Monday, December 28, 2015

Weeks of December 14 - December 25, 2015

We love this time of year and the Christmas spirit that is in the hearts of so many. It is no different here in Brazil. Brazil is a little less commercial and since we don't get a lot of opportunity to shop, that aspect of Christmas hasn't been problematic, if anything we may have even missed it a little. Our ward (Maruipe Ward) did a Christmas musical devotional last Saturday evening that turned out very nice. Sister Burkinshaw played the piano for the musical numbers and Elder Burkinshaw sang with the choir. The program, which included musical numbers (some very nice voices in this ward), Christmas videos and a narration was very well done and the beautiful display of finger foods was amazing. 
Somebody went to a lot of work to prepare for a very nice evening. The individually wrapped bread (on the back right) is Brazilian fruit cake which is a very popular gift.

Amazing Christmas spread at the Maruipe Ward Christmas Devotional.
Lots of ward members enjoying the food and a little picture taking in front of the Christmas tree.
Elder and Sister Burkinshaw dressed in Christmas red posing in front of the food. 
It is interesting that the mission office and responsibilities are or should be pretty routine and in some ways they are, but there is also a continuous element of unplanned events that provide opportunity for learning and stretching. We thought we would share a few of those experiences from the past couple of weeks. What is amazing through all of them is that the work moves steadily forward seemingly uninterrupted. What is also evident is that our young missionaries move happily forward in faith and with a great deal of optimism. So what follows are a few experiences from the past couple of weeks.

Experience One: About three weeks ago Sister Burkinshaw finally received a response back from São Paulo with confirmation that one of our Elders from Bolivia needed to leave a few weeks before our December 29th transfer or before his Brazilian visa expired. The faithfulness of this Elder was evident when Elder Burkinshaw called to inform him and his response was "Sério?" (Seriously?). He was anxious to see his family again and be home for the holidays, but at the same time he felt his time in the mission was being cut short two weeks and he wasn't quite finished with what he wanted to accomplish. As he came to the mission office for his final interview with President Young we held back a few tears as he reminded us of a couple he had worked with who were not yet baptized and he asked that we not forget them. The couple married after this Elder committed them to do so, but are still working through some issues.

D&C 64:9-10 is appropriate here.  "Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive on another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.  The missionaries never seem to have trouble seeing people through the eyes of the Savior Jesus Christ whose name they wear.  President Uchtdorf in April 2012 said, "This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: STOP IT! It's that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters." This young Elder had that kind of love!!

Experience Two: There are always problems with the housing for missionaries. We have a sister from Hawaii serving in the mission who is the cutest, sweetest missionary. A week ago we received the following e-mail from her. "Good morning! So I am writing this email to say that the toilet here in Ancheita does not flush correctly. The water pressure is wrong so we use a water bucket to flush. Also the shower head fell out of the wall completely. Luckily the water falls nicely out of the wall so we are able to still take a shower."  That was the e-mail. Remember in Brazil that hot water comes from the shower head so the water coming "nicely out of the wall" is cold! Our missionaries just handle the challenges that come and patiently wait for some help. Knowing Sister Wheeler it wasn't hard to hear her sweet voice in this email and appreciate the tone with which it was sent. Needless to say Elder Burkinshaw made a quick call and got someone over there as quickly as possible, even with that effort it was several days before the problems were resolved.

