Saturday, July 29, 2017

Broke an addiction?

July 29th

Hey everyone, how're you doin? This past week was pretty cool because it was Zone Conference week. We had 2 of them here in Ribeirao, and another one on the other side of the mission in a city called Sao Jose do Rio Preto. During the conferences, President Scholz had us read a talk called The Greatest Leaders are the Greatest Followers by Stephen W. Owen, and it talks about leadership. He really emphasized the point that we don't need to have the title of "District Leader" or "Zone Leader" to be leaders. We talked about what it means to be a leader in the world and what it means to be a leader in God's eyes. In it, Elder Owen says something that I really like:"If I were to ask you, “Who is the greatest leader who ever lived?”—what would you say? The answer, of course, is Jesus Christ. He sets the perfect example of every imaginable leadership quality.
But what if I were to ask you, “Who is the greatest follower who ever lived?”—wouldn’t the answer again be Jesus Christ? He is the greatest leader because He is the greatest follower—He follows His Father perfectly, in all things." 
It's true that actions speak louder than words. As a missionary now, I have to always be conscious of what type of example I'm setting, because on the mission I've learned that people really do pay attention! Members, other missionaries, investigators, people that we talk to on the street, all of them are watching to see what we are doing. Sometimes out here it feels like there's just too much to do, and that I can't do everything that's expected of me. But then I remember that it's okay if I can't do everything! What matters to Heavenly Father is our effort, He knows, and we know, how much effort we're giving, and if we're doing our best then that's what counts. It's times like this that I just have to keep trying to be obedient and depend on the Lord to pick up the slack that I can't alone. I'm grateful for the example that Christ set, He really is the greatest leader who ever lived because He's the greatest follower!

Something else that happened at Zone Conference: Every time we have one, the Executive and Financial Secretaries each give announcements for things that we need to tell all the missionaries. A few weeks ago, Sister Scholz told me about 3 things that she wanted to talk about during conference about health, and so I put it in my announcements because I work with that. The 3 things that she wanted to talk about were Coca-Cola, energy drinks, and..... Top Ramen. I'm going to be honest, I wasn't expecting the ramen! Coke and especially energy drinks make sense, but the ramen was a surprise. The reason it's so bad is because of the packet of flavor that comes with it. The noodles are fine, but the flavor packet is just a bunch of chemicals and preservatives. She wrote out a bunch of stuff that are terrible about these 3 things and had me translate them. It was super funny, when we got to those slides in my PowerPoint announcements everyone went crazy! There were a bunch of people who got super scared that they couldn't drink Coke or eat Ramen anymore (there aren't very many missionaries that drink energy drinks, but there still are some). So Sister Scholz got up and read what I translated telling everyone how bad these things are, and at the end we told them that it isn't a mission rule, we only wanted everyone to know about what these things are doing to them and let that make their own choices. So... Spencer David Odom, who was almost addicted to Coke at home and for the first part of the mission, has now stopped drinking it. It was a sad moment letting coke go but in the end it's good for me, and I'm going to be grateful for it. So no more Coke for me, or top ramen! But other than that it was just fun to talk to all the missionaries that I know that I don't see a lot because they're not in Ribeirao. Another cool thing was driving to the other city Rio Preto for conference with President. Talking with him and Sister Scholz the whole time was sweet! We talked about basketball, college, gospel stuff, our families, and other things. Once again, I'm super grateful for the opportunity I have to work close to president and learn from him. It's awesome being able to see him all day almost everyday! He really is a man inspired of God. He and Sister Scholz are great. Sister Scholz also said that that she is going to send a text or an email to Ty's mission president and his wife to keep a special eye on him and welcome him because he's my bro! 

This week we had a really cool experience with finding. Last Sunday, we were on a split and I was with another missionary. We were walking down a street and I got a little thought to go and knock on a certain door. We passed the house and then after a few more steps I stopped and said "Let's go knock on that door back there," so we did. A man answered and I started to talk to him and find out about what he thinks about God, if he goes to a church, etc. He showed that he doesn't have a lot of trust in churches because he's already been to a bunch and didn't like them that much. When I asked him why we have so many churches today in the world, he had no clue. I told him that we could explain exactly why, and he got super interested. At first he didn't believe that we had an answer, it was funny! He kept asking us to tell him but it was already late and we needed to start heading home, so we marked to go back on Wednesday. So that next Wednesday we went back and  we found him, 2 of his kids, and his brother at home! We taught them the Restoration and they all paid attention and liked the message. It's been awhile since I've found a family to teach, so I was super grateful to Heavenly Father for helping us find them! I'm excited to see where we can go with them.

