On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, we had our Thanksgiving meal with our Elders (I capitalize the word "Elders" because I admire all that they do, and their hard work on the streets day after day). Before prayer, we made wishes and pulled wishbones across the table with someone else (two apiece). The Elders were excited and took pictures. No, it wasn't at all like cooking Thanksgiving dinner at home for Family. And we all missed being with Family. Nothing tasted quite the same either. I had to make LOTS of food and seasoning substitutions, but all in all, it went well--and Dennis and I were EXHAUSTED after they left. We stacked the dishes, put away the food, wiped off the table--and took long naps. Later that afternoon, we did the dishes together. Our menu was: turkey, dressing, boiled potatoes, gravy, candied sweet potatoes, corn-on-cob, rolls, jello/fruit/whipped cream salad, carrots, cucumbers and lemonade. Our desserts were key lime pie, apple pie, and pumpkin-orange squares--smothered with whipped cream (more like real thick, sweet, buttery cream - Brazilian style). We still haven't eaten all the leftovers, 6 days later!
Sister Monteiro chose an early date for the "Missão Conferencia Natál" because everything is cheaper in Novermber than in December. It was two days before our Thanksgiving--course, Thanksgiving doesn't mean anything in Brazil. The 12-hour Conference started a.m. with talks and testimonies from the leaving Elders and Sisters. President Monteiro called us up out of the group of 240+ to bear our testimonies. I wish he'd quit doing that! Maybe I'll prepare for next time. Then we enjoyed REALLY beautiful choral music. One number was performed by each zone, accompanied by piano, flute, violin and/or bass viola. Our song was "No Ordinary Man" or "Sem Egual." Everyone else had practiced for several weeks, when they were at zone conferences, to which we are never invited. We were finally asked to join the last practice. We had to learn our parts and the words in Portuguese in one practice. The invite helped us feel more a part of it all.
It was Sister Monteiro's birthday, so every missionary brought a single red rose and put it into a large basket. That's a lot of red roses! President Monteiro presented her a large framed family crest, and one of the sister missionaries presented her with a framed pencil sketch of her. She was so excited that she led her own Happy Birthday song, "Para bems a você!" with clapping (palmas).
We were fed a wonderful meal, with several choices of meats, side dishes and accompaniments. And we were indulged with an unbelievable display of brincadeiras and doces (bite-sized sweets), including boxes of sweet breads and boxes of chocolate candy bars. This is very much a Brazilian thing to do, but this seemed way over the top. Sister Monteiro was so excited and proud that the layout was so beautiful. I was--and still am--amazed at the amount of sugar consumed with those desserts. Not long ago, Dennis and I found an article on the internet that claimed that Brazil consumes more sugar per capita than any other country. Yep, that sounds about right. I asked Dennis to take a picture of all the kinds of doces they had. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it.
Sometimes there are disappointments that are really hard to take when you are a missionary. Larisa, our 15 year old super hero (who is the "mother" of her three siblings), was baptized in July. She is our stalwart Seminary student. She comes for every lesson, our only student, and brings her two younger brothers with her. The Elders have been working really hard with this young "family." Late in October, her 19 yr. sister Daniela was also baptized. She is struggling, but coming to church when she can. The day of her baptism, we were hoping that her 10 yr. old brother Willian would follow her lead. We all had lunch together after church, walked to the bus stop, traveled to the Guaraituba chapel for the baptism. Daniela was baptized (but refused to let anyone take her picture), but William backed out. Ok, so the Elders continued teaching him almost daily, making sure he really wanted to be baptized, helping him get excited about being baptized, getting over his fears of the water. Last Sunday, their 12 year old half-brother Gadalfo was also baptized, and was really happy afterwards. On Monday, after a lesson with the Elders, Willian said, "I want to be baptized too." The Elders were so excited, and hurried to schedule his baptism for the next evening. We are like Grandpa and Grandma figures to these kids; so we went too. Planning a little celebration afterward, we bought a cake and guaraná soda, and rode the bus again to Guaraituba. The water was very cold, but ready in the font, the talks had been given, Elder Esty helped Willian get into the water. Waist-deep in that cold water, Willian refused to continue! After about a half hour of coaxing and much patience, he got dressed, we gave away the pop and cake, were driven home by some members of the ward----and that was that.
When we went to the MTC (Mission Training Center) in Provo, Utah, and again when we arrived at our mission office in Curitiba, Brazil, we were told that there are few rules for senior missionary couples (called "Casals"). We were to seek out what needed to be done, and do it. Since our specific mission call is "Leader and Membership Support," we are constantly watching for ways we can help. When we got here, we noticed the disrepair of the church building; it seemed that no one was cleaning the church--it was awful. No repairs were being done, and no one seemed to care. Also, there is no budget for maintenance, repairs and supplies. We took on the challenge to clean the building every week, launder hand towels and cleaning rags, and provide needed supplies and equipment (brooms, mops, cleaners, wastebaskets and liners, toilet paper, hand towels, light bulbs, chalk and erasers, tape, crayons, cups, napkins, disposable forks and spoons--even toilet seats and weed whacker). We make repairs, clean out litter and garbage and broken items strewn around the building, mow and rake the lawn. Our hope has been that some day, someone would appreciate it, mention it, and offer to help, or better yet, suggest that we should have rotating cleaning assignments. Dennis has asked Amadeus, a new member about Dennis's age, to help him with the lawn. Last Saturday he refused to come because somehow he got the idea that they would be sweeping and mopping--and that is women's work. We'll have to walk two miles to his house so that Dennis can set things straight. There is talk--mere talk so far--about rotating cleaning responsibilities each week. We'll see what happens . . .
President Monteiro asked all missionaries in the Boa Vista Stake to attend the Saturday evening adult meeting. He and Sister Monteiro would be speaking. We rode the busses with our Elders, going and coming. After the first hour, while everyone else sang the congregational hymn, and before President and Sister Monteiro spoke, all the missionaries (including us) had to get up and leave, so we could get home before 9:00 p.m. That was interesting . . . we left right away and still got home after 10:30. The next morning, we rode the bus provided for our Grupo to Boa Vista Stake Center to attend the 10:00 meeting. The chapel in the stake building covers the entire top floor of the building. The place was packed and took quite a while for everyone to get down the stairs. Starting in the middle of the top row of pictures is Vitório, a new stalwart member, followed by Elders Esty and Christensen with Amadeus, also a new member. On the 2nd row, I'm with Andreza and Larisa, then the 12 people who were baptized after conference. The Curitiba Temple President and his wife took a liking to us; it was fun to chat with them.