Monday, February 23, 2015

Vila Sônia - Week 4

Hey everyone! This week was pretty good. I had the condensed milk ice cream, it was great :)

We have one investigator, Vicente, who is pretty much for sure going to get baptized this Saturday. He has two kids, around 10-12 years old, and he's probably in his 40s. He's really awesome. When we taught him about the Word of Wisdom, the only thing he had a problem with was coffee, and he accepted to live it. When we left, we asked if we could help him by getting rid of the temptation for him (by taking the coffee with us and getting rid of it). And he said something like, "Oh, well it's in a pot, so I'll just put it in a bag really quick" and just like that, he let us take it! He's really humble and he wants to make the right decisions, which is awesome. He was a reference from somebody living in Praia Grande, so not in our area. But that's exciting for sure!

We did splits again this week, but I got an American missionary this time! He waited for his visa for a whole year, and so he only has three months here in Brazil. So he's a good missionary, but neither of us were that good with the language yet. But we knocked on the door of some Jehovah's Witnesses, which was fun, and we also met a Muslim family who spoke pretty fluent English. So that was a pretty cool day, not to mention that their house is air-conditioned, so it was a chilly 73 degrees. That day, the other missionaries (my companion and the other two elders) fixed the sink, which had completely fallen at that point. So we now have our kitchen back, which is great!

On Sunday, the pianist wasn't there again, so that was my job. Luckily, they notified me 45 minutes early, so I got to practice a bit. It's a real piano. And it's...mostly in tune :) Also, the time changed so we got an extra hour of sleep, which we desperately needed. And I also did some work on the computer of our neighbor (Irmã Barbara, pretty much our mom here) because it wasn't loading up. But that was just because it didn't have Windows or anything, so that's an easy fix.

Coxinha made by Irmã Barbara

Nothing else super interesting happened, but I am definitely improving with the language and everything is going well. We're teaching a lot of lessons (when the people are home) and we are lining up some people to get baptized, we just need to get them to church first. This area has a lot of potential though, I wouldn't mind staying here for a while.

Do you remember the story from the bible where the four people lowered the paralyzed guy down from a hole in the roof to get to Christ? Elder Richards related that to missionary work. We're the four people, and by bringing people to Christ, we ourselves get closer to Christ than we ever would by any other way (since it talks about the multitude being great and all of that). So anyways, just kind of a cool thought. I think the mission definitely helped to kind of give me a gospel kick in the butt and get me in the right direction. I hope you guys are studying your scriptures too :)

Thanks to everyone for the support, it means a lot. Lots of love from Brazil!
Elder Bratsman

Monday, February 16, 2015

Vila Sônia - Week 3

Hey everyone! This week saw some pretty good stuff happen over here. At the end of p-day last week, we stopped by this ice cream place that we passed by. And they have brigadeiro-flavored ice cream! Which made me so happy. They also have a flavor called...leite condensado! Which is condensed milk, and so needless to say I'm eager to try it.

Then on Tuesday, we did splits with the assistants to the mission president, just me and my companion. Which means that I went with one of the assistants, and my companion went with the other, for the whole day. So I had to take the lead, which I most definitely was not prepared to do. I couldn't really find my way around our area that well, and then I also tried to lead in the lessons. Needless to say, the assistant ended up taking over in each of our lessons. But that's alright, I've still got time. The splits went well, overall.
Chocolate sonho

Then on Wednesday, we realized that we had a mini-bakery right across from our house. I'm not sure how we hadn't taken advantage of it before, but now it's pretty much our go-to breakfast place. They sell these big cream-filled bread things for 1,75ish. With coconut sprinkles on top. They're amazing. And it's called a sonho, which means dream :) It's like an enormous cream filled donut pretty much. We had some good lessons as well. We have a good group of investigators, we just need to have more lessons with them. 

On Thursday, our sink fell. So that's fun. It's still pretty much held up by the piping, but it's detached from the counter. So we need to fix that. Also, it was 92 degrees in our house that night, which was great. On Friday, we did splits again, but this time just with the Brazilian Elders in our district. The missionary that I went with was really hard to understand, so we didn't do a lot of talking. But, we got two more people to mark a baptismal date! So we have Vicente, who said that he will get baptized on the 21st (which can actually happen, since he came to church on Sunday!), and then Terazinha, Antonio, and Alfonso for the 28th. Stuff is getting a lot more exciting.

