Elder Cooper Siebers has been called to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He will serve for 24 months in the Brazil, Rio de Janeiro mission. He enters the Provo, Utah Missionary Training Center on 10 July 2013.

Monday, November 25, 2013

20. Madureira, Rio de Janeiro

25 November 2013

Excerpts from this week's letter to home:

...Elder Cassimiro and I are an interesting pair.  He is a convert of a few years.  He and his mother are the only members in his family.  He is a wonderful teacher!  We have become very good at understanding each other.  When he speaks I can just about understand everything he says.  He knows my vocabulary now and is teaching me.  These last few days we have been pretty quiet as we have walked around though because it has been been raining.  He is only one transfer ahead of me [meaning he has only been in Rio six weeks longer than Cooper] and this is his first time training.  Poor guy got stuck with a fresh American.  He is showing extreme patience. But I feel like my progress is paused because I can not speak the language.  I know the things that we SHOULD be doing, but with this  language barrier I cant get any of it done. It's frankly quite frustrating!

...It is so funny that you look at the clock and wonder what I am doing because so many times I wish you all could get a snapshot, or even better a live feed of what is going on.  I remember thinking this while we were teaching a woman named Paola (the Portuguese version of Paula) and thought to myself, "Mom would love to see this."  We taught her late at night in a dark alley where she lives.  These moments and so many others I wish you could just see!

...The highlight for this week is T and J. Their two little ones opened up to us and we've been playing with them a bit.  But more importantly they both accepted a baptismal date which wont be until February.  They have to get married first. But they've been coming to church. And although in the lessons I can't say much there is a great bond between us and we are always laughing.

...A favorite ward family is S and her daughter C.  We had Family Home Evening at their house with an investigator CH and three of her five daughters.  The youngest, probably just three years old, walked all they way there in her flip flops- about a mile each way!  C is 15 years old and can't wait to serve a mission.  She has come with us several times to teach investigators which is good because I am basically useless.

...I did the sealing on three blessings which I was not prepared for at all. It's the faith and Priesthood that matters though, not the words.

...In other news, I definitely am learning how to survive here. I found the Doritos, so I should be good if all else fails. The food really is fine though. I learned how to change the shower temperature, and how to start the washing machine! Baby steps!

...Guarana is the main drink here, like the Coke or Pepsi of America. I think I've had tried it before at Epcot at that soda drinking place. It's not too bad. Some amazing food here-Maracuja: Passion fruit juice; Açai- delicious berry, in shaved ice form!

...We had grilled bologna sandwiches after a lesson with T and J.   They were surprised that I put the butter on the top and bottom. I hate being that foreign person that everyone thinks is really incompetent!

...We walked three miles to go to McDonald's. The chicken sandwich was a big McNugget on a bun, and when I asked for "minus salad" I got a side of salad instead of my french fries!  Vanilla cone was awesome though!

...Its been overcast for 4 days now. Scattered rain throughout the day which is awesome! I'm not sweating and I love the rain.

...Saturday and Sunday are for parties.  People gather together on the streets and put together a "churassco" or barbeque.  So on Saturday we were walking in the pouring rain.  A group of people, thirty or so, were gathered under some roofing.  The steam from the grill flowing everywhere, and the song "The Heat is On". It was just so funny to see.  This is what people live for here.  

...I finished a run through of the Book of Mormon I started in the MTC. I've chosen my own 30 "Scripture Masteries" and I'd like to share one of them with you all that has been bringing me strength this week. I'm just gonna take a part of the scripture, Alma 17: 11

"...be of good cheer and let us go in search of the flocks, and we will gather them together and bring them back unto the place of water..."

Ammon was literally talking about sheep that had dispersed, but we should always apply the scriptures to our own lives.  I need to be of good cheer always! Although the language is a problem I know it will come. In the meantime I'm helping those lost sheep return to the water...the Living Water of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Why should I ever be upset?  "Thine afflictions will be but a small moment".  (D&C 121:7-8)

I'd love to hear about detail about thanksgiving this week!

Elder Siebs

[Cooper would really like to hear from you!  Please consider sending him an email this week.  He now has the ability to print emails and will then try to respond to them the next week.  Email him at cooper.siebers@myldsmail.net.]

