Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas and Family

I hope you all had a merry Christmas! For Christmas Eve, all the missionaries in the three zones of Huanuco gathered in a plaza to sing Christmas Carols and hand out Book of Mormons as Christmas gifts. I got to play chorister, which I had fun with. Later, we all went to the Zone Leader's house to spend the night. I'll send some pictures; it was definitely a solid way to make Christmas special on the mission. 

Christmas Day itself was special as we got to skype our families. It definitely impacted me. I thought about writing some sort of tribute to them, but I realized soon thereafter how limiting words were (I hate that excuse because they can express a good deal). As family relationships have eternal significance, I began to realize that the import of my brother, or my sisters, or my mother and father made trite phrases like "they're always there for me" or "they're the most important people in my life" seem cheap. I worried if I went into experiences like board games with my brother, or literature discussions with my sister, or the goofy things my little sister and I would do to keep life fun, I would try to define our relationships by something external that shows a fraction of what it really means. But as Shakespeare said, "They do not love who do not show their love." And in Peru, I can demonstrate my love in weekly posts. So to my Mom and Dad, who are always there for me and are the most important people in my life. To Alex for the countless afternoons we hung out and played a thousand games. To Madeleine, for the ideas we share expounding on books and poems and movies to make them more interesting. And to Gracie, for "Calm a llama down" or blasting music like "Sweet Caroline" in the house and dancing around. I really do love you all, and honestly find these summarizations ridiculous in comparison to all we've done together and who you are. I know you. But my thoughts don't end with them; I love you too, grandparents, and uncles, and aunts, and cousins. I hope my friends are doing well, and I think of you guys and include you in my prayers. Especially at Christmas.

I'm a dork who likes Christian rock music, and my favorite group is Relient K. They made a Christmas song called "I Celebrate the Day" that I love. He's talking to Christ about the last year and he says, "Here is where you're finding me in the exact same place as New Year's Eve. And from the lack of my persistency I'm less than half as close as I want to be. And the first time that you opened your eyes did you realize that you would be my savior?... I celebrate the day that you were born to die, so I might one day pray for you to save my life." 

I've definitely grown this year, especially with the mission, but this time always is one for self-reflection. Don't forget the purpose of Christ's birth. It implied His death, His Atonement, His Resurrection. And with that, we can pray with confidence that He'll save us, as we live His gospel and repent. That's the Christmas message. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas!

This week was heavy in events-- for one, it was my birthday! It was also the Ward Christmas Party, and we did a fun skit from a popular missionary song among South Americans- "Querido Juan". OHHH Porque no me esperaste??? Con esto menso te casaste!!! Amor amor amor!!" It was awesome, and we have it on video, but I don't think it'll send over email. The original's great, too, but you pobrecitos who can't speak Spanish might not understand it, haha. 

It was the "multi-zone" yesterday, too, for Christmas.  Zones presented skits, and ours was pretty good:  a "Missionary" video game where we had to battle snakes (the girls who try and flirt with us missionaries), cholitos (the crazy old women here who dress up like munchkins), contentious investigators, and stray dogs (you literally can't look down any street here without seeing four or five.)

And this week is Christmas...the commencement of the greatest life lived.  One so important that it would echo into the fabric of countless other stories. Someone of humble circumstances rises to the challenge, fights for what's right, ultimately sacrifices everything he has for others, and triumphs in glory. But not even fictional characters can do anything greater, or more powerful, or more noble, than what Christ did. Which means, really, that we're living in the greatest story ever told. Many don't understand this and are determined to live weaker stories, with thin plots and trifling themes. The imagery of the scriptures is powerful, that we're waking up with the Atonement of Christ.  C.S. Lewis used something similar by describing life here as the Shadowlands before we reach the Reality of Heaven. People sleepwalk in routines, but as they awaken they realize our most wonderful part to play in this story is the Emissary. Show the message, more than anything, in how you interact. Speak thoughtfully. Meet people's eyes when you talk, and share confidence. Live like Christ. 

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Preparations

The Christmas spirit is in full swing, and it leaves missionaries in a good mood. We get to use feel-good church Christmas videos for lessons, we're helping out with the ward Christmas party, our zone and district meetings are in part devoted to practicing sketches and songs for the multi-zone conference, and paneton is rampant. Paneton is the beloved Peruvian delicacy for Christmas... a flaky, store-bought, often-burnt-on-the-bottom fruitcake. Stores evolve into paneton distributors and billboards are dedicated to spreading paneton cheer. As merry as Christmas is here, someone had to play the Grinch, and Serpost- our beloved mailing service- went on strike. Things might take a while to get through, depending on how long the strike lasts.

This week we had a good deal of fun with Vladi, our recent convert friend. We love his whole family, and we get to spend a good amount of time with them because one branch of cousins are investigators and another cousin is a less active, and they all live in two houses across the street from each other. On Saturday, we helped them bring out and clean their Christmas dishes and decorations to the popular vellensicos (Christmas Carols) of South America. Think of a nightmarish mix between the Smurf's Christmas album and Alvin and the Chipmunks. They don't have the same Christmas Carols here, except in the Hymnbooks. Afterward, we talked a bit more with Vladi and, in a Santa hat, I read and explained what happened in the Americas the day of Christ's birth in the Book of Mormon: the day and the night of light, the new star, and the prophecies of the coming Christ.

