Today marks one month since I left the mission field. My amazing experience as a missionary came to an end on the 8th of June 2010, when I was reunited with my family and released into my parent's care. The opportunity of having my family pick me up in Manaus, Amazonas (Brazil) was definitely one of my many mission highlights. During the transfer meeting, I saw a red car drive past the church windows. Was it them…this early? At the conclusion of the meeting, I casually strolled out of the chapel to see the silhouette of my family through the morning sunlight. There they were…all three of them (my dad even wearing a white shirt…which is an interesting story in and of itself). After a long awaited embrace from my family, I had the privilege of introducing them to some of my former companions and fellow missionaries. They even had the opportunity to meet and speak briefly with President Jayme, Mission President and busiest man I know.
We momentarily stopped at the Tropical Hotel to unload my belongings and prepared for the many visits we would make to those I taught and who taught me during my time in Manaus. Although we were unable to travel to Boa Vista, we were able to spend time with several families from Compensa, Cidade de Deus, and Flores. Despite the differences in languages, the spirit was strongly felt and each visit was a spiritual experience for all present. With each visit, my family gained a better understanding of why I immensely love these people. As enjoyable as our visits were, it was difficult to say goodbye to these families…I'm a changed person for having met them.
After seeing some of the highlights of the city, we traveled by boat to Eco-Park Lodge, located in the heart of the unindustrialized Amazon rainforest where monkeys and toucans roam freely. It was a great opportunity for us to experience the jungle and witness the wildlife firsthand (much of which surrounded but eluded me for nearly two years). The sights, sounds, and feelings we encountered will never be forgotten. After all, how many people have the experience of holding a sloth, anaconda, and river turtle, as well as catch piranhas, feed a crocodile, and see pink dolphins and a boa constrictor in their natural environment? We also had the opportunity to visit the Meeting of the Waters, a floating community, and an Indian village (where I was chosen to participate in a traditional tribal dance).
At the conclusion of our jungle adventure, we headed down to Rio de Janeiro…a place I had always wanted to visit. The beaches and sights were amazing…everything I dreamt it would be. From the statue Christ the Redeemer to Sugarloaf Mountain, it was a great journey. In Rio, we were privileged to attend church with Mateus Rangel (Elder Rangel, who served with me in the office), his brother, and Kennedy Boby (a member of Flores who loved to help out with the missionary work). It truly goes to show the connections and friends you make on the mission are limitless. We even enjoyed watching a World Cup game on a FIFA big screen on the sands of Copacabana Beach.
My call as a missionary concluded on the 16th of June 2010, upon my return to the United States. The flight back home was bittersweet knowing I would soon be reunited with my American family and friends but at the same time realizing the likelihood of never seeing my Brazilian amigos again in this lifetime. After a short meeting with Stake President Francis in his chiropractic clinic, I was officially released. My release date marked exactly two years to the day that I had been set apart as a missionary. Shortly thereafter, I gave my homecoming talk on the Healing Powers of Forgiveness (at which time, I shared several mission experiences which impacted me greatly).
I hope through my mission experience that I was not only able to share my knowledge with those who read my weekly emails but more importantly with my Brazilian brothers and sisters I encountered on the streets. It is safe to say many people and things have changed over the course of two years, the most important being my own personal conviction of the truth. If there is a single message I would like to convey, it is that every person can be THE difference in the world. We all have the capacity to do what we want to do and be who we want to be. It starts with a thought followed by faithful actions. Well planned thoughts without actions lead nowhere as we all know. I am thankful for the two years I had in Brazil, for every person I met, and every challenge that was placed in my way. I know it was all part of a bigger plan…a plan that at times we cannot comprehend but must believe in, so we can truly live the gospel. I encourage all missionaries to make the best of their two years. To future Manaus missionaries, "Só os fortes sobrevivem and Missão Manaus é o maior!"