Monday, November 18, 2013

19. Madureira, Rio de Janeiro

What a week it has been!  Full of excitement!  This will be a long post covering a lot of conversation and random communications with Elder Siebers.

Last Monday November 11th Cooper left the area of Gilbert AZ that he had grown to love so much.  We were able to talk to him twice, once while he was still in Phoenix and again while he was in Atlanta.  He was honest about feeling kind of depressed about leaving Gilbert.  He truly loved many people there and felt he had a lot of work still undone.  He didn't find out for sure that he was leaving until just the Friday prior when President Nattress called him.  But he had had a few hints to know it was coming.  One, he had received a letter from President Lima in Rio welcoming him.  And, possibly more telling, each missionary is given a monthly "allowance" for personal needs and some groceries.  The first day of November, he was given only half of his allowance, with no explanation.  He was very grateful that he found out on Friday and was able to say goodbye to so many people that weekend.  To his dear friends there- he plans to visit Gilbert as soon as his mission ends in the Summer of 2015.... maybe on his way out to school.

We asked how he felt about his Portuguese, he said he was feeling pretty good because he had two sentences memorized "Help me." and "Show me the way..."  He told us he was not worried, refused to stress and planned to just "go with the flow".  He was also very grateful that he had had an opportunity to teach the Gospel in his native language first- he feels his teaching skills were much stronger because he had been able to serve in Gilbert for 12 weeks.

Dad caught him up on the NFL and Red Line Derby.

We were able to conference in Mallory from Dachong, China; but it was 3 am her time and she sounded very groggy.  However, I could hear the excitement in both of their voices when Mallory got on the line.

We encouraged Cooper to make a small soda purchase with his personal debit card so that we could maybe see where he was.  It worked!  On Thursday Scott checked his online banking and there was a $13.03 purchase which we later found out was water.

The next Morning we received a scanned copy of a handwritten note from Cooper:

  • He told us that he and Elder E (a buddy from the MTC) got the center row of the plane to themselves and that they spent a lot of the time talking about their experiences since they separated in late August.
  • He said that he ended up talking to a pastor of another faith who "hadn't talked to a Mormon since 1996"- Cooper was traveling light but was able to give him a copy of the Book of Mormon edition of the Ensign
  • He was grateful that President Lima spoke slow and simply to help these new Elders understand.
  • The freeway took them over a favela and he said "don't worry mom, President Lima says they never send the Elders in to the favelas."
  • Every apartment has a washing machine
  • It reminded him of St. Thomas but much much busier
I loved having that handwritten note and was once again very grateful for technology and a Mission President that clearly understands how much parents worry.

A couple of days later we received a welcome letter from President Lima with this photo:

President and Sister Lima with Elder Siebers

That brings us today.  We received an email this morning, a bunch of photos and then... what a treat- he hand wrote a five page letter, took photos of each page and then was able to send those along a few hours later.  I just love him.  He remembered to tell me all the things I needed to know so my heart and mind could calm down a bit.  I have combined it all in to one letter:

18 November

Well...The good news is that I'm still alive... At least that was I had to keep telling myself the first day I was here. Its really not that bad anymore.

So I only have one hour to respond to two hours of email. GRRRRRR And this stupid keyboard is different and he space bar is terrible.

Getting here:   When I was first in the car with President Lima and saw the favelas they reminded me of my Lego table as a kid- buildings often without roofing, made up of all different materials in all kinds of colors. Most of Rio, including the area I am living in looks that way.

This is not Lego Land.

Tuesday: Anyway, after President Lima picked us up from the airport we went to a church building and had some lunch. Then the American missionaries received instruction from the assistants. That only lasted a mere hour and then we had a very quick transfer meeting. My companion is Elder Cassimiro. He's from Sao Paolo and is only one transfer ahead of me. He only speaks Portuguese, a few English words here and there though. Elder Cassimiro and I then rode a crowded city bus darting through the city with  55 and 68 pound suitcases with a bunch of people I couldn't communicate with. That day we walked around a bit and practiced talking to people on the street.  No one could understand me, and I couldn't understand them.  We had Correlation meeting that night with our Ward Mission Leader.  He speaks English pretty well, so now I know where to go in a true emergency.  That first day was truly bad.  We didn't have any clean water or toilet paper. I would put a face [emoticon] there but i don't know how.  So yeah, that day really stunk as I went without water all day.

