Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Change of Heart

Family & Friends,

I had another tender mercy. As we were waiting at the bus stop for the elders to arrive to do a baptism interview, some kid tapped me on the shoulder and I looked up and it was Jose! He is a member from Parnaiba and we would always invite him to make visits with us. At the time it seemed like he wasn’t sure if he would go on a mission, but I got to see him as he was on his way to catch a flight in Teresina! What were the chances that I would have been there at that 5 minute time slot, and that he would have seen me! Heavenly Father blessed me so much by allowing me to experience this “chance” encounter. In the attached photo, the two boys are from Parnaiba and are going to serve missions in Sao Paulo! The one boy only has the things he has on his back and his flip flops! What faith!!

This is it! I can’t believe it has come to an end! I have two types of feelings; one, that I know how much I am going to miss this, my beloved Brazil, the people, and the special feelings that come as a set apart representative of Jesus Christ. There is just nothing like it! The second feeling is just such a great sense of accomplishment. I did it, and loved it! I really put so much time, energy and focus into magnifying my calling as a missionary! It, to me, has been the greatest success in my life!

I ended my mission on a high! BAPTISM! Woohoo! Natalia is already excited to be a sister missionary one day! She is 10 years old, and is a little bit on the younger side, but it has been so neat to see on the mission how sharp and prepared some of these kids are. They are so pure in heart, and it’s great to know that they will be able to participate in the church programs like primary and young women’s! She is also neighbors with a member, so we know that she will always be in good hands. We also are just inviting everyone, I mean EVERYONE, to be baptized, and it has been truly humbling to see their hearts softened and accept the invitation. Inviting people to be baptized on the mission, always takes a leap of courage, but for that reason it is my favorite and one of the things I will most miss. I had my last district meeting and it was actually the district “funeral”, because it’s a joke that I was dying as a missionary. It was funny!

This last week was just really special to me. I have wanted to talk to everyone, to plant as many seeds as I could about the gospel. I just wanted to run around like a maniac and do all that I could as my time as a missionary came to an end. But I am grateful that I really do have no regrets. I am grateful that the Savior helped me serve a diligent mission. My mission president looked at me and told me that he had seen a change in my heart, and I am so grateful for the work that the Savior personally did in my life and with my life. This year and a half flew by for me and hardly felt like a sacrifice; if anything it was the greatest gift anyone could have given me. I will forever be grateful.

To me it doesn’t matter if they remember my name or my face or even what I said. I just hope that the impressions of the Spirit will forever be written on their hearts in a way that they will never be able to deny the way that they felt, hearing the gospel truth!

Love you all,

Sister Vance

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Losing Myself to Become More Like Me Than Ever Before

Family & Friends,

There is an old missionary myth that the more you get rained on, the more handsome your future husband will be. I’m not trying to brag or jump to any sort of conclusion here, but this past week we got rained on every day; pouring rain storms that left so much flooding! So, “Dear Future Husband, one day when you read this, don’t forget to thank me!” Haha, #KeepTheRainComing!

But really, there has been some pretty extreme weather. It hasn’t rained so much since 2009. There have been times when the water has been waist high, and there are fish swimming in it. I wish I was kidding, but it’s true. We were proselyting for more than 3 hours without shoes. It has been way fun, and definitely an adventure and struggle at the same time. But waist deep water can’t stop the work. When it’s raining or storming, missionaries can’t just take shelter and wait out the storm. It’s absolutely the best time for finding people to teach! They will let you in because of pity or yell at you to come into their house.

When we were proselyting barefoot, we found Janderson. A 26 year old man, we taught him about the Restoration and he found it interesting, but when we pulled out the Book of Mormon and started explaining it, his eyes lit up with interest and excitement. When we returned a day later, he had read everything (introduction, testimonies) and 13 chapters! We tried not to fall out of our chairs! We tried to play it cool with him, but left trying really hard not to make a scene in the street, because we became so excited and happy!

