Monday, July 29, 2013

All Quite On The Southern Front

Elder Johnson with the Maceio Brazil Mission President Gonzaga and his wife (taken in March).

So this week started off pretty well, but the adversary thought it funny to turn things against us.  We had a meeting with President Gonzaga on Wednesday and it was awesome!  We learned more about inviting investigators to learn for themselves instead of us missionaries throwing information at them.  He also showed us a quote from Elder Bednar that says, "The gift of discernment in its highest manifestation is to see the good in others that they have yet to see in themselves."  I found it to be a very profound quote and it touched me quite a bit.  So we left that meeting on a spiritual high, but it was all down hill after that.  Everyone got sad for some reason.  I don't know why, but everyone in the world, including myself, was just off that day.  Nobody was home afterwards and even the one investigator we did have was pretty depressed that day.  We then got a call that one of our investigators we were teaching (who by the way suffers from severe depression and dyslexia.  Like he doesn't function properly kind of depression - he can't focus and he also talks to his dog and to non existent people) ran away and nobody knew where he was.

The story gets better.

He's about 23 and a few days before he ran away his mom cut us and told us to leave him alone and let him be Catholic.  The funny thing was that his condition had bettered as we taught him and it was only after we stopped meeting with him that he started to worsen.  In the middle of the night he grabbed all of his things and just left.  His mom then asked us what we did with him and where he was.  Her ex-husband also blamed us for his disappearance and they started telling everybody that we had something to do with his disappearance.  Lo and behold four days later daddy found him sitting in front of the chapel.  He said that a member of our church gave him a ride to Bahia, which is the next state over and about a four hour drive to the city of Salvador, in the middle of the night and they just chilled there for a few days.  He couldn't tell us who the member was and nobody in our ward went to Bahia.  His dad was furious and still blames us for his disappearance and threatened to break everything in the church.  Needless to say, we will not be returning to his residence anytime soon.

It was only afterwards I learned what people really thought of our church down here.  Back home I always heard that people confused us for polygamists, Amish people, and at times they'd say we had horns.  I'd then think how dumb that was, but it is far worse down here.  Here are some examples:

1.  We kidnap virgins in the middle of the night and keep them as our prisoners in our churches.

2.  We kidnap people and bring them to the United States so we can sell their organs.

3.  We have demons.  At times you'll see people walking down the street and if they see you they'll start singing or humming hymns because their pastor told them that we have demons and the only way they can protect themselves form our inner satanic powers is to sing hymns.  Oh, and demons give us the power to speak English also.

People legitimately think these things.  So yeah that whole fiasco wasn't too good for our public image.

The "snakes" have also started being more aggressive as of late.  There a few of them that live across the street and they like to sit in front of our house (not just them but everybody likes to sit in front of our house because we're the only source of shade on the entire street) and peer in and see what we're up to. One day I left the house and they said I had pretty eyes; I then turned around and hid in the house until I could gain the courage to run past them.  They have also since learned my name, or to read, one of the other, and the other night they were calling my name as I returned home.  Snakes just are stressful and I've had to whip out the ole' "I have a girlfriend back home" line a few times this week, which doesn't really mean anything to them because they reply, "Yeah, but she's back home and I'm here."  Nevertheless it's like an invisible barrier between me and them.

This week really wasn't that bad.  It was filled with much feeling of the spirit and trying to find the elect.  All in all it was a pretty good week in my opinion.  Hope everything is going well back home, love you guys!  Looks like you made our forefathers proud this Pioneer Day by blowing stuff up (it's what they'd want.)  Love you all!

- Elder Johnson

Friday, July 26, 2013

For The Glory Of My Future Spouse

So this letter is probably going to be more of a rant than my usual format, so sorry.  It is in no way a negative rant, just a rant in general.

Last P Day we went into the Center District of the city, which is like the financial heart of Aracaju.  They had all sorts of goodies there and there were tons of people.  They even had a Jesus statue like the one in Rio, but it was only about 15 feet high.  It still was cool.  I was able to pick up some knick knacks while I was there and they had a lot of stuff I want to buy before I come home from my mission.
The Center.
The Center is also really close to the ocean, which is cool.

This is a statue they had of a Caju fruit.  Cashew fruit, I bet you didn't know cashew wasn't just a nut it's also a fruit!  Aracaju gets its name from Ararás, which are a type of parrot and Caju, which are native to the land.  Ara+Caju=Aracaju.

