Thursday, July 28, 2016

Finding Comfort

Hi Family and Friends!

I figured Howard covered everything pretty well but I can share some personal things.

I had a few days where I was having a hard time "Enjoying It", but I'm feeling much more comfortable now.  I can understand most of what's said to me on the phone now, which is a big deal because the missionaries call me when they're sick for advice.  Learning the medicines in Portuguese is another issue all together, but we're getting there.  Yesterday I filled up the car with gas, went to the bank, and drove to another city to help in an emergency transfer, all firsts for me.  And it all went well!

We've had multi-zone conferences and now Howard is in the middle of interviewing the missionaries who are going home and planning transfers.  He seems to be made for this calling, not that it's easy.  He's busy all of the time but he just seems to know what to say and what to do.  The missionaries have really taken to him, which is easy to understand.

We've had a sister here in the mission home who had her gall bladder out and is here recovering.  She is such a sweetheart and it's been a joy to have her here.  We've had various sisters with special needs come stay with her in the mission home so I don't need to be here 24/7.  It has been so much fun for me to get to know these sisters a little better.  Each one has an inspiring story.  

I've also had my cousin's 16 year old granddaughter here this week.  She is not a member of our church.  I was a little nervous wondering how I was going to juggle the sisters and Laura, but they're all having so much fun together that I hardly have to do anything.  I haven't found a ton of fun things to do here in Piracicaba, so I was worried how I was going to entertain her, but that hasn't been an issue.  She even joins them for companion study in the morning!

I've had a few tender mercies this last week.  Last Tuesday I needed some stuff at the store and I knew Howard had a lot of letters to read, so I was going to wait until the next day, but he was insistent that we walk over that evening.  It was such a gorgeous evening, with a beautiful moon and we walked passed the falls on the way.  On the way back there seemed to be something going on at this old sugar cane factory we walk through.  Upon further investigation, there was going to be a concert in five minutes, it was free, and it was a cello orchestra.  Heavenly Father knew I could use a little peaceful and relaxing and lovely music that night.  And He knew the special place I have in my heart for cellos.  The only thing that would've made it better would've been a few violas!

Yesterday we brought a new sister into the mission home to stay with our surgery sister.  The first thing she did was sit down at the piano and play Clair d'Lune.  Those who know me well know that's my favorite classical piece ever!  I felt like Heavenly Father was reaching down and giving me a hug!

I found out this week that the president before Howard had to sell everything to be able to afford to come on this mission.  My sacrifice is so small!

We've been traveling quite a bit to visit different wards on weekends.  The open land between the cities here is so beautiful and green and lush.  The members are so grateful that we've made the effort to go visit their little wards and branches.  They treat us like royalty.  A lot remember the Bangerter name which just adds to their love for us.

I'm grateful for this opportunity to serve here in Piracicaba.  I'm hoping to have our crate from home soon so I can hang family pictures.  Then I think I'll be able to feel like this is home.

I love and miss you all!

Making chocolate chip cookies with Laura and the sisters

Pictures on the fridge from Coco and Gigi

A darling Portuglish note from the sisters

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Piracicaba Mission Times from Howard, July

Piracicaba, 20 July 2016

Dear Family,

I suppose it is time for me to break the silence, now that we've been here in Piracicaba 3 weeks. I'm sorry it has taken me this long to do any meaningful correspondence! We've been having a great time!
If I could sum up our experience thus far, I would simply say it has been completely awesome. From the moment we arrived here in Piracicaba, we have felt like the red carpet has been rolled out for us by so many people. President and Sister Canuto, our predecessors, really went all out to have things prepared for us including the missionaries, the office, and the mission home.  We feel so welcome, so embraced and so comfortable that it's like we have returned to a place where we already belong.
Piracicaba is a city of about 450,000, small by some Brazilian standards but large enough to host 1 stake, which is very close to being divided, something we hope happens before we leave. If you can believe it, there are 7 other stakes in the mission as well, in cities such as Rio Claro, Hortolandia, Americana, Sumare, Sao Carlos, Pirassununga, and Sao Joao da Boa Vista. We have a great District in Botucatu as well. Clearly, the Gospel has been established in this mission, and it feels like our purpose is to enlarge the place of God’s tent, to lengthen the cords, strengthen the stakes, and help Zion put on her beautiful garments. We truly feel that Zion is here! Having observed what has happened over the past 50 years here in Brazil, it is easy to imagine a future day when each city in our mission will have 5 or 10 stakes, and several temples will grace our beautiful and green landscape.
We live in a beautiful area near center of the city, with easy access a park where Lissa can run and I walk many mornings. We feel safe here, day and night . The people are warm, friendly and outgoing in their desire to please and accommodate us.

