Many Miracles This Week

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Hay bales — looks a lot like home (4,896 miles away)!

June 6, 2016 Matosinhos, Portugal

Hi Family!!!!

It’s always great to be able to write to you guys each week about my experiences on the mission. This next Monday will probably be the last time I’ll get to email because of the activities we will be doing at the mission home on the 20th. So, if you have any more questions, make sure you send them to me THIS WEEK 🙂

This week was just filled with little miracles.

On Saturday, I was doing a division with a new Elder in our district from Lisbon named Elder C. He’s one of my favorite Elders – humble, always happy, and hard-working. The first miracle was when we went to visit a man named A_, who has come to church many times and is simply amazing, but I’ve never been able to teach him because of schedule conflicts. We went up to his apartment building, from which a man was leaving. We asked him if he knew if A_ was at home and he looked a little confused and told us that A_ actually lived in the apartment building right next to the one we were at. I had been ringing the wrong door this whole time. So, we went over to the correct apartment building, rang the doorbell and we were able to go up and talk to A_. He had to leave, but we talked to him a little bit in the doorway. He said something that made me want to cry. We asked him a little about his life and he explained how he adored soccer. Even when he was just a small child in Guinea Bissau, he would play soccer every day, and he was really good. He decided to drop out of school to be able to devote more time to practicing the sport. He was basically addicted. He continued to play soccer and put his whole life at risk because of it. But then he said that the only thing that could be more important to him than soccer and make him decide to start a family and get his life in line is JESUS CHRIST. I felt very humbled to see a man who has so much love for the Savior. I thought to myself about all of the things that I sometimes put before the Savior. The mission is 2 years where we learn to get our priorities straight. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33). I realize that this promise is a true one. Just TRY it! When we put God first and try to do His will, our will becomes more and more like God’s will. It was truly a miracle to be able to find A_’s house and learn this little lesson about priorities.

Later that day, I felt we should check on a kid I had only met once like 2 months ago. We hadn’t originally planned to check on him, but I felt like we should and he was actually in the house and we were able to teach him a little about the restoration. It was really cool talking to him.

Then we taught our Catholic Pastor friend named Ao_, with the Bishop. Ao_ is a practicing pastor who has known the Elders for about 5 years, but had left the country for a while and then talked to me and Elder S in the road. He’s incredible. The last lesson we had with him, which was also our first, he said that one of the things he didn’t like about our church is that you can’t know “everything” before baptism, being that only members are allowed to enter the temple. He felt that being baptized into the church would be like entering into a contract without reading all of the fine print, and he wanted to know why. Anyway, we started off the lesson by reading Ether 12:6 with him which talks about how you can only receive a witness after the trial of your faith. He read very intently. Then the lesson took an unanticipated turn. The Bishop started talking and spoke pretty much the whole rest of the lesson. Normally, okay, pretty much always, when a member starts talking too much, the lesson is pretty much a fluke. But this time it was incredible. The Bishop talked about many things. He said to Ao_ that he wasn’t just a normal investigator, so he wouldn’t treat him as one.
He talked to him as person who was at his own spiritual level. The spirit was ridiculous; we all felt it. Ao_ explained that he didn’t have a strong knowledge about whether or not we really lived with God before this life. He only knew what the Catholic Church believed about it and what the Bible teaches. The Bishop quoted the scripture from the first chapter of Jeremiah when the Lord tells Jeremiah that He knew him before this life and before this life he was called to be a prophet. Then we stepped in, reminding him about what he had been taught about the Plan of Salvation; we told him the basic things: “God is your Heavenly Father. He loves you. He knew you before you came to earth. You had a name given to you by Him, Ao_, God talked to you before you came to earth telling you it would be hard, that you would have difficulties, but if you trusted in Him and kept his commandments, you would be able to return to Him someday.” Simple truths, taught in a personal way to people, make a difference.