Wednesday I woke up to lots of bug bites on my feet.  We took a trip in to a favela that day, and to be honest it doesn't seem that dangerous.  We talked to a lot of people in the street that day, but the person we went there to see was not home.  We finally went to the store and I got the things that would carry me through the week.

Thursday I started to feel more comfortable; the food, water, safety, all is okay.  We taught several lessons that day but it's all kind of a blur as I didn't understand most of it.  We were out from 12-9 that day which killed my feet and back.

Friday I tightened my shoes and switched to my MountainSmith backpack [it has lumbar straps] and this helped so much!  I have been fine ever since.  We visited the Zone Leaders place and it is SO much nicer than ours, which gives me hope.

Saturday was blazing hot and all of our appointments fell through.

Sunday was the best day of the week, it rained all day.  I loved going to Church.  We brought T and J and their two little ones with us.  The brother who plays the piano is really talented and plays arrangements of all the hymns at a much faster and brighter pace.  So much fun to sing the hymns!

Language and Companion:  Elder Cassimiro is a great and patient trainer and is hindering the work to have me learn. I contact a minimum of 15 people each day on the street and have  spoken in every lesson. The people really couldn't understand me at first but its getting much better. At the beginning of the week I could understand about 5%. Now I'm anywhere from 30-80%, depending on how fast and how terrible they talk. [apparently people in Rio tend to slur their words together?]  On Sunday I spoke for about five minutes and people gave me a lot of compliments, but I think it is because I know mostly Church vocabulary.  But I know I am improving and that is all part of this experience.

(I've been learning so much so fast. I learned that "Cooper" is slang for "jogging".  Strange.  And cars have the right of way.)

Food- Food has been awesome so far. Members typically give us money for lunch and we go to this buffet, where I eat chicken tenders, rice, fries and a couple other new things here and there. Its awesome.  The homemade dishes are awesome as well. We had dinner at the Bishops on Sunday which was awesome. Probably the best mashed potatoes I've ever had!  I've had an apple for breakfast and Ramen for a late night dinner.

Health- Has been completely fine, just a bit red from the sun.

The area we live and serve in is called Madureira, and we also serve in Osvaldo Cruz. Our apartment is tiny and is pretty sketchy, but that's probably  because I had just come from Gilbert, which was pretty cruel. This place is pretty small and compact.  The houses are stacked on top of one another and are not very pleasing to look at.  It reminds me of Curacao.

There seems to be a lot of success here because many of the people have nothing to do.  They often just sit in front of their house and watch the world go by.  They listen to us because they have nothing else to do. In the States people are so caught up in their lives.  We have all these other things that bring a false sense of success to our lives, money, sports, or whatever.  The people here are looking for something that gives them real purpose.  The Gospel offers just that!

Email:  A lot of people emailed me this week and I feel really bad because I just didn't have time to respond to all of them, but I very much appreciate that they are all thinking of me.

Sometimes it's hard to believe that I am going to be here for another year and 7 months, but this mission is fulfilling three of my life values and goals:
  1. Always have the spirit of adventure!
  2. When you are uncomfortable you are learning
  3. Strengthen my Testimony
I love you all so much!

Elder Cooper Siebers


Sunday, November 10, 2013

18. Gilbert to Rio de Janeiro

10 November 2014

Elder Siebers will leave Gilbert AZ where he has been since late August and fly to Rio de Janeiro tomorrow. It has been a fun and exciting week for us back on the home front as we have received some photos from those in Arizona that he spends a lot of time with.

He got a "blast from the past" when Cheryl Christiansen, who lived in the West Hartford (or was it Hartford 2nd then) Ward with us back in 1996.  Cheryl lives in Gilbert now and was able to meet Cooper and Elder H at Dunkin Donuts.  Luckily she came with proof that she knew Cooper back then because he had to admit that he did not remember her.

Another great example of our ward family- from friends in our BYU wards, to friends who have long left Connecticut, to brand new friends who have taken Cooper into their home while in Gilbert-  I am so thankful for the many people who have been an example and friend to my kids.

Cooper and Sister Christensen

Dropping in to say goodbye to another family (the S Family) who often cared for Elder Siebers.

With J and her kids!