Piracicaba is mostly laid out on a grid system (much smaller blocks than we see in Utah) and is very “walkable”. We have shopping nearby, and there are great bakeries and stores with product selections comparable to what we find in the States.

Rookie mistakes: 1) if you pull up to an intersection and all the other directions but yours have a stop light, you're probably going the wrong way on a one-way street! Only done this a few times. I can almost make it across town without GPS navigation. 2) Only left one suitcase in São Paulo. No worries, I got by on 1 suit for a week. 3) Radar speed traps everywhere. Took over a week to discover Wayz warns you about them, Google maps does not. Navigate using Wayz.

You may recall Piracicaba was open to the gospel during our time in Brazil before, The branch was small, weak, and struggling. Even so we continue to meet people connected to those early days. The other night, we went to Festa Junina (“Country Party”) at our ward and met Brother Edno Soares, whose brother Eraldo was the first person from Piracicaba to serve a mission. Edno asked if I was related to Grant Bangerter, and I replied that he was my father. He told how Dad had come to Piracicaba and interviewed his brother and sent him on his mission. Having studied Dad's mission history carefully, I was able to reply, “Yes he came on August 6th 1959, and I was in the car with him along with my mother, my brother, and my baby sister. In fact I have a photograph that was taken at noon on that very day. Here let me show it to you.” I pulled out my phone and opened a picture of the four of us standing in front of the Piracicaba River waterfalls that day. Brother Soares was so overcome with emotion, that I would have such a direct and specific tie to his family, that he began to weep. He called his wife over, and said, “Look! This brother was here before! With President Bangerter!” His mother, who initially opposed Eraldo’s membership and mission, was baptized in 1960. Edno followed in 1961. So we see the foundations having been laid so many years before are still here, and growing stronger every day.

Almost everywhere we go, some of those pioneering, old, early converts present themselves. Way up in the nether part of our mission (2 hours away - Paulo wouldn't consider that very far away, with his 12 and 15 hour drives and/or plane flights - our experience will be very different from theirs!) Sao Joao da Boa Vista, last week, we met a man who moved his family there a few months ago and was immediately called as bishop of his new ward. Although he was only born in 1962, his parents had been baptized in 1961 in Sao Vicente by Elders King and Holsinger. We got on the phone with his mother and she told us all about her baptism, how she had been interviewed by Dad, and what a blessing the gospel has been in their lives ever since. This good brother, Luciano Ferrari dos Santos, served a mission, as well as as a bishop and a member of the stake presidency and ward mission leader. So we see the roots from those early days providing nourishment up in the top of the tree. Everywhere we go, we seem to run into Cory’s missionaries from the Rio Mission of the mid 1980’s. Cory and Gayle, they love you! Today they have strong and mature Gospel families and are the lifeblood of the Church!

We have 148 missionaries, but we’re about to reduce by 7 pairs. We’ll send home 28 next week, and only get 14 in return. They are wonderful! The more we get to know them, the more we love them! Already, we had “Get To Know You” meetings where we briefly introduced ourselves and family, and tried to set a foundation upon which we can build. Those of you who know me can already guess that I introduced the “Three Types of Missionary” and explained the fundamentals of how to become the 3rd - the “Faith of Power” missionary by having the Desire and being Obedient and listening to and following the Spirit. That is the foundation. In our 3 weekly letters to the missionaries, we have tried to reinforce this concept, and further introduced how to build that power based on many of the concepts Dad taught. Last week, in our first Zone Conferences, we focused on fundamentals of Preach My Gospel (Teaching repentance and baptizing converts; receiving revelation by prayer, reading the Book of Mormon, and attending church, etc.) with a heavier emphasis on the role of the Holy Ghost in the conversion process, and the responsibility of the Missionary to be qualified to be an agent of the power of the Holy Ghost in conversion. The assistants introduced “The Strength of Peter” and we did role play based on that section of Lessons of Faith. Many are sharing in their letters this week that they have applied this training in their teaching and it is making a difference.