The Bishop continued by testifying of the truthfulness of this simple plan and we all started crying. Ao_, the Catholic Priest, then told us how he felt a “warmness” in his chest as we conversed. Wow. What greater manifestation of the Spirit can you have!!? It was pretty amazing. The Bishop was also kind of blown away at the power that we all felt. Ao_ will convert. We are asking him to change EVERTHING about his life. His work, lifestyle, beliefs, literally everything, and be baptized into the church. He hasn’t accepted yet, but he will. If there was one thing I learned, it is that we often take for granted the simple truths restored in Christ’s church. We should cherish them and share them with those who thirst for them, like Ao_.

The ward members are just awesome here. When we need them, our awesome ward mission leader gets them to help us. He’s just so cool. We’re working on getting his listão rolling with him (the really big list of all the people he knows). That’ll really help the work go better in this área. (Btw, I’ll have to do this listão with you guys when I get home; you’ll think it’s pretty cool.)

Well, one more week gone. I love you all and I will talk to ya’ll for the last time next p-day 🙂

Love,

Elder Zwahlen

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Hindsight is 20/20

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May 30, 2016

Hi mom and Dad!

Anyway, I don’t know if I’ve already told you guys about a guy named FL. So, here’s how we met him: We were passing a potential investigator who seemed really cool, but every time we passed she would tell us to come by another day. Well, this time we knocked on her door and a man opened the door. We didn’t know who he was, but he ended up being this lady’s ex-husband. He was tending their son while the mom was working. We started talking a little to him and it turns out that he was a chef! We talked for quite a while about how to make various types of food, including how to cook rabbit (which is a some-what common specialty here.) He explained to us how to make it, more or less, and then we said goodbye and went on our way. I had been waiting for Elder S_ to ask if we could talk to him another day, and he had been expecting me to do it, so neither of us ended up talking about the gospel or making another appointment 😦

Well, we walked for a few minutes when we contacted someone and I went to introduce myself and I realized that I had lost my missionary name tag. We retraced our steps looking for it, all the way back to FL’s house. We stopped at his door and decided to ask him if he’d seen me with my name tag when we had talked earlier. He said that he wasn’t sure if I had had it either way. We then told him that we had realized that we probably weren’t skillful enough to make the rabbit by ourselves, so we asked him if we could buy a bunny and bring it to him to cook. He accepted. His house didn’t have a working stove, so we later told him that we’d love to talk to him even without cooking the rabbit. He let us come over this week and we taught him about the Restoration. He told us that he was virtually atheist and that he had lost his faith over the years. He loves to read and explained that he has trouble having blind faith. We showed him the Book of Mormon and I asked him if he knew what it was. He obviously didn’t, so he said he didn’t know. I told him that this was his key to find out for himself that our message was true. He didn’t have to have blind faith, but could truly read, study, ponder, and then pray, and he could discover the truth. He just LOVED that idea and promised to read. Now, back to the lost name tag: we did not find the name tag on the ground. Actually, I had left it back at the house, but I hadn’t realized it was missing until after we had talked with FL. If I had not left my name tag at the house, we would not have gone back past FL’s house and probably would have never talked to him again. Truly, God works in mysterious ways – like missing name tags. It was just a little miracle, but it means a lot to me.

Hind-Sight is 20/20
We also had a kind of funny experience this week while waiting for a bus. We were with the other 4 missionaries in our district and we were at the bus stop when a man just randomly showed up and asks in English if we had a Bible with us. He was very courageous, actually, to contact a group of 6 Mormon missionaries. Most people flee from us, haha! Anyway, he starts out reading a couple of scriptures about keeping God’s commandments and that kind of stuff. I knew he was a 7th-day Adventist before he even opened Exodus 20. But he told us he had been baptized a long time before in our church, and had also been baptized in other churches. I thought, “That’s cool” at the time, but I also felt kind of annoyed that he was trying to preach to us. So, we tried to convince him that we do keep the Sabbath Day holy and that the law had been fulfilled and all kinds of things. I’m not gonna lie, it didn’t go super well. We asked him why he had come to talk to us and he said he wanted to know why we didn’t keep the Sabbath Day holy. The conversation ended when we all had to get on the bus and go to Stake Conference. We did end up leaving a Book of Mormon with the man, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the way the conversation had gone. I thought and prayed about how I should have acted and spoken, instead of how I did act and speak. The answer I got was LOVE. When he explained that he had been baptized in our church before, I should have rejoiced with him, slapped him on the back and shook his hand, telling him how awesome it was that he had decided to be a member in our church. Certainly, he would have said that he had since changed religions, but I should have told him that it didn’t matter, we were still brothers in God, and that God wants us to respect everyone’s ideas and opinions and decisions. I should have showed that I loved him and NOT that I was right and he was wrong. Hind-sight is 20/20. For this reason the Savior taught that there are only 2 great commandments:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind… And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37, 39 & 40.

