Monday, February 24, 2014

I don't really know where to start this letter, so I'm just gonna go for it.

First off, Alta Floresta is incredible. Sadly, it is far more civilized than I had hoped. But really, that is what makes it remarkable. Alta Floresta is literally smack dab in the middle of Jungle. If I walked 5 mins South or 10 mins West of our house, I would be completely lost in the Amazon. However, the city is bem-estabelecido, well-organized, and what's more, clean!! I don't really know if it's big enough to call a city, but it's not exactly a town either...Anyway, the city just plain great. You can be walking down the main Avenue, and have parrots and Macaws fly overhead. The temperature is a bit cooler here as well (I think because of the higher elevation). It's hard to describe the "feel" of the city, but it's almost like a resort. Most of the people here are either students (college kids) or retirees (old people). And so, it's harder to find families to teach. But all things said and done I'm loving it here.

Right now, my companion and I are living with the one and only (that we know) member family here. The parents, P e I, are both returned missionaries, and they have two sons, L(18) and M(15) who aren't baptized. They've lived here 14 years without any involvement in the church because of the long distances between here and...well, everywhere. It's been really hard on the family, but they are excited to finally have missionaries here to start the church. I could spend all my time talking about this family, and their struggles and example of strength and faith, but I probably shouldn't.

As for my companion, Elder N, he is awesome!! He's from Sao Paulo, and has 3 transfers left on his mission. He is a great example for me. He is an incredible teacher, and has one of the most powerful, sincere testimonies I've ever heard. Together, we're getting to know the area very quickly, and spending most of our time finding people to teach. 

Another aspect of the area that is remarkable is the receptiveness of the people. The church is a little bit late in arriving here, and a bunch of other churches are very firmly entrenched. However, despite this, almost everyone is willing to hear us out and invite us back. I don't know weather is just because our church is something "new" or what, but the openness and the preparation of the people here for the restored gospel is remarkable.

We had one experience this past week that stands out among the rest as truly miraculous. Our first day here, we contacted a reference from church headquarters. A media referral, that many times aren't very reliable. Sure enough, the lady that was referred, J, had no recollection of requesting a visit from the missionaries. Of course, we taught her anyway :) After the lesson, she invited us to participate in a little "youth group" type gathering of students. We went this past Saturday, and established a time to return and teach the entire group!! Yet one more example of God directing and guiding his work among many!

It is so, so exciting to be a part of this work. I've never felt so good about being absolutely exhausted! I know that this is the work of the Lord, and I'm just privileged to be a part of it.

Elder Johnson 

I was determined to take a bunch of pictures this week, but was super busy and didn't get the chance. But, here are some pictures of a flooded rua that Elder C sent me!
BTW- these were taken basically right in front of our house. Hurray for floods!!

Monday, February 17, 2014

To the family:
Hey Everyone! Thanks for your letters. Sounds like you've been having fun with all the snow! Dad, to respond to a few of your questions- We have a phone to share as a companionship, and boy is it handy! We receive about 200 reis two times a month on a debit card. And we walk just about everywhere. We only take the bus when we need to leave our area or cross from one side to the other.

As for my big news...I'm getting transferred. I should really just stop being surprised. I loved working here in Morada da Serra, but next transfer I have an incredible opportunity. Me and one of the Assistants to the President are opening a new city to the gospel! I leave for the little town of Alta Floresta tomorrow. I'll write more about what that in my other letter, but there, I won't be able to receive letters or packages at all, so don't bother sending anything.

I don't have any new missionary tips for members this week, but I hope that you're taking note of my suggestions. They are things that I want to do when I return from my mission, so don't delete the emails or anything. (Pics: fish head & huge spider)
Love you all and wish you all a great week!

Elder Johnson.
To Everyone:
I don't know whether I should start off this letter with the big news, or build up to it...but since I like a little bit of dramatic effect, I think I'll side with the building up plan.

