March 15, 2017
Bom Dia Família,
I haven't written since Feb. 21st so I thought I would get caught up a little. Our trip to Cuiabá and the Pantanal was awesome. I only got two bites this time but one left a purple mark 2" wide. I must have found the right stuff to put on it as it is gone mostly and no more itching. Our room was nice and was air-conditioned, unlike in the Amazon. It was a little awkward to room with another couple, but it worked out fine. Elder and Sister Anderson are really great people too. The food was way better than the Amazon and we saw a lot more birds and animals. I am sure you have seen all the pictures that Paula sent. The ones of the alligator by the boat were really that close up, quite discomforting as he seemed to be eyeing me as a juicy steak. We saw so many different birds. It is really cool to see macaws and toucans flying in the wild. You wouldn't think a toucan could fly with that big beak, but the beak is actually honeycombed and is very light. Toucans are naughty birds and get into other bird's nests. Our guide Pedro spoke good English although most of us spoke to him in Portuguese. We taught him some new English words and he taught us a lot of new Portuguese words. He was very friendly and accommodating. He went with us on all the boat rides, the truck rides and the horse ride. The horse ride was a lot of fun although a little tough on old backs. Going through 2-4' of water was interesting. The horses were actually bred to withstand these wetland conditions and can literally stand in water for a full year before they begin to have issues. I haven't ridden a horse much in my life but I found that if your are nice to your horse, most of the time he/she will be nice to you. The missionary in front of me was not kind to his horse and almost fell. Mom´s horse went down because of stepping in a deep hole, but she stayed on just like in a rodeo. I was able to give Pedro a Book of Mormon and Our Legacy. He had been to church a few times in Cuiabá and knew a little. He was happy to get them. We left him a good tip.
We did have a very interesting and probably rare experience of seeing a whole group of capivaras (largest rodent in the world, huge in fact) decide to go swimming through a marshy area. There were probably 15-20 of them with little ones. What they couldn't see that we could was a large alligator (Caiman. There are no crocodiles in Brazil) waiting on a sand bar out of their view. I thought, "Well, this could be interesting." About 15 yards from the alligator, the adult leader of the group came to a dead halt (no pun intended). He looked all around and it was like he was saying, "Hey kids, remember when we told you that parents never make mistakes? Well, we just made a big one. If you get eaten, please forgive us." Nothing happened, at least we think nothing happened. When we came back all the capivara family was on the road and the gator was gone.
Sunday at church in Cuiabá (population only 600,000), I sat behind three fellows from Haiti. They joined the Church in Haiti but had come to Brazil because they would have more opportunity for an education. They were really fun to talk to.
At the temple last week, mom and I had a very special experience. I was supposed to be the leader of the session but the assistant coordinator asked me if I would help at the veil instead as there were lots of English speakers. Earlier in the day, I had to switch to Spanish which I had not used since July of 2015 in the temple. I made a few mistakes. The brother told me that Paula would be in the ordinance room. We ended up at the same place. Finally, a sister came through who made it clear that she wanted everything in Spanish and I heard her and immediately switched to Spanish. It was good that I had had the earlier experience in the day so I could correct my mistakes. As I began to speak, she began to weep and did so several times. She gave me the sweetest look. I visited with them in my Portunol and found out they were from Chile and had wanted to do everything in Spanish as that is what they were comfortable with. They just both hugged me and were so grateful. I was grateful too as was mom. We felt very blessed. I will let you all think about how that must have all come about, because there was nobody else who could do it in Spanish. Thanks to my fellow high school classmate Scott Shirley, who first asked me in November of 2008, our first night at the Rexburg Temple, to learn everything in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Lastly, we got on a bus to go out for dinner on a Saturday evening with Sister Cox, the Burkes and the Harris'. On the bus, Paula and I were standing a little way from the others. The others were speaking in English (loudly but with no intention of bothering anyone) right around a young woman with a little girl about in between Hannah and Lauren's age. They just looked a little frightened with all the English being spoken. I went over and could see the little girl had on a tutu and a little crown on her head. So I leaned over and asked if she was taking dance lessons. That seemed to break the ice and the mother said no she wasn't. So I said, "Então parece que voce é uma princesa." (Well, then I guess you are a princess). The little girl had been kind of hiding and she looked up with the biggest smile as did her mother. So we talked about the movie "Frozen" and the mother said her daughter could sing the songs in English. Finally as we were about to our destination, I had put a single pass along card in my pocket and so I pulled it out. It is the one with Christ's visit to the Americas. I asked the little girl if she would like to have it and she said, "Sim". I then asked her if she knew who the man in white was in the painting and she said, "Jesus". I told her mother that she could call the phone number on the back of the card and she would receive a Book of Mormon for free and with no strings attached. So, it was another positive experience. When I get to talk to people like that, they are the very best times of the mission, nothing better. Hope you are all doing well. We have a hair more than 6 weeks until we return.
Love, Dad and Elder Sonderegger