Tuesday, July 17, 2012

July 17, 2012

A chilly week here in Southern Brazil. Elder Thomazinho is my new companion. He is from Riberão Preto, in the state of São Paulo. He is 24 years old and is adjusting to life on the mission great. He has a strong desire to be obedient and learn more about the Gospel while helping others too. We are getting along great. He worked as a DJ before coming to the mission for a while. Also in a factory making dental parts. He was baptized with 10 years of age and was sealed in the temple with his family. After being inactive for 10 years he came back to church 8 months ago and is now serving the Lord full time. It is nice having a Brasilian around all the time to help with the language.
The lady in the picture is Tania. She was waiting for a bus a while back and we stopped to converse with her. We invited her to our English class. Come to find out she is already a member of the church. She was baptized 40 years ago. After marrying a Catholic man she decided to step away from the church. She came to our English class the last 3 weeks and on Saturday she said she would leaving for Germany to visit her son there and wouldn´t return for a couple months. (hence the present - which was a box of chocolates). Before she left on Saturday, she said the morning before finding us she was praying for a way to learn English again and we were the first people she saw after leaving her apartment. She also mentioned that when she returns from Germany, she always wants to return to activity in the church as she felt a strong spirit of love around us and in the chapel. She made sure to send a thank you to my parents for raising me and giving me the opportunities to bless her life. She was very sweet and a tender mercy from the Lord to get to know.
The other picture is of our new district. 
The castle in the photo is in the city of Flores da Cunha. This city is in our area, but is 30 minutes by bus. We don´t work there, but the bishop lives there. We went there for Pday last week for a couple hours. A man built this castle, along with a garage for 20 cars, a chapel behind, a huge garden, etc. It covers a city block. After, a different man built a house above his on the hill, and the people said house was more beautiful. After, the first man decided to build an apartment complex in front of the house of the other man, blocking the view. The next decision was for the second man to purchase an entire city block on top of the hill to build a castle even bigger which is now in construction... Pride...
I am very grateful for the convesion I have to the Gospel and the peace which comes from knowing the truths we have in the Church. Meeting so many people that could benefit from the message of the Restoration is an interesting thing. Most simply don´t want to slow down the pace of their life to change, even knowing the change would bring all the blessings and feeling they are searching for. I pray to be humble and recognize the whisperings of the Spirit tell me where to go to be an instrument for the Lord. Thanks to all for the continued love, support and prayers on my behalf.
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 9, 2012

I am not being transfered...finally. I am getting a new companion, however and will be his first companion in the field. I am excited to get to know another Elder and hope to have the influence that the Lord wants me to have on him as he starts his service. I will find out tomorrow who he is.
Meeting the new President was incredible. I really love him and his wife already. As soon as they entered the chapel, while we were singing the song ``Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel´´, I received a very sweet confirmation from the Holy Ghost that they are really who the Lord wants to lead this mission. I had prayed for the ability to recognize the Lord´s hand in the change, and it was made manifest right off the bat. I was able to chat with Sister Wright for a little while as we waited to be interviewed by President Wright. They are full of love and expressed great desires to help us in any way. They have 12 living children, 13 in total. 11 children served missions. He served here in Southern Brasil 40 years ago and is able to speak pretty well already. She studied once a week for a few months and certainly the Lord has already blessed her with being able to understand and speak. She will pick up the language quickly I feel. They both like music, he graduated from Utah in music theory and she taught children for years about music. That being said, he was a plumber for his working life. But maybe they will incorporate a little more music into the mission. I am excited to see how the mission changes.
This last week had many faith building experiences, finding many people after praying for guidance from the Lord. He undoubtedly hears our prayers and guides us in our paths.
As I gave a few interviews this last week to some investigators of the other areas, I was touched by the fact that all said the hardest commandment to keep would be the law of chastity. I kept thinking to myself of the powerful attack Satan has put on the family and importance of purity in general. I look at all the commandments as opportunities for blessings, as protection, and find myself ever more grateful for the fact that we have a modern prophet to reveal the complete will of God for us in these days. I really enjoy teaching the plan of salvation to people, and I am touched by the reaction of them. In John 14:26 we read that the Holy Ghost will bring all things to rememberance. That seems to be exactly what happens when they listen to the details of where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going afterwards. Just about every person says the plan makes perfect sense and that it is nothing new for them to hear. In reality, it is not new, as we all committed to the plan long before our birth here. It is a neat explanation and testimony for me to release one more way in which the Holy Ghost functions.
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano
pictures- the district that I am in. Rock house that was built in 1879 by the Luchesse family here in Caxias. Head of Christ, a statue on a hill overlooking the city.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