I love the Christmas story, and I worry that sometimes we turn the characters into caricatures. Joseph is a quiet figure in the Bible, but his story is powerful to me. I can imagine how conflicted he must have felt when his fiancee explained nervously she was pregnant from a divine miracle. In Matthew, we learn he didn't immediately accept what probably seemed to be a pathetic lie to cover an obvious and hurtful truth. As a 'just man', he came to the conclusion he would shield her from the full brunt of the law, yet let her go. Only after he thought of these things-probably in agony- did he receive the angelic verification of Mary's story. He solved the problem the best he could before the great relief of the truth. Then began a new worry in his life, which probably lasted until the end: a fear of inadequacy. Firstly of the Savior he would need to raise, and secondly to Mary who he had previously chosen to reject and disbelieve. What guilt he must have felt when he explained they needed to travel to Bethlehem for his taxes when she was many months pregnant! All such feelings probably reached an apex while he watched helplessly in the stable as Mary gave birth, recognizing the best he could give the King of Kings and his personal queen was the equivalent of an abandoned parking garage. He prepared a little manger, perhaps thinking of the crib he'd been hoping to make back home. I'm sure he prayed a good deal. And I would assume he received a good deal of comfort, and a welcome into the divine family. I don't think any of us can give much more. He asked us for a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and Joseph is an example of this to me. Humility is a recognition of the world as it really is...that things are much more magnificent outside, amidst God's plans and people and potential, than they are within our worries and desires. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Cambios (Transfers)

Hello, all! This week we had "cambios", or transfers, and while I'm still in Paucarbamba, the smallest area in all the mission, I've got a new companion- Elder Fernandez Davila. He's awesome, and I'm happy with how he interacts with the investigators. 

The first day, we visited the sister I spoke of last week, with the many problems, and she asked us if we knew a missionary who could sing Happy Birthday to her very sick friend. My companion offered that we find a bunch of members, other missionaries, and all go together that very night. She was absolutely delighted, and so we found the Bishop's family and called our Zone Leaders and went, more or less, Christmas Caroling. Our investigator was giddy- she kept announcing a new sort of arrangement we were going to do. Some were cool ("Now we're going to sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas!") And some were less cool ("Now Elder Burt will sing a hymn for us in English!").  But the experience was great and the sick friend very much appreciated the visit. 

Later in the week, we also spoke to a family who had recently lost a little daughter in an accident from the upper stories of their house to the ground level. Speaking about the Plan of Salvation was powerful and spiritual, and we have two commitments to baptism, and we'll meet with the mother this Tuesday. We're bringing the gospel to people who need it and letting it change their lives in a powerful way, and that was what made missionary work seem so magnificent to me. 

I'm very happy that the miraculous truths of Christ are made manifest in this day. As the Book of Mormon says in Mormon 9: 19, And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not. Miracles are manifest in this day through the gospel of Jesus Christ and the authority He has given us. We have countless opportunities to give blessings of health to people as missionaries, and this is only one example of the types of miracles in this day. Keep to the faith, and let it erase the worse feelings we sometimes let crowd us in. Faith is what's real in life...we've just got to wake up to it.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Search / Convert Baptism / Atonement

Twenty-four years ago, a woman moved out of Paucarbamba, Huanuco to live in Lima. Having studied some time at the university, perhaps she wanted to get out of the stony shell of her parents' house, out of the dusty little corner of Huanuco to see the world. Two years later, she came into contact with the Church and was impressed with the sincerity of the members and the message they shared.  She decided she wanted to be baptized. Unfortunately, she lost contact with them and four years later had a child.  The father quickly abandoned the two of them. The following twelve years are a little shaky, but during this time she lived for some time in a small town where there were no missionaries, finally made contact with them in another place, and was given a pamphlet of the Restoration. Unfortunately, as missionaries sometimes do, making appointments with many people every day who are rarely actually interested, they failed to visit her. Living once more in Lima, six years ago she found herself in a hospital with no family and no husband, giving birth to a second son. The doctors were demeaning and rude concerning her lack of support and obvious mistakes that led her to such a situation. Completely isolated, she found her only hope in the pamphlet, reading it as an anchor in this perhaps her darkest moment, having no other knowledge of the Church.

For the following six years, she lived with her two sons, but the younger showed signs of debilitating health. After countless reports, the doctors said his asthmatic condition couldn't support the Lima climate, and they would have to move somewhere else...perhaps to a warmer climate of a small town up in the mountains. So she returned with her six year old to the stony, empty shell of her parents' old house, in a dusty little corner of Huanuco, leaving her 18-year-old behind on account of the necessity of his work and schooling. Then she ran into us in the street a couple weeks ago and, as we inspected her house for ways we could serve, she told us she wanted to be baptized. There is nothing better than sharing the gospel with people who truly, desperately want and need it. Now, her older brother is plotting to throw her out of the house to sell the property, having already convinced their aging mother that her daughter is a terrible person who's taken up lodging in a house she has no right to. Now this story is pretty crazy, and one can find many possibilities of exaggeration and misunderstanding. But we know her, and she's wonderful and humble and trying so hard to be strong for her son, Jesús.

Well, we've been visiting them, but we also had a baptism this week! Epifania is an old, lovable, forgetful woman who has two granddaughters. Her nine-year-old is ridiculously excited about the gospel, though we'll have to wait a couple months according to a rule of the mission before we baptize her, with the permission of her parents. But I got to baptize Epifania- the first convert baptism I got to perform!  While I have the pictures on my camera, I forgot my memory chip back at our room, so I can't upload them. Sorry!

With so many people suffering and changing on account of the gospel, I think it always returns to Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, bleeding out so we can rise out of the past and become free. President Uchtdorf shared in the Ensign of this year his sentiments on a picture of Christ with the angel to comfort him. Of all pictures I've seen depicting this moment, this one captures for me how the Savior must have really felt on our account. It's by Frans Schwart, called the Agony of the Garden. 'And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels will be filled with mercy.' (Alma 7:12) 'Because the death of Christ bringeth to pass the resurrection, which bringeth to pass a redemption from an endless sleep, from which sleep all men shall be awakened.' (Mormon 9:13) That change is possible now, or at least a shade of that change, before we enter all of it in the kingdom of heaven. This is what missionary work is all about. In the name of Him, Jesus Christ, amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

He's Got the Moves Like Jagger

So I joined the little kids dancing and showed them some American classics, like "jump up and down really high"and Gangnam Style.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Catching Up with Pictures

Today, I thought I'd upload a lot of the pictures I've been meaning to send for the last few months, but never got around to. Here's me in the CCM, with the district that's two weeks "younger" than me.  I led them out of the walls for their first P-Day. We became good friends, and it turned out they all liked the show Community back home, which was one of my favorites. You can see in Elder Hoffman's hand that "nectar of Peru", Inca Cola. Man, I'm going to miss it when I return.

