I am currently in a ´city´ called São Thomé das Letras. We are passing here for our p-day festivities. It´s a fun tourist city that sits on top of a mountain. If I were you, I would look up some photos of the place because it really is a good-looking place. Unfortunately, the sad thing about today is that as we were taking pictures, someone went to delete a bad photo on my camera and they wiped it clean. That´s a very sad prospect and it is weighing very heavily in my mind since I don´t have any back-up for those photos, but I am trying to have an eternal perspective. I will probably ask some missionaries to share their photos of the last 4 months with me. If anyone knows some technical trick for recovering accidentally deleted photos, the advice is much appreciated.
Anyway, last Monday was a wild one. After emails, we went to a churrasco with the youth at the Young Men and Young Women Presidents´ house. That´s right, it´s this great couple in the branch that take care of all the youth here. They´re great! Anyway, that was a lot of fun. Then someone started playing music. That was a bad idea. Well, one thing led to another, and before you know it, I was showing people how to do the Cotton Eye Joe. They were blown away by the gringo-ness of it all. That night we traveled to another area in the zone (Lavras) to go on exchanges with the Elders there. The next day was alright. There wasn´t anything too exciting. There was an investigator of theirs that we visited who fell in love completely with me and my American accent. She just had to add me on Facebook. Luckily I was only passing through the city.
The rest of the week went by in a world wind. A large part of the week I was dwelling on the principle of conversion. It was a very depressing moments when were reviewing the the Area Book and saw all of the recent converts´ records from the past 20 years. I can honestly say that there wasn´t one of their names that I recognized. There wasn´t one of them who I had seen at church. There wasn´t one who had stayed strong in the church to tell me the story of their conversion. This is probably the hardest part of being a missionary. I know, as in I am familiar with, the kind of effort, faith, and prayer that it takes to find, teach, and baptize one person. It is a great effort. Still, it does not hold a candle to the great struggle wrought by the Savior as he bowed down in humble submission to pay the price of mortality. I imagined all of the missionaries who had pled to Heavenly Father to be led to the ´one´, to have the power and inspiration to teach the ´one´, and have the purity of heart to baptize the ´one´ with water and spirit. How is it that such a heavy price could be so quickly swept under the rug of social pressures and lingering addictions and laziness? I hate to think that all of my efforts could be simply put to the side. I was feeling very weighed down one day when I felt like I should read a few things. Preach My Gospel tells us that no effort is wasted. He says that all of our efforts to bring others to Christ will have an eternal impact on others and may be the key to an eventual conversion to the truth. What we have to do is declare the message of the Restoration to all people and all nations. The more people we teach, the greater our success will be. We must focus on helping the greatest number of people possible. We will feel sad when people don´t want to accept our invitations, especially when they have received spiritual witnesses of the truth, but we must never become discouraged. We must have faith and believe in things that are not seen but true. It is true that we are servants of the Master and we are proclaiming the greatest message known. Just because we do not see results immediately does not mean that the work is not true or that the work is somehow not as powerful as we were told or have experienced. We must be converted first. Every time we reject temptation, we will become more enabled by the Atonement of Christ and will become more converted to a divine lifestyle instead of the carnal nature.
In these last days, we will need the power of God to combat the forces of evil. Nephi saw this power descend upon God´s covenant people. He said:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory. (1 Nephi 14:14)
We must live by covenants. As we do so, we will be changed. We will be armed with righteousness to combat the forces around us, ´for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.´ (Ephesians 6:12)
I love you all. I am so grateful for the example that my parents have shown to me of conversion and personal integrity. Mom and Dad, you have shown to me that who we are is what we do when we think no one is looking. You have shown to me that if we are to be changed, we must sacrifice our personal wills and desires. I pray daily that I can continue to change and become completely converted. I pray that these people I am teaching may do the same. If they don´t, they will not have the power to stay firm when the rain, winds, and the mighty hail beat upon them in days to come. I know what it is like to be beaten by physical rain, winds, and hail. Let us run to the House of the Lord so that we can find personal refuge from these furious forces.
I love you all. I lied last week. I will be able to Skype with you here in a couple more weeks. Não vejo a hora. Stay strong, stick the course, keep a goin´, weary not, sayonara, and all those other goodbyes.
With much love, Elder Parker Ayer