July 3, 2012

This last week was a busy one. We had our our baptisms on Saturday and I made some no bake cookies from a recipe I gained from Elder Keesling. Elder Richardson and I finished off the leftovers after everyone else had taken off... We had a number of investigators there at the baptismal service and all commented on the special spirit that was felt as a result of that special ordinance.
Tomorrow is our day to meet the new mission president. We will have a conference with another zone at 11 and after he will conduct interviews with everyone.
Congratulations Brooke on the wedding coming up on Saturday. Hope it goes great!
I included a picture of a lady named Alice. I was on a division in a different area two a couple weeks ago and met her that day. The Elders there had just begun teaching her. After that day she continued to progress and was baptized on Saturday. When I went there last week to do the interview, she shared an experience she had. Prior to the first encounter we had, the night before, she shared that she had a vision of an angel in her kitchen and that angel said (translating to english) be calm, I am watching out / caring for you. She said it startled her. The next day we arrived to teach and she almost couldn´t believe what she saw because the ``angel´´ she saw was me... I didn´t know what to say to her in response other than I was very happy to get to know her and help her enter into the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. It provided a firm testimony of the infinite nature of God and the talents that he gives people. I don´t understand how those sorts of things happen, but obviously she has a gift of visions (as she related various other experiences as well during our conversation) and I was humbled to be used as an instrument in the Lord´s hands in that situation.
Today I spent time studying the importance of keeping the Sabbath Day holy. As with just about all missionaries I think, it is a constant battle with the adversary to help investigators arrive at church. I wanted to study more about the promises available and the importance of the day. We read in the Gospel of Mark that the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath Mark 2:27. In Preach My Gospel we have a promise from modern day prophets that those who keep this day holy will have more peace and joy in this life p.74. We read a promise in Isaiah that those who sanctify the sabbath with have a reward with the prophet Jacob - signifying eternal life Isaiah 58:13-14. Another promise in Leviticus that we will be blessed physically by always having sustenance and having posterity, spiritually by the peace we will feel, and above all, walking with the Lord and being called his people. I gained a deeper appreciation for the fact that we do have one day set apart for us by a loving Father in Heaven who really wants us to rest from temporal cares and focus on the areas of life which are really the most meaningful. I know that Sunday is truly a special day and as we approach taking the sacrament with the right frame of mind, we will receive the spiritual cleansing and strength to continue perservering on the right path and ultimately make it back to Heavenly Father.
I have a question and request for some insight as far as how you, (and maybe other people who read this as well) manage to not be spread too thin. I think often about the number of people we are teaching, and sometimes think that in trying to help so many, nobody really benefits in the end. I believe this can be applied to raising children and juggling work and other parts of life. If you could respond with some insight I will apply it to the areas I serve in and try to remember that necessity of caring for each individual person that I come across during my service.
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano

June 26, 2012

This is the last week with President Pavan. He and his wife are leaving on Saturday and President Wright will arrive to take over. We are going to have a conference to get to know him and his wife on the 4th of July. I am excited to see what sort of inspirations and experiences he will bring to help the Lord with His work. President Pavan was neat to be around and I felt a powerful Spirit from him and his wife during the one conference I had with him.
We are scheduled to have 3 baptisms this Saturday of three girls - Daniele (14), Caroline (12), Aline (11). The parents are waiting on their birth certificate papers to marry and when that occurs, they will be baptized as well. This family lives directly above us. They moved into the house in March and Elder Richardson has been teaching them the whole time. There are seven children in total which is a huge family here. Basically unheard of from my experience so far. Most families seem to have 2-3 children. We are teaching two young men, Robert (18) and Mateus (14). We were looking for a previous contact and encountered them. After a visit on Friday the 15th they arrived at church the 17th and loved it. On the 24th, Robert. who serves in the army here, worked a 24 hour shift from Saturday to Sunday and left work at 10AM. He went home to change clothes and showed up to church for sacrament meeting and brought his older brother as well. We have very high hopes for them and have set dates for baptism as well with the two younger brothers. We have many other couples that we are teaching. I would really love to help them get baptized and begin working towards a sealing in the temple to be able to attend in a year before my mission ends. Certainly not all the people we meet accept the feelings they receive from our visits. One man named Roberto said he feels so light and peaceful when we teach and especially when we introduced the Book of Mormon and taught about the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but that right now he is too ``prideful to give the attention necessary to learn more´´. We have high hopes for him, as now he knows how to pray and has a Book of Mormon to help with the challenges he enfronts.
I enjoy the chance we have every day to study personally and receive revelation while learning more about the doctrine of Christ. I studied more about covenants this week which made my mind reflect more on the word responsibility. I forgot to bring my notes with me, but I really love feeling the Holy Ghost teach me during our personal study time. Rather than give it the name personal study time, I have switched to personal revelation time. I try to treat the minutes in a consecrated manner, worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost and I do feel the guidance from Him.
We started an English class here and it appears that the number of participants will increase quickly. It has been sometime since the missionaries had a class and we took a picture of our fancy sign. By the quality of the sign, we probably didn´t need to write ``de graça´´ - for free.
With love and charity
Elder Graziano

