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