Experience Three:  The past couple of weeks President and Sister Young have been holding special Zone Conferences for Christmas. The Zone conference included the normal three hours of training, but added a special Christmas lunch and activity in the afternoon. The meetings have been planned and arranged by the Zone leaders as have the lunch and activity. They have each been different, but enjoyed by all.  In one Zone the lunch experience became one of those nightmares you have the night before an activity that you have planned and prepared for.  The Zone leaders found someone to cater the lunch, they required half of the payment in advance, that the missionaries purchase the meat for the "churrasco" (brazilian barbacue) and the other half of the payment after the meal. The meal was for 30 and the price was such that it seemed a sure thing to have a fine meal. The Zone meeting training proceeded and 30 minutes before the end, the Zone leader went to check and make sure everything was ready for lunch.  As he walked back into the chapel it was evident from his face that there was a problem. The caterer did show up with a 9x13 pan of rice (to feed 30 missionaries), a few other small servings of items and a very small grill, not sufficient to grill meat for 30. President and Sister Young walked into the office about 3:00pm having just finished lunch and reported that the workers were excused, another lunch location found, the meat will be frozen and saved for next weeks transfer meals and the Zone Leaders were determined to re-coop their financial loss if at all possible. Sister Young reported that although very disappointing for the Zone Leaders they would be fine. They are missionaries who would "Cast not away therefore [their] confidence..." - "For the Lord shall be thy confidence...." The Christmas Zone meetings were a great success. We were sad we missed out on the Vitória Zone Meeting, but we had an audit that day--which was so much more fun (ar, arr,arrr).

Experience Four: Mission audit, something that only happens every three years. The outcome, it is a miracle that missions all over the world stay fairly financially stable with the constant turn over in unpaid missionaries who need about four months to understand what is happening financially in a mission.  We came away with a list of things that we should be doing, although we are not sure how we find the time to do them all. One suggestion was to use our accounting contact in the São Paulo office more, who, by the way has 13 other missions who need the same help as well as three young children, a wife (who probably doesn't see him very often), is a young bishop and is going to night school to finish his accounting degree. We were told that most mission offices have four or five people (please contact us if you have a desire to serve a mission in Brazil!!!).  After a few days of struggling with possible solutions to the challenges we face keeping things going, we counseled with President Young and it was decided we would continue with just the two of us and do the best we could. (The next audit will come after all of us have been released.)  We will put things in order the best we can and continue to pray that the Stake Presidents will find local members who can serve as Church Service Missionaries with Missionary Apartments. It continues to be a very humbling experience, but a constant reminder that the Lord provides when needed.

Experience Five: We had two Elders come into Vitória this past week, one an American and one Brazilian. The Brazilian had to check in with the Brazilian equivalent of the draft to continue his deferment while serving a mission. The American is new having just arrived in the mission last transfer. He is from Texas with a wonderful Texas accent. We took them to lunch and Elder Lake, the American elder, said he told his parents if they wanted a humbling experience, go on a mission and learn a foreign language. While we concur that is true we are also amazed at the abilities of these young missionaries to learn the language. We have another one of our American Elders who has been here two transfers (twelve weeks) who will be a trainer this week - that is miraculous! 

Christmas Week. The packages just keep coming and coming and coming. The challenge is when they arrive so close to Christmas it is't possible to get them out to the missionaries in time for Christmas. Because of Stake and District conferences this month President and Sister Young had to hold Zone meetings early so most of the Christmas packages had not yet arrived, but they are here now. However, every few days we have one of Santa's elves stop by the office to pick up the missionaries' packages. This Christmas elf came into Vitoria (from Colatina) on the bus and stopped to pick up a few packages on his way home via the bus. 

A closet full of Christmas Packages for the Missionaries.

One of our Christmas Elves, we are so thankful for their service to the missionaries.
We had a wonderful Christmas Eve. We watched the Christmas nativity video together, read "The Little Star Story", sang Christmas carols and did a google chat with all seven of our children and their families. Sarah put together a couple of videos that were so AMAZING and we appreciated that gift as well as a package that arrived two days before Christmas. It came with a few ties for Elder Burkinshaw and a pair of headphones and used iPhone in some Hershey kisses for safe keeping.  The iPhone will probably always smell like peppermint.  We appreciate modern technology which allows us to be far from home, but still able to see and talk to everyone.  We have an amazing family and feel so blessed. Below is a link to the videos if your interested in watching them. 

2015 Burkinshaw Family Christmas Nativity

2015 Christmas Caroling

Christmas morning we took an early morning walk on the beach and then prepared dinner for us and the two elders that are serving in the ward we are assigned to. The dinner was delicious and since we had the Bartlesville elders over to our apartment for dinner Christmas 2014 and to talk to their families it all felt very familiar, although we are pretty sure it was much colder in Bartlesville last year than our very warm 92°F on Christmas day. We are ever thankful for our air conditioner (which is only in the bedroom) that can keep our small apartment cool enough to be comfortable. 

