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Monday, May 30, 2016

Transfers-- Goodbye, Itaquá


Well, this week was great. Even though one day we walked for hours on end from one appointment falling through to another, we sat down to rest in front of a guy's house and after talking for a lil', we were able to get in and teach. We've been coordinating lots more with the members, stopping in to visit quickly, teaching their friends and neighbors, then returning the next day to tell them excitedly how it went if they couldn't come with us. Lots of the problems we struggled, struggled, struggled with seemed to resolve themselves little by little as we simply involve members more in our work. The key to success is members!

But always when things are going the best, there's got to be a change. Yesterday we got the transfer call and despite my hopes and prayers, I'm leaving Jardim Odete. I'm sad, I won't lie, but I know it's the Lord's will. I'll be opening area (meaning both my new comp and I will be new to the area, which is exciting because we won't know where ANYTHING is) in Penha (pronounced "pain-yuh") which is close to the center of São Paulo. At least I'll still be able to keep up with Elder Vasconcelos at the leadership councils!

One night we went to teach a member's neighbor. When we entered the humble house, it was full of people, her friends, family and all of their children (who were running around making noise, as children do.) We began to teach the Restoration and it was going super well until the part about the First Vision and the Book of Mormon, when the grandpa cut in and began to explain rather forcefully why he only believes in the Bible and how anyone who says different is of the devil, then went on to say how nobody can see God (He said that Moses didn't really talk to God face to face, it's just an expression) and how prophets ended with John the Baptist; basically he told us we were fools wasting our time teaching people nonsense. We asked him if God answers prayers. He said that he believes He does, so we challenged him to pray to know if Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and if the Book of Mormon is true, since God is the one who knows everything, not us. Afterwards he launched into a whole nother round of tense, angry words. When he finished, his daughter (the original reference) and her friends looked semi-scared. I wanted to just rail that dude for his close-minded rudeness, talk about hisotrical facts and show all the scriptures in the Bible that prove he's wrong. I didn't, because that wouldn't be right. My patience almost snapped and boy, did I want to. Instead, I softly bore my quiet but firm testimony that I know the Gospel has been restored to the earth, that I know that God still love us and speaks to us through a living prophet, and that I asked Him and He told me it was true and that they could all recieve countless blessings in their lives if they just ask Him if it's true as well. The uncomfortable and angry tension in the room left and the sweetest, coolest Spirit gradually filled the air from one simple testimony. Depite my previous un-Christlike feelings, I felt that God loved each one of those people, even that man, and even me despite my imperfections. The look on the man's face became slightly less firm, but the countenance of the women had changed completely. They each said "I want to read and pray" and gratefully accepted copies of the Book of Mormon. I walked away grateful that Heavenly Father didn't let me lose my head (and the Spirit) and instead showed me that His was are higher than my ways. Left to my own, I would've lost a tender opportunity.

Even though I spent little time here, I'm so grateful that the Lord allowed me the wonderful experiences I had walking the streets of Itaquaquecetuba.

I love you all!
Elder Merrill

The Odete Gang 
​Jorge and Rayne
My bestest little amigos!

Monday, May 23, 2016

A vida

This week was awesome! We're starting to see lots of miracles in our area, finally!

Last week of the transfer! Crazy how it passes so fast! Elder Vasconcelos and I have been growing more united in our teaching and friendship, and I really really really really hope I get to stay here in Jardim Odete with him at least one more transfer. 

Things have been clicking. We made an extra effort to work with the members, and immediately we got a bunch of references and people to accompany to our lessons, help us resolve our investigators' problems, give us food, etc. It's amazing! Even though we have a crazy life and complicated schedule, the Lord is blessing us by not letting my head explode in stress like I want it to sometimes. 

One of the couple's we've been working with is finally going to get married! Then the nonmember wife can get baptized! But it will be in the next transfer.... (one reason I want to stay)

One day we had planned to visit a member's friend super far away and then a bunch of things happened that ended in that appointment falling through and slaughtering our alternative plans.... As we walked down the street, wondering what we were gonna do, a woman stopped us and asked if we taught people about Jesus, and of course we said yes. She then told us "I want to start. How much do you guys charge?" After picking our jaws up off of the ground, we said we'd love to teach her and that we don't receive anything, our service is voluntary. She loved the Restoration and was excited for us to come back. We're excited to go back.