I had a wonderful relationship with the Latinos for my last two weeks of the CCM. Every time they saw me, they'd raise up on their toes and mimick my goofy walk, calling delightedly, "Pinguino!!!", meaning penguin. This was only one of their many nicknames for me- they also called me Happy Feet and Siempre Feliz, turning their mouths into an overblown smile. This one used to come in to our dorm and sit on the foot of my bed and sing English rock and pop songs with me- he'd memorized all the words, not knowing the meaning of any of it, haha. He gave me as a gift at the end the video of the Restoration, which has proved super useful.

Ah, reminiscing. Fast forward to last week. Here I am in the first baptism I got to perform! Her name's Melody, and she's actually the daughter of a sister in the ward. Usually, missionaries don't perform these, but her dad's not a member and is usually drunk, so she asked me. She's an absolute nut, and usually after visiting her, she's latched to our feet. A little while later, we realize we've been pick-pocketed and our pen or agenda is missing. Though in this picture, she's a little tame, haha. She was a little nervous for the service, and afterward at the party she was quiet.

Here's last P-Day. This is why I didn't have a blog post last week. We went to the Corona del Inca, or the Crown of the Inca. It was straight up Weathertop from Lord of the Rings. We hiked up to the top, preaching to some sheep along the way. At the top, one of the elders bellowed out the scripture we all had to memorize for our last multi-zone conference down to the village below. We all followed it up with a thunderous, AMEN!!!!!
 That's all for this week, but I'll have more stories to come! We have some awesome investigators I want to talk about in the following email!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Successful Week

This week was successful: we challenged five people to be baptized, and three accepted! One of whom was particularly important.  Because of her lack of progression and hectic schedule, we'd dropped her for about two weeks. When we returned, her aged sick mother began howling in the back room, "Why did you leave us?!  Why, why?  We've been so alone! Why were we forsaken!?"  Of course we felt terrible, and assured her we'd stopped by a few times but they weren't there.  While this was true, we certainly could have tried harder.  I've felt a particular duty to this woman for perhaps a bit of a silly reason. A month ago, we baptized a woman who had "Andrew" scrawled on her front door.  This woman has a scribble of "Burt" on hers, though you have to be creative to see the "t". We were working with them at the same time, but only one progressed. I'd feel my time in Paucarbamba was sealed if we could baptize this woman as well. 

We also had a dream come true yesterday- yes, a woman really did walk up to us in the street and, after we offered some service and talked a bit, said that she's been hoping to be baptized in the church. She received a testimony earlier and when she saw us thought to herself, "Í'm not alone!"  I can testify of the relationship between events like these and earnest, continual, even desperate prayer. When we give powerful prayer and then go to work, miracles happen. That's the formula. It was a strong week.

Also, this world is tiny. Not only does one elder in my district know a friend of mine- Riley Norton- from school, but I also talked to an elder during our multi-zone conference yesterday that knows someone from Kirkland. He explained he was from Argentina and that a missionary named Rachel Thompson had served and had been his best friend when all his friends had turned against him for his beliefs. He said it greatly influenced him to serve a mission. So, shout out to the Thompson family and Sister Thompson- it's crazy to see how far the effect of missionary work goes throughout the world! 

As missionaries, we see many powerful changes and miracles. You members of the church have the same privilege and duty. Please assist the missionaries in whatever way possible. Think of one reference you can give them, if possible. Go out working with them for one hour in the week. President Monson said, "There is no substitute for a member-oriented proselyting program. Tracting will not substitute for it. Golden questions will not substitute for it. A member-oriented program is the key to success, and it works wherever we try it."

As you continue to serve, blessings concerning all aspects of your life are promised. But work is necessary. Mormon and Moroni lived in perhaps one of the most wicked societies of history, yet they continued in the missionary work. Mormon said to his son, "We have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God." I would waste and wear out this tabernacle of clay for the far more powerful and eternal tabernacle, even in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, as Doctrine and Covenants 123:13 so eloquently tells us. Even so, let's remember that we're not expected to be miserable in the work, awaiting the promised blessings. For a hundred years, we have a glorious story book contention against ignorance and evil. Enjoy it. Today may be the day, but this life is the life. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Life in Paucarbamba

Paucarbamba rolls on in a little corner of Huanuco in the Peruvian mountains with its own set of characters and stories...

There's the Ward Council, including the Relief Society President. We often run into her during the day, walking to or from a visit of some member of the church in need. She conducts all sorts of activities and has a quiet sense of order. Missionaries want every member to be like her-- if so, our work would be much easier and effective. 

There's the Bishop, a short man named John Bravo who rides a motorcycle. He conducts meetings neatly and strictly, keeping things as tidy as possible in a culture where starting times of meetings are relative. His son, Hyrum, attends the Council, too.  Streetwise and round-faced, the ten-year-old seems to know as much about the ward as his father, helping count the church attendance each week and offering suggestions of people who can help as we discuss activities in the council. While he seems to always be wearing a suit, his brother's generally in a baggy sweatshirt with a soccer ball. He always has a new secret handshake to show us. 

There's our Ward Mission Leader, Junior, a recently returned missionary who plays the advocate for us missionaries and often accompanies us during the week. Many others listen and offer suggestions on how to fortify the ward and individuals. 

Then there's the people we visit: V, a recent 14-year-old convert who, like everyone here, is an avid dancer, but he does it on a higher level. He speaks with a low voice except when he laughs, when it's a single high-pitched "Tee Hee!" It cracks me up. 

We visit J, another young recent convert, and his insane verbal whirlwind of grandparents. To be honest, his grandfather F used to irritate me immensely, talking straight through us in a voice like a crab, sideways and scuttling. For the life of me, I still can't understand him, though the language is no longer a big problem. Then one day as we were talking with J, he burst into the room in a bright vest and a radio in hand, beaming proudly as a soccer score was proclaimed. Looking like he'd won the game himself, talking to no one in particular, he jubilantly explained what happened. Then I thought about how he always lays on his bed playing the harmonica wildly when we visit, how he unfailingly but a little resignedly lets us in each time, and how he was the one to forgive his wife and brother-in-law when one lesson became an insane triangular accusatory game of digging up the past that no one could penetrate. I decided I was a fan of the comical "abuelito". 

