Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Well Done, Thou Good and Faithful Servant

Dear Family and Friends,

It has been a few weeks since you have received a letter from Elder Sork.  It is important we share with you why that is.  While his recent letters have sounded more positive, Elder Sork has been quietly dealing with a debilitating medical condition. Out of concern for his family, church members, and friends serving in the mission field he only wrote about the positive experiences while he tried to work through his illness with mission doctors and the mission president. 

We received word this morning that our son would be returning home from his mission today or tomorrow.  He is being honorably released as having served a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His return is sooner than originally planned. When he left he was worthy, willing, and able to serve a full 2-year mission. He is still worthy and so very wiling, but unfortunately, due to health issues, he is no longer able to serve out the remainder of his 2-year call to Brazil. Elder Sork has been diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression that has not been able to be adequately treated in Brazil.  For those of you unfamiliar with this disease, I liken it to someone who has diabetes and needs insulin.   With continued anxiety and depression the body’s ability to produce the required serotonin levels for proper physical and mental functioning is depleted.   Elder Sork is coming home to find the proper care and treatment for this disease so he can continue to serve the Lord in other capacities throughout his life. 

Elder Sork returning home is an answer to the fasting and prayers of Eric and I.  Yesterday we had a special fast for Elder Sork, knowing he was meeting with his mission president.  Our desire was that President Dias and Elder Sork would be able to counsel together, and under the direction of the spirit, know how to handle the struggles Elder Sork has been facing since entering the mission field in August.  After speaking with President Dias this morning, I know our prayers have been answered. 

Now, as we write to you we are facing another fear – how will he be received home by those he loves and looks up to?  It would be easier if this struggle were more medically noticeable. Instead, he is fighting chemically induced depression and anxiety.  Something no one can see and few understand.  He struggled with this throughout his high school years; we just did not understand how severe it was.  The stresses of the mission field just exacerbated the condition to the point his safety had to be considered.  Our fear is that because he comes home with no physical indicators of his struggle, his release from service will be questioned by those he is returning to. 

I would like to refer you to Elder Holland’s talk “Like a Broken Vessel” in the October 2013 conference where he specifically addresses people who struggle with anxiety and depression and those that care for them.  In this talk he speaks “of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!” 

We cannot imagine what must be going through Elder Sork’s mind while he is on the plane today.  Maybe it is something like this:  mourning the months of his mission he would not get to serve with the people of Brazil he has come to love so much, weeping at the thought of the people he feels he is letting down, and trying to understand how God’s plan for him included coming home early. We do not know why God did not heal him so that he could stay and serve. However, we DO KNOW that God is mindful, aware and loving! He loves our son and He has a plan for him.

We all have a different path to walk as we try to become the person the Lord knows we can be.  Each experience is just for us, for our learning and growth.  Many may judge Elder Sork and think that he should have fought harder. Many might tell him he should have had more faith, prayed more, worked harder, understood the atonement better, etc. Please refrain.  God and his mission president know that our son has given his all. He did all that he could. He prayed fervently, he fasted often, he worked with everything he has, he studied endlessly. He NEVER quit. He NEVER gave up. The mixed emotions he must have felt when President Diaz told him that he felt it was time for him to return home and get the help he desperately needs, we cannot fathom.  

It takes a lot of faith to follow the call of a prophet to leave family, friends, and your life behind to serve. It takes faith to get up every day to teach the gospel when your mind and body refuse to corporate, but you do it anyway because you are obedient.  It takes great faith to do everything the mission president and doctors ask you to do to receive the gift of health, but to have those efforts fail.  It takes faith to listen when the Lord says, “Well done thou good and faithful servant! It is enough!” It takes even more faith to leave earlier than you want to, knowing how hard it can be in our church to deal with everything and everyone that is waiting for you upon return.