God wants us to love those that have different opinions than ours, not to show them how we are right and they are wrong. I’m convinced more people convert to the church because they see the sincerity and love of the missionaries and members, than because they are shown a scripture that convinces them of the error of their ways. My mission president teaches frequently that if we are to be successful, we need to BE the MESSAGE. We need to be “Living epistles” to all those we talk with. To repeat the phrase: “Hind-sight is 20/20.” I cannot relive the moment with that man, but I can promise to live my message from now on. I want everyone that I talk to to feel God’s love for them through me. That’s what I learned this week.

Go and LOVE everyone!!!

Love,

Elder Zwahlen

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No Effort is Wasted

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May 23, 2016 – Matosinhos, Portugal

Hi Mom and Dad!

I learned a really cool lesson this week: that truly no effort is wasted. Elder M and I were walking across a bridge to get back home for lunch when a young man ran up from behind us and stopped to talk. He said he needed some help. At first I was honestly a little skeptical (normally when people want help, that’s code for money, a type of help that the church cannot give.) Anyway, he started talking about some of the situations with him and his mom, and we asked him how he knew the Elders. He said he knew them from back in Figueira da Foz, my first area! I told him that I had served there, and he responded that he thought it was me he knew from Figueira, or someone that looked a lot like me. I just laughed and told him, “maybe,” because if I had ever taught him I thought I would have remembered him for sure. Then he explained that he had been down there on holidays with his mother and that he lived here in Matosinhos. As he talked, “my eyes were opened” in a sense and I remembered a division, more than 6 months ago that I had done in Figueira as district leader when we contacted this young man and his mother. I remembered the moment like it was yesterday. He and his mom were so cool and so open! Then they told us they were from up in Porto. On the division, we got their information and we sent the reference on. I said, “B_, it was me that contacted you! I remember you now!” And I gave him a hug right there. Wow. No effort is wasted. God willing, we’ll be able to get in contact with him and his mother this week and teach them the gospel. They’re sooooo cool!

We also did an awesome proselyting activity with some of the ward members this week. The ward has been doing an expo about the Book of Mormon (idk if I already mentioned it) during an annual festival called “Senhor de Matosinhos.” There are tons of people in the street next to the chapel and the ward created a giant Book of Mormon and a giant bible which we put outside. Then we and some of the members would stop people, tell them we were doing the expo and ask them if they would like to see it. Those whom we brought in, mostly teenagers and young adults, came up to the chapel and were greeted by some young sisters in the ward who were the guides. They brought them through the chapel to each of the posters of the “Heroes from the Book of Mormon” and there was even a decorated room showing the First Vision. At the end of the tour, the people who entered were offered a Book of Mormon to take with them. Although it was tiring and kind of frustrating work, it was a great way to get the members excited about missionary work, and to get people familiar with the chapel. This ward in Matosinhos is THE BEST!

Guess who came to visit our mission this week?! ELDER DAVID A. BEDNAR! We had a special devotional with him for all the missionaries in the mission. It was really spectacular. To see an apostle of God is a privilege, to shake his hand is inspiring, and to learn from him is a blessing. The most memorable thing I learned was that you learn more on your feet striving to do what’s right, than on your knees praying for the Lord’s help. Also Elder Bednar simply said, “You just have to be good, not perfect,” and follow the gospel. I was so blessed to be able to hear him speak to us, and learn so many new things from him. But, he explained as he always does, that learning comes through the spirit, and that learning by the spirit is just as important as teaching by the spirit.