Sometimes we come across interesting characters in contacts. We met a pitiless pastor the other day who coldly, condescendingly talked through us from scripture to scripture in a voice like a knife. I wondered whether he'd erased the gospel from his mind to make room for scriptures.  This leader of the vastly popular and raucous MMM Paucarbamba church cut a stark contrast to the person in our next meeting- a man named Roberto. 

Roberto lost one child to murder, another very recently to an illness without doctoral diagnosis, and two in infancy. The faithful man turned to God in each tragedy, wanting to know what mistakes he had made and how he could change them. He humbly listened as we taught God's Plan of Salvation, explaining that trials didn't always come from our sins and that he could see his children again. He defended us when his son noted cynically that we were very young. Both accepted to read part of the Book of Mormon and pray about it. In his concluding prayer, he blessed us adamantly. The Pastor's piety won't compare to this father's faith in the end. 

Let's examine our religious tendencies and determine whether we use them to build ourselves up and note our righteousness, or to turn to Christ in complete recognition of how crippled we are. Christ said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the kingdom of God." These are truths that I have come to know better here in Paucarbamba, amidst a good people. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lu Cruz Hike / Reflections

This last week began with a hike to La Cruz last P-Day. On a towering hill in our area is a cross large enough to be visible from the city. We scrambled up a steep incline following more of a sheep's trail than an actual path. I'll include pictures. 

This week we also had transfers, when each missionary has the possibility of leaving for another area. My companionship did not change, but my companion's now district leader! I continue my training period for 12 weeks, so he`s taking double duty as trainer and District Leader.  What a stud! Also, Elder Desposorio, my good friend from the CCM, is now in my zone! I was so, so stoked when he came. He's an awesome guy. 

On another note, I found enjoyment this week in finding words I liked in the dictionary and using them casually in conversation. "Wow, the lamps finally alumbra (illuminate) the streets." "Gee, anhelo (I crave) dinner right now." I`m still trying to use arbitrista, or "wild-eyed dreamer". 

More entertainment came on Saturday, when a recent young convert had to dress up for a fiesta. His whole family, including his older cousins, gleefully helped make a convincing Elvis Presley outfit out of gunny sacks, bottle caps, plastic bags, bike chains, and shoe shine for side burns. 14-year-old Vladimir grumbled into the outfit and I helped him pronounce the name. With a styrofoam guitar, we completed his image. Later that day, I also found entertainment in one of the common street dances. The usual happy pipes whistling from a stereo were instead replaced with a horror requiem soundtrack. The choreographed zombie attack was more convincing in the dusty streets of a little town. That night I also taught the ward Capture the Flag, which ended up being a ton of fun in the cement soccer field near the church in the dark. I`d also like to give a spiritual thought for this week.

There are two words for "to know" in Spanish: "saber" and "conocer". The first means to know something factually, and the second is to have a personal understanding of something. For instance, we use conocer with places and people. I believe we come to know God in a saber way through the scriptures and a conocer way through prayer and revelation. Through this second method, I found another way to come to know God. I wanted very much to know more of the character of our Father, and in the following day after a heartfelt prayer, I was reading on the doctrine of him being our Creator. Upon realizing more fully that he formed our personalities, I realized that as we look for the good in other people, we see the resemblance of God in their strengths. So as we grow to love those around us, we find how strong, supportive, sincere, joyful, good humored, and patient God is. Inversely, the more we focus on the negative aspects of our friends and acquaintances, we are only becoming more familiar with the Devil`s characteristics and mannerisms, along with the natural man. I found a new appreciation for Victor Hugo`s words in Les Miserables, "To love another person is to see the face of God." Like the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself, this principle has two sides. As we come to recognize our own strengths and abilities, we gain a new appreciation for our Father in Heaven. Let's strive, then, to focus on the good in people for our sakes as well as theirs. As we view people with optimism, we recognize the heaven that`s already on Earth. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Time Flies

This week passed by extremely rapidly (as missionaries always say).  Here are the highlights:
  • We had a girl say she received an answer about the Book of Mormon. 
  • We had an investigator come to church. 
  • We had several less actives progress. 
  • And we also had divisions (missionary splits)...
Now, I'm sure my companion has gotten tired of me saying, "my brother says," or "but my brother said this was important..." over the last several weeks, but I took to heart my brother's advice that miracles happen on divisions. So I planned methodically for our investigators, working hard to recognize what we should teach them when the District Leader came over to my area for a day. Our lessons went as planned, a less active ended up coming to church after avoiding it for a long time, and we also found a completely golden investigator family. It was wonderful. They blessed our names, had us dedicate their house to the Lord, accepted our challenges, and told us to please come back whenever possible. My brother was right!

I can't write much more, but know that God loves us and the church is true. AMEN!!!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Our First Baptism

Days slip by fast. This week was of particular note because I participated in my first baptism on the mission. I've looked forward to an experience such as this for a long time, thinking on the dramatic implications of someone choosing to come unto Christ, and therefore receive -- upon enduring to the end -- the greatest blessings God has to offer. Then being able to assist in such a cause is an indescribable privilege. 

For Elder Chujo and I, participation meant hard work all day to prepare for the service. We filled the font after a good deal of Peruvian problems and inconveniences. We went on a several-hour-long quest for baptismal clothing, including a great number of phone calls and call-backs and let-downs. Luckily, Peruvian Standard Time means if a Baptismal Service starts at 5:00, people will cheerfully amble in around 5:30 and the Bishop will arrive around 6. While the baptismal clothing was a little late, it was still received an hour before the service. 

An old man we recently found investigating the church attended, much to our joy. He's an adamant advocate of the United States, and reads each night of the grand men of the U.S. in the little English he can understand. He proudly told us the day before that he would be punctual like those in the States, but ashamedly arrived around 5:10, explaining he had to shave. He was still the first guest to arrive by a long shot. As we waited for the service to begin, I spoke to him about baptism and what it entailed. At times, we spoke in English slowly- a magnificent opportunity to bear my testimony without worrying about the grammatical structure. 