On Saturday, Carneval started. Which means that we go back to the house at 5 in the afternoon. However, I haven't heard or seen anything remotely related to Carneval ever since it started. Before it started, we saw people working on the crazy floats close to our house, but then they took them away when it started, and so we haven't seen anything. Little bit anticlimactic.

On Sunday, the normal pianist wasn't there (the youth had a camp, so all the youth and a lot of the adult leaders were gone) so I had to do a little bit of sight-reading, which was good for me. And I also helped Elder Zenger, the other American that is living with us, with some piano stuff that he's working on. I've had basically no time to practice piano since I arrived, which is kinda bad. We have this one older lady in our branch who insists on kissing everybody's hands in lieu of a handshake, it's really funny. She doesn't actually kiss your hand, it's kinda the same thing as the women greeting each other with "kisses" on the cheek. It's so awkward though :) And she always calls us "meus anjos" [my angels] or "querido" [beloved] and stuff like that.

Also an interesting thing about the language, I'm starting to notice that the learning process is so much different from when I was doing German. Stuff is starting to kinda make sense in and of itself, with little to no relation to English. Whereas with German, it was always very much tied to English. So I guess I'm learning Portuguese a little more organically, which would make sense. It's cool to think that I'm doing what you did, Dad, and I bet a lot of stuff hasn't changed that much. Did you ride the Onibus a lot? Because they are ridiculous. It's like a roller coaster :)

As far as food, it's pretty much always rice and beans, with some sort of pasta, and meat, chicken or otherwise. And salad too, usually. It's all really good. And the deserts are awesome, yesterday we had homemade Snickers ice cream :) We don't really tend to do meals at home. And sometimes Irmã Barbara does dinner for us, if we need it.

Missionary Lunches

And I thought about you a lot this week, Mom, with the traffic here. You'd freak out a lot, with how close everybody gets, and how close we get to cars/motorcycles when we're walking around :) But don't worry about me, I promise to not get hit by a car :) Happy birthday tomorrow, and it's my two-month anniversary thing too! Not to take away from your special day, yours is better :)

But that's it for this week. We're teaching a lot of people, they just need to start fulfilling their commitments. Everything is going well, though, and the time is going pretty fast. Thanks everyone for your support!

Elder Bratsman

Monday, February 9, 2015

Vila Sônia - Week 2

Hey everyone! It's going great here in Vila Sônia. 

We live with Elder Zenger, who was Chris' companion in the MTC (crazy!) and his companion Elder S. Reis, who is from Manaus.  [Editor's note: he's talking about Chris Bratsman, his cousin, who is also on a mission in Brazil - small world!]  They're cool guys, Elder Zenger did some DJing and plays the piano a bit, and S. Reis played Dota competitively, plus some WoW :) So I can at least talk to him about that a little haha. 

[For emailing home] there's these places called LAN Houses, so there's just a bunch of computers and we pay a little bit to use them for a couple hours. Lots of kids are usually in them, playing video games and such.

So on Tuesday, nothing much out of the ordinary happened, except that we had a zone meeting and the zone shirts came in!

On Wednesday, we made brigadeiros [chocolate candy] for an older lady whose birthday it was. Actually, I should probably say that we made some brigadeiros for her, and then just had a lot left over for ourselves, which was not a bad thing. We also had an English class at night, which was really cool. It's fun helping the people to learn English, and it's pretty informative for me too. And I started reading Jesus the Christ, which is an awesome book. And then lots of walking...

On Thursday, it was weekly planning. After our lunch appointment, the father drove us to our house because it was raining. Which was amazing. I have a whole new respect for cars. It was so much quicker to get home, and we didn't get drenched! Technology these days. :)

On Friday, we taught a new investigator named Emerson, who says that he's curious about the church. So that's a good sign. We're finding a lot of people to teach, which I never thought would happen. It still doesn't really make sense to me how people can hear our preliminary message and then say that yeah, you guys can come to my house sometime to teach my family. It always kinda takes me by surprise.

On Saturday, we had another English class, more fun with Brazilians learning English :) And then another promising (spelling? or does that only look weird to me?) lesson with a couple, Jamil and Claudia. They said that they would get baptized if they received an answer about the Book of Mormon and such, so they have a date set for the 21st! Which makes three so far, since our other investigator, Antonio, wasn't able to attend church yesterday and so we have to push his date back. That lesson was mostly just kinda funny because how often Jamil would interrupt us to go on some long-winded tangent. I've really noticed that whenever we get to the end of the lesson, with our testimonies, or when I'm trying to recount the First Vision, every distraction possible happens. It's kinda interesting and frustrating at the same time. Cell phones, or crying kids, or dogs, or the people themselves interrupting, whatever.