Thankfully, our son does not need intensive physical treatments, but what he needs medically is just as important to him living and being healthy as chemo is for those who suffer from cancer. If you know him, if you see him, PLEASE, ask him what he loved about his mission. PLEASE, ask him to share his experiences and speak in the language that he was able to conquer! PLEASE, love him and give him a hug. PLEASE tell him how proud you are of him! He needs our support, unconditional love, and for everybody to rally around him and help him carry his burdens.  Help him remember, he is a Son of God, who loves him and is proud of him. He served an honorable mission!  We can’t wait to welcome him home and to help him find joy in his service and hope for his future. 

Eric and Keri

Monday, April 16, 2018

Goose Egg on the Noggin and Cement on the Shoes

Hey Mom,

I am super bummed to hear about Cathy and Steve’s package. I was really looking forward to getting it :/ I have no idea why it would have been ´´rejected´´. It was definitely not anything that I did and I didn’t hear anything about the mission home rejecting a package. Let Cathy know I a m really bummed but super greatful for the effort. Maybe next time :(  I know that your package arrived this week; I will pick it up this afternoon.

Not a ton happened this week. In comparison to other Elders I have had in the misison, Elder Antunes has been really good in continuing to work in his last transfer, but he is starting to slow down. We didn’t do a whole lot of work this week. One day we did a division and he went to another area, I was left with Elder Stratton and a newer Brazilian missionary so I was the senior. That meant I lead discussions and planned the day and things. It was good to see my progress. I am not fluent but am really feeling better about my language skills. It still sucks sometimes when people make fun of how I talk or have problems because of my accent, but for the most part I get by just fine and I am able to teach with the spirit and say what I want to say. I don’t have big problems understanding people anymore. I can understand just about everything I need to. So that’s good.

One funny thing that happened this week is that we were walking to an appointment when it was getting dark and I wasn’t paying attention. I walked STRAIT through a huge thing of wet cement. My shoes got destroyed. I did my best to clean them but they have an eternal grey hew now... and a lot of the people in the street saw and were all laughing at me. It was super embarrassing!  Also, while I was exercising this week, my bar broke and I fell back and hit my head really hard on the wall. I don’t think I have a concussion… I didn’t black out and don’t have any other symptoms of one, but I have got the mother of all goose eggs on my noggin now.
I think I am also getting sick.  I have a sore throat, headaches, and runny nose. I’m not excited as I think this sickness is just beginning :(

A cool thing is that I have been receiving emails from our baptism in our last area, Cinthia. I don’t know if you remember much about her, but she was definitely someone prepared by the Lord to receive our message, and I have full faith that she will stay firm. She emailed me this week saying that she has over 40 family names she will be taking to the temple to do baptisms.  She is also talking to a man who lives in the neighboring state about MARRIAGE IN THE TEMPLE!! It’s crazy to see the changes in her life and I am really happy to see the effect I have had in being able to help someone.

Love you mom, hope you have a good week,
Elder Sork

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Another Emergency Transfer

Hey Mom,

This week we had another emergency transfer.  Now I am in a  trio.  Elder Stratton from Utah is with us. He is pretty new in the mission, only has 4 months.  It is interesting to see how even though I am lacking in a  lot, I definitely have progressed. Even though Elder Stratton is new I have a LOT to learn from him. Where he lacks in technical experience, he makes up for in his awesome attitude, excitement to work, his ability to make friends, and many other good qualities. He´s a really cool guy. I like him a lot.

With the arrival of another companion, Elder Antunes has curiously  been more motivated to work, which is cool. I have been loaning him money (If you saw some purchases made on my card, it was for him haha) but I really need to be careful because he is really racking up the debt. I am just glad we are back to working. He said a few weeks ago he would give me responsibilities but in the end it didn’t really happen, I’m still just a junior companion.  I am not complaining.

We had a baptism this week. I have found that lots of the rapazes pesquisadores (young men investigators) like me.  They always ask me to baptize them and they like to talk to me because I am American. So that’s cool to feel appreciated even if I can’t speak super fluently. This baptism this week was of Mattues.  He is 13 years old and has cousins in the church. It’s sad because his mom and dad both have drinking problems and a couple nights we passed by the house of him and saw the problems drinking creates. The family is getting torn apart. I am really grateful for the guidance of modern day revelation, specifically the word of wisdom, and the happiness it brings me and our family.