Eventually, of course, the service began, and in dear Peruvian form, I was casually shown that I needed to give the first talk in a couple minutes. I shared scriptures about the duty and blessings of Baptism. The program came to the ordinance, and Hermana Luz Polido was baptized. Friends and family bore powerful testimonies, and afterward we had treats, the old investigator talking animatedly with members.  Luz Polido was beaming, and I felt that this sort of community joy was the meaning of the gospel. 

We provided our investigator with a Bible, and I'd describe the reaction very similar to when Harry Potter gave Dobby a sock. He embraced me, kissed me on the cheek, and promised he wanted very much to know the word of Christ and would read it every night. 

The baptismal service, of course, was the highlight of my week and affirmed my testimony of the gospel of Christ. 

Until next week, don't be a stranger; write if you need anything; and keep in mind that Today's the Day!

Monday, October 5, 2015

General Conference

Another week in the mission has passed, this one including a change in houses. Yes, we moved on Thursday into a brand new room in the same general building as our pension.  Now we don't have to walk to every meal! I wish I could explain houses here, they're so different. Suffice to say, I'm happy with our new home- it seems brighter and more cheerful. It's also slightly more comfortable as Elder Chujo and I arranged the furniture. It feels more my own. 

As interesting as moving is, General Conference took center stage this week. The fraternal feelings of bonding with the North American missionaries to make the scratchy connection with cable in a back room of the Stake Center were strong. When we finally made the connection just in time for the first speaker, we couldn't help but shout loudly and clap each other on the back. The Latinos in the chapel listening to the translation were doubtlessly disturbed. For those unaware of Conference, it's a semi-annual meeting of the Church's authorities at which they give talks to the 15 million members of the church in the world. Twelve apostles, the prophet, and other leaders address us, and this time was particularly special in that three new apostles were called, by revelation of the prophet, to fill the gap of three recently deceased apostles. Elder Rasband seems straightforward and reliable, Elder Stevenson sincere and humble. 

Elder Renlund's talk particularly stood out to me, in that we need to view others as a parent would see them. More specifically, their Father in Heaven. Upon searching the annals of our church magazines, I found two relatively recent talks- one in 2009, and one in the last conference. Latter Day Saints Keep on Trying was, I remember, a notable talk last conference and I'm sure he'll give more powerful sermons in the following years. 

I found a poignant theme in seeking the Holy Ghost in our lives throughout the conference. I liked Elder Lawrence's advice to turn to the Spirit for specific counsel. I would also encourage everyone to take to heart the challenge of Elder Durrant to "ponderize" a scripture each week. If you do, shoot me an email simply with the scripture. I can't respond extensively, but I'll give my pondered, memorized scripture for the week as well. Finally, I give my testimony of these men, that they´re called of God. As Elder Bednar said concerning the apostles:  Sure they're all old, that just means they have a lifetime of experience and service to God. 

The only downside is that when it comes time, we face with them the affects of mortality.  As were many of you, I was heartbroken to see President Monson struggle at the conclusion of his talk, only having prayers to sustain him and keep him upright. Having viewed him as an example all my life, enjoyed his biography, and studied his extensive history of sermons the last fifty years, I know the pillar of strength, enthusiasm, and service he is. He'll continue to demonstrate this, being the person he is, but keep him in your prayers. In the last short while, he's lost his wife and three close friends while in the meantime lifting the church, relying assuredly only on the Lord to lift his own burdens. 

That's all for this week, my friends. Until next time!

Monday, September 28, 2015

An Answer to Prayer

Peru is awesome! The mountains surrounding this area make walking around a pleasure. The culture and food are fairly different, particularly in the way homes are made, but it makes each day interesting. Sometimes you'll see little people lugging wagons of crops across the town, and sometimes you'll see something jarringly modern. It's an odd conglomeration.

Part of the burden of a missionary is the number of experiences we have that we don't have time to share. Today, for the most part, I want to focus on only one day. Tuesday was indescribable. As we prepared to leave for proselyting, I was feeling despondent. Unfailingly, we contact, we make appointments with everyone, we show up for the appointment, and... it falls through. Never does a new investigator actually receive us.  (Our lessons are with references or less active members.)  This wasn't the only source of my unhappiness. There are times when all the aspects of being a new missionary combine against you. So I just glumly but desperately offered a prayer where I said something to the effect of, "Here's a list of all my problems. It's not as if I'm ever going to stop working or doing what I should, and I know trials are good for me, but please intervene because I feel awful."  

Now I believe sometimes life is just hard and God gives you some room to struggle and grow. So I was very pleasantly surprised when our first return appointment resulted in a lesson in the man's home.  Remember this doesn't normally happen- it was actually my first experience with this. So we gave the first lesson and went to our next appointment happened again. This was even more interesting. I don't want to make light of anyone's trials, but it helped that this boy of about fifteen years is something of a special case. He said something similar to, "I see dead people. I see them all the time."  Or, well, he hears them. And he knows when his family members are going to die, which tears him apart because he could foretell his grandmother's death, and he believes it will never change. He's meek and a normal student and can talk intelligibly about everything else, so I honestly don't know. But it would be kind of awesome if we could bring him peace. Anyway, then we had lessons with our baptismal candidates, one of whom accepted this week's date and the other asked for more time. Then we had a happy lesson with a family in the church, then we had yet another return appointment with a new investigator. Three lessons with new investigators in one day? There is literally no way this could not have been a direct answer to my prayer. So, yes, God lives and answers prayers, and life is great.

Unfortunately, both of our baptismal candidates actually need special interviews concerning some things in their pasts, so we had no baptisms. By the way, I'd like to clarify something I said last week. Our area is extremely small- the smallest in our city at least. So the rarity of baptisms is a little more understandable. Also, the fact that before September we had no baptisms for five or so months was an abnormal draught. Generally, looking at the records, this area used to have about one or two a month. Nevertheless, I'm excited I´m here at this time in Paucarbamba- my companion and I want to baptize five of our investigators before my companion gets switched out of the area at the end of October! Life is a lot more exciting with goals and drive. 