We’ve been knocking quite a few doors out in the boonies, in a place called “Cabo do mundo.” We found some potential people there that we’re going to try and teach this week.

I love the mission. It’s hard; so hard, but not too hard. My new greenie reminded me this week that “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

Love,

Elder Zwahlen

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A New Companion & Tender Mercies from The Lod

May 16, 2016 Matosinhos

Mom and Dad,

This is my 6th time training a new missionary. But even though I’ve done it a few times before, it’s still a big stretch for me. But the best part about this one (Elder M) is that I told him I only had a little over a year in the mission, so he has absolutely no idea that I’m in my last transfer. There’s already been a few “close calls” but I’m going to do the best I can to keep it a secret, hahahaha! It’s also really good for me because I often times forget it as well! (It’s better to concentrate on working hard, than to think about coming home).

My spiritual thought from the week is something that a Brother said while giving the lesson during priesthood. The lesson was on the importance of reading and studying the scriptures. The brother is a convert of only three years and is simply incredible. He told us his story about how he was kind of a rebel during his youth and was out of the house, working, at age 15. By the time he was 20 he was a very thoughtful young man and he came to realize an interesting phenomenon regarding the Bible. He realized that the Bible, unlike many other teachings or works, remained constant. Many sciences, for example, such as medicine, engineering, science, technology have changed infinitely over the past 2,000 years, whereas the Bible, though debatable in its origin and truthfulness, has stayed relatively the same, as a testimony of the Savior and his ministry. The theories and sciences of 2,000 years ago have been replaced and are treated as naught, because of such advances in their fields. This Brother, at age 20, realized this and began his own search to find out how this could be and why. He was in his late 30’s when he was introduced to the gospel and after reading the Book of Mormon gained a testimony of the restoration. So cool! Now he is our ward mission leader and though he is super busy, he still finds time to help us go forward in the work.

So, Elder M and I are working really hard trying to find new people to teach. The very first person we stopped to talk with ended up being a JW 😉 Elder M grew up in Washington D.C. and then moved to Utah when he was 12. His family are all members and his Dad served a mission. He went to a semester of college at BYU before the mission and was a music major. He plays the saxophone super well, enjoys singing and loves any kind of jazz. He also has a really strong desire to be obedient and to learn to speak Portuguese quickly. He’s always pushing for us to be better by saying, “Obedience brings many blessings; exact obedience brings miracles.” We’ve already seen tons of little miracles this week. Elder M was actually a little down this week about not being able to communicate with people very well and we were out proselyting when a car pulls up and a family starts talking English to us. We talked a little and then they invited us into their house. The wife was baptized many, many years ago and used to come to church here. She’s actually Canadian and teaches English here. Her husband is Portuguese and they have a 21 year-old son who also speaks perfect English as well. He knew many, many Elders who had passed through here. We had a great little chat with the family. It was awesome for Elder M to experience a little missionary experience in a language in which he could participate and understand what people were saying. It was just a little tender mercy from the Lord, as they call it.

Sorry I’m sending my big email in little emails. We do email in this internet café and for whatever reason, when the message gets longer there starts to be a significant lag in the typing, which I find unbearably annoying, so I have to refresh it by sending my email in small chunks. Anyway, I haven’t sent many photos this last transfer because here in the “ghetto” internet café we can’t send photos….. We have to go to the chapel to send those and the computer has a virus of some sort and it scares me. Also, I have to fight for time on it when there are 5 other missionaries that all want to send pictures.

This week we taught a lesson to C_ and her 19 year-old son, solely on the importance of families. We used the Proclamation to the World and I showed them our family picture from the temple sealing. We told them that we want to treat them like a family by getting to know her husband. We also had there a young adult girl who had also served a mission named D. She testified of how wonderful it is to have parents and family in the church. C_ promised that she would talk to her husband this week, so we will pray that he will accept our invitation to have a family night in their house or something of that nature. We hope everything goes well with it this week.

