Monday, June 29, 2015

Guess who's been reassigned?!

I have now been officially reassigned to the Portugal Porto Mission!!! Hooray! The Quorum of the Twelve approved my reassigment and I got the email today. It was like opening a mission call all over again with the only difference being that I knew where I was going... just a tiny difference. :) The Porto Mission got a new mission president though. It was supposed to be President Koch, but he was reassigned to Missão Moçambique and our new mission president is President Amorim. He's Brasilian but he's from Utah. We were told last night by some members that work for the church that the new mission president still hasn't gotten his visa yet.... so we're going to have a substitute mission president for a little bit. It will all work out though. :) Today is also my 8 month mark in the mission! Hooray! Yet at the same time it doesn't feel like it's been 8 months already.... I've only got 10 months left and that is really, really, REALLY weird. Vida.

Last week President Fluckiger held a zone conference on p-day so we didn't actually have a p-day. We didn't have a chance to do our groceries so we've been really grateful all week for the members that give us so much food. All we did today though was run errands and go grocery shopping. It was a really boring p-day. Last week was a great week though.

On Tuesday we had a huge ward party at the capela. It was a festa de São João. In Portugal There are holidays for the Catholic saints, but the story I heard from the members is that the people in Portugal starting taking breaks from work every time there was a holiday, so the government assigned certain holidays to certain areas. Lisboa has it's own holiday, Povoa de Varzim has it's own holiday, but here in the Porto area we have São João. It felt a lot like the 4th of July and it was so much bigger than Carnival was. The city shut down and there were huge parties every where. It's got some pretty interesting traditions though. There's some plant that they have at every festa de São João and they eat sardines and they have dances with pretty cool musica. Those traditions are all just fine, but there is one tradition of São João that we decided is the most stupid idea ever. The biggest tradition besides the sardines is that for São João there are these plastic squeaky hammers that people run around and hit each other on the head with....

Dumbest idea ever.

I came home from that ward activity black and blue... São João is one holiday I am not bringing back home. Not a chance. Besides the stupid squeaky hammers it was a lot of fun. The bishop heard that I had never eaten sardines before so every one made sure that I ate lots and lots of sardines. They were actually really good. I liked the sardines. At night they also had fireworks in Porto, and Sister Parkinson and I were really excited because from our apartment we have a great view of Porto across the river. We were in our apartment waiting for the fireworks to start and we were so excited. Unfortunately there was an apartment building blocking our view. Sad day. But it all worked out because we could see the fireworks reflecting off the windows of another apartment building... so it was pretty good. Also, turns out that people tend to get robbed in our capela. :) After the party when we were looking for stuff in our bags I noticed that I didn't hear any coins jingling. I didn't think much of it but then Sister Parkinson looked in her little money bag and she didn't have anything. So, yeah. We both got robbed.... at the church. I had money hidden in a couple places so I only had 8 euros stolen from my wallet and that's not too bad, but Sister Parkinson had about 70 euros in her wallet. We called the executive elders though and it's all okay now.  

The next day there was nobody in Gaia because everyone went up to Braga for the São João parties and fairs. We were supposed to have a lesson with Avelino and Xeca that night, but they went up to Braga instead. We were a little frustrated when our lesson with Avelino fell through because he was supposed to be getting baptized on Friday but later that night they called us and told us that they had planned his entire baptism and had already called everyone so we didn't have to worry about planning anything. They are amazing people! On Thursday Avelino had his interview for baptism and on Friday he was baptized.

It was literally the best baptism I have ever seen. It didn't work out exactly the way we had planned, but we had so much member involvement with Avelino and he was so ready that it was such a special baptism. The Spirit was so strong. With people like Avelino, we can see so clearly that the Spirit literally does everything. The only thing we did was invite him to be baptized and go over the lessons with him. The difference between Avelino and a lot of other investigators is that he was so prepared that he already knew that everything was right. The bishop and his family are really good friends because his wife was a mission companion with Xeca, Avelino's wife. Xeca has been inactive for about 10 years though and Bishop told us that Avelino always used science to try and discredit everything about the Church. Things changed a little over a month ago when Bishop felt like he needed to call Avelino in and offer him a calling. For some reason a huge barrier disappeared and Xeca and Avelino started letting the missionaries come over. 

