Here in the beautiful Cidade Maravilhosa, the weather has finally started to cool down. We caught a bunch of rain at the beginning of this week, and I even had to use a blanket to sleep a few of the nights. Now, the rain has passed, and the temperature hasn't risen as much like before. I believe that the worst has already passed. So, as you guys warm up, we are cooling down now. :) How is everyone doing? I am not trunky... and definitely not counting down, but seeing that I am the oldest missionary living in our home (there are three others living with me... all Brasilians!), the others like to give me a hard time that I have less than five months until I get home. As I entered my email this morning, my buddy Colton had sent a photo of all the guys who have returned home up until now. More than half are home now! I did not believe my eyes! It is crazy how time is flying. Dustin sent me an email this week talking about how he is down to less than a transfer (six weeks). That blew my mind! He will be home before we know it. I can't even believe how two years has passed so quickly.
This has been a great week, and not only for me, but for all the missionaries in our zone. Each and every day, I thank my Heavenly Father for putting me in this certain part of Rio de Janeiro. Many missionaries would say that it is a hard area, that no one wants to hear our message, and many other things, but looking past the difficulties, This stake has the highest retention of recent converts and is ready to do some splitting and construction of more chapels. I can also relate to many of the members here. I haven't always had this on the mission. I look back to February of 2013, when I very first arrived in Andaraí. Yes, it was EXTREMELY hard in the beginning. However, the progess that Andaraí has made since that point is marvelous, and I am grateful for the opportunity I had to serve in the area, and now to still be here helping all the missionaries in this area. When I was in Andaraí, the normal attendance in a Sacrament Meeting was 140. Lately, the normal attendance is 180-200. Yesterday, the Sisters, together with the ward did an activity, and the attendance bumped up to 366. It was UNBELIEVABLE. The ward basically doubled this last Sunday.
Saturday, Alex was baptized, and boy was it a special moment. :) We continued to pass the whole week, and he was prepared to be baptized. His father, who has been passing many health problems and was bed-ridden for weeks, miraculously was able to walk and see his son be baptized. The Lord truly helped him be there. Alex bore a strong testimony at the end of the service, and I could truly feel the truthfulness of the church through his simple words. How I am so grateful to be here on the mission. Nothing compares to these experiences.
Because of the time, I must go. However, I love you all sooooooooo much! I hope all is well, and that the vacation went well. Send me photos of it all! I will be expecting these photos. I have no doubt of the truthfulness of this church, and I will make good use of this little time I have left. :)
Com muito amor e saudades,
Elder Steven Bennett