Yesterday, we probably had the best miracle of all, however. Our plans for the afternoon ALL fell through, so we went to visit Carla and Eduardo. We'd planned in comp study to read 1 Nephi 3-4 about when Nephi has to get the plates from Laban, and goes in faith to follow the Lord's commandments It was amazing when at the end, she said that that story and our words were exactly for her. She told us that not 5 seconds before we knocked that she'd prayed asking for direct guidance from God on what she needed for her life. Then we walked in (it wasn't a planned visit, so they weren't expecting us) and read those chapters about Nephi's fearless example and how by trusting in the Lord and forgetting his own will, he was able to succeed and bless all of his posterity and the entire future of the world. I was amazed, almost stunned actually, as she explained the exact doctrine from those chapters we felt they'd needed to learn, and then make the application by saying "I know now from God that we really need to get married so we can be baptized and get all the blessings He has for us.... it's not my will, but His that's important." We didn't do anything special, it was totally the hand of God that manipulated our day so that we'd arrive there in that precise moment, and it was the Spirit that taught to her open heart. As we walked home, the magnificent lightning storm in the clouds above us was like a celestial fireworks show celebrating what'd just happened. We exchanged an ecstatic bro-hug, and when I got home I knelt down and couldn't find any other words more appropriate to express my overflowing gratitude than these: "Obrigado, Senhor... Obrigado."

I love you all!

Elder Merrill

We made zone shirts! They have a minion on them, so that makes them cool

Pictures in high places are always exciting


​Yay cookies!

Monday, May 16, 2016

ALMOST met with Elder Holland.... almost.


One day we found Oreo cookies super cheap in the store (1 real per pack), so I had to buy 8 packs..... I'm sure I'll get diabetes before the end of the mission

I'm also collecting the 1 real Olympic coins (google "moedas dos olimpiadas") and I almost have all of them.... there are a bunch of us missionaries competing to see who can get them all first haha... we are always trading and such at our meetings, it's fun:)

On Tuesday we did a division the new way, where you bring the other companionship to work with you in your area. It's a way of using your area as an example for them to better their area, which is a little awkward because we don't really have a ton of people to teach..... anyways, we invited the other dupla in our ward to help us, and us 6 spent the afternoon knocking a bunch of doors and talking to everyone we could, just trying to find people who are prepared..... We still don't have anyone from those contacts, but I think it at least helped everyone get a little more excited about the situation.... we'll see.

I think this week was to teach me that I need to open my mouth and talk more to everyone. In our zone training meeting Tuesday, I gave the training on talking to everyone to really find the elect of God, and felt it was more for me than the other missionaries. Then in our AWESOME Zone Conference on Friday we did a prática where everyone there (there were 2 Zones combined) went out on the street to talk to people and invite them to church. It was super cool to have more than 30 missionaries in one place, stopping people on just about every corner in the area of the church and talking about the gospel. Super inspiring, now I just have to work on applying everything I learned!

Elder Holland is in São Paulo! Unfortunately, President Silcox said he wasn't going to visit our mission. :( Super bummed.

Last night, there was a devotional for families that was broadcasted to a bunch of stake centers, and we went. It was sooooo good! Elder Holland said that the entire purpose of the existence of the church is so that we can be together forever with our fam, thanks to the sacred ordinances of the temple. This earth exists so that we can prepare for our life in the eternities with our families. "Heaven wouldn't be heaven without the ones we love." I love my family so much.

I love you all!

Zona Itaqua this transfer!

Casually walking to lunch one day on the freeway....

I have trouble to this day making the 'hang loose' sign (hence my ring finger sneaking out there)
Watch out! The Mormons are coming even through the windows! (We live on the 2nd floor....)

After the Elder Holland transmission

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mother's Day Call!

Sunday was a great day for our family! Elder Merrill made the famous Mother's Day call! It was wonderful to talk to him! Mom and Dad really enjoyed the hour they had with him. I (Natalie) had a one-minute screen-to-screen conversation. I FaceTimed my dad's computer and he held it up to my mom's computer where they were talking to Brian. Then they kicked us off so they could enjoy some quality mother-son Skype time!