When Avelino got baptized there was an actual light in his face. I've never seen anything like that before in my life. I wasn't the only one who noticed it either. Our investigator Gabriel was at the baptism and he said that when he saw Avelino come out of the water he saw how happy Avelino was and for some reason it gave him a really strong desire to be baptized and have that same feeling. We're trying so hard to help Gabriel. He's 20 and his family is from Angola. He taught himself English by watching movies and he's a medical student.... basically he's one of the most intelligent people I've ever met. He's got some incredibly deep and profound questions about God and the universe and the Plan of Salvation, but the problem is that he doesn't see the importance of actually reading the scriptures or praying to find out for himself if any of this is true or not. Avelino - who is the most quiet person in the world - shared his testimony with Gabriel and told him that if he will just take the step and pray that he will find the answers that he's looking for. It was really cool and afterwards Sister Parkinson and I both had the feeling that we need to teach Gabriel's entire family and that will help us figure out what the "iceburg" is. Unfortunately, Gabriel saw us yesterday in the road and then today in the grocery store and he thought that we were following him around.... *great big eye roll* He was a little weirded out, but I was hungry and I wanted groceries so I wasn't too concerned about whether he was weirded out or not. 

I still need to write my email to the mission president so I have to go now... I kind of rambled on in this email. Sorry. I'll try to write a better email next week, but I love you all and I'm so grateful that I'm here right now. I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world.

Little Sister Smith

P.S. Here's a picture of all of us at Avelino's baptism... and a happy Sister Parkinson with her sardine at the festa de São João this week. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I'm still alive!

Sorry that I didn't get an email written yesterday. President and Sister Fluckiger did a two-zone conference with us on our p-day and we didn't get time to do email, so today we get 15 minutes to write and say that we're still alive.... so, yeah. I'm still alive. :)

You all had a pretty good week it seems. How was the Devil's Staircase hike? I've never actually done that hike before. It can go on the to-do list for after the mission.

This week was a really good week... one of the weirdest weeks I've had but still pretty good. Every Saturday we get invited to lunch with a part-Brasilian family that just loves the missionaries. They're baptists but they love the missionaries and they care more about our work than a lot of the members do. Every week they teach us their baptist songs (which are actually quite a lot of fun to sing) and then they encourage us to keep going with our work of helping people learn about God. This Saturday I learned what it really meant that all churches have parts of the truth and such good people in them. Gloria the wife was singing while her husband was playing the guitar and Gloria just started crying because she could feel the Spirit. I don't know if it really makes sense what I'm trying to explain, but I realized that Heavenly Father loves all of His children no matter what religion they are and that is what He wants us to feel for them as well. Gloria and Marcos are really cool people. 

The conference yesterday with President and Sister Fluckiger was really good. It was kind of sad though too because it was the last time that we get to see President and Sister Fluckiger (but Sister Fluckiger gave me her address so that I can still write letters to her). They did a lot of trainings and practices and then Sister Fluckiger had us watch that short movie "The Touch of the Master's Hand." Oh boy... I just cried and cried and cried through the whole movie. For a surprise our zone did a musical number at the very end for President and Sister Fluckiger and they had me play the violin. The funny thing is that I haven't told people that I play the violin, but somehow one of the assistents, Elder Andrade, found out that I play the violin and called to let me know that I would be playing the violin. He doesn't play the violin, but he likes it so he bought one and brought it on his mission. It doesn't make sense to me, but he just brought a violin with him. Afterwards, he told me that he wanted me to keep it with me until the end of his mission so that I could use it and then in September when he goes home he'll come and get it from me. So, now I have a violin. HOORAY!!! It's a little beat up and it needs lots of love from someone who knows a lot more than me, but it still makes me happy. 