Dad,

As far as Portuguese being like Spanish, it’s a LOT like Spanish. I can read from the Spanish Book of Mormon and understand pretty much everything. I can’t speak very much Spanish, but they are fundamentally very similar. I actually would like to teach myself how to speak Spanish when I get home, being that Spanish is much more useful in the states than Portuguese, unfortunately 😥 Anyway, we’ll see. Good work with your Japanese reading! I never want to lose my Portuguese.

Well, that’s about it for this week. Thanks so much for everything Mom and Dad.

Love you tons!

Elder Zwahlen

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Testifying of the Book of Mormon

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May 9, 2016 Matosinhos

Hey Mom and Dad!

It was wonderful to Skype you guys yesterday! I hope Mom had a wonderful mother’s day and that all of the kids called in. Did you get some good chocolate from the ward or from dad? Time during the Skype call passed so fast!!!

This week was honestly just more of the same. Right after the Skype call, Elder P and I went on a mini division to teach a Brazilian guy named W_. Elder S had taught him, but we had never successfully marked any appointment with him since I’ve been here. So, since neither Elder P nor I had taught him before, we asked him a lot of questions about what he believed and what he had learned from the missionaries. He ended up teaching us pretty much all of the Plan of Salvation, most of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then told us the whole Joseph Smith story and ended by saying that he didn’t believe the Book of Mormon could be true. He already knows sooooo much! So, we spent the rest of lesson explaining and testifying about the Book of Mormon. We had a conversation about how we know something is true, like the Bible, for example. In the church, we focus a lot on having a testimony through the Spirit. That’s one part of it. The other, as we discussed with W_, is understanding the history, the evidence, the “how” to it all. He’s said that the Book of Mormon can’t be proved true, because we don’t have the original manuscripts, or plates. I asked him where the original manuscripts of the bible were; nobody really knows. The Bible was copied by hand through generations, paper to paper. Some old manuscripts do exist, but even those are just copies of copies. The thing is, I feel that to have a really strong testimony of the Book of Mormon, a person must understand some of the history and the background, but testimony comes from reading the book, pondering about it while really wanting to know if it’s true, and then praying and expecting with faith an answer from God. That is how one can gain a testimony.

Recently, I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon A LOT, because I want to finish it in Portuguese before the end of my mission and I’m slightly behind schedule, haha. I explained to W_ with more excitement and assurity than I think I ever have before, that the Book of Mormon is true. I told him the story of Lehi’s family, how they left, and how Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon, just as historical facts confirm. I told him how they lived in America, created great civilizations, were visited by the Savior, and were witnesses of his post-resurrection ministry. I felt that because I have been reading the Book of Mormon more, my desire to share its message has increased.

We marked for him 3 Nephi 8 and one more because he really likes to read. Hopefully, he’ll start reading again and will pray sincerely to gain a testimony. W_ is also a programmer, which is possibly something I might want to do, so we talked TONS about that too.

Elder Zwahlen

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Great Miracles & Great Disappointments

May 2, 2016 Matosinhos, Portugal

Hey!

How is everyone? Last week, I didn’t have time to do email because we had a giant soccer and BBQ activity and right after that the sisters had a baptism for their investigator. It all went well.

So, this was the news for last week: the Ward Secretary told us he wanted to introduce us to his new friend who fixes household appliances. Elder S_ and I both really enjoy fixing things and seeing how things work, so we made friends with him really fast. He accepted our invitation to let us come back and teach him in his shop, so we came back the next day and started teaching him. He turned out to be sooooo elect! He doesn’t drink alcohol, coffee, or black tea, nor smoke or use drugs, NADA! Here that is REALLY rare, especially for men. Anyway, we invited him to be baptized in the first lesson and he accepted. We marked him for baptism on the 1st of May, which was in a week and a half! We kept working with him and taught him everything in just over a week – he came to church with the member, and he passed the interview on Saturday. Everything went perfect before the baptism.