We had an appointment set for 8pm another day, and it was raining and storming a ton. When we showed up, the family was shocked. The grandma started running around to dry us off with towels, and had no shame of touching wherever she needed to get us dry! It must have been a bit of a shocking sight to see us show up, but when they said they thought we wouldn’t come, we responded and said, “but we told you that we would come, right? We mean what we say”. My companion and I have decided that we really have to SHOW them how important and sacred this work is. We aren’t messing around here! Someday, I just hope that these people we teach can see and understand how much we worry about them, how they are constantly on our minds, and how we are willing to do anything for them. We really do love them.

Victor, a 16 year old young man, has been receiving our messages. Saturday, we taught him the Plan of Salvation, and at the end he said, “did I ever tell you about the dream I had? The other night, I did what you have been teaching me to do, praying with faith and asking if these things I am learning are true. In my dream, I was walking in a grassy field and I looked up and saw a tree”. My companion and I already had goosebumps, and I was already getting emotional. He continued, “and when I looked up at the tree, I saw a light that said to me, ‘continue on the path that you are on’”. As he explained more, it was clear he had dreamed about the tree of life (1 Nephi 8)”! We read in the Book of Mormon about Lehi’s dream and it was so spiritual. What a miracle! Mighty faith brings about mighty miracles! It was so cool, because he understood and then was able to fully interpret his dream using the Book of Mormon. We have seen so many miracles this week that have felt like tender mercies from the Lord. I am excited to see what He has in store for me during my last week in the mission!

Because of the flooding, it has been sad because water has entered into houses as well and people have had to leave. We were invited to go to place where these people were staying. We made breakfast for them, played around and got to know a bunch of them. They were sweet and it was a humbling experience. We got 30 or more of them together and taught the Plan of Salvation. I have had many opportunities during my mission to teach groups of people and it is always a different experience. I always feel the power and authority of my calling as a missionary. I feel like I’m really preaching, haha! One man yelled out at the end, “I am so happy, everything seems so much clearer to me!” I thought, that just sums up the “Plan of Happiness” for me too, my friend. I love having the knowledge that we have, and the way it influences my daily and life decisions. I have been praying a lot recently about my life and what to do with it, haha, and this service project was an answer to my prayers. I have learned that whatever happens, my life needs to be FILLED with service. I feel myself thriving in joy in these situations.

I have learned on my mission that when people or God talk about “losing yourself”, it means abandoning all selfishness, all pride and our self-will. Once we do that, God really gives us back all of our personality … when we are wholly His, we will be more ourselves than ever before! You may have noticed that over the past 18 months I have still been crazy, always laughing and I have had fun and happiness on my mission. But I really feel like I have changed.

I feel like Christ and God’s love have really molded and shaped me. I feel more love within me, with more love to share. I feel more forgiving because I realize how much I have been forgiven. I am more patient because other people (including Heavenly Father) have been more patient and kind with me. I love to work hard here because I know that this is His work. I have learned obedience because of the perfect example of our Savior, and have seen the blessings of it here in the mission, and the miracles it brings. I have learned what real faith is and have learned how to nourish it and grow it on a daily basis. I have learned humility as I have realized that I need the help of the Divine in my life. I have seen that, no matter how much or how hard I have worked, sweated and even cried to help these people, He is always doing more and doing the job in the perfect way that only He can do it.

In the end, I love my Savior, Jesus Christ, because I have felt and seen Him save me from myself over and over again. He is my King, my personal Savior and personal Redeemer. I am striving to live in such a way that when I return to Him and am in His presence, that it will feel familiar to be close to Him.

See you all soon; love you all!