In conclusion, remember the church is true and that the work is good. Please listen to General Conference this upcoming week. I'm beyond excited to hear it. It's particularly interesting as three new Apostles will be called, an event not seen for ninety-nine years. I was very sorry to hear the passing of Richard G. Scott- he was a great man and I always particularly enjoyed his talks. I know he's happy now that he can be with his wife once more. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

In My First Area

It's been two weeks since my last blog post.  Back then, I was still living in innocent CCM fun. Since then, I've arrived in my first area. We travelled from the CCM to Huancayo two weeks ago in a double-decker bus, only holding us missionaries. We met one missionary who was returning from home after being out of action for a couple months. He'd been out in the field for a year before, so of course we peppered him with questions. I think his tall tales were meant to scare us, but they only enthralled us. What adventures and struggles lay ahead of us! Well, they were all no doubt true for him, but they were frankly a little silly. Two weeks in bed from altitude sickness? We were a little woozy for two days. I met my companion, Elder Chujo, then said a difficult goodbye to my good CCM friends.  After a day of training with the mission president, I went off to Huanuco. 

It's a dusty town surrounded by towering Peruvian mountains. I serve in the smallest area of the city. It's a strange conglomeration of lifestyles. I somewhat naively pictured the Shire when I dreamt of my service here. Are there peaceful pastures rolling into the mountains beyond? Well, yes. And do I see at times people who are genuinely half my height? Yes. And do the old women wear garish, bright outfits with munchkin caps? Yes, but sometimes you teach poor families who live with a dirt floor and a single bed and the pig outside the door is drowning out the lesson, but you don't know much Spanish so mostly you just make funny hand signals at a little deaf girl. This certainly isn't the Shire. It's a city of poverty with out-of-place agricultural elements. For here mixes a modern and carefree lifestyle with an older and more difficult lifestyle. It's a little more like home than you'd think in some ways, but a little more different in others. Everyone here rides either motorcycles or funny little moto-taxis that are tiny. It's pretty cool. 

Last week we got to hike up in the mountains. We walked by pristine lakes, waterfalls, and rocky cliffs. Slopes and slopes of pale green mountains stretch on for as far as the eye can see. The geography of this place is magnificent, the sort you dream of when you hear of far-away places. I love looking up past the city while we're walking, especially at night. The houses that climb into the hills twinkle as the mountains fade into the same shade as the sky. A little higher, you see at times the dying embers of a wildfire pulsing in a quiet manner. And at last, you see the stars of a new and strange hemisphere dotting the sky. The temperature's just perfect.

Well, this is all well and good, but how goes the work? Everyone says the work is much slower than you'd think here. This is true. Aside from this month, our area hasn't seen a baptism since April, I believe. Well, yes, we had two this month before I came and two more planned for this week, but this is exciting and different. My Spanish is improving exponentially, though I'll still sound extremely silly for some time to come. The work is good, and hard, but it's worth it. Whenever it gets difficult, I can remember how grand a purpose we serve, and how much joy I need to share with these people.

Until next time, my friends. I'll try to send pictures.

Elder Burt

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Goodbye CCM, Hello Paurcarbama!

[Andrew sent a very short note on Monday, explaining that he had arrived safely in Huancayo at the mission home.  On Thursday, we received a note from the Mission President with news of where Elder Burt would be assigned: a small town called Paurcarbamba in Huanuco.  His new P-Day is Monday, so we'll look forward to hearing from him at that time.]

Elder Burt with President and Sister Henderson

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

P-Days / Elder Bednar / Off to the field

Hola, y Feliz P-Day! Here at the CCM (In spanish, it's say-say-emmay), pretty much every week is Christmas.

Twas the Night Before P-Day, and all through the CCM
Not a creature was stirring (not even Presidente!)

You get out of bed earlier than most days since we've got to pack in a bunch of shopping and a temple trip in the day. 

And if all the missionaries have been really good, the Janitors open up the Laundry Room! This makes missionaries extremely happy. Usually breakfast is something just slightly better than the usual bread, bread, and more bread of every other breakfast. 

And then we wait, patiently, for the doors to open. 

P-Day is a time for gifts, so we go and buy all sorts of stuff for ourselves, like Hymnals and ties. P-Day is also a time for friends. We play a bunch of soccer, hang out in the dorms, and generally have fun. P-Day is also a time for family. We get to look to see if we got letters, and we also get to email home.

P-Days are good. And last P-Day, Elder Bednar came and spoke to us. We had the opportunity to gather with all the missionaries of Lima and hear from one of the Twelve Apostles. He was sincere and funny, and taught effectively. At the beginning, he told us he knew we only ever saw him when he was very serious during General Conference, and that we likely expected him to lecture us in a similar manner and we would obediently take notes. However, he said, he's not a very serious person, and he didn't want us to take notes on anything he said. Elder Bednar then told us we do many things for culture's sake which, he said, is stupid. His wife then got up and told us she tried to get him not to say this word over the pulpit.

In other words, it was a very human contact, and his message was that he was not the teacher. The Spirit was, and whatever answer or guidance we received that day would come from impressions to our mind. He asked broad questions, seeing as specific questions put people under pressure in big meetings like this and diminish the Spirit. He said to never, ever play the game "Guess what's in my Head" with anyone you're teaching. Then, as people raised their hands and gave their thoughts, he would politely ask if he could ask another question about their answer. He'd expound on their answer and teach a principle. Now, I don't intend to relate everything he shared, but the point I want to make is that he was teaching by example. Elder Bednar is an extremely accomplished teacher, and instead of telling us how to conduct our lessons, he showed us by being open and friendly, asking inspired questions, and watching individuals learn for themselves.  The main thing he wanted us to learn was simply in how he spoke. Then he'd bear powerful witness of truths and share simple but effective examples from his life. He'd frequently ask his wife, also, to help answer questions. He committed us to studying further in other areas and showed that he cared about us. All of it was done in a very genuine, humble manner. And this is what impressed me. It was in no way fake (he probably only prepared by choosing the subject and praying about it), and it was in no way self-righteous. It was just... a very committed and wise man sharing powerful messages that invited the Spirit more than any other speaker I've listened to. In other words, he seemed like what a real apostle of Christ ought to be.  It was my favorite and most inspirational experience of the mission thus far- and it's up there in life experiences, as well.