During my mission, I have never had an “easy baptism.” Every one of them has been a huge struggle. This one, I thought, was going to be my first miracle baptism that would go smoothly without any problems. Well, I was completely wrong. This one was no different. Ok, I won’t lie, he actually didn’t get baptized…. yet haha! So, we had the baptismal font full, all the programs made, and everything was going great until the investigator didn’t show up. He sent us a message saying his wife wouldn’t let him get baptized. We ended up going to his house with the member, but in the end it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess. His wife was literally holding him hostage. We think his wife even threatened to kick him out of the house if he got baptized. (Great…) He didn’t end up leaving the house, so we had gone there in vain. He felt really bad and we talked to him later, but man, what a let-down! I started wondering why it couldn’t have just gone smoothly like it should have!? I’m not sure if this is used everywhere, but here in the mission we use the phrase “The law of opposition.” The week before an investigator’s baptism is like the worst week for the missionaries and for the investigator. Satan ALWAYS does whatever he can to frustrate God’s plan for His children. It’s got to be difficult. We learn so much more during difficult circumstances than in easy ones. I realized that if I teach about Christ’s enabling power, and how this life is a test, and how God will never tempt us above that which we are able to bear, then I have to believe it too. After church, I had some mixed feelings as I looked at the filled font with no J_ dressed in white to get baptized in it…. I knew that God wants J_ to get baptized in that font, so we’re not going to give up on him. We’re going to do everything we can in order to get him baptized this weekend.

Elder Zwahlen

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Learning through Difficulties & Trials

May 2, 2016 Matosinhos, Portugal

Hey!

How is everyone? Last week, I didn’t have time to do email because we had a giant soccer and BBQ activity and right after that, the sisters had a baptism for their investigator. It all went well.

So, this was the news for last week: the Ward Secretary told us he wanted to introduce us to his new friend who fixes household appliances. Elder S_ and I both really enjoy fixing things and seeing how things work, so we made friends with him really fast. He accepted our invitation to let us come back and teach him in his shop, so we came back the next day and started teaching him. He turned out to be sooooo elect! He doesn’t drink alcohol, coffee, or black tea, nor smoke or use drugs, NADA! Here that is REALLY rare, especially for men. Anyway, we invited him to be baptized in the first lesson and he accepted. We marked him for baptism on the 1st of May, which was in a week and a half! We kept working with him and taught him everything in just over a week – he came to church with the member, and he passed the interview on Saturday. Everything went perfect before the baptism.

During my mission, I have never had an “easy baptism.” Every one of them has been a huge struggle. This one, I thought, was going to be my first miracle baptism that would go smoothly without any problems. Well, I was completely wrong. This one was no different. Ok, I won’t lie, he actually didn’t get baptized…. yet, haha! So, we had the baptismal font full, all the programs made, and everything was going great until the investigator didn’t show up. He sent us a message saying his wife wouldn’t let him get baptized. We ended up going to his house with the member, but in the end it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess. His wife was literally holding him hostage. We think his wife even threatened to kick him out of the house if he got baptized. (Great…) He didn’t end up leaving the house, so we had gone there in vain. He felt really bad and we talked to him later, but man, what a let-down!

I started wondering why it couldn’t have just gone smoothly like it should have!? I’m not sure if this is used everywhere, but here in the mission we use the phrase “The law of opposition.” The week before an investigator’s baptism is like the worst week for the missionaries and for the investigator. Satan ALWAYS does whatever he can to frustrate God’s plan for His children. It’s got to be difficult. We learn so much more during difficult circumstances than in easy ones. I realized that if I teach about Christ’s enabling power, and how this life is a test, and how God will never tempt us above that which we are able to bear, then I have to believe it too. After church, I had some mixed feelings as I looked at the filled font with no J_ dressed in white to get baptized in it…. I knew that God wants J_ to get baptized in that font, so we’re not going to give up on him. We’re going to do everything we can in order to help him get baptized this weekend.

Elder Zwahlen

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