Well, I served my mission in the Brazil São Paulo Interlagos mission. I've been back for probably about a month now—I’m losing track of all time. I've thought for a long time about how it is that you explain a mission to somebody else who wasn't there. Or even somebody who was there. My companions don’t know what I went through on my mission. Nobody does, except the Savior. My experience on my mission was incredible. I learned a lot of things I couldn't have learned in any other way.
SabedoriaOne of the first things I had to learn, even before I got to the MTC, was that it doesn’t make a difference what you know—if you can’t use that to help somebody, it’s the same thing as if you don’t know it.
The first hard lesson I had to learn on my mission was how to admit that I didn’t know anything. Because I’ve been book smart my whole life. You give me a book and I’ll learn whatever’s in it, if you give me enough time, and if you give me a good enough teacher. I’ll be able to recite that book to your backwards and forwards.
That doesn’t do missionary work.
And that was a very loud wake up call.
That was very hard for me, because that how I do everything. That’s how I’m successful in my life. That has always worked in school. That has worked with all the jobs I’ve ever had to get.
I prove that I know something, and then I get what I want.
Missions don’t work like that, so my regular approach did not work there.
And I had to learn things that I was realizing for the first time in my life I didn’t know how to do.
I had to learn how to listen. I didn’t know how to do that. I had to learn to empathize through the Spirit. I had to understand what somebody was thinking. I had to learn to ask the right questions so they would TELL me what they were thinking. I never knew I didn’t know those things. And here I am in this environment, in this place where I not only have to do that—I have to do it in a foreign language. I have to do it in Portuguese.
O Primeiro DiaA story I enjoy telling people was about my first full day there. My mission president did not spare me. He put me in an area with a sister who was having a lot of problems with being obedient. She was one of our more outgoing missionaries, but she just flat out did not want to be obedient—and was nearly sent home right before I got there. And he called her to train to punish her, that’s what he told her.
And everyone else around her was looking at me, as pathetic as I looked as I got off the plane—totally jetlagged—unable to even speak to these people, but very happy because I was finally in Brazil. They just looked at me and thought Ela é frita! (she’s FRIED.)
When I got there I go inside this house, and I’m looking around at my surroundings and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. They build out of concrete, and they build these concrete huts and they stick them on top of one another. You don’t really understand what’s going on or what you’re looking at, and they paint them in outrageous colors. And we pull up to our house, and it was orange. The garage on the bottom has a giant pizza painted on it because it used to be a pizza place. And I’m looking at this building and I’m thinking, “Dear God, what have I done?!”
We go upstairs, and the stairs are built on an incline like THIS. (Motions a very steep angle.) I’ve never walked up stairs that steeply in my life, and there’s a little sign on the door that says Seja bem vinda Sister (Welcome Sister) I go inside and the house is completely trashed. It’s so DIRTY! It’s SO DIRTY! There’s this weird mold growing on the wall! I look at the floor and I can tell it hasn’t been cleaned in a long time. I’m like, I thought this was a Sister’s house! We walk in and we’re in the bedroom, there are two beds there, and the mattress is about this thick (motions with fingers, about 3 inches.) I’m just looking around and she’s talking to me, and I don’t understand a thing she’s saying.
I start to explore and look around. I go into the kitchen. The floor in this place is entirely black—better to hide the dirt that way. The tiles on the wall were black and purple, so it’s very dark. It’s very dark inside this house. The only place that gets any natural sunlight is the room in the front, which is a consistent 9 million degrees because the sun that comes in through the Square comes in right through the window, and it heats that place up like a microwave. It was awful. And the rest of the house is freezing cold because it gets no direct sunlight.
I go into the kitchen and it’s worse than the bedroom, it’s awful. It’s SO DIRTY! I go looking for the bathroom and it’s this weird plastic door. There’s no shower stall, it’s just an electric shower head that sticks out of the wall, and a toilet, and a sink. That doesn't really do it justice to what it is, I’ll have to show you pictures sometime, it’s outrageous.
There were tons of mosquitoes in that house.
I’m looking around and I’m like, I don’t know how to respond to this. The thing that just completely blew my brains right out of my head was when I went out back and I saw how we were supposed to do our laundry.
They had a plastic box with a spinning wheel in it. You have to fill it up with water with a bucket, you put your clothes in it, you put soap in it, and it spins everything around. That’s all it does. You have to rinse it—drain all the water out, put clean water into it, spin it around, rinse it. You
have to do that 2 or 3 times if you actually want it to work. You have to wring it out by hand and put it all on the line. And I didn't understand that that’s what I was looking at. I go out back and all I see is a sink with a washboard thing on it, and a plastic box. And I’m like, “I’m going to DIE.”
So the first thing I want to do, I want to clean this house. And so it was within the first couple of days, as I’m trying to adjust to all of this, and I don’t understand what’s taking place at all--I’m trying to talk to my companion and I tell her I want to clean the house. But I don’t know how to say that. So I’m using lots of hand motions, trying to tell her what I want, and she stares at me.
