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 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


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