It is Sunday (Domingo) and we have had a good day. It started by going to church. We are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormon). Hereafter, I will likely refer to it as "the church", not to be snobbish, but just because of my laziness in typing. We have a beautiful (and small) new chapel here very close to our home.
I am always amazed when we move or travel at how instantly familiar and welcoming our church is. I have friends of other faiths who can take months "shopping around" for the right congregation when they move. We know that our services will always be the same, no matter where we go. And while it does take some adjustment to get to know the new members of the congregation, and to get the "feel" of the ward, it is all basically the same.This is true here as well. They follow the same format, sing the same songs, teach from the same manuals. The spirit is the same. The language....a little different.
Last week (our first Sunday here), we didn't yet have a car. But Tom had made a connection with a member here in Sao Carlos. He belongs to another ward (congregation). His name is Julio. He came to meet us Saturday night and brought a lovely orchid plant. He then made arrangements to pick us up in the morning for church. Keep in mind there are 6 of us. The next morning (church starts at 9:00am) Julio and his wife brought 2 separate cars to pick us up. They brought us to church, arranged a time to pick us up, and then drove across town to make it to their own ward. They were very generous in offering to help us with anything we needed-and they really meant it!
We walked into the chapel, and the members all looked genuinely excited to see us. We were greeted immediately. Each of us was kissed on the cheek by the primary president. Tessa laughed about that for a long time. We aren't used to such physical contact by strangers. The bishopric got all of our information. Several members were trying to talk to us while Tom was giving the information. I used my standard greeting. After that, I just smile and wave...smile and wave.
We were sitting during the services, when the bishopric counselor presiding motioned for one of the young men to come up to the stand. He passed him a note and whispered in his ear. The young man walked back and handed Tom the note. When the speaker was finished, the counselor announced that Tom would bear his testimony. Now, that is getting the new members involved right away! I didn't understand what Tom said, but at one point I heard my name and everyone turned to look at me and laughed. Always the wise-cracker, Tom. It was a friendly laugh. I just smiled and waved.
Nobody spoke English on that first Sunday. The Relief Society sisters (the women's group) were very concerned about my comfort during the women's class. They kept trying to use as many random English words as they could think of. I just wanted them to ignore me. The sister on my left made a present to me of her manual (in Portuguese of course). I graciously accepted and have actually tried studying it since. Then I was invited to say the closing prayer. OK... I said it in English. They all raved at my beautiful words. Funny. I was thinking the same about their words.
Today, we had our own car. So, in true Higbee fashion, we arrived a few minutes late. They were singing the opening hymn. We were still greeted at the door, and everyone smiled at us as we trudged up to the front. I didn't feel uncomfortable, though. I knew they were happy to see us. And I was happy to see them. It's a small ward. Last week, our family made the congregation fifty two. This week, there were more members in attendance (last week was a holiday). We probably had about 75 today. It's a little different from Utah.
We were greeted after the service and before Sunday School classes by several members, the Stake President, and the visiting American missionary serving from Boise, Idaho. I enjoyed speaking to him in English! Marissa was whisked off to class by a young woman (Cassi) who speaks English. She wasn't here last week. She was Marissa's teacher, so she gave the lesson in Portuguese and English. Yay for Marissa! The same Cassi came to Relief Society with me and translated some things. She was very kind.
After the meetings, Cassi's family invited us into a room. They told us that they had prayed about our family during Family Home Evening the previous Monday trying to decide what they could do to help us. They came up with a plan. They would have us over for dinner. They would take us places; shopping, to the movies, etc. Two of the daughters speak English (the parents don't). These daughters would help our children. They offered to come and pick up the children tonight for a children's choir practice (which they did). They got all of our contact information. They asked us to follow them home so we could see where they lived. They asked us other things that they could do to help. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude.
Tessa just turned eight. That means she is old enough to be baptized. She had an interview with the bishopric today. Tom translated. We scheduled a baptism date for September 2nd! After the interview, the counselor told us they would like to have our family over for a barbecue and asked what we liked to eat. He also asked me what I would like to do as a job in the ward. Um...something without words? He said he would give it some thought. They are ready to put us to work. Pray for me!
Tonight, after dinner, our neighbors invited us over. Marlee and Marceo (sp?)--the parents of Erika and Renan. They gave us fresh juice and dessert and we sat in their living room and talked. (I mostly listened). I actually got a lot of what was being said without Tom translating. I still can't form a sentence to save my life. Marlee invited me to come over for cooking lessons. Yay!! She said we can use google translate on their tablet. They also are going to help us get set up for a delivery service where we can order milk and fresh fruits and vegetables. I'm loving that idea! She also wants to take me shopping.
Meanwhile, our kids were down at the park teaching their kids American "night games". Now we have a little bit of Clover Ridge right here in Parque Faber! I walked down at one point, and heard Jaden counting in Portuguese. Funny. Everyone was laughing and squealing and having a great time. I smiled and said a little prayer of thanks.
I can't count all of the people who have helped us so generously, even before we arrived. The students from the university, and Celso, the professor, have spent countless hours preparing things for our arrival, so the transition would be as painless as possible. I shudder to think of how things would be if they hadn't laid all the ground work. For days before we got our own car, students Nassim and Valeria (and husband Tim) shuttled us around everywhere! They continue to help us daily. I just feel so grateful that, while things have been difficult, we have experienced so many blessings coming through the people that we have encountered. And I am beginning to understand what Tom has been telling me all along: the Brazilian people are a kind and generous people. At last, I am beginning to feel at home here with my South American brothers and sisters!