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!