I’m trying to ask her for a mop.
And she finally starts to understand what it is that I’m saying.
She’s like Broom?
No, I don’t want that.
She goes, AH! Entendi!
She went and brought me something they call a rodo, because I wanted to mop the floor, the floor was a mess. They walked around in flip flops in these houses, they don’t walk around barefoot at all, but I didn't even want to walk on that floor in my flip flops. She brings me—it’s a stick, and it has a squeegee on it. And I look at it, and I look at her like “What am I supposed to do with this?”
HumildadeMy whole life was like that. Every single time I wanted something I would try and ask, wouldn't quite manage it, and when I did manage it they would give me something I didn't know what to do with. And I would stare at them like I was stupid, because I was. I was stupid in that environment. I had no idea what to do. I had no idea what I was doing. You know, teaching situations, it was all like that.
For the first 4 to 5 months of my mission, that’s what everything was like. I didn't know what to do. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't know what to say. I just focused on trying to love the people as much as I could. That was the only thing I could do, and I figured, “Well, I can do THAT.” You know, I can’t do anything else but I can LOVE people!
And I did. For everything that they are, for everything that they do—I love the Brazilian people.
There would come a moment when—they talk really fast, and they talk over each other, and they have a very banterous way of talking to each other, so it’s hard to get a word in edgewise, it’s impossible. And you know, I’m an American, when we try to jump into a conversation like that, you think you’re being rude but I would sit there and I wouldn't say anything. Finally they’d want to hear from you, they’d want you to say something so they’d just all stop and look at you randomly, and you have no idea what they were just talking about. And then they’re all looking at you.
I managed to say some really useful things. When all you get in a lesson is one sentence, you have to make it count. I would do my best, and there were people that were baptized because of the one phrase that I would say. And I still don’t know how that happened.
As I learned and as I got better at talking, as I wanted to talk to these people more than I wanted anything else in the whole world, my life changed. Everything about me changed. Everything about how I see the world changed.
FéAnd the thing I think that changed me the most on my mission was just seeing how poor these people are. Their poverty broke my heart. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.
We don’t have poverty in the United States. We don’t. I don’t believe in it, you’ll never get me to believe it, ever. Brazilians work so hard for so little, and I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know how they survive. And they’re happier than most of the people I’ve ever met in my life. They think they have everything.
I remember one of the girls that I baptized, she lived in what we call a favela. A favela is like a slum but it’s worse than any slum you can even imagine. These places have holes in their walls, they have holes in their roofs, there are dogs that run around everywhere. There are some of these houses that don’t even take up the space between this pew and the sacrament table—and that’s their house. And they have an entire family that lives in it. There are holes in the walls where rain and dog pee and all of these things come in. You’re sitting on a couch that you don’t even want to touch, and you have to teach these people about baptism.
And they don’t understand what it is that I’m saying. They don’t understand what it is I’m trying to explain to them. And in a lot of ways, I couldn't explain it to them, I just had to show it to them. If I sit there and I tell people, that’s not going to DO anything—you have to show them what you’re talking about. And I've never been stretched like that before in my life.
I didn't like baptizing children alone in their families. I didn't like doing that because it was very hard to keep them active, but sometimes you do it because you know it’s the only way this person is ever going to get out of this situation. It’s the only way that somebody with any sort of resources is going to care about this person.
One of the girls that I baptized, they were sisters that we baptized, they were 9 and 11. They were some of the most elect people I’ve ever seen. The moment that we showed up, Gilvanna was so happy. She would read the Book of Mormon like her life depended on it. She loved it. We left and she was on 1 Nephi 1, we came back and she was on 1 Nephi 16 and she tells us the entire story in detail. We talk about baptism and you see a light that comes into her face for the first time in her life. And I’m just happy for her, I’m ecstatic.
We prepare her for baptism and everything, and she gets baptized, and she’s so happy. She was so happy. And it was only after that that we started finding out just how much of a hell of a situation that she lived in. Her mother beat her. Her mother was an alcoholic, and she would get on the ground and hide under the bed from her mother. It was the worst situation I had ever seen.
I didn’t want to touch the floor with my shoes, and she’s on the floor on her stomach—hiding from her mother.
I can’t say my mission was a beautiful experience—it wasn't. In a lot of ways, my mission nearly killed me. Literally. I was in some of the most dangerous places I've ever been in my life. It was awful, and I was afraid. I’ve never been afraid like that in my life.
But the thing that I learned from that, the thing that I saw repeatedly from that, the Lord has a way when no one else has a way. When no one else has a way to fix these sorts of situations, the Lord can do it—and he does it like THAT.
I can’t believe—I can’t understand, still, some of the things I saw on my mission. He did things with me that I didn’t know I could do. The longer that I was on my mission, the more I came to understand that you don’t need to know everything. You don’t need to know ANYTHING. You just need to do what He says. If you do what He says, everything will be OK.
I learned the power of obedience. I learned the necessity of obedience. Obedience saved my life, more than once.
