28 December 2012

Obedience

In light of my most recent post on the importance of the Christ-like attributes, I've decided to do a series on them. With each one, I hope to share valuable insights from my personal study as well as personal experiences from my mission, in order to SHOW what being a missionary is like as opposed to merely explaining.

First on the docket is the missionary bread and butter: Obedience

Starting with Preach My Gospel is most effective, page 122 in chapter 6:

Obedience is one of the most important principles in missionary work, and it's the principle we hear the most about. Our meetings, our training materials, our handbooks, the scriptures we study, the schedule we keep--everything we do as missionaries is carefully organized to maximize our ability to be obedient. Our obedience, more than anything else we do, will determine our success as missionaries. It is impossible to reach your full potential as a servant of Jesus Christ without obedience to the commandments and the mission rules.

To illustrate this, I remember an incident from my mission that left a lasting impression on me.

My trainer and I were scoping our some distant and unfamiliar parts of our area in order to scope out new teaching opportunities. We were on the far side of our area, trying to make sense of our map in relation to the streets around us. Paved, organized streets began to give way to favelas and pathways off the beaten track. The spirit of discovery was with me in every step, and I was genuinely happy to be seeing new places after several weeks of talking to people in familiar places all the time.

At one point, we began looking for less active members with the hopes of being able to have a quick lesson, sit down, perhaps ask for something small to eat before continuing on our way. As we approached the end of a large street, I had an odd sensation come over me. Even though we were merely at the end of a normal street, I felt as if I were approaching the edge of a cliff. The closer we came to the end of the street, the more pronounced that feeling became. I didn't know exactly where I was, and I questioned myself if we actually were coming to the end of our area. I felt embarrassed to ask my companion about it or to say anything to her because I was a new missionary--I already questioned her enough as it is. But when we came to the end of the street, my feet simply locked into place and would not go another step. I may have reached out in front of me and knocked on an actual wall, and it would not have surprised me in the slightest.

My world simply ceased to exist beyond the edge of that sidewalk.

What was in those lovely green apartment complexes across the street, or beyond them, or in any other part of São Paulo, it simply didn't matter. I realized that for the entirety of my time in Santa Teresa, they didn't exist anymore. My world was instantly reduced to the size of a piece of paper as I thought about our map. I felt confined and slightly claustrophobic. How do we, as missionaries who are still normal people, survive within such a small space? My desires to be obedient and to be independent were at the same crossroads as I was in that moment--one safe in my area, the other over the edge of cliff.

I made a decision in that moment to never go over the edge. Independent nature aside, I had a purpose to complete, a mission to accomplish. There were people who needed me HERE, the Lord would bring them HERE, and I had nothing more important to do than what was going on RIGHT HERE in this moment. When it came to obedience, I was staying in my area--and that small decision had eternal consequences on the rest of my mission.

In time, I discovered some scriptures that expressed the true spirit of obedience I needed to seek after. They're in Philippians 2:

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto ddeath, even the death of the cross.
9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus Christ was never AWOL. He was never anywhere He should not have been, doing things He should not have been doing. He was obedient. Serving Him requires that we pay the same price, with the same love and faithfulness. One of the most valuable assets we can have as we prepare to serve missions is not just a testimony--it is the sincere, heartfelt desire to be obedient. I testify that this spirit of faith and humility brings success more than anything else a missionary can seek after. This is the type of missionary the Lord can and will use to perform His miracles in the lives of His children.

I testify that Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the world. He lives, and He is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives. He is constantly seeking to help us, and that fact is never more apparent than when we are in His service. His Church is restored again to the earth. The Book of Mormon is true. Joseph Smith truly was a prophet of God. The Lord has called His servants to do His work in His vineyard for the last time. As we go forth valiantly to bring souls unto our Father, He will bring us safely home. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

23 December 2012

Mission Preparation

Sarah was sitting across the table from me at the YSA Christmas party, and she approached me with an honest question that I know a lot of Young Women and female Young Single Adults are asking right now.

"What advice would you give to someone who is preparing to serve a mission?"