I will print off the conference talks. It does cost extra money so I think one per week is plenty. Feel free to send them in letters, too. I am still waiting on the packages. I am super excited to get them, haha… I really hope they show up.

I love you, mom!  Elder Sork.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Easter in Brazil

Hey Mom, it’s good to see pictures of the family! I really missed out on the Easter festivities and conference cinnamon rolls :( They don’t really have Easter like we do back at the states. Instead of decorating eggs they have a culture of selling chocolate eggs during Easter, BIG chocolate eggs that are super expensive. I didn’t buy an egg but I bought me and my companion boxes of chocolate to enjoy.  Here’s what happened this week (not much):

In our ward they had a talent show. I took some videos and things but for some reason they didn’t work right so I just have a photo of one of the acts. I didn’t perform; I don’t feel super comfortable in this ward and also don’t have a violin or a good piano nearby so I don’t have much talent to show. But it was fun to see the Brazilians doing things! I like how everything here is so laid back. In the US, a ward talent show is a little more serious.  People stress about performing and doing acts that are really amazing or special, but here it was just a night to goof off, really. I like how relaxed (usually) the people are and how easy it is for them to enjoy their time. I want to learn how to do this because I am always so uptight, stressed, unhappy and negative.  As of now, I have not found how to effectively apply the Brazilian way of life into my mission :(

I have mentioned how here in Brazil things are a lot more laid back, and that finds its way into the church as well. Meetings are a lot less reverent, people are a lot more ´´flaky´´ with commitments and lots of members go active and inactive in matters of weeks. It’s sad. There are members who are VERY strong and active though. They teach the same things and have the same organization, but the church definitely has a different feel here in Brazil.

I was really excited about a prospect baptism of a mom and her daughter, Maria and Daisy, but Maria, the mom, even though she says she already received an answer that our messages are true and she needs to be baptized, says she doesn’t feel she can leave work to do it.  She has a contract which has her working every other Sunday until the end of the year and that she won’t be baptized until this contract ends. What a bummer. We may baptize her daughter still, and then her daughter can be an example and help her mom see the importance of baptism and continued learning and growing in the gospel.

To answer your question, how we work with the ward really depends on the companion. With this companion, we do all our work with eh YM / YM.  They are really good about introducing us to friends. Unfortunately, because the culture of the mission has been to ´´just baptize,´´ lots of members and bishops have lost trust in the missionaries. Our current bishop is one of them. So really, not much happens with the ward leadership in helping the missionaries. It’s pretty sad to see. On the other hand, when I was with Elder Kozlowski it was better. We marked days every week to leave with members of the quorum to do visits and teach lessons. I don’t like this a lot because I feel like it’s just another set of eyes/ears seeing my weakness and judging me. I feel more inadequate when we have a member with us. But I know it’s the most important way for the investigator so as I grow and one day become senior (maybe, we´ll see - I don’t like thinking about more responsibilities and expectations haha) I hope to incorporate the members of the ward in missionary work much more.

Fun Fact: they have LOTS of motorcycles in Brazil. This week I asked my companion why the motorcycles have radio antennas (lots of motorcycles have a metal pole thing in the front of the bike). It doesn’t make sense because you can hear a radio on a motorcycle! This is what he told me:  maybe I already talked about kites, I can’t remember, but here in Brazil it’s like the book The Kite Runner.  Kids make their kites and then make a mixture of glass and glue to cover the line of the kite then they battle each other.  They fly their kites with friends and the friction of the line and the coating of glass cuts the line of other kites. Last kite in the air wins.  Apparently, sometimes when a poor guy on a motorcycle is driving down the highway, these innocent strings used by kids (coated with glass, remember) pass across the road and catch the motorist in the neck and LITERALLY DECAPITATE THEM. Not always the whole head, but lots of people die from this. I didn’t believe my companion at first, it seemed so wild (haha) but it’s true! The motorcycles have these metal poles in front designed to catch the string before it slices your throat. Just a fun fact of Brazil :)