I've been speed typing and now I'm out of time. I don't have any pictures to send this week but I love you all and I loved the emails this week! They were so good! You're all just wonderful and I'm glad that you're all doing so well. 


Little Sister Smith

P.S. The two most awkward and most funny moments of my life ever happened this week: I got hugged by Marcos's Brasilian dad this weekend and then on Sunday I got given beijinhos by a guy.... normally I duck out of those things, but I don't know what happened. I kind of just froze in fearbecause I had no idea what was going on, but Sister Parkinson said the look on my face both times was the funniest thing ever. I thought it was horrible, but Sister Parkinson said it was super funny. I'll just take her word for it. 

Also, when President Fluckiger found out that I play the violin he looked at me and said, "We'll talk later." He told me I could keep the violin because it's an approved mission instrument. Hooray!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Happiness.... yep. I'm happy here. :)

I love Gaia. I have never adjusted so well to any place I've ever been before in Portugal, but I feel like I've been in Gaia for forever. I love it so much here. The first day it was really weird because I went from Africa to Europe, but I just love Gaia. It's the coolest place ever and I have the best companion in the world. I love, love, love, love, LOVE Sister Parkinson. We were friends as soon as we met each other. Our only problem is that we talk too much. It actually is a problem. We will just sit and talk and not pay attention to anything that's going on around us, but I just love her and I don't think I've laughed so hard ever. When she found out that I was only a month older than her she said, "Really?! I thought you were like 100 years older than me." She is really funny. Basically we are the same person, but she's a lot more outgoing and super loud. I just love her. She's from Texas and she's been in the mission for about four months.... I've been on a mission for about 8 months. That's weird. She was talking to me about music and movies that she liked before her mission and I had no idea what she was talking about. That's when I realized that I've been gone for a little while. It's crazy how the world just keeps turning even when you're not there. Oh well.
It's so flippin cold in Gaia. Sister Parkinson is totally fine, but I've been by Lisboa for three months and now I'm really cold. The members said that it's a little cooler than normal but that it will warm up next week. I pulled out my coat and my winter clothes to go proselyting... I'm gonna die next winter. :) It's going to be really interesting when I come home to Idaho. I'm going to have to start migrating south in the winter. Anyway....
The ward in Gaia is the most interesting ward ever. It's so BIG!!! They have at least 80 people in sacrament meeting every single week and they have about 15 kids in primary. I about died when I saw how big the ward is. I haven't seen a ward that big since I came to Portugal. The funny thing though is that this ward has such a big problem with gossip and the result is that Relief Society is pretty much split into two groups. I've been hearing all these stories and they just make me roll my eyes. Relief Society sisters are awfully funny. I just love all the members. I don't care about all their groups... I just want to be friends with every body. :) Life is nicer that way anyway.
One of our best friends here is a member named Xeca. She served a mission here about 20 years ago and has been less active for about 10 years. Well, the missionaries found her a couple of months ago and got her to go teach lessons with them. She said that when she was bearing her testimony she realized that she does know that all these things are true, so she started coming back to church. They started teaching her husband Avelino but then we had transfers and now the area they live in is an elder area. Well, Xeca likes us better so she told the elders that they weren't allowed to come over because she was only going to let the sister teach her husband. We're just fine with that, but the elders were not so happy. :) Xeca doesn't want to be involved in teaching her husband because she