This post isn’t funny, but I promise the next one will be. Last Thursday there was a huge welcome party at school for everyone participating in the Portuguese summer courses. I went and I had a good time, but I left feeling lonely and pitied. Since I’ve been in two classes now there are about twenty people that I socialize with and hang out with outside of school. They’re all great and friendly, but we’re just… different. My classmates will often get beers or coffees and I’ll simply get an orange juice or a water and no one seems to mind.
At the party there were free beers and whenever someone from my table went over to grab another they would offer to grab me one. They weren’t trying to make me feel uncomfortable, but I did. I think I felt uncomfortable because their offering to get me a beer meant that they were unaware that I was LDS and thus didn’t really know me very well. Stephanie and I have eaten meals together multiple times and she saw me decline multiple beer offers and finally asked, “Do you not like beer?” and I respond, “I’ve never tried it, actually.” She was visibly surprised by my response and proceeded with the obvious question of, “why not?” and I said, “for religious reasons.” I told her that I’m Mormon and don’t drink and then she asked me a question that I hadn’t expected. “Do you enjoy being Mormon?” The question caught me off guard because obviously if I didn’t like being Mormon I wouldn’t be, right? Stephanie’s question and they way she said it made me feel pitied, like she felt I was missing out on all kinds of fun because of my beliefs. Several people invited me to the “real” party after the party, but I declined. I walked home through one of my favorite parks thinking about what had happened and feeling rather alone.
My school runs on Portuguese time which means that class starts about 10 minutes late every day, but I still show up on time. My teacher, who arrived late, asked the few of us that were already there this morning what we had done that weekend. I said that I had gone to the beach and rented a bike, talked to my parents, etc. When I had finished saying all of this my mind flashed to when I was in Bolivia in 2006 and when my neighbor Walter asked me what my plans for the weekend were. I told him that I was going to church and invited him to come if he wanted. He said he liked to learn new things and would come. I’d invited my fair share of Hispanics to church at this point in my life and for every 20 people that say they will come, only a handful actually do. I then tried to talk him out of coming by telling him that it started at 9am and he’d have to be ready at 8:45 and that he’d have to get dressed up, etc. I was surprised when he was ready to go at 8:45 the next morning, I was even more surprised when the missionaries asked if they could come to his apartment and teach him, I was shocked when I went to his house with the missionaries and he was receptive, and I literally jumped for joy when he joined the church four weeks later. And all of that had happened because I begrudgingly and unenthusiastically invited him to come to church.
After remember this I realized that my favorite part of the weekend hadn’t been the beach, but when I taught Gospel Principles on Sunday. Hernan who has only been a member for a month thanked me after my lesson saying that he had really enjoyed it and that he was learning a lot from me. And that moment at church had been the highlight of my weekend. Back in the classroom, since it was still my turn, I quickly added, “Oh, and I went to church,” and we moved on to other people.
During our break halfway through class a bunch of us went out for coffee and I bought my favorite pastry, a bolo de Berlin. I eat one almost every day because they’re so delicious. While we were chatting, Patricia brought up that I had mentioned going to church and asked me which church go to. I said that I was Mormon and the generally reaction at my table was, “There are Mormons in Portugal?” which honestly isn’t a ridiculous question considering that according to an article I read, 97% of Portugal is Catholic. Patricia brought up the Book of Mormon musical and I was glad that I had read numerous articles about it so I had some informed comments to make. Sofía’s only knowledge of Mormonism was from the series Big Love which is quite good according to her. Once again, I was glad that I was informed and had things to say that weren’t just criticisms.
Letting my friends know that I’m LDS was very liberating and I’m glad I was able to do it. I didn’t feel pitied this time and I’m glad that they felt comfortable asking me questions. I feel more comfortable and at ease now. I remember a lesson we had at church once about how every Latter-day Saint is responsible for maintaining the reputation of the church and that people will view our religion by our actions. I took that to heart and have tried to live accordingly. Few things would make me happier than to know that years down the road two missionaries knock on Patricia’s door and she thinks to herself, “I knew a Mormon boy in Portugal and he was very nice. I’ll let these two Mormons in.”
I started out today like I start out every day in Portugal. I woke up early and took the metro to school. I got off a stop early, walked through a beautiful park, found a nice bench to sit on, and read my scriptures in Portuguese in the morning sunlight. It’s a great way to start the day. I love being Mormon.
Here are some pictures of my scripture park.