Sister Vance

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Right Place, Right Time

Family & Friends,

After I logged off of email last week, we decided to go to the grocery store. I wasn’t feeling too great. I thought to myself that maybe my stomach pain was because I had forgotten to eat all day. As I passed close to the open meat section, I had a feeling of slight dizziness. I thought it was just because of the smell of meat/blood. At the checkout, reality hit me hard. My companion handed me a grocery bag and I left the store running, looking for a place not filled with people. Then I remembered that I had to stay in sight and sound of my companion. Oh gosh, so yes, a sister missionary was found throwing up right in the entrance of the supermarket! I was just grateful that I had a grocery bag – until the wind picked up and while I was throwing up, the wind took the bag and wacked me in the face! Anyway, the struggle was so real! I vomited nonstop for the next couple hours. I couldn’t even take medicine without it all coming back up. So against my will, I was forced by Sister Melo to go to the hospital at 9pm. Our ward mission leader and his wife were there for moral support. Actually, they were there to take videos of me getting IVs and being dramatic, haha, but I love them. For the next 7 hours I sat in a chair, with an IV in one arm and my throw-up bucket in the other. It would have been okay if wasn’t for the male nurse trying to “Bible-bash” with us the whole time. I just wasn’t up for that! Then at 4:00am we tried to reach the church member that has a car, because we had made plans with him to get a ride home, and he wasn’t answering. We tried everything, and I thought we were going to have to walk home! Everything turned out okay and I am better now. It was karma, because I have joked my whole mission that if I gained weight on my mission, I would drink the water from the faucet to get sick and lose weight, haha!

Amidst the sickness, we saw many blessings! We had nine (9) investigators in church! Woohoo! I hope to see a lot of them baptized before the end of this transfer. I’m sure there will be many that I will only see photos (#plantingseeds). One of them, Livia, even bore her testimony. She was almost baptized last week, but her husband is in prison waiting to be judged, so it’s a bit complicated. But she will probably be baptized in a few weeks. She said in her testimony that “the sisters told me that Satan will work on me to try to make me give up. When I almost give up, I remember them saying that, and I promise that I’ll never give up!” It was so cute.

One morning this week, we were walking to a part of our area a bit far away. A “moto” stopped and the young woman introduced herself and said, “I have been inactive for years, and I need you to visit me. I am struggling … when can you meet with me?” It was a cry for help. I am so grateful that we were in the right place at the right time. She came back to church on Sunday, and we are working to help her get back on the path of happiness through living and applying the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When we were at the hospital, we started talking to another woman hooked up on an IV. Her name was Maria Jesus, and she was suffering. She had “bleeding” problems for months straight. I remembered the story of Jesus with the woman of “the blood issue”, and how she reached out to him to be healed! We shared this story with her, prayed with her and bore our testimonies and tried to comfort her. We talked to her for hours, sharing our blankets and our life stories. When we were leaving, it was sad to leave her there, but she said, “wow, who would have known that we would have met here; that I would make my first American friend in a hospital in Campo Maior, Brazil?” She was cute and we got her address. It was definitely inspired that we met her, and maybe Heavenly Father even let me get as sick as a dog, just to be able to help Maria Jesus a little through this trial and brighten her day. I know I felt better as I looked for ways to serve her. I have learned that when we give we always gain.

I know that when I am helping others, Heavenly Father will bless me to overcome any trial and tribulation that I may have while I am here on this earth. It is my responsibility to listen to the Spirit, be at the right place at the right time and always be willing to “turn out” when the natural man wants me to do the opposite. I am being so blessed here ... I love my mission because I am given the responsibility to serve and love random strangers every minute of every day. When I think about it, we all have that opportunity every day of our lives.

Love you all!

Sister Vance

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Hardest Thing I've Ever Loved To Do

Hello Everyone,

Last week we were warned about a crazy, one-legged lady with AIDS on the loose with her blood in a syringe, running wild in the streets injecting her blood into innocent victims. These types of situations are far too common here, and while they are just part of the crazy circumstances here in Brazil, I feel like I haven’t really lived without these experiences. But don’t worry family (or anyone), we have to be discriminating here and guided by the Spirit, so we will be safe but we make ourselves available to everyone and anyone seeking after the truth.