Also, I have discovered something amazing out here. It's called chup-chup, and it's basically otter pops except in the fruit flavors that are common here. And they're usually natural and homemade kinda things, so they're really good on hot days. Or rainy days. They're just good. And cheap too.

And then on Sunday, there were a ton of people at church, which is awesome to see. 93 people, and 25 men. So there were some visitors, but a lot of people from the branch area too. Our branch is really good, the leadership has a lot of faith in me and Elder Richards, from what they've seen of our work. So they've been helping us a lot. And our LMA (ward mission leader) is really cool too. The branch is just missing like 2 or 3 priesthood holders to become a ward, so that's our challenge for this transfer. And we've already got enough lined up, so that's cool :) And another lesson we had was with a guy, standing at his gate, after he said that he didn't want us to get mad but he wasn't really interested in learning about anything other than the Bible. And then at the end he accepted a Restoration pamphlet and a Book of Mormon.

Now, I'll do a section of the random things I wrote down during the week to tell you guys about. So one thing is that there's this really good talk that Elder Holland gave in the Brazil MTC, October 28, 2000, called "The Miracle of a Mission". Apparently, it's kinda hard to find online (or it was) but it's really good.

Also, there's these cars here that go around, driving kinda slow, with the trunks open and a big speaker on top. And they go around advertising...eggs! You can get 45 eggs for 10 reais, or 60 for 15 reais, those are the usual deals. It's just weird, and annoying. Like our ice cream trucks, but eggs instead haha. They play music and everything.

Also, people in the ward are definitely starting to call me Batman, and my companion is Robin. (Hobin, haha) So I guess that'll be a thing for sure.

Also, I just wanted to say again that the laser surgery was an awesome thing. It's so nice just having that one less thing to worry about. Plus I feel like I'd freak out about touching my eyes that much, what with the general state of cleanliness here. So thank you for that :)

And finally, one interesting phenomenon here is the difficulty of telling the bars and the churches apart, if you only hear music. We've genuinely guessed wrong at times. We thought music was coming from a bar, we turn the corner, and it was a church! So that's something different. 

As for the beverages, it's usually always juice at the member's houses (cashew [iffy at best, maybe an acquired taste], pineapple, orange, limão are the big ones, sometimes guava). So it's pretty good, although there's never enough. And at home, it's water or we get these frozen packets of natural juice stuff, so we just blend that up with some water and sugar and drink that. It's pretty good, I usually get abacaxi or limão. But they come in 1 kilo bags, so we always have that. 

I've been using my umbrella, it's super awesome. I might try the rain jacket when it gets a lot worse, I'm not sure. My shoes and such dry out pretty well, I never have problems with that. As for laundry...we have a washing machine! And even better, Elder Zenger said that EVERY house has a washing machine! Hooray! :) So we just do that, and then there's loads of clotheslines that we hang stuff up on. It's pretty great. 

I haven't really been using a lot of sunscreen, just because it rains pretty frequently. There's been...3 hot days probably, and I'm not really burning. Except for the first day, but we won't talk about that :) I'm already getting a pretty noticeable white spot where my watch sits haha.

That's all the really interesting stuff from this week. Lots of walking as usual. But yes, Happy Valentine's Day! And Carneval haha. Apparently it starts this Saturday, for four days or so. So that'll be interesting. And Happy Birthday to you, Mom, one week early. Also, I didn't forget about Dad's birthday, I wrote it on the letter I wrote at the Cabral's house my first day here. I don't know if that got there yet, or how that worked out. But Feliz Aniversario to Dad too :)

Thanks to everyone for the prayers and support. Everything is going great over here, and the time is already starting to go a lot faster.   

Elder Bratsman

Monday, February 2, 2015

Vila Sônia - Week 1

Well, I'm in Santos now. My area is Vila Sônia, which is a bit southwest of the city. My trainer is Elder Richards from Virginia, and he's been out for a year and almost five months. He served the first six months of his mission in Texas, because he was waiting for his visa. And we came to Vila Sônia together, so we're opening up the area. Even though there's another companionship that was already here that goes to the same branch. I guess that makes sense.