June 19, 2012

What a quick week. I was in two different areas on wednesday and thursday last week and was able to perceive the difference in areas with missionaries who seek after obedience and those who don´t. It seems the air and attitude of not only the apartment, but the streets is different as well. I enjoy the privilege of having our agency in choosing the outcome of every situation we face. On Sunday, we had 11 investigators at church. What a sight. I gave a talk and to look and see various couples in the seats and some young men and young woman all progressing was incredible. The ward did a great job of incorporating everyone and helping them feel comfortable and understand the procedure of the meetings. It was a huge blessing from the Lord. When I arrived, I heard a lot about the lack help the members generally give the missionaries, but now am able to say that there are many willing to sacrifice and help us move this great work forward.
I was studying the word worthiness/worthy the other day and developed a couple thoughts. I first came up with a definition that one who is worthy is one who is deserving of the opportunity to progress. The obedience and level at which we desire the will of the Father in this life will guide to a level of glory. If that level is worthy of celestial glory, we are entitled to the blessings associated. D&C 88:22. D&C 130:20-21.
I don´t know if I mentioned it but I am the district leader here in this new area. It is the biggest district in the mission with 6 sets of missionaries. This is why I have been able to do these divisions with other Elders. Also, I was able to do some baptismal inteviews this last week which was a neat experience. Our district has 55 people with dates for baptism marked, some this week and many more the following two weeks. I enjoy being able to converse with these individuals who have accepted the gospel into their lives.
Bummer about Elder Peirce. I think the northern part of Brasil has more difficulties with sicknesses and things. This last week wasn´t very cold here. It rained plenty and that doesn´t help clothes dry when you are not at home to pull them off of the line. My thoughts are short this week, I am having trouble thinking in English right now. But I will say that I am very happy to be in this area and even more happy that every day I get to testify of the reality of a Savior and the Restauration of His perfect church in these latter days. I love you all and thank you for the support and prayers.
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano
The pictures are of Elder Feitoza in suit from Fortaleza, Elder De Jesus from Belem, and a staircase in which after I filmed a Rocky segment at the top. I will try to figure out how to send the video. If I can´t you will have to wait for a little while to see.

June 12, 2012

First of all, I must give a huge thank you to Julie Del Santo who sent a big package with lots of snacks. Just when food was hitting the low point for the week, I received a gift from above. How incredible of her. I initially thought it was a pretty big box for not much stuff, because she only listed four items - nuts, socks, shampoo, trail mix. Upon opening, I don´t know how she was able to stuff everything into one box. It will last for a while... Thank you so much. I also received a letter from the Linton´s in Arkansas which was a great surprise.
Congratulations Vince on graduating. Best of wishes on the Eagle Board of Review.
This week, we found a few different families this week to teach. I really am praying to be able to help them get baptized so that here in a year before I leave Brasil I would be able to go to the temple and witness them being sealed by the Holy Priesthood for time and eternity. It is always a pleasure to find people who are open to learning and willing to pray about what we teach. Many people in this area have been turned off to missionaries I think because of the negative that happen with other churches. Many churches mandate extreme sacrifices of income (75%), homes, cars, etc. As a result, we see the ugly side of people from time to time.
The dedication of the temple in Manaus was really special. On Saturday night we received permission to attend the cultural celebration. We were able to stay about an hour before we have to catch our bus to get in the apartment on time. The dancing and singing were really neat. On Sunday the dedication was very spiritual. I enjoyed arriving early and being able to look at pictures of various temples and hear the beautiful hymns in the background. I felt as though it was like arriving to the temple early to ponder. Certainly I will look forward to the next chance I get to go to the temple here in Porto Alegre. I took my journal and wrote about some of the special feelings I was having. I am yet to miss a day without writing at least a couple of words in my journal. It has been harder to keep us this transfer with extra responsibilities but I will continue to make that effort.
This last week had some chilly days, but no snow. I will be giving a talk in church on Sunday again. One of the things I continue to marvel at is the fact that whenever I read the Book of Mormon in portuguese during the morning, I am able to speak and understand better throughout the day. I know this comes from the promises of the prophets, that reading the Book of Mormon in the other language will help us more than any other tool. The days when I don´t have time to read in the morning, due to traveling or what not, I can really perceive the difference.
One insight I gained this week while reading scriptures and studying was in regards to pride. We read in James 4:6 that ``God resisteth the proud´´. However, we know that God loves all His children and desires their well being in general. As I thought about how He resists the proud, I felt that it doesn´t mean He resists the proud in the sense He turns His back on them. He resists the proud because to force them to change or repent would be breaking the eternal laws of agency. We read in the Book of Mormon over and over the necessity of having a broken heart and contrite spirit. If our heart is not broken, there is no room to allow God in and change us. To have a hard heart would be similar to a rock, impenetrable. I hope the Lord knows of my desires to be moldable and usable as an instrument for Him. I find joy in seeking revelation as to how I can live a more consecrated mission and life in general. I enjoy the process of taking mental notes as to how life will be after the mission and what sort of goals and things I will implement to stick close to the ``tree of life´´.    
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano
photos are of the area and with sweater I am with Elder Richardson and without is Elder Frost, on a division last week in the city of Bento Gonçalves.