Now about conference! I found myself laughing when Elder Oaks called the names of new members of the seventy.  With so many tough names, I had flashbacks of graduation when I had to read off the hard names of my fellow classmates -haha. We had a few investigators that came to church to watch, but they were all teenagers and it was tough for them to really get into it... none of them really liked it much. That was disappointing, but the young men/women in the ward are awesome and they make friends easily so I think they will return to church for a normal meeting this next week and hopefully down the line accept baptism! I am sure you were wondering how it was with the language... it’s just as you described. I understood more than I had expected, but less then I liked. It was like this: If I REALLY concentrated, listened intently, and blocked out all distractions and other thoughts, I could understand almost 100% of the words in each talk! It is a lot easier to understand things of the gospel because I study this style of speaking and I also teach in the same way. (Let it be known that when I am in a group of teenagers, I understand NOTHING. I swear they are speaking another language.) I really had to focus just to understand the words, and it was easy to get sidetracked. But it was cool to see how much I could understand without distractions. BUT, here is the sad part, I had no time to reflect or think about the messages and write down promptings and thoughts that I received because the SECOND I broke that focus, I instantly got lost. I have basically no notes from conference even though I was listening so intently and understood the words.  What I retained and also fully understood of the truths behind the words was super weak. The conference was not the spiritual experience I had been hoping for. I fasted both days to try and feel the spirit but really didn’t. The spirit definitely speaks to me through English, not Portuguese. If you attach the talk that you mentioned, I can print it off. I would also ask that in the next package you send the English Ensign of conference talks so that in the next few months I can really study the words that were said and feel the spirit (in English). I did understand the changes that were made (just not the details on how they will work). It is very interesting. Also super exciting about the new temples announced! I think a temple will be announced in my mission in the next few conferences, we had goals of baptizing quorums (priesthood holders) to help a few stakes divide, and to create new stakes because they need a certain number of stakes in the area to warrant a temple.  We are really close. It will be really cool when they finally have a temple, cool also to know that my teaching the gospel and helping people be baptized is also going to help everyone in this area continue to progress in their covenants by getting a temple close. Someday I hope to return here with my family when they have a temple!  I really miss the temple and the peace I always felt there. Visiting the temple is one of the first things (if not THE first thing) I would like to do when I get back.

I am really missing the family.  It is crazy how much this mission experience has brought to my attention the importance love and family has in my life. It grows each week I am away from you guys. And I get so excited just to read your emails and hear about your lives, to know you guys are okay, are happy, healthy, and all the little details. Never feel like you can´t write to me because I don’t have time to respond. I never have a problem reading all the emails I receive. As of late I have been receiving less, so it’s even easier to respond.

 I haven’t received any package from you or Cathy yet, I think I will get them the end of the transfer (the end of April), fingers crossed. I love you mom, have a good week.

Elder Sork

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Faith Is Blind

Hey mom,

As you know my new companion is Elder Antunes. This is his last transfer so he isn’t super motivated to work. We spend a lot of time ´´chilling´´ so I have had a lot of time to exercise and to study. My pants are fitting a little bit better.  I am trying to stay healthy. I don’t know if Elder Antunes hates me or likes me. He´s really hot and cold and really, really impatient with my language struggles.  When I have to ask him to repeat things a few times he gets really grumpy. He is also impatient with investigators. There are still things I am learning from him.  He’s giving me more responsibility because he doesn’t want to do much. Another thing that’s been tough with Antunes is he really likes to listen to music, American music. I already asked him to stop.  There is no way he will stop so after that, I at the least asked him to use headphones so I don’t have to listen to it, but he only uses headphones half the time. I have found that music is the FASTEST way to make me homesick. It made this week really tough. The music brought back lots of memories and longings for home. Today I am hoping to spend a little extra time on the computer to download a bunch of church music and piano guys music that I hope to use to drowned out the music my companion listens to. Hopefully I can leave this transfer a better missionary. Antunes has a goal to baptize every week during his last transfer. We had a baptism this last week and have another marked for conference weekend.