wants him to choose for himself to be baptized. The first lesson Sister Parkinson and I had with him we were with our ward mission leader (who is also the stake president of the Porto Stake.... not at all intimidating) President Avelar. We were talking about the Plan of Salvation because he'd already been taught the Restoration. Xeca doesn't want us to "scare" off Avelino so we really subtley brought up baptism at the end. The Spirit was so strong and it was almost like Avelino was just waiting for us to invite him to be baptized. I looked at Sister Parkinson so that she could invite him to be baptized. Instead she bore her testimony and looked back at me to let me invite him to be baptized. When I asked him if he would follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized by someone holding the priesthood authority of God, he answered before I had even finished talking. It was like he'd been waiting to be asked. That was the strongest I have ever felt the Spirit on my mission. No matter how imperfect our teaching and our testimonies are, Heavenly Father has people prepared to accept the gospel and when the time is right the Spirit will take over and take care of everything in those moments. When Avelino accepted the invitation to be baptized I just felt that he needed to pick the date, so he picked Friday, June 26. After that he said that closing prayer for our lesson and he started crying during the prayer. He just kept thanking Heavenly Father for sending "As Sísteres" to help him. The Spirit was so strong! I had the biggest smile ever and Avelino just kept thanking us for helping him. I told him that we're only here because Heavenly Father knew that it was his time to accept the gospel and be baptized. Xeca had been listening  outside the doorway the entire time but when the lesson was done she ran in and just kept hugging Avelino. They have a goal of going to the temple and being sealed next summer. They've decided that they're going to go to the Provo temple. I love them so much. Lessons like that and people like Avelino and Xeca only come along once in while. Most of the time we're just worn out and tired and exhausted and we wonder if we're actually fulfilling our purpose, but then Heavenly Father gives you the privilege of being involved in the lives of people like Avelino and Xeca. It's those moments that are so rare that make everything else worth it every day. :)
I don't know what's ahead in the future, but I'm just grateful everyday for the oportunidade.... (sorry, Portuguese).... I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve as a missionary. I never really wanted to serve a mission, but I'm glad that Heavenly Father opened that path for me. It's the best thing I could have ever done for my life.
I liked the story of Eric and the missionaries. Oh, those poor missionaries. Eric, you ought to go to church sometime.... just to see what reactions people give you. I don't think you'll be struck by lightening or anything, but that would be a funny story. :) It sounds like you all had fun with Clariss'a family there. Clarissa will sometimes send me little videos in her emails. When Benjamin gets his mission call I want a video. You can have Clarissa explain it to you and then I can see it and cry with the rest of you. :) ( Just in case we're doing any bets on his mission call I say he's coming to Portugal with me... whether he wants to or not).
Happy birthday to Allison today and Benjamin and Asa on Wednesday! We don't have a post office in our area, but I will try to get something sent to you all before the end of the month. :) I love you all!
Little Sister Smith
P.S. Picture evidence that I got my package for Mommy... we were at the metro station.... and the second picture is the view from our apartment.
P.P.S. During personal study this morning I read 2 Néfi 26 verse... 24.... I think? I don't actually remember now. Whoops. Anyway, it talks about how Heavenly Father only does things for our benenfit and that includes giving us hard things. If you really think about it it gives you a different perspective on the commandments and the things we experience in this life, because He is the only person that knows our full potential and He knows how to help us achieve our potential. :)