They also had a Subway sandwich shop in the Center!!  It was awesome and definitely picture worthy.

I have bought myself a São Paulo Futebol Club shirt and it has since polarized my relationship with some of the other Elders in the zone.   #SPFC4LYFE   I also took some money out of my bank account mom because the American dollar went up in value so I decided to make my move and jump on it while I could.
Paulo Broz
I went on a division with the zone leaders again and it was pretty awesome.  Their area is the more touristy part of town so it's a pretty cool area.  He was able to show me how to work more with the spirit and I really felt a difference in the work as we strived to listen to the spirit more instead of just going.

One thing about my area is that it's filled with crazy people and drunks and for some reason they think we want to talk with them.  Generally you can see them coming down the road and think, "Oh man I really hope they don't talk to me."  Usually they do end up talking to you and it's just a big waste of time.  I know it sounds harsh, but it's like the same thing with giving money to the beggars around, you're just wasting time and money.  With the crazies you could tell them to come to church or something, but they won't.  They just want to say something stupid to you and then waste your time while you're late for your next appointment.  With the beggars they're either faking it or your money would just be spent on drugs so that's pretty dumb.  There have been many who have told us that we're a cult or say something else dumb so we usually run away from them.

There's this road that runs next to the local church that we usually take home.  The other Elders said they saw someone get robbed on it the other day and it was also the same road me and Elder Godoy were robbed on.  The day before we had another crazy person tell us we were a cult so we were kind of on Death Con 1 going home.  We were going home one day when we heard this voice calling for us and Elder Oliveira said we should walk faster so we started gong a bit faster.  This voice from the dark was still calling for us so we walked even faster.  The voice then called out, "Elder Oliveira!"  Elder Oliveira said to me, "Elder Run! The thief know us!!!"  A few moments later a very tired and very out of breath member caught up with us and we walked merrily home without ire!

We've been having issues with our power as of late.  The power in our house, only our house, decided it was too cool to work so we've been without lights, hot water, a fridge, and fans for a few days so that's made everything fun.  The church sent Mr. Helpful (some guy who does maintenance for the church) to come and help us.  We found out a way we could turn the lights back on by flipping the breaker, but the breaker has since decided to stop working also.  He did it and all the lights turned on, but it wasn't a permanent solution, only temporary.  We told him everything would go out again, but he seem convinced that it would stick this time.  Low and behold the lights went out permanently once he left so he should be back to finish it permanently today.  It's very hard to do weekly planning with only flashlights as lights and thank you for the mosquito repellent mom, it helps a lot.

The other day it was raining, a lot, and we had one last investigator to talk to before we could go home.  Only I had an umbrella, but it was obsolete with the manner of heavy rain we were getting and wouldn't protect me and Oliveira.  We decided that we had to see this man so we ran out into the heavy downpour and the roads, which in reality were rivers.  We arrived at his house with a speed that would've made my high school gym teacher proud, but he decided he wanted to sleep so we had to return home.  We were left standing under this awning.  We then looked at each other and yelled, "Pela gloria de minha futura esposa!!!" ("For the glory of my future spouse!!!") and we ran out into the rain and all the way back home.  Was it amazing?  Yes.  Was it cold and wet?  Of course.  Was there an adrenaline rush?  You bet.  Have I been a little sick since then?  Sadly yes.  Was it worth it?  Com certeza!!!  (Sure!!!)

Elder Johnson

A meal we made.  One of the members gave us a full chicken, like head flopping and everything chicken.  So we asked
 one of the neighbors to properly cut it up for us and we made it into this lovely meal.  Bem gostoso!!  (Pretty tasty!!)

This is called Tapioca.  They make it out of this powder they make from a strange potato and you fry it like a crepe!
You can then add all sorts of goodness on top such as sweetened condensed milk, bananas, coconut, or whatever you want.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Macumba and Me

So yesterday at night me and Elder Oliveira returned to our house after a days work to find one of the other Elders waiting for us.  He then whispered four beautiful words, "We Have Peanut Butter."  It has come to pass that the local Bompreço (it's a Walmart owned chain down here so they sell Great Value brand stuff) has started importing peanut butter!!!  I don't know, down here you always hear from missionaries about how they don't sell peanut butter and stuff, but it was never too much of a problem for me.  I mean, peanut butter is good, just not that good.  I was proven sorely mistaken as I consumed said peanut butter and tears streamed down my face.  It just made me smile because of how American it tasted.