Elder Burkinshaw with the Maruipe Elders. Elder Sessions left and Elder Chaves right.
Elder Chaves opening his package that arrived Christmas Eve from a faithful Bishop.
Elder Chaves, left, working his magic with the Selfie.
Our last bit of news concerns transfers which take place tuesday, December 29th. Two days before Christmas the brethren in Salt Lake did a training for mission presidents worldwide which changes completely the way we have been doing transfers here in Vitória. We will no longer hold a transfer meeting.  The tradition of a transfer meeting was handed down to President and Sister Young and they have worked hard the last year and a half to make it an edifying meeting. The new counsel, however, was very specific and President Young is obedient so with just a few days it was decided to implement completely the new counsel. The planning and logistics will take some getting use to and most of that is being given to the Zone and District leaders. For us, we get back the two days that had been consumed with the transfer meeting preparation.  This transfer we had already pre-purchased bus tickets because of the holidays so Elder Burkinshaw had to spend a considerable amount of time changing bus tickets to make them work as the only missionaries that will come into Vitória will be those called to train the new missionaries coming from the CTM (MTC). The change will improve uninterrupted proselyting time and reduce expenses for the mission, but it will take a little experience and time to adjust. The doctrines and principles of the Church are constant, but the growth requires constant adaptation and this is one of those times. 

Elder Burkinshaw once again working his magic at the bus station. (His is the one in a suit on a very warm afternoon - because of the holiday travel we immediately changed tickets.)
Our love for the Lord continues to grow and we feel very blessed to be a part of the missionary work. We are so grateful for our eternal family and pray daily we will all faithfully work through the opportunities for growth that the Our Heavenly Father provides this coming year. Happy Holidays from Brazil!!

Avante Vitória!

Elder and Sister Burkinshaw

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Weeks of November 16-December 13, 2015

November 17 was the largest missionary transfer we have experienced so far, as 15 elders and 4 sister entered the mission and 12 seasoned elders departed.  As such, more than half of our 129 missionaries (about 80 of them) changed areas and living quarters.  Generally, President Young finishes the transfer board sometime Saturday afternoon.  We then interleave a spreadsheet of previous assignments with new assignments to come up with a list of what bus tickets are necessary to bring the transferring missionaries into the central city of Vitória and another list of tickets needed to take the missionaries to their new areas. The tickets are then purchased late Saturday evening and then Sunday evening we call the Zone Leaders to advise who needs to come to Vitória for the transfer meeting and whether they will need to bring their belongings or not.  They will not know their new assignment until the Transfer Meeting on Tuesday afternoon at 2:00pm when President Young announces over the pulpit who is going where.  The departing missionaries come to Vitória early on Monday to participate in a self-reliance class to prepare them for going home and preparing for the rest of their lives.  We use Monday to prepare for the Transfer Meeting by bringing all the letters, packages and proselyting materials to the chapel and also printing the agenda and list of missionary assignments for the transfer.  Tuesday morning, we meet the new missionaries as the arrive at Vitória airport and take them to the mission home for training and lunch.  Then we finish setting up the audio-visual equipment for the Transfer meeting.  After the transfer meeting, we load the missionaries into a double-decker bus and take them to the Vitória bus station (rodoviária) to catch buses to their new areas.  By the time it is over, we breath a sigh of relief and crash at our apartment.  On Wednesday we then start preparing for the next transfer in 6 weeks.

Here are some the the Brazilian Elders who were going home about the same time the new missionaries were arriving.

Sister Young, Sister Burkinshaw, Elder Benicius, who is returning to home to São Paulo, and Elder Burkinshaw.

Elder Rosário, who is returning home to São Paulo, with Sister and Elder Burkinshaw.

Elder Alves, who is returning home to Alagoas, with Sister and Elder Burkinshaw.

Elder Moreira who served with us in Teófilo Otoni and is returning to Recife.