Okay, that's it for me. A packed week with lots to get done but it all worked out. Shout out to my brother Tyler as he starts his mission this week in Fortaleza! I'm so proud of you, you'll do awesome!! 
Have a good one everybody!

-Elder Odom

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Discussion with President - perks of working in the office!

July 21st

This week was a lot about preparing for Zone Conferences next week. Some of the stuff I had to do was get our announcements ready, make a movie with pictures from the last 6 months, follow up with everyone studying english in the mission, get the materials that everyone will need, and other stuff.
Like I've already mentioned, I kinda do all the random stuff in the office!

We also had leadership council this week where all the Zone Leaders come in from the mission to have a meeting. Tthe night before, I went on a split with one of them, Elder Wyatt from Texas. We went to visit Adelson and Edleuza to follow up on their reading and start teaching them the Plan of Salvation, but when we got there, our plans changed. When I asked if they'd read, they said no. Turns out that they'd forgotten everything about our last lesson on the BoM... so we had to re-explain everything to them! It took over half an hour to help them understand, but once they finally did they got really interested. We read the first 6 verses of the BoM with them and explained what we were reading, line by line. By the time we left, they were saying that they were actually interested now and were going to keep reading once we left!

This week we had a miracle with an investigator. Her name is Talita. We found her last Sunday. We went out with the bishop to visit inactives in a neighborhood that's far away, and we found a woman named Dumara at home. She's super nice and welcomed us in. She hasn't been to church for the past 35 years or so, but she talked a lot about how her mom would always tell her that this was the true church. Her mom had a really strong testimony, and even though Dumara doesn't know for herself that this is the true church, she has a great example with her mom. At the beginning of our visit, before I'd said anything, she said to me, "you're American right:" and after I responded yes, she said "Oh, my daughter is American too!" I was a bit confused, but then she explained that when she was married, she moved to New Jersey for 2 years for her husbands job and while they were there her daughter was born. But 9 months after, they moved back to Brazil. Even after 2 years she doesn't speak any English though! So we had an idea to come back the next wednesday and bring president Scholz with us because Dumara loves the States and we figured she'd like to have 2 Americans in her house, so that's what we did! That wednesday when we got there, her daughter Talita was there too. She's 22 and heard her mom talk about the church before and she's been a few times as a little kid, but it's been so long she doesn't remember anything. We taught her the Restoration and it was a great lesson. It's super fun to have president there in our lessons, he doesn't do a ton of the teaching but he helps clarify things. The best part of the lesson was the First Vision. When we told it, the Spirit was there and easy to feel. At the end when we were inviting her to read and pray about the BoM and Joseph Smith, she explained how while we were talking about the First Vision she felt something powerful and calm inside her, but she didn't know how to explain it. We helped her understand that it was the Spirit testifying to her, and that when she prays, look for feelings like that. But as we were wrapping up, president looked at her and said "Remember, if you want to get an answer then you will. You have to do your part because God will do his. It all depends on you."
I've been thinking about what he said to her during the rest of this week. How often do I ask something from Heavenly Father but not do everything that I can to deserve it: Just like an investigator praying to know if this is the true church, we have to show Heavenly Father that we want it. It really does depend on us! He'll always do His part, and when we do ours, that's when we get our answers.
I'm grateful to be a missionary. Meeting new people, teaching, helping other missionaries as executive, and learning through these experiences is a blessing. Everyday I realize that I still have so much to learn and improve on, but all I can do is give it my best.

Have a great week!

-Elder Odom

Monday, July 17, 2017

It's already been another week!

July 15th

It's already been another week!