Monday, June 8, 2015

"Way up north... way up north..."

I've decided that the only thing constant about the mission is the change. Right when you're comfortable and you never want to leave an area, that's when Heavenly Father transfers you. Pois... so back to the north I go. All the way up to Gaia.

I'm going to serve in the Portugal Porto Mission!!! All last week I knew that I was going to get transferred, but I just didn't want to leave Miratejo. I loved being in the south and being in that area. I loved the members so much and I loved our investigators so much.... but I kept remembering one day in the MTC when they were trying to teach us about Portugal Portuguese and one professor mentioned the northern accent. I got the huge impression that I would spend my mission in the north. So I was thinking of that all week and I knew that this transfer determined which mission we would serve in.... I knew I was getting transferred back to the north. Church was really hard because I said goodbye to a lot of the members and that's not ever any fun. After church I went home and starting packing, but it went a little slowly because I was crying so much that I could hardly pack. I know it's good to go to other places and meet new people, but it's not a lot of fun to say goodbye to people knowing that you might not ever see them again. I don't really like transfers... I have a really hard time with them. The Porto Mission will be fun though. It's really weird to be in the north again, but I'm excited. It will be an adventure.

Anyway.... I'm in Gaia (it's pronounced "guy-uh") so I'm really, REALLY close to Porto. I thought it would be cooler up here, but no. It's super hot. There are also very few Africans up here.... it's a little too white for my tastes but I suppose Europeans need the Gospel too. :) My new companion is Sister Parkinson. She's in her thrid transfer so I'm "greenie-breaking" her. I don't actually like that name (I think it's kind of degrading), but basically my job is to transition her from training to normal mission life.... I'm a little nervous because I don't feel like I'm ready to be a senior companion. Sister Parkinson is so sweet though. She's so happy and so friendly. She's from Texas and she's basically the cutest sister missionary ever. I don't think I have ever met anyone so happy! And our apartment is apparently one of the nicest in the mission... it's definitely the biggest, but probably one the messiest too. I have a tendency to clean the apartments a ton though so it'll look different in a few weeks. Sister Parkinson and I actually found each other on Facebook before I went into the MTC so we already kind of knew each other. It'll be a good transfer. :) Today Sister McCall and I took a train from Corroios to Lisboa and then from Lisboa I took a four hour bus ride to Porto. From Porto Sister Parkinson and I had to pull my luggage from the bus station to the metro. On the way to the metro there was a group of American tourists and a bunch of them were RM's. They were all pretty excited to see us. I heard a lot of "Look, there are Sisters here!" So it was pretty fun. When we got on the metro Sister Parkinson didn't actually know where we were going so we got on the wrong line. We jumped off two stops later and got on a different line to back to Porto and then we switched lines and came to Gaia. Yeah... we had lots of adventures.... I almost got hit by a bus too. It's was fun. :)

Last week in Miratejo I went to a dentist in Santa Marta. Turns out I don't have cavities..... I don't know what he said it is that I have... but it's not cavities and he said it should go away in a few weeks. He was really nice. He tried to give me beijinhos, but Sisters can't do that with guys and when I ducked away the member who was with us had to explain the rule to the dentist. The poor dentist felt so bad. He just kept apologizing and saying, "I had no idea you couldn't give beijinhos. I am so sorry." He was a really nice dentist, and he didn't charge me anything for the appointment either, so now I have lots of money because I didn't have to have any dental work done. Hooray!!!

It was also really hot in Miratejo this last week. It was more humid than normal so when we were walking on Saturday it felt like we were swimming as we were walking. I kept laughing because it was so weird, but Sister McCall about died. It was making her so sick to be out walking. You wouldn't have liked it Mom. Super.... SUPER humid. It's very different from Idaho. Nothing is every really "dry" but somethings are more wet than others. It makes life more interesting. On Saturday we were out working and we ran into our investigator Otelinda and her daughter Beatriz in the road. Bea is three years old and I made it a personal goal to be her friend by the end of the transfer. Apparently I was successful because she just wanted to play with me all day Saturday. We were playing hopscotch and she really liked it. Yay! I made a friend. :)

We had four investigators in church yesterday, and our recent convert João came without any help yesterday! FELICIDADE!!! It's really cool to see the change in people, and João is definitely changing. It's not a huge all-at-once change, but I can see how all the little things are starting to make a big difference in his life. I didn't think I'd really done much in Miratejo, but when the members found out that I was leaving and as they starting talking to me I started to realize that sometimes you don't ever see the difference you make. It was a good little reminder.

I'm about out of time now, but I love you all. Thank you for all the emails and all the love. I love reading all your stories and hearing about all the things you're all learning. The only thing I can think to say is to remember to have charity for everyone. That's a lesson I'm working on learning right now: having charity for everyone, nice or not-so-nice. Normally, it makes a bigger difference for us than it does for the other people.

Sister Smith

P.S. Benjamin is graduated from high school? What is this? When I did I get that old? When did I get old enough to have a little brother finish high school? When did I get old enough to go on a mission? Yuck.... time is a weird thing.

P.P.S. This is my new companion Sister Parkinson... and then there's a picture of Otelinda and Beatriz.