I made a mental note to mention Sarah to the Sisters serving in our branch. They'll want to know about her to invite her to go teaching. This is truly one of the most valuable things you can do to prepare--make yourself available to go out teaching regularly with the missionaries in your area. But I remember when I was in her shoes not so long ago, asking the recently returned missionaries in my ward what I should do.

So I told her what I wish someone would have told me to do almost two years ago when I was finally putting in mission papers, because it has been about that long now.

"Sit down with yourself and make a personal inventory of your weaknesses and your strengths. Then make plans on how you will turn your weaknesses into strengths, and how your strengths will help you be an effective missionary."

She has a slightly shocked expression on her face. This isn't what she expected.

"Everyone is going to tell you to study Preach My Gospel, especially chapter 3 with all of the lesson material in it so you can teach effectively," I responded. "And that is important. But that's what you have the MTC for. They are going to be extremely effective on helping you with what to teach and how to teach it.

"If I could go back and do my preparation again, knowing what I know now about being a missionary, I wouldn't focus on how or what to teach. You just do the best you can with that and the Spirit makes up the difference. I botched so many lessons when I first started out, and that's when I could even speak at all in Portuguese! But the thing that made the biggest difference in my service wasn't what I knew. It was how Christ-like I genuinely was at any given moment. It doesn't make a difference what you know until you become the sort of person you should be as a missionary. So if I were you, I would focus primarily, if not completely on the Christ-like attributes for right now."

"Oh," she said. "Where are those?"

"In Preach My Gospel. It's chapter 6."

Every person's journey on the mission is totally personal. The cross to bear is unique to each of us, and is the heaviest thing that each of us will ever know. When I was struggling on my mission, chapter 6 and the Christ-like attributes were the first place of guidance I always sought out. My Portuguese copy looks like an NFL playbook--the page on Patience has absolutely no place left to write anything else in it. Studying them daily helped me to focus on what was really stopping the Book of Mormon and the principles from Preach My Gospel from leaping off the page and into the lives of the people in my area.

"When a man makes war on his own weaknesses he engages in the holiest war that mortals ever wage. The reward that comes from victory in this struggle is the most enduring, most satisfying, and the most exquisite that man ever experiences. … The power to do what we ought to do is the greatest freedom."
Bryant S. Hinckley

When we truly believe that change is possible for ourselves as we apply the Atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives, we can't help but believe that the same thing is possible for the entire human race. We are filled with love and desire to go out and find those people, to teach them, and to help them prepare to be baptized into the true Church of Jesus Christ. We are led by the Spirit. Our mouths are filled with the words we need to say. We have greater peace in our lives, an assurance that our service has made a difference, and that we have accomplished our purpose as missionaries.

When in doubt, always remember: Real problem exists between study table and chair. Had I understood that then as well as I do now, I would have prepared for my mission very differently.

But the mission doesn't end--it just changes shape. What we do with our missions afterwards is more important than what we do with it during the 18 months of wearing the badge. How that translates into our day-to-day lives depends entirely on what we do with the Christ-like attributes. My commitment to the person I become each day is the biggest responsibility I have in time, for the sake of eternity.

I know that God lives, and I know that His missionaries are called of Him by divine revelation. I know we are called by a living prophet and real apostles who possess restored priesthood authority from God. I know that my missionary service taught me everything I need to know to receive eternal life--it's up to me now to practice it, apply it, and receive the promised blessings which always come when we are faithful. I leave that testimony in the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Amen

(For more on mission preparation, especially for all of the extraordinary women who have stepped up and answered the call to serve, see this and this from the Church's website)

Homecoming

These books are in the wrong language.
(Long pause)

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.

Sabedoria

One 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 Dia

A 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?”

Humildade

My 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.

And 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.

Obediência


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.

Triunfa

I 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.

Testemunho

I 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.

10 December 2012

Português

"So Sister Daniels called me back. She said we can go ahead and stay with them while we're out there," said my fiance (we're going to call him Noivo,) breaking a long silence. I continued to say nothing. I was listening to what he was saying, but I couldn't bring myself to be as excited about our coming trip as he was.

Perceiving that I wouldn't respond, he continued. "She said I can stay with her son down in the man-cave. He just came back from his mission to New Zealand. And you can stay in her daughter's room."