This week was indeed better than the last. We got a lot done, and we were definitely able to receive guidance from the Lord. The most exciting and frankly miraculous event of this week was the finding of a long lost family! The first encounter was when we had to ask for directions from a couple kids playing in the street. They gave us the directions and we continued along our way. The very next night, we passed the same group of kids, but on a different street. We were taken aback when one of them said that they had been baptized into our church! As a missionary, you shouldn't take running into the same people more than once for granted, and so, the next day we stopped by their house. Turns out, the mom is a less-active member that was baptised five years ago, along with one of her daughters who was 8 at that time. She and her two children came to church on Sunday, and we have high hopes of them returning again, and what's more, we're also now teaching one of their neighbors!
I think many missionaries, and members in general don't have an appreciation for working with members of the church who are not coming to church. Sure it's frustrating, and it definitely takes patience, but it's so worth it to be able to see people return to the faith! It is so exciting to be a part of the "rescuing" of lost sheep that the scriptures and Prophets talk so much about.

All things said and done, this week was full of great experiences. Great lessons, and lots and lots of work. Among other things, nossa casa lost power for a day and a half, and so we had a fun planning session by candle and moonlight! We also had a ward chorrasco (barbeque) that was really successful! But the "big news" of the week came when Elder Contor and I were summoned to the mission office for a meeting with Presidente Reber. In this meeting, he made a surprising announcement-

The mission is opening a new city, Alta Floresta, to missionary work and I have been assigned along with Elder Nascimento to go there this next transfer. 

Alta Floresta is way North in the mission. In fact, it is as far North as you can go. How far North? Only a 15+ hour bus ride north of Cuiaba, and 5 hours North of the nearest Church building. Because it is so far removed from basically everything else, we won't be part of a district or zone. Which means we won't have meetings and will only see other missionaries once every four months for mission conferences, to which we will have to travel by plane. 

As far as we know, there are two members of the church in Alta Floresta. A couple (both returned missionaries) that has lived there for fourteen years. We will start off as a "group", meaning that we will meet in the house of this member family every Sunday for an hour long Sacrament meeting. And, that's about all we know. 
Needless to say, I'm more than a little bit humbled. I've got not idea how to start the church! Which is basically what we'll be doing. It will be different, and difficult to do work without the support of a ward, or without even a church building to meet at. But, it's going to be great! I am both super excited and terrified. I've got no idea what it is that I'm supposed to contribute to the work in this new city, but I've got to figure it out, and fast! I know I'm going to have to rely on the Lord now more that ever, but I have faith that regardless of my weakness and inability, this is his work, and he can get done what he needs to through me. 

Elder Johnson

Monday, February 10, 2014

Has it been a month already? I feel like I stepped off the plane last week. The days crawl and the weeks fly I guess. But enough of that, and on to the good stuff.

This week was hard. There´s just no other way to describe it. Just plain hard. I worked hard and prayed hard. But hey, turns out, a mission is hard. Who knew, right?

What made it hard? Really just one thing. Hearing a returned missionary talk about the miracle of seeing "the change". The change of life, or the change in the spirit of a person that is like "night from day". The change that preaching the gospel to people is supposed to bring. I want so badly so be able to see this miracle in the lives of people, and I know that it´s possible. But, I havn´t seen it yet, and it´s hard, just plain hard to realize that I´ve just got to be patient and diligent and give my 100% percent, and let the lord do his work in his own time.

What makes it all the more difficult is the doubt, or even fear that comes when you don't see the results of your labors. I don't know how many times this week I've wondered "what is it that I'm doing wrong", or "why am I not good enough". These questions are essential for self-improvement, but are not necessarily the funnest to be having.

In reality, there's probably more I can do. There's probably some 1 or 2 % of myself that I havn't been able to give yet. I don't know if I've fully realized what it means to "forget myself", but I'm determined to do it. I refuse to give up. I will not quit, and I'll just do the only thing that I can, which is work harder. Pray harder. Testify more. Love more perfectly. And trust completely. 

And so, I will wait and see if "my all" if good enough, and if it's not, I'll just try and find more "all" in myself to give.

Elder Johnson

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Hey everybody!! Glad you liked the pictures, I´ve got a couple more to send this week too! But first things first...

WHOOOOOOOO 16! The big 1 6. Watch out ladies, Kumen´s in the dating pool!!! 
AH, I´m so excited for you bro! I hope your birthday goes great, and I hope you enjoy your ordination to a Priest in the Aaronic Priesthood. The priesthood is a great power, but like we learn from spiderman, with great power comes great responsability. Always live worthy to claim the power that comes with this authority.