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 5 2012

I am now serving in the area of Moreira César, in the city of Caxias do Sul. This is the city that Br. Kent Williams opened up 50+ years ago. I am excited to learn about the people he wrote about in his letter to Elder Stevens and I. I have heard that the Bishop´s wife is one of the children of the original family baptized, but haven´t been able to confirm yet. I will hopefully find out this week. We will not have church this weekend due to the dedication of the temple in Manaus. The ward here has some very strong members. It is a completely different situation than that in Vera Cruz. However, there has only been one stake in this city since the Church arrived. Our area hasn´t had a baptism in quite some time, but there looks to be some changes to that coming soon.
My companion is Elder Richardson from Mesa, AZ. He has been on his mission since January. I don´t know how we are surviving other than the blessing of the Lord in regards to the gift of tongues. I marvel that in the span of the day of the transfer, upon arriving here, I have been able to understand just about everything that the people say now. My companion does not have strong language skills right now, so at times I feel like I talk way too much, but there is not much we can change about that right now. He has a tender heart and a genuine desire to help people. I hope to be used as an instrument in the Lord´s hands in many ways in this area. I will get the opportunity to do some work in other areas this transfer with divisions and helping other companionships. I am excited for the growth experiences which I feel coming my way.
One of the things I enjoyed reading in the scriptures again this week was in 2 Nephi 3:8. To be considered great in the eyes of the Lord, we simply need to do His work and nothing else. Of course this doesn´t mean we have to serve a full time mission to be great in His eyes. As we approach each day with an attitude of not only discovering His will for the day, but doing His will for that day, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, we will find ourselves feeling great in His eyes. This feeling can´t be purchased or received through convincing ourselves we have done our part, but rather through the confirmations and peace only available from the Holy Ghost. What an advantage it is as members of the Church of Jesus Christ that we have the gift of the Holy Ghost as our constant companion to help us recognize if we are truly being viewed as great in the eyes of God in every minute.
Winter has come in the area. I hear that they have promised snow sometime this week in the area. We will see... Our house is like a freezer. The sun never touches it, so that creates extra incentive to get out and work. I wish my mind and fingers would work faster together to update you on more details. Please know of my dedication to the Savior, the work I have committed to do, and of my gratitude to know that the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His authority to perform all saving ordinances really happened and that today, there is again a prophet on the earth. My heart burns and eyes fill as I testify of these truths day after day and reflect on the love our Heavenly Father has for each one of us. 
With love and charity.
Elder Graziano
May 28 2012

This weekend was special with the baptism of Wesley and Nicholas. They both asked me to perform the ordinance, and it was very neat to be able to be a participant of the Priesthood in action. Then on Sunday, we confirmed them members of the Church and gave the gift of the Holy Ghost. Doing these ordinances in Portuguese is special and shows the universality of God´s authority. We had a neat gathering at the chapel, but it was a little bit less attended because the baptism had to happen in a different city (santa cruz) because we don´t have a baptismal font yet in Vera Cruz. I took pictures of the Branch President and wife (me in suit) and with the Elder´s Quorum President (on couch). The picture at the baptism with the lady is Aline and Nicholas and the other is Wesley. I also took pictures of the foundation of a house of a family we ate lunch at the other day. The last transfer, they were an answer to prayers as Elder Bryant had basically no food in the apartment. They called us and asked where we were at about 8:30 at night. They dropped two big home made loaves of bread and we ate a whole loaf in about 10 minutes. I was doing a division in Santa Cruz so it was nice to see them again.
Today, seeing as I am writing on Monday, means transfer day. And I am being transfered...again. I don´t know where yet. All I know is that I have to go to the bus station with all the rest of the missionaries being transfered and meet my new companion and find out the new area. I am bummed that I am not able to stay in Vera Cruz longer. I wanted to stay there for a number of months due to all the potential of the investigators, the incredible members that are there and other factors. I feel I know why the Lord has made this change, because I need to grow more, and quicker. I am very grateful for the growth that occurred in this area and hope to be an instrument for Him in the area to come as well. 
Elder Keesling and I had some great lessons this last week. More than anything, we have discussed not running faster than being capable. Physically, I am able to do anything I feel according to the mission standards. But I do feel that at times we have too many people to teach and in spreading too thin, we miss crucial opportunities to help facilitate the growth these people really need. There seems to be many parallels with relating this principle to life after the mission - with a family. Making sure the foundation is always strengthening before getting too top heavy with other commitments outside of the commitment to a spouse. My perspective of mission service continues to adapt to the absolute need of relating this time to life afterwards. I am grateful for the fact that the quest for finding joy in the journey is being won. I am able to reflect every day, in between rejections, people poking their head out the door and shutting it as though the plague were coming, tripping because of the cobblestone roads, brushing our teeth with the dust from the roads... and in the middle of the reflection, feel purely at peace with the surroundings and my relationship with our Savior. I continue to strive to focus everyday on improving. I feel so privileged to have been extended the opportunity to serve a mission. In all honesty, at times I feel selfish being one of the relatively few in the world with this unique opportunity to benefit from all the growth, relationships, experiences, ups and downs, and everything else that comes with a missionary nametag. All in all, I am more grateful for the knowledge I have of the Restoration and the plan of salvation everyday and look forward to exerting myself to be able to use the talents I have been given to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord.
This week I reflected multiple times on the scripture Doctrine and Covenants 18:10 - ``the worth of souls is great in the sight of God´´. Everytime a person appears confused at the message we present I try to sit back and put the Savior´s eyes in place of mine. Without fail, this brings tears to my eyes as I feel a glimpse of what our Heavenly Father is seeing in these people. It makes me yearn all the more to offer the happiness available and comfort knowing God has revealed His complete in these latter days through a prophet. I love you all and would be very ungrateful to not say thank you for all the prayers and thoughts on my behalf. Let me know what I can do better to help you all understand how much I am loving this experience.
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 15,2012