So on the way back from one of our meetings the following adventure ensued.

Oliveira and I were taking the bus back home and the driver decided to kick everyone off at the top of the hill for no apparent reason.  We had to go find another bus and take it back to Siqueira, so we found one, hoped on, and it kicked us off in Nossa Senhora Doc Socorro, which is the next city over.  It's like if our house is in Riverton it dropped us off in Magna, like in the middle of nowhere Saltair Magna.  The bus driver just decided he didn't want to drive around anymore so he just got off and left us in the middle of nowhere.  Luckily another driver flagged down another bus, which took us back to the church where we had our meeting, #facepalm, and then took us back home two hours later.  Ya.

So around here they like to drive around cars with huge speakers on the top that are about the size of said car and blast advertisements, which can be heard a good three miles away.  These cars of the devil have since doubled in the past few weeks for some local election of something and it has become quite annoying.  We've started to memorize the little jingles they play and it is really hard to study in the morning with these monstrosities driving around.

We've recently learned that the road we live on is inhabited by a bunch of people who practice Macumba, which is like Voodoo.  We noticed that one of the houses was newly painted and had a painting of some weird blonde African warrior and the phrase Ilé Axé on the front.  Elder Oliveira then pointed out a big community of them that live down the road, which I thought was like some kind of African center thing.  I asked him how he knew and he said if a house has paintings of black people on them, that it's probably Macumba.  One of the Macumbistas talked to us the other day and inquired about our religion.  We generally try to stay clear of Macumba because they generally don't like us too much and for other reasons.  He turned out to be a really cool guy and we shared a pamphlet with him, but we'll probably rededicate the house just to be safe.  A lot of the missionaries have some pretty crazy stories about Macumba.

So I think I'll end this note with something that one of our investigators said to us the other day.  We found her one day while looking for a less active who supposedly lived in her house.  She told us that he moved away so we started to talk about the church with her.  She started to cry about how her husband just left her and how hard its been for her lately.  She told us we could come back the following week so we went on our way to our next activity.  We talked to her the other day about The Restoration the following week.  I just finished talking about Joseph Smith when I asked her how she felt.  She sat there in silence for a minute and some tears started to stream down her face.  Then she said, "The other day when you two passed by here, why didn't you knock on any of the other houses?"  We said something to the effect of, "This was the only house we needed to stop by."  She replied, "I find it very interesting that you'd only knock on my door and then continue on.  I think God is trying to reach out and tell me that He still loves me."

- Elder Johnson

District Two

So that orange thing is called CuzCuz.  They make it out of this corn flake like substance and
you usually eat it with like eggs or meat.  You've got to cook it in this crazy pot thing.

Me and Oliveira

Monday, July 8, 2013

182 Days in Babylon

Well I have marked my first six months as a missionary of the Lord and let me tell you it's been an amazing experience so far.  I definitely feel like I am not the same person who I was six months ago, but I feel I've changed for the better.  These past few months have been the best months of my life!  I love doing this work and seeing the blessings this gospel can bring to people.  I have had the opportunity to witness so many miracles happen these past few months, from seeing the blessings of the priesthood in action, learning a second language, and best of all seeing people come unto Christ and knowing that this gospel has made all the difference in the world.  I have also changed a bit physically as well!  Elder Munger likes to describe me as "just getting out of a concentration camp," which I feel is a bit much.  I have indeed lost a bit of weight and I have had to make a few holes in my belt, but it's all good.  It's all this walking/sweating I've been doing the past few months that has really made me lose a bit of weight, but don't worry mom, I do eat and I do not starve myself. :)  My thighs scared me the other day...  I was sitting at the table eating dinner when I rested my hand upon my leg and didn't feel, what appeared to be my leg, but the leg of another who has rather firm leg muscles.  I got over the initial shock, but it still weirds me out from time to time to think that I have any actual real muscle now.

So rain here is pretty crazy.  It's like somebody flips the switch and a hurricane magically appears out of nowhere and rains death, in the form of huge heavy rain drops upon the people.  It will then stop in less than a second, which is absolutely remarkable.  I have yet to learn how the rain can do that.