We love our missionary!

Elder Merrill and Mom and Dad

Screen-to-screen conversation between Brian and Brad and Natalie

Mother's Day, a Favorite Holiday for Missionaries


My companion and the other elders have been enjoying the goodies from my birthday box. Elder Vasconcelos fell in love with french toast and Mrs. Butterworths syrup when I made it for him one morning haha

Our work week was a little slow, but at least we were able to take out one day to try and visit all of the 9 uncontacted media references we recieved in the last month. They were all super far away (like the furthest would be more than 6 hours walking round trip from our house and back), so it was such a blessing to have the help of a member to drive us around all day! It really is better to work with the members!

Since we had Leadership Council on Friday morning, we went to sleep in the office Elder's house the night before. We got a ride, cutting the 2 hour bus-train-metro journey to just 30 minutes by car. It was sweet. With the extra time, I went with 2 of the Secretaries to a sweet member's house (she's a cute old lady), where we were able to play the board game War (similar to Risk) and drink a delicious hot milk-caramel-cinnamon-coconut drink. Elder Hughes and Elder David also came to spend the night, so it was a grand ol' reunion there at the office. We played War again before bed (don't worry, we stopped at 10:30!) and it was just hilarious. Best Elder Hughes quote from the week: "Fun fact, bananas in Africa actually come from Asia...... no wait..... it's not the bananas, its the people!" But you had to be there to appreciate the fulness.

I loved the Leadership Council because the APs and Sister APs gave a training on the power of the Book of Mormon in conversion. I thought a lot about how I often fail to help the people we teach to use the sacred scripture to help them resolve their problems, and how I often fail to take advantage of that power myself. It was wonderful to be able to recommit to myself that I will make my study from the Book of Mormon much more meaningful, and I want to invite you all to do so as well! (to those unfamiliar, look at this link to learn a little more )

Yesterday it was wonderful to talk with Mom and Dad on Skype for Mother's Day! It was just a little awkward when I called and they said "hello" and I started talking Portuguese without thinking about it to them and they sat there with blank looks on their faces...... Mom asked me what those strange noises were coming from my mouth...... It was too difficult to keep a portuguese word from slipping in here or there, but I think it deu para conversar (oops, there it went again). I'm tellin you people, it's rough sometimes to forget your native tounge.

Have a wonderful week, and I love you all a ton!
Elder Merrill

REAL brownies and ice cream! (Betty Crocker mix) Elders Vasconcelos, Nascimento, and Freire all wanted to be American after trying it

Sometimes lunch appointments make you do strange things

I love my mom! Thought of her at our ward activity on Saturday

Jean is leaving this week to serve his mission in Salta, Argetina. He is going to be an awesome missionary and I'll miss his help here in Jardim Odete! Also, thank you Grandma Merrill for this awesome tie! :)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Birthday week


I don't have much time and lots of pictures, so i'll be quick

We moved! It was kind of a surprise and we couldn't move everything at once, but we made do with what we had until we could find a member with a truck.... but we eventually got everything else moved and now we're happy in our new house! (the other 2 Elders are our next door neighbors, so we always visit each other hahaha it's super fun)

We had interviews with Preisdent this week! It was super awesome as always, I love President Silcox!

We all had to go to the mission office to get flu shots, and I took it like a big boy. Mom, you owe me a slurpee.

We went to the temple on Saturday with some investigators, it was a wonderful birthday treat to be on those dedicated grounds! Now that I'm 19, maybe people will stop asking me for ID to prove I'm not older.... Just because I'm taller than most of them they think I'm a lot older. Silly Brazilians. I'm neither tall nor old.

The Stake had a sweet training last night on missionary work for all the leadership, and I feel that the work will go forward much more effectively and efficiently here in Itaquá!

I love you all!
Elder Merrill

We made almondegas (fried meatballs) one day for lunch!

We coordinated ties!

What a wonderful place to spend a birthday

Perks of going to the São Paulo temple: American soda

Finally got to take a picture of our full generation! (from my Grandpa to my Grandson!)

BEST BIRTHDAY PACKAGE EVER. Thank you everyone for everything! (especially Carlos for bringing it)

Surprise move + tiny car = little space