Sister P texted me this morning.  She knew she would see Cooper later today and said that if I wanted to send any photos she could print them and send them along.  (How great is that?)  I saw her text just as I sat down in Sacrament Meeting- and thought to myself- more than anything I think Cooper would appreciate hearing from all his friends in the Canton Ward.  

The P Family took the Elders to Five Guys- looks like Cooper went with his traditional hot dog.

And a few more Goodbyes.  Apparently Cooper told Sister P that you gotta handle good byes like a band-aid, just rip them off really fast and then they don't hurt as much.

Elder Sievers and Elder Siebers!

The Elders at the Gilbert "house".

Tomorrow... instead of an email- we should be getting a phone call during his layover in Atlanta.  We are all so excited to talk to him.... even hoping to conference Mallory in from China!  I do love technology.

11 November

We got to talk to Cooper for almost an hour today while he was in Phoenix and then for another 30 minutes tonight while he was in Atlanta.  For the earlier call we were able to conference in Mallory from China. Mallory and Cooper have always been very close and it was so fun to hear the excitement in both of their voices.  Then Riley and Madison came home from school and all six of us were "together" for just a few minutes.  It was a lifetime highlight for me.  Here are a few highlights from our chat today:

* The elders in his "house" in Gilbert are getting memory foam mattresses donated by ward members tomorrow!  He can't believe his misfortune in missing out on that.

* He found out last Friday that he was traveling today, but he had a few hints, the most obvious being when his November "allowance" from the Gilbert Mission was given to him in late October and it was half of what it is supposed to be.

* Most of the members of his wards knew he was leaving and so he was grateful that he got to have a full Sunday of saying goodbye.  Over and over he mentioned names of families that are so dedicated to member missionary work and were so good to him and his companions.

* When I asked how he thinks his Portuguese is fairing after 3 months off he said "well, I know how to say 'help me' and 'show me the way', so I am not worried, I am ready to go with the flow.  It's gonna be great."

* He expressed gratitude for getting to serve in the US (in his native language) for a while before going.  He feels like he has become a better and more confident teacher.  He said that when you learn to teach the Gospel in another language it is somewhat rudimentary.  He feels he has advanced his ability to teach, now his Portuguese just needs to catch up!

* Thee of the five pants he took are falling apart.  Great.  This would have been good information to have a WEEK ago when Amazon Prime was useful to us.

* There were fifteen (?) Rio bound missionaries that entered the Provo MTC on July 10th with him.  Three are in Brazil.  Cooper and Elder Evans arrive tomorrow.  And the rest are patiently and happily enjoying their stateside missions for now.

* He asked about the Hartford Temple progress and if it had started.  We told him that some dirt has been moved around, but we also know that contractors and their families are moving to the area so we know we will see more action soon.  He pointed out that he should be returning right about the time the Temple is done and ready for the Open House to the public.  He was excited about volunteering at the Open House and sharing the Temple with many of his friends here.

* His pday will still be on Mondays- so we get to enjoy another week of wondering where he is and what he is doing.  I reminded him that when he arrived in Gilbert, one of the first things he did was make a $1.51 debit card purchase as a Circle K and it thrilled us to know where he was. (You gotta love online banking.) I told him to buy a soda "on me" as soon as he can.

* We talked a little bit about missionary work and what members can do to help others draw closer to Christ- I loved his answer "Missionary work is simple.  It's all just about loving other people.  You feel Heavenly Father's love and you share that with them.  That's it."

And that's a wrap.  This mom is missing her son, but as I said to someone earlier today, there no where I would rather have him be at this time, and we spent the first 19 years of his life with serving a mission as the goal. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that.

Luckily, I have good friends who take good care of me.  One sent me this today:

“You are doing God's work. You are doing it wonderfully well. He is blessing you, and He will bless you, --even--no, -especially--when your days and your nights may be most challenging. Like the woman who anonymously, meekly, perhaps even with hesitation and some embarrassment, fought her way through the crowd just to touch the hem of the Master's garment, so Christ will say to the women who worry and wonder and weep over their responsibility as mothers, `Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.' And it will make your children whole as well.” 

― Jeffrey R. Holland

As far as contacting Cooper- you can still reach him at his email.  He has had a hard time reading all emails since they have less than an hour to read and respond.  Our family is looking at a website called Mission Ties.   It is essentially a Dear Elder website for Brazilian Missions.  Apparently for the same cost as mailing a letter from the US, you submit it online, they print it in Sao Paolo and mail it to him, so he gets it within two days (as opposed to 2-4 weeks.)  We are going to try it out and try to send most of our letters this way so that he has them to read DURING the week and not during his email time.