So for your information mom, I just got your package.  It filled me with joy and I loved the Ensigns you put in it.  I've hung up some of the pictures and quotes you gave me and I no longer require basketball shorts.  I think I have enough to give to every Brazilian companion I will ever have.  Those candy root beer barrels are LEGIT!!!  The first time I've tasted the flavor of root beer down here and I luv it.

Oh and also mom, this is how the mission is divided:

There are two states in my mission, Alagoas and Sergipe.

The city of Maceió is located in Alagoas, which is the poorest and most violent state in Brazil.  Apparently it's also very disorganized so it makes referrals difficult, but it has the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.

The city of Aracaju is located in Sergipe (both Maceió and Aracaju are the capitals of their respective states.)  The cities are divided into Barrios or neighborhoods.  They also have what they call "The Interior," which is any other settlement in the state that isn't in the capitol.
Aracaju Brazil

By the way, I love that guitar hymns album you got me for Christmas.  It's my favorite thing to listen to!

So a cool experience - Elder Oliveira and I were walking down the road when this girl came up to us and asked us where our church was.  She told us that she was from the Interior and that she just barely moved here and didn't know where the local LDS church was. She said she was just talking about it with her friend when she saw us walking down the street and we were able to point her in the right direction.  She might come to church Sunday, IDK, I thought I might've seen her but I wasn't sure.

Speaking of church, the Relief Society brought in the Elders to talk about how their moms prepared them for missions.  When it was my turn to talk I talked about how I once read a study that the most influential factor that helped young men prepare to serve missions is the fact that their moms were active in the church.  I can bare my testimony that this is very true and the example you set for me really did help me serve a mission.  I will admit that I did get a bit choked up in front of the entire Relief Society, so yeah.....

We also had the opportunity to have Elder Moroni Torgan, a member of the Seventy, come and visit all the missionaries in Sergipe the other day (that meant I got to chill with Elder Rutledge!) and he taught us a lot about working through revelation and working with the spirit, so that was pretty cool.
Mission Tour for Elder Torgan in Aracaju
(Can you find Elder Johnson - clue: third row)
Elder Rutledge and I at the Mission Tour with Elder Moroni Torgan.

We also celebrated the 4th of July in our house (3/4 American) so we made hamburgers and drank Coke.  #Murica.  The hamburgers were okay, we had to work with what we had, and it's hard to grill hamburgers American style down here.

Oh and I also killed a mouse the other day.  The other Elders wouldn't do it so I had to go in there and send that little creature to the abyss (by the abyss I mean the trash can).
Elder Johnson, Mouse Slayer.
Well that's about it for this week.  Love you all and hope everything is going well back home.

- Elder Johnson

P.S.  Oh and have fun in Disneyland without me...

Mmmmmmmm... Maracujá

Monday, July 1, 2013

Transfer IV: A New Hope

So for your information mom, transfers work like this...

Sunday night we get the call from the District Leader who will say either:  you stay in your area, you go to Maceió, or you are being transferred but staying in Sergipe.  On Tuesday we had the actual transfers and everyone who is staying in Sergipe comes to spend the night in Siqueira because that's where the bus to Maceió leaves from.  The bus leaves at about 2:00 a.m. and then they're on their merry way up to Maceió.  We then wait for the transfer meeting down here and everyone in Sergipe goes to the chapel and we listen to the meeting via cell phone.  We then wait for our new companions until the bus arrives.

So when I met my new companion, Elder Oliveira, it was a beautiful experience.  I asked around for him and when I finally found him (he's about a foot taller than me) he picked me up and gave me this huge hug.  It was at that moment I knew that this transfer was going to rule.  Elder Oliveira is from São Paulo, he likes Michael Jackson, Charlie Chaplin movies, and is probably one of the nicest guys I've ever met.
My new companion Elder Oliveira making pastéis.
Our lunch today.  Maracujá and pastéis.
We also received two new Elders in our house, Elder Katich and Elder Coon.  Elder Katich is from Fresno and did a year at the U of U before he came out on his mission.  He has very good taste in music and is our new District Leader.  Elder Coon is from Draper and he was transferred from the infamous Arapiraca area.  Arapiraca only has water for about three days and then it leaves for the next 10 days.  Missionaries who pass through Arapiraca are like old war buddies.  They say things like "Hey, I wouldn't be doing this for you if it wasn't for the time we spent in Arapiraca together!