I keep writing that it’s 2016, and I am just way confused about that. It’s April 2018 already, and I don’t know if it’s a sign that I still haven’t realized so much time has passed and that I’m not at the beginning of my mission anymore. It’s been 1 year and 5 months, but I guess it still hasn’t hit me that I have been gone that long or that so much time has passed. We had zone conference this past week, and everyone asked me, “so, Sister Vance, what are your plans?” I responded, “plans for what?” haha, but was just kidding as I have definitely made some personal goals for when I return. The zone conference was just awesome. It was at President Melo’s house and it was so spiritual. It was one of the best ones yet, and that’s a good thing because it was my last! The closing hymn was “Called to Serve”, and of course I started getting a little choked up, and the mission president’s wife (Sister Melo) came by my side and she started to cry too! I love that woman so much! We are going to miss each other. Then I looked over at my companion (Sister Keuiele) and she was crying more than me, saying that she didn’t want me to go. It was cute, but I told her not to cry because we still have a lot of time together, and lots to do!

Speaking of Sister Keuiele, this week we were doing training together and talking about the people we teach. She then started to rant about how she was frustrated that not everyone will listen to us, pray, read the Book of Mormon, or go to church. She then started to cry and said, “if only they knew how much these things could change their lives for the better. I just want them to have what I have and know what I know. Why don’t they care about their own happiness? I would do anything to help them understand the truthfulness of the gospel.” I remember, many times, feeling the same way during my mission. As she was frustrated and crying, I felt the Spirit so strong. When she stopped, I smiled and said, “this right here is exactly what missionary work is all about. This is why we are here”. I just wanted to throw the training book out the window because the real desire to bring salvation and joy to others is everything you need to be a great missionary and a true disciple of Christ. The rest will come on its own.

The most important thing in missionary work is giving, and putting your whole heart into it, and loving each and every person in a way that you would do anything for them to feel peace and knowledge that we have through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that when this is our goal and purpose in the mission field, that at the end of it all, we will be the ones that come out of this the most converted and the most changed, but only if our focus is on others. It’s impossible to care about someone “too much”. Yes, as missionaries we are often disappointed or let down, but missionary work was never meant to be easy. If it’s easy, then you’re doing something wrong! It is filled with the lowest of lows because of the agency of others … but it is also filled with the highest of highs that make it all worth it in the end. There are moments when I say a silent prayer to Heavenly Father asking Him to help me never forget the complete joy that seems to completely fill me. Sometimes I try to take mental pictures when I start to see a physical change in the countenance of someone I love here. Only Heavenly Father truly knows how grateful I am for this opportunity. These experiences are so unique and precious to me … it is truly the hardest thing I’ve ever loved to do.

Love you all!

Sister Vance

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Everything Will Be Alright

Hello Family & Friends,

We’re here in Campo Maior – still completely lost, but at least it’s a little more interesting! There was a huge power outage in the whole northeast of Brazil that made it real fun to get home on Wednesday night, as the roads were completely dark (of course, all the other missionaries were warned except they forgot about us in Campo Maior, haha!). One day we were looking for the house of a member referral to visit, and instead of giving us an address, our directions were “ask the people around you where ‘baldy’ lives”. Haha, somehow we found the house. Only God knows how we were able to pull that off … seriously. I saw my first wild monkey! I screamed and Portuguese went out the window. I started screaming “monkey, monkey” and no one understood! Apparently, they always hang around the mango trees behind the church, and I was just so happy about that.

Miqueias was baptized on Saturday night! He was a referral from his cousin. When we started teaching him, and invited him to be baptized, he said, “I won’t be baptized if I have to give up coffee!” Haha, we talked with him and since that day he has not had any coffee and was baptized. He was a little timid and shy with us at the beginning, but once we got a handshake down, he has just become our best buddy. He even asked if one of us could baptize him, haha! But, as usual, the baptism “pool” that they have here didn’t fill up because the water wasn’t working, and so YET AGAIN my companion and I filled it up with gallon buckets. My companion (her first baptism) was a bit alarmed, but at this point in my mission, it has really become the norm. Anyway, his mom and family were there and it was very spiritual and special.