In my last area, there was a huge problem in São Paulo with—it’s a war. You can’t call it anything else, it’s a war between gangs that are there, and the police. There was a night where the mission presidents all through São Paulo sent us all home early because they couldn't guarantee that we wouldn't get shot if we were in the streets. I remember just going home and thinking that was just the most normal thing in the world. It had already been my whole mission, stuff like that.
And I remember thinking, “How on earth did I get used to this? How on earth am I not freaking out right now? Had this been the beginning of my mission I’d be freaking out still.”
And I think that was when I started to realize why the Lord put me through those things—why I had to see the things that I saw. He wanted me to see that He was stronger than all of that. And when I do what He wants me to do, and I’m in the places where I’m supposed to be, He can still do His work in places like that.
We focus a lot and we talk a lot about trying to stand in holy places and be not moved, but sometimes the people that we need to help—they’re not in those places. They’re in dangerous places. And sometimes we need to have the courage to run in there and go saved them, while everyone else is running out.
I can’t present my mission like it was something out of a movie. It wasn't. But at the same time, even thinking about all that and how dangerous it was, I would still go back in a minute. I would go back right now, because I know there are people there who NEED people like us. They need our testimonies. They need what we have, we’re the only ones that can save them. We’re the only ones who can help them out of these situations. And it was a real privilege to stand beside Christ is a situation like that and see how one person who doesn't even speak this language can make that much of a difference. And the happiness these people had when they were baptized, it was worth every single moment.
I think that was the other most important thing that I learned—how much baptism really does fix everything. I feel like sometimes people don’t understand when I talk as much as I do about baptism, or why it’s so important. They don’t really understand where that comes from. They think that missionaries who serve in Brazil are just really pushy and we’re out to get numbers—and that’s why we talk so much about baptism. But that’s not why. That’s NOT why. Baptism is the only thing that can fix the situations that they’re in.
I remember there’s a quote by someone, it’s a general authority, he says that the world would fix the world by changing the circumstances, by changing the things in the world. That’s not what Christ does. He changes people, and they change their world. They change their circumstances. And that’s what I learned how to do on my mission.
I didn’t change the world. I went out there thinking that’s what I was going to do—and then I saw the world is a big place, and it has a lot of problems, it has a lot of guns. I’m not going to fix the world.
But I can help change people in it.
I can use the testimony that I have to show them that there’s something else, that there’s something better. And if they’ll just make this commitment with the Lord, everything about their life can change. I mean, that sounds crazy when you say that. That’s part of why they have such a hard time believing it.
They believe in God, and they believe in baptism, and they believe in church, and the importance of all these things—they get that. The hardest thing to get them to believe was that they could change.
And I’m really glad that I went through that because that’s something I had a hard time believing. I had a hard time believing that I could change. And I had a hard time believing that the people in my life can change.
But I believe that anything is possible now.
That’s not something that I had before my mission.
TriunfaI remember there was this time, it was about halfway through my mission, there was a conference we had with our mission president and he was talking at a stake conference. He was trying to get the returned missionaries there to participate more in missionary work, and he asked them, If you could define your mission in one word, how would you define your mission?
And that area was the hardest area of my mission, I’m sitting there nearly in tears because I’m suffering so much, and learning so much about the Atonement in all of that. And I started thinking about it.
If I could sum up all of this in one word, what it is that I’m trying to do here, how would I do that? What's the word I would use?
And the word I decided on was Triumph.
That’s what I got from my mission. I can’t say that I went into every situation prepared for what it is that I went through. I can’t say that I made it out accomplishing what the Lord wanted me to accomplish, I had no idea.
But I survived it.
And I’m a stronger person now because of that.
And I’m not afraid of certain things anymore. And I’m really grateful that I had this opportunity to be with the Savior in the situation and to grow in the ways that I grew, and to be taught the things that I was taught. I couldn't have learned this in any other way. I wouldn't GO into the places that I would need to go, to learn the things that I learned.
And I know that if the Savior were here, He wouldn't be in the places I thought He’d be. He wouldn't just be in the temples, He wouldn't just be in the chapels, He wouldn't just be in places like this. He would be in poor places, serving poor people, and saving them from really dangerous things. And I can accept now that if that’s where my life takes me, for the rest of my life, to help people, I can accept that now.
TestemunhoI loved my mission. I loved the Brazilian people. I loved the language. And I have a very real testimony that God lives. If God didn't live, I wouldn't be here right now. I wouldn't be in this place, at this podium, talking about these things right now. I wouldn't be here.
And I want everyone to know that Jesus is the Christ. That’s why we’re all here. That’s why we go through the things that we go through every day, every single one of you. On your missions and everything, you have experiences that compare with what I went through. You’re here even though you have experiences completely different than mine. You’re here because you have a testimony of Jesus Christ. That’s why we’re all here.
I know this Church is true. It couldn't do the things it does if it wasn't true. And I’m glad that in some small way, my life could be a testimony of what Jesus Christ does. That’s the testimony I want to leave with you guys in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.