Editor's note: This excerpt is from "Do Not Attempt in Heels: Mission Stories and Advice from Sisters Who’ve Been There” (Cedar Fort, $14.99), compiled by Elise Babbel Hahl and Jennifer Rockwood Knight. This excerpt is titled "The First Three Months: The Diary of a Greenie" and includes excerpts from her journal as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brazil.
Tuesday, July 16, 2002
Sister Nuckols has embarked! My time at the CTM (Centro de Treinamento Missionário, the MTC in São Paulo, Brazil) has ended, and I am about to missionary as soon as this plane lands in João Pessoa. Holy excitement! I’m not nervous or worried or sad, just peaceful and ready. I already miss my two great CTM companions, but in a few hours, I will have a mission president, a companion and an area. I have felt the searing power of the Holy Ghost confirm to me the reality of the existence of God, of the Savior, of the Book of Mormon. It is all true! I love it and am privileged to be a part of it.
Thursday, July 18, 2002
Oh, my gosh! This is so hard. I’m in shock. I’ve been all teary these last two days. I cried last night when I was going to bed, and again when Sister Santos (another missionary in my house) asked if there was anything she could do to help me. This morning, I did a good job holding it in until I got into the shower, but when the cold water hit the back of my neck, I sobbed. Later, I had to say a prayer at the home of one of our investigators, and as soon as I said, "Pai Celestial"(Heavenly Father), I lost it. I felt the Spirit a lot while we were teaching, but as soon as we would walk outside into the street, I would start to cry again.
What am I doing here?! There was one good hour today in the middle of the afternoon when I was able to focus and get some memorizing done (I have to get all these discussions passed off!), but for the most part, I have been walking around in a shocked daze. Yesterday the excitement from the airport wore off, and I didn’t even have the desire to go out and contact, and it was my FIRST day! My companion, Sister W, does not like tracting or contacting people, and I think that we spent too much time visiting members. The hours between 2 p.m., when lunch ends, and 9:30, when we go home, seem SO LONG especially because we do not have things scheduled.
This is a bigger sacrifice than I ever before realized. A year seems impossibly long, not to mention 16 more months.
Friday, July 19, 2002
I had a good cry today at lunch and let it all out. What if this emotional overload is just PMS? Sometimes it seems like I’m watching a movie of someone else’s life, because this does not feel like my reality. When the Lord asks us to sacrifice all that we have and all that we are, he was not asking for a little. This is the big time! I really feel the magnitude of this sacrifice. I don’t even have time to explore or enjoy the culture because it’s all about teach, teach, teach. I can’t really imagine this level of intensity for 16 more months: an endless Sabbath!
Saturday, July 20, 2002
I’ve been praying so much during free time that I have hardly been working on memorizing at all. I’ve needed so much help! I’ve especially needed help controlling my thoughts and keeping them focused on people here, and not elsewhere, or on other people from other parts of my life.
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
My first zone meeting left me in tears. The whole thing was just so discouraging. Once again, it seemed like I was watching a movie of someone else’s life. We walked in and found the elders wrestling each other in the gym, and then once the meeting started, I had a hard time understanding them as they shared tactics about how to find more men to teach. The gathering also made me feel isolated and unknown: I’m really not part of this group yet, of this culture of the João Pessoa mission.
We walked all the way back to our area from the zone meeting, and then we walked even further to our lunch appointment. I’m grateful that I felt divine strength sustaining me when I really should not have been able to walk anymore. Later in the day, Sister W and I stopped at a member’s home to set up an appointment with her, and she made us fried meat cakes and put church music on in the background. As I shared my little message with her from 3 Nephi 11:15, I felt the strength of the Spirit and the strength of that woman. She nourished us both physically and spiritually.
Thursday, July 25, 2002
The time has come to cast off homesickness, CTM companionship withdrawal and regular morning tears. Buck up! I really want to love being a missionary and right now I do not, so I will just start. Sure, a year and a half seems long — oh shoot, why am I tearing up again? — but this is just how it’s going to be, and I’m gonna like it! The time has come to put heart, might, mind and strength into this work and to stop feeling sorry for myself. Father, I already love the country, the language and the culture, please help me to love the work!
One thing that helps me is to think of other sister missionaries I have known who did this. They say that they loved every minute, and my guy friends have said the same thing, but is that really true?! I’m sure that they had challenges and other things that grated on them, but I guess that did not override their overall sense of peace and joy in serving. I wonder if I will ever feel that.
I feel that I have great potential as a missionary. I know that I am capable of doing great things with the Lord’s help. I just need to get over this transition phase.