But that being said- please drop him a quick line and let him know you are thinking of him.  I know he would love it!  cooper.siebers@myldsmail.net

Monday, November 4, 2013

17. Gilbert AZ

4 November 2013

Hellow Everyone, I don't have a lot of time to write a lot of things are going on! And forgive me for any bad grammar and incorrect spellings, my fingers are flying.

On Monday we got some other missionaries to go to the park with us and spent the day outside playing soccer, volleyball and frisbee. It was really nice.  That night we taught J once again. We went over all the questions she had about her temple visit. We talked about Joseph Smith and the life of the early saints.

Tuesday night we taught B once again and read 3rd Nephi 12. We only got half way through the chapter before we had to go give blood in the blood drive. He's coming along nicely though.

That night we had our usual correlation meetings. The Mesquite ward was having all of their mutual nights and we were flying around talking to everyone and I just really felt like part of the ward! It was really fun!

On Halloween we had a huge mission conference. I got to see Elders from my MTC district and my trainer.  We were trained for 5 hours on a temple presentation to give to nonmembers who are planning to attend the temple open house which was announced to be mid Jan- mid Feb. That night we got permission to watch "17 Miracles". Good movie. Pretty depressing

On Friday we spent much of the day helping the wards set up for a huge stake family history event called the "Ellis Island Project". They really went all out with it and had tons of cool decorations. Very Disney World like. They had the youth dress up as newsies and such. Pretty Impressive.

That night a member family invited over a Portuguese speaking lady over for dinner. It was pretty rough, especially because shes from Portugal and all of her pronunciations were much different than from what we have learned.

Was the big day for the Ellis Island Project. We had a ton of non members come through which was really nice to see. Some nice work will come out of it. They had a total of about 650 people come through which is pretty impressive!

Gilbert Stake's Ellis Island Project

Sunday was absolutely awesome.

-G Sang "As I have Loved You" at the pulpit for her testimony
-One of our investigators bore his Testimony at the end of one of the ward's meetings and everyone gave him hugs and patted him on the back. A lot of people were impressed!
-J received the Aaronic Priesthood. YES!
- A woman invited a group of 100 people from her work to come to the temple open house.

Then we capped of the day with an investigator we taught at the very beginning of the transfer. W, if you remember is a 17 year old kid who is very intelligent. He may be a famous philosopher one day... Anywho he called us Sat night (we hadn't heard from him in 5 weeks!) saying he really needed to talk to someone. We met Sunday night and he told us that he had two gun shots fired at him that night and was reconsidering life after death and the purpose of life. We sat down with him and the first thing he said to us was, "Is there anyone beyond redemption?"

Good Question W.

We discussed with him the Plan of Salvation and the Atonement for a good hour or so. The whole time his head was down with his long locks covering his face, tears dripping down to the floor. Yeah. It got pretty emotional. It was truly an incredible experience. He's already read the entire Book of Mormon, but he hasn't prayed. He expressed that he is afraid to in fear that he wont get the answer that he is seeking. He wants it all to be true, but won't know where to turn if it isn't. He said he would come with us to Church this Sunday.  I hope he does!

For today we are spending the day with the P's. They are the family I am close to.   I got a good feeling that I'm outta here in a few days....I received a letter from President Lima [his Mission President in Rio de Janeiro] saying Welcome to the Rio Mission.  I'm excited, also really depressed, not to mention scared for whats to come. I have too much stuff on me.  I'm going to try and send as much of it home as possible.  [When I first read this I thought he meant stress, burden.  Then I see that he means quite literally- "too much stuff".]

I love you all. Great stories are to come once I hit the foreign city :)

Elder Siebs

Tonight I rec'd a text from Sister P- she had Elder Siebers and Elder H over to her house for their Pday evening for "craft night".  Is this woman my soul sister or what?  Then she sent me photos of her with the Elders working on their projects.  Such a great memento of his time in Gilbert.  Thank you Sister P!

Sister P had them choose quotes and scriptures to put on the back of their ties!  Such a clever idea.  I love it!

Elder Siebers, Elder H and Sister P (their second mom)