This past week we made visits with a young man that returned home from his mission a bit ago. He asked each of us how long we had been in the mission, and I asked him to guess. He said, “9 months”, and I said, “what, is my Portuguese really that bad?” Haha, he told me that it wasn’t about my Portuguese, but was shocked to learn that I am in my last few weeks, because of the energy and excitement that my companion and I have. I have learned a lot about how important it is to always be positive. Usually in some of our lessons it looks and sounds more like a “pep talk” to help so many people that are discouraged. Being happy and excited about life is so contagious, and I truly feel like I have every reason to be this way in life.

My companion says that the Portuguese words I use most often translate to “everything will be alright”. She now copies me and it is our exact response to everything, knowing that when we are doing what’s right and doing our part, everything will work out! I love missionary work!

Love you all!

Sister Vance

p.s. I am “raising” my “daughter the way I was raised by my trainer. Irmãs feet are hurting, so we offer foot messages after lunch! I love my trainer and will always remember what she taught me.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Working for Campo Maior Miracles

Hello Family & Friends,

Well these past days have been interesting! We arrived in Campo Maior and wouldn’t have found our house if it wasn’t for the help of members. The house has been closed for a couple weeks, so it was filthy. Ahhh, home sweet home, haha. Baby tarantulas were found … also more than once I was taking a shower with a cockroach and it started climbing up my leg! Aghh! But we got the house back in shape a bit. I love my companion, Sister Keuiele … she’s Brazilian and so awesome! From the first night, we joined our beds and sleep side by side; mostly because we both get a little creeped out living alone with sketchy neighbors. This past week I was in Teresina for three days for a training meeting and to pick up my new companion. It was so spiritual and fun. I was able to see 3 of my prior companions that were leaving to go home. The toughest goodbye was Sister Lucas; I love her so much – she is so amazing! I’m already missing her like crazy. We ate lunch in the president’s house and I haven’t been back there since the first day I got here. Wow, it was so strange. I remembered back to all the feelings I had on my first day. I was excited and anxious to get to work, but also stressed about the language. So much has changed, and it feels like I don’t even know that old version of me. That’s a good thing, haha! We ate Sister Melo’s famous cheesecake and I just felt so loved. We were all just sitting and chatting with President and Sister Melo. They brought out a huge mug of Brazilian style herbal tea, and we sat in a circle and were sharing it and passing it around and drinking out of the same straw, and it was the funniest thing ever. It was a great time, but also a weird feeling knowing that the next time I’ll be back will be for my last dinner with them on my last day!

When I was in Teresina, I got news that a man I talked to at the bus station a few months ago was baptized! Woohoo! Anyway, as fun as Teresina was, I was antsy to get back to our area because I felt like I didn’t have a purpose in my life … haha. I started that “pacing thing” again that I always do when I don’t have enough to do to keep me busy!

Honestly, the first few days in Campo Maior were very stressful. We didn’t even know where to start. I felt a huge responsibility on my shoulders. My new companion was even more lost than I, as it was her first few days in Brazil and all. So we just got to work, and I acted like I knew what I was doing, and asked every person we ran into for directions! It doesn’t help that road signs rarely exist here; lol, haha. But despite those struggles, we saw miracles. The members gave us a ton of new referrals of their friends and we are starting fresh with them. We had 5 investigators in church, and even more that members brought with them and we will start teaching this week!

The people of this branch are so valiant. They don’t even have a chapel but they use a rented out house, and visit people with us every day. This is the best area I could hope for to finish my mission. We are inviting everyone to be baptized and looking forward to it resulting in miracles!

