Dear Family and Friends,
Although I am not a 50 year old man, it appears I have hit that "over the hill" mark with regards to my mission and time in Brazil. Each day will now be the last of its kind...a pretty cool feeling. As I type, one year ago I was on a plane to Dallas with a hairless chest and wearing a really nice suit. Things have changed...that suit just got dry-cleaned, but no matter how many chemicals are poured on it, the Amazon stank and aged look will never disappear. Many of my nice, silk ties have since molded and I find myself wearing the ugly ties I never thought I would actually use in order to spare myself from wearing a green, self-contained environment around my neck. I'll return my thoughts to reminiscing later in my letter, but for now, I want to share some experiences I had last week.
If there was one magical experience that was missing after a year in the field, I am convinced it happened last week. It was quite an exciting week with some life-changing experiences. I'll give a brief rundown of the events starting with last P-day. Elder Noorda and I were walking down Travessa dos Franceses to go to the house of Taciara, Kelen, and Sara to share a message and eat since our teaching day just got shot. As we were walking, I remembered a referral we received that required us to cross the street and backtrack a little bit. Not being in a rush, we decided to check it out. After entering the complex, we discovered that no one was home, so we returned once again to our original spot a little disappointed. As we were approaching Taciara's home, I saw a man drive up on a moto. There was a weird scuffle followed by a gunshot and then the man on the moto took off past us. The victim was left stumbling trying to get away. It happened so fast, but we kept our cool. I later found out the guy ended up dying. Thinking back on it, if we hadn't gone back to check out the referral, one of us could have been caught in the crossfire. It was another close call that unfortunately cost one man his life.
On another day, we had to send a package from the port to Tefé. This particular package needed to get there fast, so we had to send it on the supersonic boat that arrives there in 8 hours. Fortunately, for experience purposes, we had to go onto the boat to talk with the captain and pay for shipping. We took advantage of the situation and took a few pictures with Marcos (our taxi driver) and his son Gustavo.
We had a baptism last Saturday, which went really well and ended with Habibs (Arab fast food) and guaraná. With the help of family and friends, Ala Flores continues to grow. Fábio also left this week for his mission in Interlagos, SP, so everyone was a bit more enthusiastic about missionary service. We are currently planning an activity that will hopefully harness that enthusiasm and inspire members to become excited to work as missionaries. We are making a mutirão type activity where members will be called to serve in different "countries" (actually parts of our area) essentially getting references and whatnot to help us expand our teaching pool. Fortunately, we recently encountered a ghetto in our relatively rich area that is promising. The people there are a lot more receptive to the message. It's also a really cool area where all the homes are on stilts.
As for the normal Sunday experience, it was pretty good until the evening when we received a phone call from a family that was having a rough time and asked for us to help them out. A returned missionary, Elder Noorda, and I went to check things out. Out of nowhere, the lady snaps and goes crazy coming at my face with a steak knife. Being the ninja that I am, I grabbed the knife in the blink of an eye as it was coming toward me and shoved it to the side to avoid any serious damage. As if to go for another jab, she pulled back on the knife slicing open my right thumb. The house went silent when everyone realized the crime she had just committed. Rather than yell at her, I just looked at her like...what the heck? As the blood started to surface, her eyes got big and she rushed to get a first-aid kit to clean and treat my wound. Boby just looked at her with a stunned expression on his face and Elder Noorda did a good job of being clueless and somehow missed the entire thing even though he was seated right next to me the whole time. Overall, it could have been a lot worse. Fortunately, I was in tune with the Spirit and was given lightening quick reflexes.
On another occasion, Elder Noorda and I started our big search for a few referrals that we had received. Although we have yet to find the one on R. Marachal Rodon, we had an amazing experience (similar to Trent's story a few weeks ago). As we walked down a street crowded with homes, I had the feeling we needed to knock a door of a large green apartment. We knocked one door of an old man and invited him to church, but I knew he wasn't the person who was meant to be found at that specific moment. There was only one other door on the bottom floor. I clapped and right as my hands hit together, a lady opened the door. Instantly, I knew this was it. We greeted her and I asked how she was and if she was a member of a specific church. She said she was but that they were inactive. I said, "Oh, really...which one?" She responded, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." I asked if we could enter and she allowed us in. She told us of some of the difficulties she had as a single parent and how she felt God had sent us at exactly the right moment. Just as I felt we needed to talk to the family in this apartment, she was hoping we might find her and help bring her family back to church. The children are great. They remembered many of the teachings of the Church and Isabel, the mother, actually has a daughter who will be 8 on the 22 of this month. It was a wonderful experience and we will be going back in just a few days. I am thankful for the power of the Holy Ghost and God's guiding hand that led us to this family in need of the gospel's blessings.
We have another interesting opportunity coming our way. Our ward is unique in the sense that it includes people who don't live in our area. We have been invited to lunch by one of these members, which is certain to be an adventure. I actually just got it approved by President Jayme. We are going to Rio Preto da Eva (in the middle of the forest) to almoçar with a family that is doing an extreme home makeover to their home to make things perfect for our visit. If you are interested in the whereabouts, go to the following site and type in Rio Preto da Eva: (http://maps.google.com.br/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=pt-BR&geocode=&q=manaus&sll=-13.068777,-50.449219&sspn=102.642242,156.796875&ie=UTF8&ll=-2.974584,-59.887848&spn=0.954512,1.224976&t=h&z=10).
In other news, Boby and I are going to race next Saturday (1 mile) and the loser buys ice cream. After a year of not running, it'll be a miracle if I break 6 minutes. Then again, I don't plan on losing. I can't wait...it's going to be great!
Although it was a crazy week, at least I can say I am in great health and the mosquitoes have finally realized that dengue isn't going to kill me, so they have begun to leave me alone.
Back to reminiscing...although summer is approaching and there is no hope of me spending time at the beach for at least 12 more months, I must say I am excited for the summer sol that should bake a tan back into me right up to my bicep. Summer also means no massive storms and no surprise rain that comes out of nowhere. Most importantly, summer means more people out and about and great opportunities to teach.
I'd like to thank all of you who have supported me in my decision to serve a mission and this journey that has brought about many great experiences. I have felt your prayers and love each and every day. They have given me the strength to take that next step even when my body might be telling me I can't. Thank you for all the letters, packages, emails, and photos. They always put a smile on my face. Feel free to make me feel jealous of summer trips and whatnot by sending photos...it's the least you could do (haha). Abraço and beijo to all.
Elder Taylor Mackay
Just to ease your worries, the whole incident with my friend Taciara was not as hostile as it sounds. It was a complete accident. Not realizing she was joking around, I reached out and ended up cutting my thumb on the edge of her knife. She apologized after the fact and had no intention of actually harming me. I got your attention...didn't I?