Elder Johnson and Elder Burt
Quickly, I also thought I'd mention that he said Elder Oaks (another apostle whom Mormons in general are very familiar with) was the most hilarious man he'd ever met- that the man starts shaking with laughter before he ever finishes a joke. I thought that was kinda funny, seeing as we mostly know Elder Oaks from Conference as well.

Also, I leave for Huancayo this upcoming week! I'll send the new address to my family next week, whenever my P-Day is, and they'll put it up on the website. If you do end up writing, know that just this week I received letters from about two weeks ago- it'll be longer from Huancayo up in the mountains, so feel free to email me! I can't answer every week, but I don't know how long the mail service will take from up there. Next time you here from me, I'll be in the field!

Elder Desposorio, Elder Johnson, and Elder Moss

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Some Noteworthy Stories

Yet another solid week has passed in the CCM, and this one was slightly more eventful than the previous ones. The schedule is mostly unchanging, which makes time run strangely. While my life generally carries on in the same manner it has in past weeks, I thought I'd share some noteworthy stories.

Lessons with Elder Burt: Each day, as I've mentioned before, companionships teach "pretend" investigators for about twenty minutes. The act is fairly realistic, with "pretend" one-room houses and teachers who take on well-crafted personas.  One night, we needed to convince our investigator to give up alcohol. He asserted he needed three years, since he had a heavy drinking problem. We wanted him to beat the obstacle in three weeks. It took a good deal of testimony and promises of God's help to change his mind. Yet he wasn't sure, so I decided to go out on a limb. With the depths of emotion from my heart, I looked into his eyes and said, "Yo veo en sus ojos el mismo miedo que puede tomar mi corazon."  Or, being interpreted, "I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me!" Subtly changing the words to make it sound somewhat reasonable, and hoping Lord of the Rings wasn't extremely popular in Peru, I continued.  "A day may come when your courage fails. When you turn back to the world, but it is not this day. This day you choose! An hour of alcohol, when your faith fails, but it is not this day. This day you choose! Between the gospel of Jesus Christ and the world, and I testify joy is in Jesus Christ."  I enjoyed the lesson immensely. And yes, he accepted the commitment to stop.

Proselyting: We had an opportunity to go proselyting with the missionaries in Lima as practice on Saturday, which was a memorable and heartfelt experience. It was magnificent being out in the city after being in the CCM for so long- finally doing the real work. We spoke to people in city parks and amid the bustling city.  Stray dogs wandered everywhere you looked in the city.  At one point, we travelled up into the rocky hills midst criss-crossing steep stairs into a land of poverty.  The houses were more or less four tin walls propped up against each other with a flat roof, perched on the flats of rough ground. It was hard to tell where the tattered garbage ended and the houses began. Dogs looked glum in the sun at every turn, as their fleas made friends with the children. We visited one house where a small monkey sat on a chair in front of the door, making the experience entirely more foreign. We shared some lessons with a few less-active members, including two small boys who came forth out of a house to learn about the scriptures in front. A gaunt woman was standing a little further in the house, and a child. Our guide missionary muttered something in Spanish to the affect of "don't say anything about...", but I didn't catch it.

The lesson of most interest was back down in the city near a park with a member and her investigating cousin. The woman was extremely enthused that I was going to Huancayo. Her father lives there and hopes to be baptized but, from what I could understand, has difficulty leaving the house at his age and contacting the church. She gave me his name and address, and I'm to give the mission home this information when I arrive. The highlight of the week, however, was in the restoration lesson that followed. I followed very little, and felt silly as my explanations clearly had little to do with what was being talked about. My guide and the other CCM practicing missionary (a Peruvian) took control for the most part. My impetuous, fellow CCM missionary had been fairly obnoxious the entire trip, and dismissive of my Spanish ability. Yet when I knew we were talking about Joseph Smith, I could come in and explain the story of Joseph Smith coming across James 1:5, and quote the scripture: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him."  I could look the investigator in the eyes and explain what then happened on an April morning, quoting Joseph Smith's own words in Spanish,  'I saw a pillar of light, exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it rested up on me. No sooner had the light rested on me, when I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name, and said, pointing to the other, This is my Beloved Son- Hear Him!' There was little else I could say in Spanish aside from my testimony, and there was little else I could understand. I knew the woman spoke to me and said something of angels, and I knew before we left the man grasped my hand and sincerely thanked me for my words, eagerly taking a pamphlet on the restoration. When I got back to the CCM, we were given our scores from our guiding missionaries, and mine were terrible. He said my Spanish was clearly a challenge and gave me low numbers. So no, as to my strength, I am weak. But I think the trip was my favorite part of the week, all the same.

Elder Bednar visits us today, incidentally, so I'll certainly mention that experience in the following week. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Clarifying the Reasons

Hello, everyone! Life is going great at the CCM, and I'm learning a ton of Spanish. I'm learning a bunch of new stuff and trying to apply myself as best I can. We take morning classes about language and the gospel. We teach a lesson to a fake investigator, and bare our hearts out to our teachers as if our lives depended on it. In the afternoon is physical activity (lots of soccer) and study time on the computer. And in the evening is more classes and another lesson with a different investigator. It feels good at the end of each day. 

Elder Godoy spoke to us last night, which was really cool- he's a great public speaker.  He spoke in General Conference, I believe, a couple sessions ago. And ELDER BEDNAR'S coming in a few weeks!!!!! Rumors have been circulating for a while now, but they're confirmed. YES!!!!!!! This is extraordinarily amazing news, as he's an apostle whom I've looked up to for a good portion of my life. Today, we also got to go to the Lima Temple. This was a sacred experience, though it was in a different language, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity we had to go. 