The mission leadership has worked hard to establish a culture of obedience in preparation for our arrival. We feel poised on the brink of greater growth and success in our mission’s work. The leadership corps is strong, obedient, and capable, and they are not afraid of change or of learning new things. They seem to drink up any new idea with enthusiasm and energy. I’m excited to collaborate with Paulo and others to get the ball (or “stone cut out of the mountain without hands”!) rolling with greater speed and effectiveness. A shout-out to President Canuto for his efforts in establishing such a great mission culture! Almost every letter from every missionary (I've read hundreds!) says in it, “How can I help you? Just call, I'll do whatever you ask!”

About 10 days ago I was invited to attend and address a “Mini MTC” sponsored by the Piracicaba Stake. Think “Camp Helaman” Brazilian style! They had rented a lovely chacara, a country setting with an assembly area, lodging, and cooking facilities and they had about 25 or 30 young man, pre-mission age, who had been there overnight. When the stake president and I arrived we found them all dressed in white shirts and ties with nametags calling them Elder. They invited me to speak first and introduce myself and our family, and then weresponded as a panel to questions from the young men about serving a mission. Besides myself, we had President Mendes, President Queiroz, (son of Walter Guedes de Queiros, one of the famous “three ministers” who were baptized in the late 1950s. It was an emotional experience for me to meet this man whose countenance exudes strength and power and reflects the image of the Savior - he is the stake YMP besides being on the High Council), and several other members of the High Council. All were returned missionaries. I focused my remarks on obedience and commandments and tried to help the young men understand that with a mission they would grow in their capacity to keep commandments and therefore receive blessings. They had prepared a number of questions in advance, similar to how I handled our discussions with Priests and Laurels in our ward conferences when I was stake president. This was an outstanding group of young men, and I tried to convey to them the blessing that it was for them to have to have the gospel in their lives, and how much the church has grown since the late 1950’s and early sixties when there were almost no native Brazilian missionaries. At the conclusion I rounded out my remarks by teaching about the three types of missionary (go figure). It was a great meeting. Reflected in the faces if these YM was the hope and potential of the future of the Church here - it was a beautiful and inspiring sight.

The other night, we were invited to attend and address a “Family Home Evening” (the only similarity to an actual FHE was that it was on a Monday night, and in a home. . . :-). When we arrived, we found about 25  YM and YW crowded into a small 10 X 10 living room. Of the standing room only group most were members, about 10 were invited friends, non-members. They asked if we would encourage the youth to attend the Ward Conference on Sunday, and each member should bring at least one non-member with them. Lissa led off, giving a excellent and fluent introduction of our family and bearing her testimony about families.  I was at a loss as to what i should say. At the last second, I was able to find a copy of For the Strength of Youth, and use that as a tool in teaching about Strengthening Families (thanks to Paulo and Julie for their help with that approach). I invited them all to attend church, and we talked about how living commandments allows us to qualify for blessings, and the more commandments we get, the more blessings we get (kind of a pattern here, no?). All raised their hands when I asked them if they would go to Church this weekend. The missionaries obtained 2 solid referrals from the meeting, and we ourselves felt invigorated by strength and power of these young kids! The YW President leading this whole thing is a single RLM who served under Bruce Muir in Maceio who hasn’t lost her missionary fire in the least! We see the strength and power of these Brazilian RM’s everywhere we go.

As we reflect back on the outpouring of revelation and effort it took to get the native missionaries going, we are humbled by our close connection to those events. I think about how in June of 1978, I answered a phone call in Dad’s office in Sao Paulo; it was Bruce R. McConkie’s office wanting to speak with Dad. He was announcing to Brazil the revelation on Priesthood, wherein all worthy male members were given the privilege of holding the priesthood. I remember Dad’s response to that news was, “Oh Bruce, that’s earthshaking!” And it was. In that little living room, and in our missionary force, with the YM at the Mini MTC, at the festa junina, everywhere we go, we see faces of every color and complexion and racial background. As we look at our District Leaders, Zone Leaders, and Sister Training Leaders, we see the same. We see a powerful force at work - the power of the Gift of the Holy Ghost - The Strength of Peter, gently but powerfully transforming and sanctifying and whispering and nurturing simple, humble people, into becoming individual and collective towers of strength, with seemingly boundless energy, and power! We witness the granting of the promises made since the foundation of the world, to this people and nation, to individuals and families, and recognize the influence of the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in changing each one, of helping each to have the Image of Christ reflected in their countenance.