Saturday, July 27, 2002
Mornings are so hard for me, even after a previous day of successful work. Possible explanations: cold shower, having too much time to think and eating Special K with strawberries that reminds me of home (which came in a care package that I just got from Mom).
Monday, Aug. 5, 2002
I feel better right now than I have since I arrived in the field. God answers fasts and prayers. Last night, I still felt down, but tonight, after a very relaxing P-day, I was on fire. I felt physically energized and was excited to visit with people. Portuguese wasn’t going to hold me back tonight! During our last appointment, we taught Juliana, her sister and brother. They all seem so sincere and the older sister, in particular, really wants to know the truth. I felt the excitement and enthusiasm of the Spirit as we taught. Over the past few weeks, I have prayed for other people, but I have not had the urgent desire, as I do now. I love these girls and desire for them to be baptized. Father, thank you for giving me this vision and excitement!
Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2002
Ups and downs. Today I never shook off my morning fog. We walked for two-and-a-half hours this morning, clapped at doors, waited, then walked some more: We must have crossed our entire area 10 times! Now I’m sunburned, my feet are blistered and I almost fell asleep while walking. Then I really did fall asleep for a second (or a minute?) while Sister W was teaching, and I was sitting in a plastic rocking chair.
Saturday, Aug. 10, 2002
The night before last, I had my first dream about the mission. I am excited that my subconscious has finally arrived here, too. I dreamed that Juliana and her siblings got baptized. Joy, sweet joy!
Monday Aug. 12, 2002
Sister W and I are not very good friends. We go about our labors peacefully, but we rarely laugh together and I don’t feel any sort of emotional bond. Sometimes I fear that I am subtly mean to her — or at least I’m not as loving and supportive as I should be.
Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2002
I have been craving the call to be a missionary for 21 years, and when I finally arrive, I’m depressed. Mostly, I feel unworthy, insufficient and inadequate. Heavenly Father, what is wrong with me?
Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2002
For some reason the Lord has seen fit for me to experience this time of homesickness/drudgery/sadness, but he has told me through my patriarchal blessing to be patient and my mission will be all that I want it be to: a time of hard work and JOY!
Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2002
Bipolarity! Yesterday was euphoria. Today, not so much.
Thursday, Aug. 22, 2002
In her letter, Grame told me to “take time for myself” in order to preserve my skin: a comical statement in its illogicality and improbability.
I felt the Lord use me to communicate his love to the woman who fed us lunch. She was the first member who fed me in the field, and I remember feeling touched that first day by the way she presented her humble meal and said, “I prepared this with my heart.” This time, I shared D&C 4:2 with her and told her that she is indeed serving with her heart. I was moved by the Spirit and by the fact that God would use me in that way.
Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2002
I’m living a completely different mission! I just received the best possible gift of a companion, a Brazilian, Sister H. During the past 36 hours since her arrival, my feelings, my work and my missionary life have taken a 180-degree turn. Not only does she have incredible people skills, missionary techniques and work ethic, she is also already my friend. Here are some of the little changes that make a huge difference:
• She loves making contacts and she stops people on the street without hesitation.
• She has me keep a planner so that we both write down names, addresses and appointments. I am now a more active participant in my daily activities.
• We bear testimony to each other in the morning before we pray.
• We sit down at night to discuss the day’s outcome and our strategy for tomorrow. Now I have something specific to anticipate instead of street wanderings.
• She’s not too cheap to take the bus to and from zone meeting so that we gain more work time in our area; we don’t just try to kill time until lunch or until the next appointment.
• She encourages me, constantly asking my opinion and offering productive tips.
I do not want my well-being in the mission to be dependent on my companions, and I never blamed my adjustment misery on my trainer, but these sisters do really have a huge impact on me, especially as a new, un-knowledgeable missionary. I am so grateful and excited for all the days to come with Sister H.
On P-Day eve we had a feast of scrambled eggs, fresh biscuits, chocolate sauce and watermelon. What a funny life this is!
Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002
Image of the day: sprinting through a field of sand at 11 a.m. to try to teach at least one discussion before lunch. Everything else we had scheduled for the morning had fallen through. The sensation of running in search of a teaching opportunity starkly differed from standing in the street, clueless, unsure where to go next.
Yesterday after lunch, as we lay on our beds in a tired stupor, I asked Sister H what she was thinking. She responded that she was thinking about the upcoming ward activity that we were in charge of, how it would come together, and who we would take with us. I had been thinking about how long I have been in the mission (only six weeks!) and how much time I have left. I am acutely aware of TIME here but I do not want to be. Sister H’s positive influence is great, but, Father, I still need thy help in just being present here!
Friday, Sept. 6, 2002
Pure Brazil! Capoeria is stunning. We stumbled onto a class tonight to find capoeiristas dressed in white, swinging and kicking to the beat of the berimbaus.