"Oh man, he must be suffering a lot," I said without thinking. I instantly realized that my response probably sounded strange because the fact that Trevor just came home from a mission wasn't the focus of the conversation.

But I served a foreign mission--I know how it feels to wonder if you'll ever see it all again. I know how it feels to be in your own house and to feel like nothing is familiar. Not only have you been gone for that long, but the language is all wrong. Old habits die hard, and it starts from the moment you wake up. How do you explain how weird you feel when you've nearly put the toilet paper in the trash can for the three millionth time instead of letting it get flushed simply because "that's how we do it in São Paulo." How do you explain the hesitation at taking a shower without flip flops on? How do you explain the confusion which carpet creates, or the incredible hunger which only strikes in the middle of the day at almoço time, with no desire whatsoever to eat at any other time, even when you're hungry? How do you explain the pain because you keep remembering it all, and the even deeper pain of not wanting to forget? It was only a few minutes later, as I sat through more conversation that I just couldn't follow (and it took me WAY too long to remember the word for beterraba) that I simply started to cry.

The great thing about the Noivo is that he doesn't expect me to be happy. He doesn't even expect me to be OK. He just asks what he can do to help me. I think to myself that he can't because he just doesn't understand. He served stateside, he just wouldn't know. With time, I'm seeing that it would be beneficial if I stop saying that to myself and to him--I don't want there to be a wall so tall around my feelings that his empathy can't scale. That will just hurt me more.

I am excited for our trip to Vegas, to visit the Noivo's mission--to meet the people whose lives he changed and whose hearts he touched. I think it will ultimately be good for me, even though it will only put my pain through another jarring paradigm shift. And seeing the Noivo struggle to know how to help me, I've asked myself a million times, what would help me? I can't afford to go back, and doubt I will be able to for some time. So how do you cope?

 I don't have the whole answer yet. I've taken to immersing myself in the language as much as possible. It gives me a way to feel like I still have a way to hold onto what I truly loved about my mission. As long as I can remember the language, I have my connection to the people. This led to a really interesting moment when I was completely lost in rush hour after putting my phone into Portuguese, and even the GPS was talking to me in my mission language--but even that was rewarding because I understood what it said. Here are some other suggestions I've found helpful:
  • Read the Book of Mormon every day in your mission language
  • Set up contact lists of members and converts on Facebook, Skype, MSN, etc. (Skype calls are the best!)
  • Do Indexing in your mission language
  • Start a blog in your mission language or about missionary work. I just started a new blog in Portuguese about my Brazilian discoveries. Check it out here
  • Learn to make the food. Be careful with that panela de pressão, they explode. (See Breakfast at Tiffany's)
  • Journal in your mission language. (I have already started this one.)
  • Explore music and find new artists (online radio stations here, Pandora has select artists, ask your companions what they like--that's how I found this, this, this, and this, then ask members what they like--that's how I found these guys)
  • I've been studying my patriarchal blessing in Portuguese because I translated it into Portuguese. It took a lot of work and editing but it was totally worth it
  • Listen to General Conference in your mission language. Random fact: Elder Scott doesn't use a translator in Portuguese, he speaks it himself.
  • Do a temple session in your mission language (where available)
  • Find books translated into Portuguese (Here are suggestions for Brazilian literature, you can also look for things like Harry Potter and Shakespeare)
  • Find movies translated into Portuguese (This is complicated because most Brazilians pirate movies and buy them in the street. Netflix Brazil appears to only operate in Brasil, but I did find this site, looks legit)
  • Get a job speaking your mission language. (Believe it or not, I may accomplish this one.)
I don't know what is harder--remembering how different everything is, or forgetting the little things I thought I'd always remember. With each passing day, I can focus on both of them less and a new person with a new perspective emerges. I will always love my mission for what it taught me and what it gave to me. But it's time to come home now, and to embrace all of the changes which come along with that.

I know the Lord would have many, many more of His children be missionaries. He would also have his returned missionaries continue to be missionaries. I have been called to participate in missionary work already, and I'm excited to have those new experiences, and to embrace the life of a returned missionary.

It's like my mission president always said, "Only eighteen months to live it, and a lifetime to remember."

Too true, Presidente Pinho. Too true.

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