Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Week of May 4-11, 2015
We continue to get a better feel for the Teófilo Ontoni and what is here.  Getting to the members homes still is quite challenging as the roads are not well marked and often the houses do not have house numbers etc.  But we are starting to get things figured out and we don't get lost too often. :-)   
Our home is looking more complete after a productive P-Day.  We purchased a ream of paper and have printed out a branch directory for each branch by families.  This is important because of the surname protocol practiced in Brazil.  Each person here generally has two surnames, generally one from their mother and one from their father but not necessarily in that order.  And since they can pick either of their surnames to give to their child, it becomes complicated to identify families.  Thus the directory by families is helping a lot.  
Presidente Juliano from the Teofilo Ontoni Branch picked us up Tuesday evening and took us first to the church to get Jeff set up on their branch computer and then to his home to meet his wife, who is from Teófilo Otoni, and their two little boys, Cauã age six and Caio age two.  Presidente Juliano has lived in Teófilo Otoni for less than two years and is a returned missionary running two successful businesses which take a lot of his time. He was called as branch president soon after arriving so he is still fairly new to the members.  The Teófilo Otoni branch is located a bit further from the meetinghouse and transportation is often a challenge for the members.  Still the branch has grown under his leadership and he expressed gratitude to have our help and will prepare a Rescue list for us.  We will be alternating attendance at each of the branches since the Ipiranga Branch begins at 8:30am with Priesthood/Relief Society and the Teófilo Otoni branch begins with Sacrament meeting at 9:00am. 
We had a wonderful lunch with Irmã Joana, the Relief Society president in the Ipranga Branch.  Sister Joana had been a nun before she joined the Church.  She is a very small women and her spine is malformed which creates some physical limitations, but she is as faithful as can be as she serves in Relief Society.  She, along with her sister and niece, prepared a wonderful lunch for us and the Sister Missionaries.  It was delicious and we so appreciate her sacrifice and generosity.  We discussed our assignment to visit and rescue less active members and she was very supportive.  In fact, on Sunday, she gave us a list of the members she thought would be receptive.  Sunday afternoon we went to find one of those sisters.  It was a very enlightening experience.  We used the GPS for directions and it led us up a steep path and a long concrete stairway with homes built into a very high hill.  You would walk up 40-50 cement stairs to get to each level of homes and rather than a street separating the humble homes, it was a fairly narrow cement sidewalk.  It was like walking on house tops to get to the next level of homes.  After three levels of homes we finally reached a single lane road, where the home we were looking for was located.  Needless to say we took the roadway rather than the steps for the return trip.  The Branch President told Jeff it really wasn’t safe to go there alone and requested we call him to go with us next time.  We still have some things to learn about the city. 
On Thursday evening we rode the bus to Nanuque with the other missionaries for a Zone Conference.  We arrived around midnight and Jeff and I checked into the Panorama hotel while the other missionaries stayed with other missionaries.  The hotel was very nice and the bus ride is only 3 hours so the trip was quite nice.  Nanuque is a smaller city and less hilly than Teófilo Otoni.  The theme of the meeting was about the power of fasting and prayer in conversion and the Assistants along with Sister and President Young were very well prepared and inspiring.  I am reminded that the Lord wants and people need to have their own personal witness and fasting and prayer is required to receive it.  "The District" video was very effective in showing real life examples of how to teach and help people to pray for themselves. 
The training was from 9:00am to 1:00pm in the Nanuque Carangola meetinghouse, a very nice two story building.  There are eight elders in Nanuque including the Zone leaders.  One of the Zone leaders is Elder Bean from Oklahoma City.  His father was the Oklahoma City South Stake President during the time of the Moore tornado, which was a part of that stake. Thus, Jeff knew him well from the Coordinating Council and Tornado Relief efforts.  We took a picture with Elder Bean and e-mailed it to his father, who almost immediately replied telling us how much he appreciated the picture and sharing that he had just been released that past Sunday after 10½ years as stake president.  
Elder Bean from Oklahoma City

Jeff and I returned Friday evening on the bus.  We spent most of Saturday at the church working to get the videoconference equipment working for Sunday's District Conference broadcast.  After hours of work, we had everything ready for a test and then we lost power in the meetinghouse and the surrounding neighborhood. 
Jeff returned at 7:00am Sunday morning to complete the test run, which was successful.  We used our laptop with a projector and our portable Bose bluetooth sound box for the audio and we were very blessed that it proceeded without any major problem.  At the conference, the Nanuque and Teófilo Otoni Districts were combined so it was important that the members here were able to see and hear the proceedings.  The members here feel that the combined District will help to strengthen the area and prepare it to become a Stake.  The District president and his counselors provided an articulate vision for the future.  Jeff was called as the District clerk so we will be traveling to Nanuque periodically for presidency meetings and to do inspections of the missionary apartments.  
Sunday evening we visited President Dener, who had been released as the District President here in Teófilo Otoni.  We shared our appreciation for his years of service to build the Church in this area.  We also had a nice visit with him and his sweet wife.  Though his wife and three children are less active, she is a very kind and thoughtful person.  We hope to continue to build a lasting friendship with them after our very nice visit. She is especially  articulate and I could understand most of the conversation which was nice. 
 We ended Mother’s Day with some calls to our children and granchildren.  They all seem to be doing well and are happy.  Jessica and Kathleen’s kids sang mother’s day songs for us and the Richards grandchildren had prepared a skit of The Three Bears for us.  They added a nice ending in which Goldlilocks returns we a fresh bowl of porridge and a new chair and has dinner for the bear family - such wisdom!!  We love them dearly and know our service will bless their lives.  I’m grateful to be a mother and grandmother.  It is a work I have loved and continue to love!!
Avante para a Vitória! (D&C 128:22)
Elder and Sister Burkinshaw

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