Elder Ramos, who is returning to home to Fortaleza, with Sister and Elder Burkinshaw.

Elder Kuan, who is returning home to São Paulo, with Sister and Elder Burkinshaw.
Three of our departing missionaries with six of our newly arrived missionaries at the Vitória Airport.
On the Friday of transfers, we had the opportunity to assist a couple who wanted to join the Church but were not yet married, a frequent situation here in Brazil.  We met them at a nearby Cartório, which is like a commercial notary public where all kinds of transactions are validated.  There they were married civilly by a judge and Elder Burkinshaw served as a witness.  The next day, they were married at the André Carloni chapel just north of Vitória. Life has not been easy for Wenderson and Inés but they are trying to do the right things.

Elder Burkinshaw signing as one of the marriage witnesses with Wenderson and Inés watching.
Wednerson and Inés with Elder and Sister Burkinshaw following the Civil Marriage ceremony.

Wenderson and Inés with Bispo Jocimar Pinto at the André Carloni meetinghouse
The following week was Thanksgiving.  We visited Sams Club in Vitória to purchase a turkey roast and some "Cheesecake Factory" cheesecake for desert.  It made for a much more familiar Thanksgiving dinner than Elder Burkinshaw remembers during 1974 and 1975 when serving in São Paul.

Thanksgiving dinner, 26 November, 2015.

President and Sister Young had one of their daughters, Anika and her husband John Zito and their children visit them from Billings, MT.  Their oldest daughter had turned 8 years-old and so they had the baptism and confirmation on the Friday evening of Thanksgiving weekend there in the Jardim da Penha meetinghouse.  The bishop of the ward, his family and the missionaries in the area attended.  It will be a very memorable baptism for the Young´s granddaughter.

After the Baptismal Service for President and Sister Young´s granddaughter.
As Christmas approaches, Elder Burkinshaw received an early Christmas present.  Since September, when our case with Sister Burkinshaw´s iPhone, and the Missions petty cash card and wallet was stolen, he has had to pay the utility bills with cash at several different banks.  Not only has this been time-consuming but also somewhat insecure because of the need to carry large amounts of currency.  However, last week the new petty cash card and bank account arrived in the mail.  They were sent via SEDEX 10, which is the equivalent of overnight insured mail.  However, it took more than 10 days to arrive and had us worried we would be waiting until the New Year.  Afterwards, it took another week and many hours on the phone with Church computer support to get through the firewall to the bank´s website so we can pay the bills on-line again.  But we are now back paying utilities via the internet. Merry Christmas early Elder Burkinshaw!

The new debit card, token (SecureID) and account for the Mission petty cash account.  Merry Christmas Elder Burkinshaw!
We are assigned to attend the Maruipe Ward and so we take every opportunity to support the activities of the Ward.  We recently attended the Young Women in Excellence program on a Friday evening.  One of the sweet returned sister missionaries from the ward, Dayane Gomes, is a counselor in the YW Presidency.  Here is Sister Burkinshaw with Dayane in front of the display in the cultural hall.

Dayane Gomes and Sister Burkinshaw at the Maruipe Ward Young Women in Excellence display.

Sister Burkinshaw is called upon regularly to play the piano and organ and the Vitória Ward asked her to play for their Primary program in Sacrament meeting.  This involved several practices on Saturday afternoons and after the block of meetings on Sunday.  The program was held on the second weekend of December and turned out great!  After the program, many of the children gave her hugs and thank yous and she even received a Christmas basket full of chocolates!

Sister Burkinshaw with two of the Primary girls who gave her a hug and a Christmas basket for playing the piano for their Primary program in Sacrament meeting.

Sister Burkinshaw and the Vitória Primary following their program in Sacrament Meeting.  They were amazed when Sister Burkinshaw told them that if her 22 grandchildren were there, it would more than double their numbers!

As we prepare for Christmas here in Brazil we are ever grateful for the life of the Savior whose birth we celebrate. We are continually reminded of the blessings that His birth has brought into our lives as well the people here in Brazil and around the world. We join our voice with those of the angels who exclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Avante Vitória!

Elder and Sister Burkinshaw