I am really grateful for this week and all the new challenges and responsibilities. I love that Heavenly Father is always pushing and stretching me far away from my comfort zone. He is always asking for more, and I am working to give Him just that … my very best and more of me … more of my time, focus, energy and even more of my heart. We truly become converted only through, day by day, looking to do more and to become more. We can never take our foot off the accelerator! I love the opposition and new challenges that I face here every day. It makes me stronger, but also more humble and dependent on my Savior and my Heavenly Father.

I receive tender mercies every day here, with the inspiring and comforting influence of the Spirit. I received photos this week of a family that was less active when I visited them. The photos were of them at the temple! I couldn’t believe it and am so happy! I also learned this past week that my sweet dog back home, Sadie, passed away. I got the feeling that she passed away before I got the email from my mom. I was hoping she would hold on until I came home, but it will be okay. I love her so much and am so grateful for all the times she has comforted me in my life. She has been there for me, just to lay down next to me when I was sad or recovering from surgeries. I love that pup so much and will miss her a ton. I am thankful that Heavenly Father gives us loving influences throughout our lives to soften our hearts and bring joy and comfort to our days.

Love you all!

Sister Vance

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Nós Estamos Rezando Por Você

Hello Everyone,

I’m going to be a “mom”! Transfer calls came in, and I am going to train a new sister and I will start in a new area with her! We will be opening the area together, so stay tuned for many not-so-fun “getting completely lost” stories, haha, so pray that we will at least be able to find our house! But tudo bem, it’s going to be way fun. After going to Teresina for a trainers’ meeting, I will meet my new companion and then we will be off to our new area … Campo Maior. It’s about 2 hours from Teresina, and I will be returning to my beloved state of Piauí.

Our favorite interaction of the week was when a random man on the street asked us, “are you guys Mormons?” I said that we were and asked him if he was too. He said no, and I asked him, “why not?” He said that we were both beautiful and asked if Joseph Smith would let him marry us. We laughed awkwardly, and told him he was invited to visit our church anytime. He said he would visit if he could sit by us the whole time. We told him to visit church for God, not us, and said, “goodbye”.

This week my BFF Sister Lucas is going home! Last week in the district meeting we were asked to do a practice lesson. Sister Lucas and I were back at it. We taught about the Sabbath Day and Atonement, and we invited our “practice investigator” Sister Johnson to be baptized. It was so spiritual, and Sister Johnson got emotional, and it just flowed so perfectly and was so powerful. Sister Lucas and I still got it! I am so grateful to have practically spent my whole mission with her … she is so awesome. I am just looking for someone to give her a green card!

Saturday night we were walking through a park and we saw a young guy sitting on a bench. He was wearing a knee brace, so naturally I was curious. We started talking about surgeries, and I even whipped out my own battle wounds. We then started talking about the gospel. He had so many awesome questions, but also a lot of doubts. We then realized that we would have to start from the basics. We asked him if he believed in God, and he said that he is 50/50. Anyway, long story short, we taught him about prayer, the Holy Ghost and the Book of Mormon. We talked about how we can receive answers or confirmations that God exists. As we were getting up to leave, we asked him if we could do anything else to help, and he said very humbly, “pray for me”. The Spirit touched my heart. I asked him to open the Book of Mormon, and there he read what I wrote earlier … “Nós estamos rezando por você” (we are praying for you). Moments earlier, the Spirit had prompted me to write something I usually wouldn’t write in there. He looked up, touched, and said that “this is already a confirmation that God exists”. I felt so grateful in that moment for being an instrument in helping him feel that Heavenly Father really DOES exist, worries about him and loves him!

We have some investigators with a ton of potential, so I am excited to hear about their progress after I leave. I am sad to leave and I truly loved Sobral and the sisters here. It is the last time I will see a lot of these missionaries, as I am starting my last transfer. Sobral and the people there will always have a special place in my heart!

Love you all!

Sister Vance