What a great privilege to talk to you guys on Sunday.  I was bummed Anthony and Jennifer weren´t there, but 40 minutes flew by. This last week continued to bring big blessings as a result of serving a mission. The zone conference was incredible and if every young man was invited to attend a zone conference for missionaries, I think that would be a great thing. The Spirit and teaching which occur there undoubtedly would inspire a young Priesthood holder to serve the Lord in this capacity.  One of the things that I took away in higher perspective was the fact that the person who needs to benefit the most from the mission is my personal self.  One of the Assistants gave a training on a Checklist by President McKay. He wrote 25 points to review with frequency on a mission to see what areas should be improved.  This Elder also related an experience of a missionary who chose to go home during his mission, posing the doubt that he would be happier ``in the world´´ than striving to keep the commandments of God. The comment was made that we really can see those people who are aligning themselves for eternal life and those who are not.  Those who are choosing the will of God and humility to find out what that will is, show the change that occurs in them through the way they live. I haven´t developed this thought more, but it is very true.  As children of God, we were all given that light of Christ to help us discern between good and bad, and the more we choose the good and excercise faith, the more we will desire to follow the example of our Redeemer.
One of my favorite experiences this week happened just yesterday, while teaching about the Restoration to a couple. The highlight of the lesson, generally, is the Spirit which testifies to the people during the account of Joseph Smith´s vision. As I told the story of what happened in that sacred grove, it almost appeared as though time stopped in the room and all the sounds of the refrigerator, dogs barking, etc. went on silent. This of course is no coincidence. The Holy Ghost is a testifier of truth, and has the power to drown out the physical world in order to allow us the ability of learning about spiritual things. One of the things that we are encouraged to do as missionaries is to teach the message of the Restoration of the Gospel to the members of our ward. If any of you haven´t heard the message from the missionaries, ask them to pay you a visit and teach this message. They will be appreciative for the opportunity to bear testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel.
I took a couple pictures of the sky which has had some very pretty and unique colors and clouds lately.  I don´t know if the pictures do justice for how great the scene was. 
With love and charity
Elder Graziano

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 8, 2012

Happy Mother´s Day on Sunday Mom, Jennifer and Grandma! I look forward to talking to you all.
Our weeks continue to improve. This last week we were able to see many people progress in their knowledge about the Savior as well as their desire to learn more. We are being blessed in many ways and Elder Keesling as I continue to get along well and work well together. We are teaching a young family Roberto and Fabiani who I really love visiting. They have a 3 year old daughter named Yasmin who is full of light. In church on Sunday, she jumped in my lap during the middle of the sacrament meeting which was funny. Since holding children is against the rules, I put her on the ground, and she turned around and gave me a big wet kiss right on the cheek. I haven´t decided if I am going to confess that or not... This family should be getting baptized as soon as they are able to marry. I would absolutely love to see it happen and in a year go to the temple with them while they are sealed for time and all eternity.
Elder Keesling and I generally start our lessons by singing a hymn to invite the Spirit and the practice is very effective. However, in one of our visits this week, we began singing and a parakeet walked out from behind my back on the arm of the sofa and decided to walk on my thigh and stop there. I fought through the urge to laugh, but the moment Elder Keesling saw it, he couldn´t continue singing. This occurred during the first verse of the song. I thought he was just trying to clear his throat, so I began the second, only to finish that verse completely alone. And they didn´t even kick us out after the solo... I decided to spare them from the third verse to let everyone laugh at the incident. I am just glad the bird didn´t get too relaxed to leave a white spot on my pants, because there was plenty of evidence of it around.
Our first day in church had 31 people in attendance. We meet in a house right now. It was neat arriving and already knowing every member there. We have good goals to help the grow and the leadership is very excited to help us with the work. This week we have a zone conference and interviews with President Pavan. His time in the mission field is just about over. I hope to get to know him a little, because the first interview consisted of one question in total.
One thought that I received this week was while reading Alma 32:39. I only have scriptures in Portuguese, so I won´t quote it, but the thought I had was along the lines that truth will never change, only our individual passion and desire to capture it. The fact that Heavenly Father exists, Jesus Christ suffered an infinite Atonement, the Priesthood is necessary to perform the ordinances of salvation and lead the Church... will never change, but the individual conversion each of  us have to these eternal principles will alter depending on how we nourish the knowledge we already have and the knowledge we wish to obtain.
With much love and charity,
Elder Graziano