I was riding in the car with our two assistants  yesterday (they have given me permission to share this) and I mentioned something I had been curious about since our arrival. Elder Francatto  has tattoos peeking out from under his long-sleeved white shirt (he has NO short sleeved shirts), and knowing he had been a member all of his life (they are both Brazilians, and both are “lifers” in the Church, so to speak), I said, “So Elder, tell me about those tattoos!”  He looked at me and smiled, and said, “You know President, even though I was born in the Church, when I was 18 I forgot who I was and began seeking my self-esteem from external sources. While I was there, I made some mistakes that are a little harder to “erase” though the Atonement, if you know what I mean. But I know that as I testify of the power of the Atonement in peoples’ lives, inside I know that I am truly a walking, talking example of that power. I’m so grateful for it!” His companion chimed in: “President, I have some of those too. My father died when I was 1, and I didn’t have have a strong male role model in my life. When I was 13, I strayed and also made some mistakes I regret. When I was a little older, I began to remember the things I had learned in Primary and Sunday School about God, the gospel and the commandments, and I knew I wanted to change. I feel so blessed that the Atonement has helped me so much, and for the privilege I have of testifying of its power to those I teach.”  Yeah. that is what it is all about. Earthshaking, truly.

As we sit here in the waiting room of a hospital in Piracicaba waiting for one of our faithful sisters to have her gall stones removed, we feel so grateful and humbled to be here. We only hope we can measure up to the stature and faith of the people among whom we serve!

Much love,

Howard and Lissa

The assistants and the Canutos

Lissa tracting with the Santa Teresinha sisters

Dinner at a beautiful farm that used to belong to Pelé

Brother Soares (whose brother Dad set apart as a missionary)

Young Women's president at the family home evening

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Mission Times

Dear Family and Friends,

Here’s my second attempt at a letter.  My first was eaten by the computer and even with my ninja like computer skills I’ve been unable to find it.

Time is flying by.  At this rate we’ll be home in no time at all.  Last week we had our Meet the Missionaries meetings.  What adorable, enthusiastic kids!  They’re all so anxious to help and to serve.  We felt like movie stars.  They all wanted pictures with us.

Dad gave a really inspiring message.  He definitely has the mantle.  I did the usual mission president’s wife stuff and told them to wear repellent and not drink from the faucet etc.  I also spent some time talking about the Adjusting to Missionary Life book.  They spent an entire day of training in the MTC on this so I figured I’d spend a little time on it.  After that meeting and using it a couple of times with the missionaries I decided to talk about it in our leadership counsel.  Now after a few more days and a few more opportunities to use it I’ve decided to address it more in zone conferences next week.  I believe it’s an inspired book.  I’ve used it myself.  This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I have faith the Lord will help me figure things out.

For the next several Sundays Dad and I are speaking in various wards and in branch conferences.  I knew I wanted to address member-missionary work but didn’t know how to go about it.  I felt inspired to tell my mom’s conversion story since it’s all about a member who went out of her way to reach out to my family.  I’m feeling pretty good about speaking for the next few weeks.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

The last several days have been spent taking care of a sick sister missionary.  She was working way out in the boonies so we had her come in to the city with her comp to be treated.  After three days of going from hospitals to clinics and back again and only having the doctors treat the symptoms we were blessed with a doctor who wanted to get to the bottom of her condition.  Turns out she has gall stones.  I’m surprised and ashamed that I didn’t recognize the symptoms, having dealt with that myself.  Anyway at least we know what we’re dealing with.  We’ve sent her comp back to their area and will get her taken care of and send her back as soon as possible.

Her comp has been so kind and caring.  It’s been a sweet thing to witness.  I found out that she (Sister Adao, the comp) is a recent convert.  Her mother was a member but had left the church 20 years ago  and become bitter.  

Sister Adao was not allowed to attend church or have anything to do with it but her aunt and uncle snuck her to a few activities and just from that and their example she knew she wanted to be baptized.  She was baptized at 18 and a year later went on her mission.  When her mom heard she was going on a mission she told her not to bother coming home after.  She reported to the MTC not knowing if she’d see her family again.  Fortunately her first letter from home expressed how proud her mother was of her and everything seems to be okay.  It’s amazing though how many of our missionaries have comparable stories and what they’re willing to sacrifice for the gospel’s sake.  My little sacrifice pities by comparison.

I love you all and am grateful for your prayers.  We’ll continue to work hard and try to make you proud.

Sunset over the Piracicaba River from our balcony

My first 5 miler in Brazil

A picture of Papa as requested by 2 year old Mae (granddaughter)

A chilly 49 degrees this morning for our exercise