I am excited for conference but also nervous because it’s all going to be in Portuguese.  I won’t have it in English like in the CTM. I know I am gonna miss a lot of the messages. General Conference was a super spiritual experience in the CTM, but I am worried I am not gonna get much out of it because I won’t understand so much. We´ll see.

This week the power company or something in the government was under investigation and power to the entire state of ParaĆ­ba was off for about 10 hours. We had a lesson with an investigator (Maria Nilta and her 2 daughters) that night. We taught the restoration by candlelight. Elder Antunes was really impatient with them because they haven’t accepted baptism yet, and he didn’t want to teach the lesson so I taught the whole restoration. I gave him time to talk but he wouldn’t say anything and during the lesson he was huffing and puffing and sighing, totally distracting from the message. I got really frustrated. In the end the spirit was there and he shared his testimony. It was a powerful experience. I hope to baptize this family during this transfer.

I had another funny language experience. One night this week we ordered pizza to be delivered.  While we were waiting for the delivery Antunes went to take a shower. While he was in the shower, the pizza guy called to confirm the address.  It was a disaster because I couldn’t understand what he was saying and I don’t know our address or how to describe where we live in the area, so I just ran out into the street (almost forgot to put on a shirt) and yelled a lot as the pizza guy was passing by. I think for people watching it was pretty funny. The pizza was great so it was worth it.

I am trying to get a video that a recent convert took of me on his phone, but they have problems sending videos here. I don’t know if the cellphone companies don’t support it or what, but hopefully this next week I will have it. The uncle of this young man trains dogs, and so we put on an arm brace thing and the uncle loosed a German shepherd that ´´attacked´´ us (is trained to bite on the arm brace). It was really cool.

That was my week this week. I heard about Chad, man I thought I had it tough! He is a trooper. I will keep him in my prayers.

I have been thinking a lot about the atonement and Jesus Christ. With the extra study time I have, I have started reading Jesus the Christ again. I am trying to understand better the Savior as a person and someone I can really learn to relate to and love. I know that my faith needs to be based on Him. This last week I did personal study on faith as an attribute of Christ and it was edifying. I didn’t have a very good understanding of faith. I was thinking that because I hadn’t felt the spirit really strong or had big spiritual experiences, I didn’t have faith. But now I know that when we feel the spirit or have spiritual experiences, this is when faith turns into knowledge. Faith really is BLIND. It’s the actions we take, the things we do, WITHOUT a strong confirmation of the spirit or spiritual experiences. Its acting, with hope and confidence, that through our actions we WILL receive the influence of the spirit and have those spiritual experiences (when that faith, becomes a knowledge). I know that faith in Jesus Christ is very important so I am working to improve my ´´why´´ (the reasons I act and do the things I do) so I can have confidence and hope.  I hope that through my actions I will receive those spiritual experiences and gain a knowledge of Jesus as my Savior, that my mission is exactly where I need to be, etc.

Love you guys,
Elder Sork

Monday, March 19, 2018

More Responsibilities

Hey Mom, 

Transfers were today. I am staying with Elder Antunes. This is his last transfer and then he goes home. He´s pretty tired and really getting ´´trunky´´ so I don't know what is really gonna happen this transfer. He´s getting really grumpy too. I have a feeling that both my patience and his will be tested. Elder Antunes is a cool guy but our personalities don't match up. 

This week we had interviews with the President and a division (missionary split). My companion needed to do an interview in another area so I needed to stay and work our area with another companion. I was SO nervous.  I've only been here for a week and Elder Antunes left me in the area with a day full of commitments and lessons. I barely know how to arrive at our house let alone to find the houses of our investigators. I had to find the houses, lead the discussions, etc. I was praying so hard in my heart as we walked to the other area to start the division. I can't describe to you how scared I was, but it turned out okay. The lessons were not great, but I got us to the house and led them so that's a win. The only problem I had was at the end of the day. I had no idea how to get back to the house. We wandered for about an hour and eventually called to get directions to the church. 