Thursday, May 3, 2012

May 2, 2012

CONGRATULATIONS Anthony and Kailey on the engagement. That was so neat to read a letter from you Anthony and sounds like the trip was great to Italy. There is a letter coming your way.
This week was a busy one. The new area has a ton of work to be done. There are only 2 Priesthood holders active in the Branch as of now. The Branch President and the Elder´s Quorum President. They are returned missionaries. I think I may be older than the Branch President, but I haven´t asked yet. The Elder Quorum President´s wife is the Relief Society President. They are a great family and have been an immeasurable help this first week. They have prepared many families and individuals to teach, and we haven´t met all of them yet. But there are many people who have already been to church a time or two and are waiting to learn more. The town of Vera Cruz has about 8,000 people in it. We have really one worked on 3 streets and have been very busy teaching and inviting others to pray about the message God sent us with. The members of the Branch were so excited to learn that they would be getting missionaries. They are very supportive and are helping us as much as they can.
I am enjoying my new companionship. Attached is a photo of myself and Elder Keesling. He is from Arizona. He has also lived in the Dominican Republic, Germany, Belgium - his dad works for theembassy. His last six months were spent in the mission office being the financial secretary. He only has a couple months left on his mission. He also worked in the Santa Cruz area where I was last transfer. From that time, he has wanted to open up the area of Vera Cruz and his prayers were answered. He is excited to work and anxious to finish his mission strong. I am learning from him daily through the way he invites other to find out if these things are true for themselves, among other things. 
I received a bunch of mail at the conference with Elder Holland, I will do my best to respond quickly over the next couple weeks. Thanks to all for the support and thoughts. The conference was powerful. We were instructed about the wonderful plan of salvation that we have knowledge of. The possibilities of progression, knowledge, and family that were made available as a result of the Fall of Adam and Eve as well as the infinite blessings available as a result of the Atonement, including the chance to return to live with God and have eternal life in His presence. He explained in such simplicity and power which leaves no room to doubt about the reality of this plan and the need for modern day prophets to help us, God´s children, learn these things in clarity and without the doubt of ``which man do I want to pay to receive knowledge about my Creator?´´ Being able to shake his hand and learn from a modern day Apostle of Jesus Christ was a special moment and confirmed the reality of the calling he has.
Yesterday I didn´t email because it was a holiday - day of the worker. They have a lot of holidays here. There will be many more to write about I am sure, including the day of the children eventually.
As I continue to develop as a missionary, I am learning about the necessity of inviting others to change. We know that we all need to change in one way or another to be prepared to answer to our Heavenly Father for the way in which we acted during our mortal life on this earth. This process of changing, or repenting, is a process of love and hope. To me, one of the best explanations of the feeling of repentance is in Alma 36:21. There truly is no greater joy than to feel our physical actions come into alignment with the spiritual desires that not only we have, but that God has for us as well. I hope to develop this attribute more in myself as I learn to align my daily choices to be that of the will of God and not my own.
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano

April 23, 2012

This week being transfers, our P-day is Monday. The week was successful. Elder Bryant and I continue to work well together and grow together. Although that is ending tomorrow. I am getting a new companion and we will open up a brand new area which has never had missionaries - Vera Cruz. I don´t know too much about the new situation and how everything will work out, but we will live in the same apartment as I live now and have to take a bus to the new area everyday. Our apartment is not very big so it will be cramped with 4 Elders in there. I will certainly write more details next week after I know how things function. The branch in Vera Cruz was organized recently I believe, within the last few months. I am very excited and feel very blessed to have the opportunity to labor in that area.
This week flew by. After emailing last week, we ate in a ``cafe colonial´´ - bad idea. They simply bring out sweets, pies, and little ``salgados´´ - salty things. And keep bringing things out until you can´t eat anymore. It was a rare opportunity and one I don´t think I will do again. My body felt slow for the rest of that day and the next. After that, the week went well. We set a few more dates with some people in the month of May. I really hope I can participate in the baptisms of these people, and maybe because we will be living in the area, I will still be able to attend if all goes well. Today, also included in the pictures, is probably the closest I will get to riding a real horse for the duration of my mission. This one was outside of a feed/vet store.
I began a list this week of things I notice and perceive will help me and the family I will have in the future. I hope to add to it from time to time with inspired thoughts that will provide firm faith in Jesus Christ, and a home with the influence of the Holy Ghost. I also started a list of things I hope to buy before my flight back to the US. I am not too worried about that list, seeing as I have plenty of time to check things off the list. One of the things I want to do, as soon as I can understand a little better what people are saying, is learn how to make some of the food here. I enjoy it a lot and will look forward to bringing back some traditions.
Mom, I hope you are recuperating well and staying obedient. Maybe you can apply 1 Nephi 3:15 to your situation. That you will not return to the tennis court until you have fulfilled the orders the doctor has given you. Dad mentioned you will be going in Wednesday for the knee replacement. I will be praying for you.
Friday is going to be a very special day. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will be visiting our mission and the mission of Brasil Porto Alegre South will be coming to attend as well. I will be anticipating the counsel he will give and seeking inspiration for what the Lord intends my new companion and I to do in our brand new area. What better timing to receive counsel from a special witness of Jesus Christ.
The days are zipping by, and today is no different. Thanks for all the prayers and thoughts of support. I know they are being heard and answered. I am growing constantly and consistently I feel.
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano


April 3, 2012

The weeks go by so fast. I hope all is well on the home front. General Conference was special, although a little frustrating at times that I couldn´t understand everything being said. I will have to wait and study the Liahona when it arrives so I can be sure to understand all the talks.
This week we had a neat experience with prayer. We got done eating lunch and were going to begin our day of work with a prayer. We have been focusing more on specific prayers lately. We prayed to encounter someone looking for a boost, someone that could use a small message about love. The first lady we came across was someone we had a brief contact with on the street a couple weeks prior. I didn´t understand much of what she said then. Even this time was a little difficult. But come to find out she has been struggling with thoughts about suicide. We were able to talk for a little then, and set up a time to talk with her tomorrow as well. I learned of the importance to think and ponder about what we are going to pray for. To really allow the Holy Ghost to guide the prayer and not just spontaneous feelings or a routine conversation. I need to improve in this area and make sure God knows of my sincerity always in regards to me communicating with Him.
After the first session of Conference, Elder Bryant and I gathered the 6 non-members that showed up and sat down in the batismal font area. We invited them all to be baptized while talking about the example Christ set and the Spirit they had all felt during conference. One man stood up and asked if he could say something. He said I know this church is true and I accept your invitation. This man has poor legs, and struggles to walk the 30 min to church, but was very touched by the Spirit he felt at conference and if nothing else, knows that God has reached out and is leading His church through a modern day prophet.
Elder Bryant and I continue to work hard. We held a baptism on Sunday night for a 9 yr old whose parents are members. The Spirit of that ordinance is so very special and makes me desire even more to help others come to the same knowledge and feelings I have about Heavenly Father´s plan for us. Dad thanks for the note last week about Troy´s baptism. I am so glad I called him from Atlanta and was able to hear his decision in person. 
I am close to having to use my next belt loop on the downside. The food is great, but we walk so much to get from appointment to appointment, and sweating is second nature now. The cold is arriving, I used a sheet a couple times this last week while sleeping. Usually shorts and a tshirt are enough. With the winter, I hear missionaries usually eat more and put on a little weight after the summer season.
I lost the memory card for my camera...frustrating. So hold on to the pictures I have sent please. I will buy a new card today so no need to send one. This email is a little short, but know of my love for you both as well as my love and dedication to the Savior.
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano

April 17, 2012

I hope all is well with everyone. Hopefully Vince had a good birthday party last week. Mom, how is the knee feeling? Dad, any news? I think we may get some mail this week or next, so I am sure some questions will be answered and updates will be given.
This week was full of growth and the best way I grew was through the concept of developing love for people here. Elder Bryant and I have talked a lot about how we can be effective in helping people actually grow closer to Christ. We have changed our focus to be directed more on the ability to develop a personal relationship with the people rather than simply drop a message about the Restored Gospel. This not only has produced some better results with our goals of helping people towards baptism, but is helping me realize the type of love that the Savior showed people while He instructed them. Certainly he asked questions and tried to get them to make the commitment to follow Him, but always showed love while doing so. I do know that baptism is the way in which we can help people receive more blessings from God and the gift of the Holy Ghost, but this decision on their part is only going to be made if they feel the arms of the Savior drawing them in. On Sunday afternoon we taught a man and his wife, Ilário and Mara, and her sister and friend, (four people total). Elder Bryant and I had a conversation right before about our focus being out of whack a little. We discussed and offered a sincere prayer for heavenly guidance during the lesson. We certainly received the help, as they all felt the reality of the message of the Restoration. When we invited them to be baptized, Ilário said that he would almost make an oath with us to be baptized. We were very blessed to have felt the prompting to communicate and improve our focus to be better instruments for the Savior. This next week will be transfers and we both want to stick together to see the growth the Lord intends of us together and how we can actually give the Lord some fruits for the labors we have put in here.
I read an email from Jennifer about her call arriving. How awesome that she gets to go to Guatemala and serve a nursing mission. What an incredible blessing for her and the people there.
I also got an email from Sierra in Tennessee. I don´t think I told you but she was baptized a few weeks ago. She is enjoying the difference that decision has made for her and is feeling the improvements in her life as a result of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.
This morning, Elder Bryant and I walked up to a view of the city of Santa Cruz and took a few photos. They also had an old pulpit underneath the big cross, and we preached about the Book of Mormon to all the spirits who were listening... Life is awesome as a full-time representative of the Savior as well as knowing that we are children of a loving Heavenly Father.
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano


April 10, 2012

Feliz Páscoa - Happy Easter on Sunday.  The city of Santa Cruz was a little more quiet than usual with so many people spending time with family.  However, we are working hard and praying harder.  Or maybe that´s what we need to be doing more of.  We taught 38 lessons last week, and had 0 people come to church and have 0 dates set for baptism.  Yesterday, for example, we returned to teach a lady and her teenage son.  She told us kindly that she enjoyed our visits but personally didn´t have a desire to study the Book of Mormon or pray.  I asked her if Jesus Christ were here, what would He do to help her.  She responded that she knows we represent Him and that He works through us missionaries to teach people the truth and bring them more happiness through an improved relationship with our Heavenly Father, among other things.  After that, she simply said again, I don´t have a desire to change.  This seems to be a bit of a theme for us lately.  We have met many, many people and conversed and invited them to do things, but we seem to run into more walls than open doors.  I have found much comfort from the scriptures, being reminded of the covenants I have made with God and the responsibility I have to worthily live up to them.  I enjoy the challenge of trying to change myself on a daily basis to be the instrument the Lord needs to help His children.  I have realized a bit about discouragement, and that we simply cannot get discouraged and lower our personal expectations for our work.  We really do have a plan of happiness to share with people and they will not believe us if they can´t look in our eyes and believe the words we speak.  I take advantage of every opportunity which arises to bear testimony of the reality of a ressurrected Savior, and of the peace available through the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I look forward to feeling the Lord work with me to improve my ability to invite others to come unto Him. 
Happy 18th Birthday Vince in 3 days!
One thing that people keep asking me about which I don´t have, is a picture of our family.  Could you please send one down in a letter? Thanks. We just found out today that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland is coming to visit our mission on the 27th of April.  Elder Bryant and I are so excited to hear from and feel the Spirit from an Apostle of the Lord.  Our mission is going to combine with the Porto Alegre South mission to hear from him. 
Well it´s already been one month since my second farewell.  I grateful for the time remaining I get to consecrate to Christ.  I love you very much
With love and charity
Elder Graziano

Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 27, 2012

I forgot to tell a little more about my first Sunday in Brasil. We arrived at church and were informed that the President of the Elder´s Quorum and the teacher did not show up... 30 seconds before we starting teaching the class. With some participation from the class, it turned out well. I am grateful that the members are patient with my language weaknesses and listen intently to make sure they understand what I am trying to communicate. However, after having communicated in a class, the Branch President then asked me to speak in sacrament. (We have Priesthood meeting first, Sunday School, then Sacrament). So I was able to stand up at the pulpit and bear testimony for a few minutes. He said it was a good thing he asked because the assigned speaker didn´t show up to church. Two days ago, Elder Bryant and I were able to teach the Young Men and Young Women about a few chapters in the Book of Mormon. We tried our best to have some participation and role plays and I didn´t see anyone sleeping by the end of it. The frustrating thing now about the language is that I feel decently comfortable expressing my feelings and even speak at a speed which I think is close to normal of some of the people, ( I don´t think I will ever talk as fast as some of the women) but I still can´t quite make out all the words that are being spoken to me. I presume this will last for a short while longer, because I continue to see improvement. I am trying to memorize a certain number of words a day/week and look forward to the day when I can really stand on my own in conversations. Thanks Dad for all the years of teaching me patience, I finally might start getting it a little. After having to wait at home for an extra couple weeks and then dealing with this, I might move forward with this attribute.
We lost almost two days last week of work due to Elder Bryant having a meeting in Porto Alegre (he is our district leader) and having to hold a baptismal interview in a city an hour away on bus. I worked with one of the Elders there. I enjoy doing splits to learn more about the love and appreciation I have for my companion. Elder Bryant continues to impress me with his dedication. He has been sick on and off this week, but really tries his best to push through the body fatigue and fulfill his assignment to the Lord. Please pray for his health to improve.
This week I had my first and second opportunity to give a priesthood blessing to a man in need. At first, I was very worried about the language, but had such a sense of calm in one instance during the blessing to not worry about it, just let the Spirit communicate. I was grateful for the experience, and know the faith of the individuals involved plays a huge role in these ordinances.
How exciting about Jennifer getting her papers turned in! I will be looking forward to the update when she receives her assignment. I am getting more and more excited every day for General Conference. What a privilege it is to invite people we meet to here the words of a modern day prophet and apostles of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I will be writing certain questions and praying for inspiration prior to watching because I know this is one way to confirm the reality that these men are really prepared, called, and ordained to speak for the Redeemer. One thing that has been on my mind is the Priesthood and how we as members and holders of the Priesthood can really live up to the covenant we made to accept that responsibility of service. How is Bishop Delange doing? And Bishop Sorenson? It was such a privilege to work so closely with him the Stevensons, Br. Logan and the others that helped me stay focused on my calling in Moraga. I have a great void for my companion, Sister Barnes. I hope she is doing well. She is in Georgia right now I believe. She is incredible and I need to repent for being stubborn and stern with her at times. I love you Grandma!
My heart goes out to Sister Harries. Wherever (or whatever) thou art, act well thy part. A great story from President McKay. And a lesson I tried to learn while being in Moraga for more time than what I thought was ideal. I will write her today. And I will send it to Georgia, hopefully that will work.
I love you all and am feeling strong and healthy. My legs are appreciative every night to get in the air.
With love and charity,
Elder Graziano
The cathedral is the 2nd highest in South America I have been told, there is one taller in Argentina. In the baptism of Jesus Christ, notice the three separate beings of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost... Interesting.
President and Sister Pavan.
Elder Bryant.
A few pictures of our apartment.