At the end, they broke into samba. It was so beautiful! It was as if I were watching a show for tourists, but no, it was real. This is pure, undefiled culture — real Brazilian life!
Thursday, Sept. 12, 2002
My face is simultaneously oozing and pulsating. Mosquito bites combined with a rash, an inflamed eye and a zit breakout, make for a horrifying face. I was in pain and discouraged most of the day. I think that the swelling might be a mango allergy. But mangoes are one of my favorite things about Brazil right now!
Thursday, Sept. 26, 2002
I can’t believe how many inactives we encounter! It’s a rare miracle to find people who are truly converted or who even want to be converted. I can empathize with Christ crying over the city of Jerusalem, and I stand in awe of what the prophet and apostles must feel when they look at the church as a whole.
Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2002
I cried when the closing prayer ended the final session of general conference. I didn’t want those leaders — and even the members of the Tabernacle Choir — to leave and go back to their homes: I wanted them to stay with me and be my friends and support me.
One of the best parts of conference was the attendance of many recent converts: Emerson (who said it was his best Saturday ever!), Rajeane, Fatima and Senhor Aldymar, who isn’t even baptized yet. I’m so happy that they were able to feel the power of the words of the prophets and to see the magnitude of what they are now a part of. I ache for them to have more spiritual experiences to strengthen their conversion.
Friday, Oct. 11, 2002
Sometimes out of nowhere comes a clear, yet random image from home. These images have included the aisle in Sam’s Club where they sell the Mach 3 razors, the parking lot and entrance to Macaroni Grill, the streets of Manhattan (which I have only visited once) and the entrance to the public library parking lot. These memories strike me in all their vibrancy at the most random times. Sometimes I think I harbor them because they are comfortable, familiar, unattainable. But glorifying them makes the current moment less desirable, which is not what I want. During my first three years of college, or traveling in Asia or even in the CTM, images of home would never attack me in this way; I never thought longings for home would be a problem for me. But they are keeping me from a more powerful immersion in the work. Father, I will do my part to not foster or give root to these thoughts. Even though it feels like letting go of my blanky (or favorite dolly or binky, etc.), I will do it in order to be free.
Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2002 AM
I am no longer the newest American sister in the mission! Sister A has arrived, and I met her this morning at zone meeting. She is sharp and eager and had a terrible first week. I related to everything she said and wanted to shake her and hug her and tell her, “Yes, it’s tough, but it gets better.”
Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2002 PM
This morning I covered my hair with baby powder to absorb the grease: There was no running water! Last night I slept in my sweat from that day and now it’s layered with today’s sweat. We offered a prayer for water and it came, as we asked, before 10 p.m. It ran out, however, while I was still covered with soap.
Thursday, Oct. 17, 2002
I am grateful for great days, as was yesterday. The Spirit was tangible and powerful in the discussions, in the streets, in our hearts. My heart kept crying out, “I love doing this!”
Saturday, Oct. 19, 2002
Tonight I felt like a missionary! Neither companionship had an appointment tonight, so we joined forces and spent the evening singing hymns and passing out contact cards in a little hospital and in two public squares. To stand up in public and verbalize my testimony through both word and music is truly a missionary’s privilege.
14 months later
Friday, Dec. 12, 2003
Heavenly Father is being so kind and generous to me in my last week of my mission. For four days in a row, I have felt only pure peace, calm, joy, rejoicing, spirit, love, friendship. I feel grateful for the past and hopeful for the future. I feel the Lord magnifying my ability to love and my capacity to feel peace and joy. I don’t have any worries, afterthoughts, stress, pressure or concerns. Só alegria! (Only joy!)
Monday, Dec. 15, 2003
I’m almost home! I’m on the last leg of the flight from Atlanta to San Diego. The first time it hit me that I was really going home was when I went through customs in São Paulo. The Brazilian customs officer asked if I was ever coming back, and I said no and started to weep. He became all uncomfortable. When I asked him if I could take my homemade coconut cake with me, he said no problem.
comments on this story
I cried when the plane took off in São Paulo and when I arrived at the Atlanta airport and felt totally alone and out of place. Even though I was technically back in my own country, I felt like an outsider. I was the only one wearing sandals and a summer dress! To my joy, I found a Brazilian young man who had been on my flight, and we spoke Portuguese together. It felt so natural and comfortable. Speaking to him made me feel at home. Oh, how I’m going to miss it.
Jen Nuckols is a writer and mental health and addictions counselor in Seattle. A graduate of Stanford and the University of Washington, she pursues her passion for travel, social justice —and Brazil —by chasing the World Cup.