Dad, it was sad to hear about Bro. John´s son. Give condolences to him and his family. Parabems at fulfilling your duties as a home teacher, I wish I had a dozen more members like you here. If you feel like going the extra mile, try setting up a time for you to go and teach with the missionaries, missionaries always are looking for members to teach with. 
Mom, I´m safe, don´t you worry. And thank you for your thoughts about loving the people. The kind of charity that you have inherently is a gift that I pray for often.
Hunter, you missionary you, keep up the good work. If you want to take it to the next level, try adding a small simple commitment to the end of one of your religious discussions (like coming to church, or visiting
Ammon, it´s pretty funny about the sunburn. I got a little fried myself last week.
Talmage and Zenock, glad you guys had fun at the USO activity. Keep on livin´ the life!

My tip on missionary work this week- Involve the missionaries in the ward! Get to know them and their investigators by name. In many ways the work that they are doing there is more important that the work I´m doing here because there, you can actually get involved. It´s great that you pray for me and my investigators (when I have them), but it´s even more vital that you pray for the missionaries and investigators in your own area! Know that you have elders in the ward, it should be even easier for our family to get involved. 

Thanks again for your letters of love and support, stay strong and love the gospel!
 Love, Elder Johnson

sorry, I have forgotten to respond to your questions about you coming to Brazil at the end of my mission. 
To be honest, I don´t know how I feel about it. I think it would be awesome for Dad to go to Sao Paulo to see his old mission, visit the Sao Paulo temple and whatnot. I´d also love to visit Iguasu falls or the Pantanal. At the same time, I don´t want the end of my mission to be a tour. I want to preserve the sacred nature of the mission, and return home alone with my nametag still on. Those are my thoughts now. But it is far in the future. It is also something that I would have to get my mission president´s counsel on.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Another busy week, with plenty of good stuff happening. Among other things, I´ve made chocolate chip cookies three times this week, and I finally perfected the process! Turns out ovens in Brazil are rather hard to work with...but! That´s beside the point. I´ll start out by answering some of my family´s questions about the ward and the language.

The Morada da Serra ward is great. No ward is perfect, and let´s just say that there are plenty of less-actives to work with. But, there are great families in the ward that support the missionaries, and so many people are willing and eager to help and get involved. In fact, this week we had 2 nights where we were able to go on splits with ward members! Going teaching with members is great because you can get twice as much done! At the same time, it´s rather nerve-wracking for me because it means I´m on my own as far as the language goes.

But, speaking of the language, I feel like I´m learning pretty fast. To be honest, my companion insists that I´ve been blessed with the gift of tongues, and I definitely believe that I have the Lord´s help in learning and speaking. As of now, I can teach (very simply) just about all of the principles of Preach my Gospel, and I can converse a little bit with Brazilians. However, anytime they speak more than one phrase at a time I get lost, so I still have a lot to learn.

As for the events of this week, we've had our fair share of triumphs and disappointments which is to be expected. The big bummer of the week was finding out that the marriage process of our two most promising investigators, N e M, is going to be delayed for another 30 days. This means that their baptism will have to wait another whole month. My companion was really devastated by this discovery. He´s been working with and teaching this couple for 3 months now, and we both had such high hopes for their baptism this month. 

To top the day off, we ended up getting stuck at a less-active families house for over two hours, trapped by the risk of "offending" the family by leaving early. I was frustrated by the events of the day, and felt like I hadn´t lived up to my potential as a missionary. My prayer that night turned into more of a vent session than a prayer. I just kept expressing my frustrations and concerns. After a while, I realized that I wasn't gaining anything by continuing my complaints. So, instead I took a minute to just listen. In that moment, I was able to feel and hear what I needed to. It is hard to describe, but I was both chastised and comforted.

And so, I have one more experience to add to the list that proves, to me, that God is real. He hears the prayers of his children. I have felt the love and power of God in my life, and I´d like to think that I can help others to find or feel that too. 

I am loving the work. Despite hardships I am happy. I look forward to each day, and am eager to continue living and loving the mission life!!
 Elder Johnson 

These are some pictures Justus sent.  The top HUGE spider he found at his house.  I don't want to ask if it was inside or outside.  The ones in the trees are over 3-4 inches in diameter.  The tree was covered with 7-8 more spiders.  The geckos (lizards) are friendly visitors that seem to be everywhere!