This one was super busy, the first week of the transfer always is. On Monday we sent the "Heroes", or the returning missionaries home. This group had 2 elders that are some of my best friends that I've made on the mission, Elder Kauer and Elder Guzman, along with Elder Summers! Honestly it was a bit weird to see them go, it doesn't seem like they're actually home! There was a lot to keep track of, and because one of my responsibilities is to create the schedules for them their last few days as well as buying and keeping track of their plane tickets, there was quite a bit to balance. But, everything worked out well. Something cool to see was Elder Guzman's family who came to pick him up. It was a pretty cool moment when he saw them for the first time since he left. 

The next day we had the new missionaries get here. It was a group of 5 sisters and 3 elders, and they're all from Brazil. On the days when we get the new missionaries, the secretaries give trainings about what we do, how some of the programs on the mission work, and how to do a few things like get reimbursements, etc. Something that I've learned to really like is seeing the new missionaries meet their trainers. Seeing them reminds me of when I was in their place! There's a lot of preparation to send the old missionaries out and receive the new ones, but if you are efficient with your time then you shouldn't have too many problems.

Throughout the rest of the week though, the busy schedule didn't stop! I had a lot of missionaries call me for health stuff. I don't mark appointments for anyone during the last week of the transfer because if they're transferred to another area they won't be able to go to the appointment anyway, so I had a lot of backup from that to make up this week. There was also quite a bit of confusion with some of the police;visa stuff with some of the Hispanic missionaries. It just has to do with renewing visas and getting the right documents. A few things happened that I've never had to solve, and now that Elder Summers is gone, it was on me to figure it out! Between that and dealing with our health insurance company with another issue we had with an elder who had surgery a month or two ago, it got a bit stressful at times! But because of all this stuff going on, I'm learning a lot. Something that I've learned is the importance of writing things down. I get a bunch of random requests from President and other missionaries and if I don't write it down at the same time I hear it, I'll forget. Like I've already said, this new calling is much different than being a full time field missionary but it's a good fun experience.

I think one of the best parts is getting to work closely President Scholz. Being in the field, you only get to see president a few times per transfer. But being in the office I see him all day everyday. Whenever I have a question, I'm free to just walk into his office and ask! He's super cool, he's always joking around with the missionaries and every once in a while he'll bring us brownies of cookies that Sister Scholz made. Pretty cool! I'm learning a lot from him, and I'm super  grateful for this opportunity.

This week in the field we really buckled down and worked on finding new investigators. Thankfully we were able to have some success too! We continued to teach Adelson and his wife Edleuza (can't remember if I've talked about them or not). We taught about the Book of Mormon and it was awesome, because they led the lesson in the direction without us even trying! For example, while we were talking Edleuza said "Well, I don't follow any religion because there are so many ways to interpret the Bible! Anybody can just grab it and read a scripture and make it mean what they want!" When she said that Elder Vilas Boas and I just looked and each other with that look that says "hmmm not bad" because without us even explaining she already understood the need for the Book of Mormon! Cool lesson for sure.

We also started to use the list of less active members to find new investigators. What we do is get an address, but instead of knocking on that door we knock on both sides and across the street, asking about info of the person from the neighbors. It's a good way start up a convo, and we were able to find some people this way. 

So it was another good, busy week. Love you all!

-Elder Odom

Fatima got baptized!

July 8th

It was the last week of the transfer, so it was busy! I was pretty good at staying on top of all my stuff though so there weren’t any worries. But, first I’ll start out with the highlight of the week… Fatima got baptized!! It was awesome! We had the baptism yesterday. It was so fun to see how excited she was. Right after she was baptized, she said, “I’m baptized! I’m finally baptized! How wonderful!” I can for sure say that she is 100% ready to be baptized. With her, I’ve gotten to see the gospel in action and how it can bless the lives of everyone who chooses to live it.  She had problems with smoking, drinking coffee, etc. but now she had completely overcome these addictions. She says she’s more calm now and now and just much happier overall. Her conversion has been so fun to watch and has strengthened my own testimony in the power that the gospel has to change lives. I’m super grateful I got to be a part of her conversion process! The Lord really does prepare his children to hear the gospel.