Elder Antunes says that he doesn't want to do a lot during the last transfer, so I will have ´´responsibilities.´´ The first responsibility that he gave me was the baptismal fichas.  Those are the baptismal forms. I am to fill them out, keep them safe and then send them to the mission office. That  next night I forgot my bag with my scriptures and the fichas in a restaurant and lost our fichas. So I failed my first responsibility, woohoo! The second responsibility Elder Antunes has given me is the cell phone. I am to make and receive all the calls. The cell phone is my first enemy. Portuguese and Portuguese on a cellphone, are two different languages. The first day I had the phone I called to confirm to our investigators that we were passing by their house at 3:45 with a ride to the church. We showed up at their house and they were surprised to see us because they thought we were passing by at 6:45... second responsibility, failed!! That has kinda been the theme of my week. I am hoping that this transfer things can get better. President Dias just said in my interview with him this week to keep going, that with time things will get better - the same thing he told me the last time. ´´Time´´. I just feel like I need an ETERNITY - not to be perfect,but just to figure out how to be a missionary! 

This week I learned how to make pancakes from scratch with a Brazilian and shared some maple with them, they really liked it. I will finish the Book of Mormon in Portuguese tonight for the first time. I have never received a big answer that the book is true, but it is a source of comfort to me when I read when I am stressed or overwhelmed I find peace. I really hope that I am not ´´missing´´ answers, because I REALLY want them and am really hoping for them. 

I love you, Mom. I hope Grandma gets better quick.  Give her some love for me.

Elder Sork

Monday, March 12, 2018

Mission Upheaval Part II

Hey Mom,

We had a baptism this week but I didn’t have my camera with me. iIt was kind of a freebee for me because this is my new area and I didn’t really do a lot of the work. I just showed up, but the investigator wanted me to baptize him so that was cool. His name is Emmanuel and he is 16 years old. This new ward has a great youth program and the youth have really good retention with our new members.  This is rare in this mission.

After all the transfers last week, we had a zone conference where President Dias spoke about several changes that needed to happen in the mission. I got transferred because 10 missionaries got sent home early.  Many companionships and missionaries had to get moved around to make sure everything was covered. I think our president is finally realizing just how messed up the mission is.  He did some ´´spring cleaning´´ and 10 missionaries were doing things so bad they got sent home, lots of other missionaries are on probation and have warnings that they could be sent home. They are really cracking down on mission rules and also how we handle our investigators. Now people need to attend sacrament meeting 3 times before they are to be baptized, along with lots of other new rules. We´ll see if things change. President Dias is really serious. Normally he is a ´´softy´´ but I think we have some general authority and area authority attention on this mission now so he’s really cracking down.

My new companion is Elder Antunes, we were a trio but our other companion (Elder Cipili, a Brazilian living in Utah) went home last week after the first wave of missionaries left. Elder Antunes has one transfer left, and then he goes home. So he is at the end of his mission and he’s pretty tired.  He sleeps a lot and I read a lot - I think I will finish the Book of Mormon this week in Portuguese. With Elder Antunes we don’t work anything like I did with Kozlowski.  Part of that is cultural and part of it personal, I think.  Antunes likes to work with member’s references and Kozlowski really didn’t know how to do that, and you know that I had no clue. So I am learning how to work references with Elder Antunes. That will be good. I like it a lot better than knocking on doors in the heat every day, and he has been getting baptisms so I think it works. We´ll see.

I have been struggling with getting good sleep, still. Sister Dias (wife of the president) gave me some natural herbs that were to help after the zone conference. I have tried them the past few nights but I still wake up 3 or 4 times every single night.  I’m not sure why.

A real quick, a thought for the blog:  I was reading in Ether 9: 2/3 about the brother of Jared when he prayed for help to bring light to the ships. The lord didn’t solve the problem for him, but encouraged the brother of Jared to use his agency, knowledge, and the capacity he had been given by God to do what he could to solve the problem for himself.  In that light, the brother of Jared went and got the stones and made a plan which he presented to God.  He asked God simply to touch the stones so they could give off light. The Lord helped him and fulfilled the plan the brother of Jared had put forth.  “Thus we see” that when we pray for help we have a responsibility to look for ways WE can solve our own problems with our own ability, and then the Lord will help us with the rest.

Love you,
Elder Sork