So on the 27th, I woke up at 3:30 to see my district off, and then finished packing until I had to leave at 6:00. You know me, always procrastinating :) So the 4 other elders going to Santos and I (one Argentinian, three Brazilians) got on a bus that took us to Santos. It was really cool, when we were almost there, we came out of a tunnel up in the mountains and we were just overlooking this sea of jungle, with two separate cities visible from where we were. I can't really describe it that well, sorry. But they drove us to the mission office, where we dropped our luggage off, and then we went to the house of President and Sister Cabral. They welcomed us, gave us some directions, and we had lunch while we waited for our new companions to arrive. After we met our new companions, we all went back the mission office and then went our separate ways.

The mission office is in this building. 

We were lucky enough to get approved for a taxi. So on the way there, Elder Richards talked to the driver a bit, and then asked me to explain a little bit about what we do as missionaries. So that was fun. We got the contact information of the driver, since he was interested in learning more. But then we got to our house, and there were the 2 other elders waiting there. Elder Zenger from Colorado, and Elder S. Reis from Manaus. So we dropped our suitcases/suits off, and looked through the area book a little. There was also Elder Cano there, who was waiting to get transferred until the mission conference that happened on Thursday. So he was able to show us around a bit, so that we could get to know where everything was. And of course, we did some street contacting, but that's not really news.

Then on Wednesday, we had a normal day. We taught a lesson, walked ages to the bank to take some money out, and tried to go find some of the people in the area book. Unfortunately, the area book wasn't taken care of super well. But that's alright.

On Thursday, we had the mission conference pretty much the whole day. There were trainings and talks from President/Sister Cabral, and then we watched Meet the Mormons! In Portuguese, naturally, so I didn't understand a lot. But it was cool nonetheless. Everybody was crying when the mom said goodbye to her missionary, some elders included :) Also, someone from the mission conference told me that their branch president (I think that's what it was) was baptized by Dad. So that's pretty cool :) And we did some more contacting after we got back.

On Friday, we had a zone meeting that went until 3 maybe. Oh, and for both the zone meeting and the mission conference, we had to get up an hour earlier. Which was fun. And we taught some more lessons to recent converts and less-actives. And we always have lunch set up with somebody, which is really good. The members are great here, especially the Sister that lives right next to us, Irmã Barbara. She always makes sure we have something to eat, so she's our mom here.

Then on Saturday, it was finally a normal day. We taught more lessons and made more contacts. One guy, António, accepted to get baptized on the 14th. So that's really exciting :) He was a reference from the ward mission leader, so that just goes to show you how big a difference having the help of the members makes. They've been focusing on that a lot here, and I think that's going to be our main purpose here. We have to build up member confidence in the missionaries, because member references really make a difference.

Our first Sunday here was the 1st of the month obviously, so me and Elder Richards bore our testimonies. Lots of people here compliment me on speaking, but it's a lot harder for me to understand people when they're talking. And when I don't know what they said, I can't really reply all that well. So I'm working on that. Also, we were waiting for lunch (Sunday, I think) and they had the Simpsons on. Or should I say, Os Simpsons :) So that was kinda funny to try to understand. Me and Elder Richards talk mostly in Portuguese, so that we don't seem rude or something on the roads. But occasionally English.

 The Vila Sônia church building 

And then today's our first P-day! I think it will mostly be spent cleaning the house, because it needs it. Our house is kinda dirty and in disrepair. It's nothing like the CTM. It makes me miss America a lot. And according to Elder Richards, this is one of the less poor areas he's been in. I guess Santos proper is nice too. But it was a bit of a shock, for sure. And yeah, I'm really missing technology. But it seems alien to just think about holding a phone now, it's bizarre.

Some interesting experiences we had this week were that a guy came up to us and asked us if he could get some money to buy milk for his daughter, since he was unemployed and she had just recently had an operation with her intestines or something, so she couldn't eat a lot of stuff. So we went with him to the grocery store, and Elder Richards got him 2 boxes of milk. He was really grateful and is really interested in the church. We met him later in the week, and he said that he was going to move somewhere else, but we gave him the contact information of the missionaries there and he said that he was definitely going to find the chapel and get in contact with the church. So that was kinda a neat experience.

Also, we've been doing a lot of walking in the rain, and walking through puddles that cover the road. The dirt roads are especially fun after it's rained. But I guess that will get old pretty quickly.

In general, I'm having a lot of fun out here. It's crazy to think that I'm in Brazil, communicating with people (ish) and teaching lessons and talking to people on the street and doing missionary work. It's just weird. But it's lots of fun just walking around and thinking about that. And people are calling me Batman. So I'm doing great! Thanks to everyone for their support. Love you all!

Elder Bratsman