On Wednesday, we had the family night that we planned with Guilherme’s (the recent convert) family. We had his girlfriend Maria share the message and she did a great job even though she was dying because she was so nervous! She’s going on a mission soon too! Her papers are with her stake president and they’re about to be sent to Salt Lake. We played a few games with them and then ate dinner that they made for us. Our goal is to eventually start teaching them, but like I said before it’ll be a little different because they’re super catholic. First we’re going to be friends with them, and then with Guilherme’s help they’ll get interested by themselves.

So the transfer… Because I’m in the office, I get to know the transfer early. President gave it to us on Wednesday. There’s a lot that we have to do to get ready for the news missionaries coming in, the missionaries going home, and everyone that’s switching areas. Something cool that happened was that my companion Elder Vilas Boas got called to be a district leader, along with Elder Breno who’s one of the financial secretaries. As the district leader, you have to set the example for the rest of you district. That will be a bit different working only 3 hours per day in the field, but it shows that president trusts us! It will be great opportunity to work hard and grow.

But that's it for me.  Thank you for all the support you give me. I love you guys! 

-Elder Odom

a little shopping, partying and teaching

July 1st

This week was good. Stayed busy! 
I swear, I got more calls from missionaries this week than all the other weeks combined. I was talking on the phone all day! I started to feel like you mom! 😉 

This week I worked a lot on the "hero movie" which is a video that we make each transfer for all the leaving missionaries. It has a bunch of their photos that they sent to me and some other cool stuff as well. It requires a lot of time, but it's still pretty fun to make it! I had fun doing it.

So something pretty cool. In the mall close to our apartment and the mission office, there's a Nike outlet, and they had a sale, but only for this week. If you bought 10 items, they'd take 50% off the price! There were a bunch of missionaries here in the city that took advantage to it! I went with my 2 comps and the assistants and we bought stuff. Elder Brock, one of the assistants, was nice enough to buy all of our stuff and then let us pay him back. I bought a sweet Paris Saint Germain jersey and a Brazil national team jacket. Because of the sale and dollar vs real, it ended up being 40 bucks! They're pretty sweet. 

2 funny stories that happened this week too. The first was about a package that here that we got in the office. It had Elder Vilas Boas's name on it so he assumed that it was for him. Then he saw that it was from Recife, the city where his sister is serving her mission so he got super happy! He opened it up and it had a shirt, a mini umbrella that says "Recife" and some chocolates. He was smiling and taking pics with the shirt on and with the stuff he got. Then he looked at the bottom of the box and saw a letter. He read the first line, and it said "Dear President Scholz". The box was for president and he opened it up and was using the stuff in it! We all started dying laughing even though he got his hopes up for nothing.

Here in Brazil, there's a huge holiday called Sao João, or St John. People also call it Festa Junino or June Party, mainly within the church because St. John is a "Catholic holiday" even though they do the exact same stuff, only trade the name. What they do is get a ton of people together and do a dance called Farro, which is similar to square dancing. They also dress up as farmers and rednecks and there's a lot of food that has peanuts and corn. On Thursday, there was a pretty big party for this going on at the catholic church across the street from our apartment. Elder Vilas Boas and I were talking and then the other elders got home but had a bunch of food in their hands. When we asked where they got it, they said "from the catholics across the street! Go over there and get some too!" They said that as they were getting food everyone stared at them and got away from them as if they were wild animals! We'd already changed, so we just went over there in normal clothes. We got to the door and Elder Vilas Boas said "my friend here is american and he'd like to experience a sao joão party. Can we enter:" the lady said "oh for sure go ahead!" So we walked right into the catholic church! There was a lot of food and people were nice and offering us a bunch. I also thought that this was my chance to not be noticed because i was in normal clothes, but no, people still picked me out. As we were eating, we had something funny happen. We were talking to ourselves and a group of girls passed us and started saying stuff in english to us: "hi! hi hollywood!" I don't even know how they knew i'm american. We didn't tell anyone besides the one lady at the front gate. I asked my comp how they know, and he said that I just seem american. I said that there are still people with light eyes and hair here, and he just laughed and said yeah but you just look american, it's not super hard to tell. So i guess even people who aren't familiar with the missionaries can tell me apart! But anyway, as we were leaving they kept saying hi and after a few times i turned around and said hi back and then they all flipped, it was pretty funny! Not everyday you go to a catholic party, especially as missionary. But it was funny!