Though life is going great, I'm pining to get out in the field and start moving...that is, after all, why I came here.  I'm afraid it may not have been completely clear to some concerning the reasons I went on my mission. The enthusiastic sentiment of how great an experience it will be is by no means incorrect, but nevertheless avoids the heart of the matter. I'm learning a new language and will be living in far more humble circumstances than I'm used to, which will undeniably help me understand the world in a sense that would otherwise be impossible. Miracles and stories I'll see will stay with me for the rest of my life. I hope I'll become a better person. I'll develop skills and habits that benefit my future education and career paths, and ultimately (hopefully) become a better person than I was before.

All of these, I think, are valid reasons for going on a mission. But the heart of it all is that there are people whom I can teach the most spectacular truths of mankind; people who would otherwise, by necessity, live without them. I'm learning a new language because back in the 1800s, God gave a promise in the form of revelation that said everyone will learn the gospel in their own language across the world (Doctrine and Covenants 90: 10-11). Keep in mind, of course, that at this time the idea of "Mormons" branching out across the world seemed fairly ridiculous, being a struggling new religion of three years that seemed doomed to suffer persecution to its end even in the land of religious freedom. Yet, of course, God's words shall all be fulfilled, and now I and more than 80,000 other missionaries travel the whole world with a single purpose: to teach the gospel. So I intend to become completely part of this story. To take Huancayo and the mountains around it as my own and teach all who will listen. It's cold, all the natives say adamantly. We have a Quorum of Twelve Apostles, one of whom personally through revelation called me to this place.

So why not give everything for something this magnificent, right? It's a good work, and I know it's true. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

It's the Simple Things

Elder Burt with his District
Week two in the CCM went by with the seamless feeling of being one long day. Time works completely differently, feeling simultaneously like I've been here forever and like the days are half as long. My teachers are great, and most days we have fake lessons with them as though they were investigators. It feels extremely real (they have us knock on doors in the little *house* section of the CCM), and it's a little stressful when you don't know the language much. It gets particularly difficult as you're juggling all the other things you're learning- you're supposed to ask questions frequently, lightly asking about their life in a non-intrusive way. You're supposed to teach the lessons as the investigator needs. And teach equally with your companion in a language neither of you know, and respond correctly to answers you don't quite understand. It's outstanding practice, but it's definitely the most stressful part of the day.

TALL is this computer system for missionaries learning the language. It's efficient and thorough (the church's language program is outstanding) but is quite hilariously outdated. I wouldn't be surprised if it was made during the 90's. Our teachers give magnificent lessons that tie together the language and the things we need to teach efficiently.

But perhaps my favorite parts of the day are in the more relaxed moments just after class or right before we go to bed when we just talk together as a district. It feels a little like Harry Potter in the common rooms with his friends. Elder Johnson has this amazing voice and musical talent, as does Elder George. We'll relax and talk about Batman, or old movies we liked, or spiritual thoughts. One spiritual thought I want to get in really quick is as follows. Sometimes my plans and goals get a little larger than life. I get consumed, particularly with the mission, with my responsibility- because, as I'm fond of saying, our capacity is our responsibility. Elder Desposorio asked what inspired me one evening, and I talked a little about that and our duty. He said it was the small things each day for him. The idea that each day we can do something important that builds up. It released a lot of stress.

That's all for now, folks! Life is about doing the simple things each day, and seeing what they make of us. I know this, and say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Andrew on a crowded bus, going into Lima on his P-Day.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

First Week in Peru

I left for Peru a day later than my scheduled departure because of plane delays, but then left smoothly (more or less) the following day. There was, unfortunately, a two-hour delay leaving from Atlanta to Lima, meaning I groggily made my way through Lima's airport at about 2 in the morning. I began to panic as I looked for the people who were supposed to pick me up. How would I contact them if they had forgotten the extra Elder who showed up a day late? As I stumbled forward out of baggage claim, someone asked in a thick accent if I was Elder Burt. Gratefully, I nodded si, and left with him and another man to a car waiting for me. As one of the men began to drive me through the darkened streets of Lima, I clung on to the sides as we careened through the streets with no speed limit or real traffic rules. Outside, the city's sleepless lurked in the doorways of pastel buildings. I again began to panic as I looked at my driver with his unkempt shirt and the cross hanging from his rearview mirror, not knowing a bit of English. Was I in the right car? Luckily, I was, and we arrived at the walled fortress of the CCM (missionary training center) at about 3 in the morning. It was a long night.

Here at the CCM, we eat rice and chicken for every. single. meal. No exaggeration, and luckily, I love it. I had a bunch of stories I wanted to share, but I'm actually running into overtime on the computer, so I'll keep it short.

Elder Burt and the Random Parade of Cats: We went to Interpol for fingerprints and such, and the place was infested with cats wandering about. We sat in the courtyard, feeling extremely foreign as we went through the lines getting our passports checked and whatnot. Sitting next to a man, I began in my broken Spanish to start a conversation. Luckily, it turned out he spoke English and so I gave a quick review of the first lesson, and he talked about his faith and whatnot. I placed my first pamphlet, so it felt great. I went to sit by the other Elders, who were reading as well as they could Spanish scriptures in the Book of Mormon. One of them looked nervous, and said, "You know what? I feel like we've gotta talk to that man over there. It's like Elder Holland said, right? We just have to open our mouths." They talked a lot and we felt victorious.

Life is good as a missionary. Life is BUSY as a missionary! Every moment of every day is well-utilized. I intended for a lot more details, but I'm out of time. I love you all! Write to me, please!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Today's the Day

[Andrew successfully got on his flight to Peru today. He was very excited to be on his way. Now we wait until his next P-Day to hear from him, so stay tuned on this blog for his first letter! If you have a chance, please send a letter to him at the address in the right margin. I know he would love to hear from you. - John B.]

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Airline Delay

[Well, we got up early to take Andrew to the airport. We took a few pictures before we left, then headed down I-405 in light traffic. When we got to the airport, our first sign that things weren't right was when Andrew's passport wouldn't scan properly at the kiosk. We checked in with the desk, and they said it was because Andrew's flight out of Seattle was delayed due to maintenance issues and he'd be missing his connection in Atlanta. Unfortunately, we've had to postpone his mission now for 24 hours. We'll try again tomorrow! - John B.]