So far this transfer has been awesome.  We were finally able to do a deep clean of the house and reorganize everything, which has been awesome.  We also have "Family Dinners" when we come back home at night now, which I've enjoyed quite a bit.

One other cool thing that happened at transfers was I had another reunion with Elder Rutledge!  I was just about to leave the chapel when I look around the corner and I see him!  There was a ward activity there at the same time and a lot of the members gave us strange looks as we embraced.  Earlier that day I was talking to some of the Elders that serve up where he is serving and the conversation went a little like this:

ELDER 1:  "Hey, is that Elder Johnson?  The one that was friends with Elder Rutledge before his mission?"

ELDER 2:  "Yeah, that's him."

ELDER 3:  "Hey Elder Johnson!!!!  We had to rededicate our house because of you!!"

ME:  "Uhhhhh...what did I do?"

ELDER 2:  "Those scary stories you told Elder Rutledge scared us so bad that we started seeing things!!"

I then remembered that I told Elder Rutledge about some of the stories of ghosts and demons and the like I had heard from members of our ward back home and from a family member and I died of laughter!!!  I then confronted Elder Rutledge about it and he busted up laughing.  He told me they were really so scared.  All in all it was a beautiful reunion.

So Brazil won the Confederation Cup yesterday!!!!  We were sitting in our house planning and we could tell that Brazil made a goal because there would be lots of screaming followed by the sound of what appeared to be Nazi Germany bombing London.  Everyone would start throwing fireworks and it sounded like we were being invaded.   #BrazillianPride

Speaking of bombs - the festivities have yet to end.  This last week was São Pedro (again, nobody knows who this guy was, bot they still celebrate him anyway).  We has to turn in a bit early the past few nights, not because I'm a lazy missionary, but because it literally got too dangerous for us to be on the roads with all of the Busca Pés in our house!!!  We were talking outside with a recent convert and then I heard from behind me, "Oh, I think I'll throw it at the Mormons."  The next thing I heard was Busca Pés exploding next to my ear and I lost part of my hearing for the next few seconds.  Things were blowing up in the roads and people were making fires next to their house for no other reason than to make a fire!!  Some of the kids at night started throwing Busca Pés in our house!!!!  Which, in truth, wasn't actually in our "house house" more like the little gated area we have before you enter the main house.  So me and Elder Oliveira, trying to sleep, got up and left the house with complete intention on cursing those wicked children with some good ole fashioned she-bear action!!  They ran away before we could rain fire and brimstone down upon them, but I still wasn't too happy about the whole situation.

Oh, a quick note for anyone who has written me a letter, I'm sorry if it appears like I haven't written you back.  I generally follow the "you write me a letter I will definitely respond" kind of rule, but the Brazilian postal has proven to be a rather big pain and may have stolen your letter or the letter I wrote to you.  Oh! and mom, I have gotten the express envelope with my friend's mission blog updates.  I got it like two weeks ago and this past week I got the huge envelope full of shorts and stain cleaning supplies (you mailed it on April 16).  I also got the mosquito net package about two months ago.

So a cool experience, last week when the other Elders were saying goodbye to their converts we visited one.  They shared their testimony and this man started to cry.  I really wasn't expecting it because he's a bigger, tougher guy, but he said something after that really touched me.  "I've told you guys a couple of times already, but I know that Heavenly Father sent two angels to my house to give me this gospel that changed my life."  Like that touched me rather a lot and I've thought about it a lot since then and its experiences like that that make missions amazing.

I will leave you with another conversation I had with some guy who could speak English last night.

MAN:  Hey, American!

ME:  Yeah?

MAN:  You don't need to be scared.

ME:  Uh...I'm not scared (but that comment sure scared me).

MAN:  You are.  I can see your face.

ME:  Uh...

MAN:  I... Can see your face... (that comment really scared me).

ME:  Okay.

MAN:  I lived in the states for about five years and it made me rich and now I live back down here.  Tell me your story.

ME:  My what?

MAN:  Your story.

ME:  My story... Well, I lived in Utah for about 19 years and now I'm down here serving a mission.

MAN:  I like the states.

ME:  I like Brazil!

MAN:  You hate it here.

ME:  ....

MAN:  ....

- Elder Johnson

The cool prison next to our house.