys were going to ride with members (one with Nazare, the other 3 with Angelina), and were supposed to arrive at the church around 9h00.  It got to be 9h00 and no one had showed up yet.  We called Marina. 

Turns out Sonia had fallen down the stairs on their way out the door, spilled food everywhere (in addition to all this she had prepared a dish to share at the ward christmas party after church!  talk about going the extra mile!), and injured her foot pretty badly.  So they were running a little late. 

Okay.  No big deal.  We expected things to start a little late.  This is Évora.

Then ..... Angelina walks in the door of the church.  WHAT!?

"They didn't show up on time so I just left."

This actually made me quite mad.  Hot tears sprang to my eyes.  Why would you ditch them to arrive on time to their baptism, without them?!! 

All right.  Damage control.  Let's see what we can do. Call Nazaré.

Declaration: Nazaré Nobre is the most wonderful person in the country of Portugal, and is going straight to the Celestial Kingdom.

She was like, "Okay, I'll just call a taxi and we'll all get there.  No worries."

I love her.

So everyone got there.  By this time there were lot of members there, more than usual because it was the Christmas Program.  Sonia and Marina changed into the baptismal clothes and sat near the font.  ("The Portable Baptistry", it's kind of like one of those portable swimming pools.  So funny.  I will try to send a picture.)  All the members stood in a big circle in the room.  I really loved that we were all in a circle.  It was beautiful.

Oh! Guess who came!?  MANUEL!  YES!  And Lina, a recent convert who hasn't been coming much but is awesome.  Score!

We sang "I am a Child of God" and one of the members, Maria Joao, gave a really beautiful prayer.  I bore a short testimony, President Silva spoke on baptism, then they were both baptized.  It was really lovely.  Just as I had hoped, I think everyone -- Sonia, Marina, as well as the members and investigators present -- really felt the importance and joy of this covenant Marina and Sonia were making. 

They were confirmed in Sacrament Meeting directly after the baptism.  Poor Sonia!  Her foot was really pretty injured; you could tell she was in a lot of pain. We brought her some ice during Sunday School, which helped some.

The members did a great job of reaching out to her and Marina.  They mentioned in their opening and closing prayers how grateful they were to see her baptism that day and welcomed her into the branch.  Nazare sat by Sonia, Manuel sat by Marina and Nely.

After church we had the christmas lunch/party, with a program to follow.  Sonia left after lunch to put Ricardo down for a nap.  I can't even imagine how overwhelming the day must have been for her.  Busted foot, baptism, an abundance of the spirit (which is overwhelming and/or tiring, especially when it's new), all these new experiences and people and not knowing exactly what is was going to be like or what was expected of her, a whole bunch of even-more-than-usually idiosyncratic Mormons all up in her grill the whole time.  I hope she was able to go home and process it all.  Holy cow!  I'm stressed just thinking about it!   But all in all it was just a BEAUTIFUL experience and day and I know she felt that despite all the stress.  I am excited to talk to her about it and get her perspective!

Marina stayed for the Christmas Program.  Our choir sang, we read some scriptures, and then shared talents.  I brought my violin (seeing Nazare and Sister Gutz dance to a fiddling tune together was a real treat), a bunch of the members sang or recited poetry, and ...are your ready for this? ...Manuel RAPPED.   The members took it so well! Like, all these old Portuguese set-in-their-ways members were all encouraging and supportive to this young African rapper.  He was going to do his rap about Jesus but he forgot the words so he just did one about his ex-girlfriend.  Ha!  Nazare started kinda singing along during the chorus.  Guys, she's SO COOL.

Finally it ended. Sister Gutz and I really just wanted to curl up in fetal position for the rest of the day, but we went out and found some novos and visited a less active family and FINALLY got the transfer call.  (In addition to all this it was the last day of the transfer.)  We're both staying!!  Hooray!  I am delighted to have another transfer in Evora with Sister Gutz.

So that's the story.  Holy freaking Moly, you guys.

What I learned:

1.  God is in charge.  He prepared Sonia and Marina for baptism, not us.  He had them ready for this Sunday, so he set everything in motion with an inspired promise from our District Leader and things fell into place.  Don't move until you see it.

2. Baptizing someone in Evora is the most stressful thing in the universe.  Ha!  Hopefully we have a little more time to prepare Manuel's baptism.  I really think he's going to do it soon.  He loved their baptism.

A request:

Will you all continue to pray for Sonia and Marina and the Evora branch?  The baptism was beautiful and miraculous, but it is just the beginning!  What Sonia and Marina really need is to be continually nourished by the good word of God and continue to become more and more converted to Christ and His gospel.  And, frankly, Evora is not a super warm-and-cozy sort of incubator environment for new converts.  If I was baptized here I would probably fall away.  But I know Sonia and Marina have the strength and wisdom and awesomeness to continue on and, as they learn from the branch, also contribute to it and raise it up. Will you pray for this?

Will you also thank Heavenly Father specifically for being so merciful and good to us?

Aw, guys, I love you so so much. 

My life is so wild out here.  I am really happy though and feel good.

love love
love love love,


When Christmas came early
Um, I have no idea how they got me to put this on...

These are Sonia's kids Leonardo and Ricardo. So cute.

This is Nazare Nobre. She is going straight to the Celestial Kingdom. And Maria Joao. She's cool too.

Want to see a BEARD!? This guy was the first missionary to serve from Portugal. Irmao Rocha.

Guess who came to the whole party? He's next ...

Graffiti says it all

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