Our investigator Fatima is still doing good and still hasn't smoked! She's all set to be baptized next week on friday. Super excited to see that, it'll be awesome. It's always good to see that when your investigators get baptized they're true converts and even though they don't know everything, they know that they have to try. She's a convert for sure!

There's a recent convert that my comps baptized last transfer named Guilherme who's awesome too. He's dating a member, but she's going on a mission here soon and he's 100% supportive. His family is super catholic though. It's his parents and his younger sister. They're super nice people though and will always be welcoming to us. So, we decided to visit them just to see if we could mark a family home evening with them or something. While Elder Summers was doing a split with other missionaries, Elder Vilas Boas and I went over to Guilherme's house to talk to his family. We shared a short message from the Book of Mormon about trusting in God, and it went great. I could feel the Spirit as we taught. President Scholz talks to us a lot about teaching quickly to bring the Spirit, and then once we feel it we need to leave, so that they will feel the difference of when we we're there and after we left. So we did just that! Our message was only 7 mins and then we invited them to do a family night next week and they accepted. It was a great example to me of the power of the Spirit in teaching. As missionaries, we always need to remember that it's the Spirit that teaches and not us, and that's what happened this week. It's going to be different teaching them but if we do our part in letting the Spirit teach they'll be able to get a confirmation that our message is true. 

This week I focused a lot on thoughts during my personal study. Our personal thoughts dictate a lot of how we live, and it's through our thoughts that we are able to be happy or sad with any given situation. In the October 2016 conference (my first weekend in the field) I remember something that President Nelson said: "Latter-day saints has the ability to be happy in ANY situation." I was studying a talk about thoughts by Dean L. Larsen called 'thoughts about thoughts', and something that really stuck out to me was what we can do to always have good, constructive thoughts. Here's a part from it: 

"I’ve heard counsel given with regard to devices that might be used to protect us temporarily from the effects of bad thoughts or evil thoughts. I’ve heard the suggestion that we might sing a song, a phrase from a Latter-day Saint hymn, or recite some poetry or some verses of scripture. But this, in reality, is a defensive stance. One cannot always be on defense against evil thoughts. One must assume the offense. The best way I’ve learned to achieve this is to practice sustained, constructive thinking. That’s an exercise, brothers and sisters, that requires as much training and as much conditioning as the physical endurance required to run a long-distance race. I commend to you this morning the “exercise” of sustained constructive thinking.
As a mission president I traveled great distances over the state of Texas. (You can drive a long way in the state of Texas!) I used to spend many hours traveling alone, going from one missionary meeting or one set of interviews to another in the automobile that was provided for us. There was a lot of time to think, and many thoughts come in a situation of that kind. I discovered that it was a very helpful thing for me (and later very useful) if I used that time to practice organizing talks that I could give, forming associations of scriptural ideas and principles that would be helpful to me in expressing these relationships to others. Some of the best talks you’ll never hear, I gave to myself as I drove from one place to another in southern Texas. I recommend, that process to you. In order to sustain constructive thinking, it’s necessary for us to have something worthwhile to think about, to have in reserve, as it were, some items, some problems, some challenges, to which we can turn our minds, to think our way through to a solution. I’ve discovered in my own life that that’s the best way to obtain inspiration and whatever degree of revelation we are entitled to."

 I'm grateful for this opportunity to be a missionary, and I'm starting to realize that time is going by too fast! It's already the last week of the transfer! Something that nick told me when I was pretty new in the mission is something that his first zone leader told him: that the first 6 months in the mission feel as long as the last 18. It's true! I'm doing my best to take advantage of every day I have out here! 
I love you all.
 pic 1: Me with my last comp, elder naytson

pic 2: a family home evening we did with a recent convert. it was sweet!

pic 3: elder breno, one of the financial secretaries, accidentally spilled the toner from the printer. we were all laughing pretty hard

pic 4: me and the comps!

pic 5: first reunion of the mtc district since the first day in the mission field! way fun to see sister martin and elder cleverly at the same time
I hope you have a great week!

-Elder Odom