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. :)