Monday, December 30, 2013

Domingo's Baptism: machetes, stress, and wet socks

Dear family,

Well, it's been less than a week since we Skyped and only 5 days since I wrote you a letter, so you might think that I wouldn't have much to say, but I'm happy to say that's not the case... because Domingo got baptized!

Right before the baptism we had an appointment with Daniel and we set a fecha with him for the 25th of January! It has really been amazing to watch how much he has changed in these past few weeks - he has been to church twice, he has read all of the folletos several times over, and has even begun reading in El Libro de Momon. When we gave it to him, I don't think I've ever seen anyone so excited to receive a copy of their own. As I took it out of my bag, he took it from my hands, and planted a kiss firmly on the cover. We even found out that he is legally married to his wife (which, in the DR, is like finding half a needle in a haystack)!!!!

On Saturday, he told us that, after all the reading he had done, he decided to get down on his knees and pray about it. He said that, as he did, he was nearly overcome by an intense joy that seemed to radiate throughout his entire body, sending chills from head to toe. "I have never felt anything like that," he said, "so, yes, of course, I will be baptized."

From Daniel's house, we walked with him to Domingo's baptism, which according to customary Dominican time started over an hour late. Even though I was stressed out of my mind trying to coordinate everything - making sure that all the speakers were there, that the font was filled, and that we had a suit to fit both Domingo and Reymundo - it all came together in the end.

There was a great turnout, too. In only a few short weeks, Domingo seems to have made friend with nearly everyone, and many of them showed up to support him. This even included several members of other branches (I'm still not sure how Domingo managed that) and Wilky, of all people (whom we never actually invited, but news travels fast in Azua, I suppose). Tomas, Carlos, and Adabertino even came all the way up from Villa Palmarejo and walked into the baptism with a giant rusted machete and a bundle of coconuts string together with a palm leave rope. (But I suppose it wouldn't actually be a celebration until Adabertino showed up with an armful of random produce).

Once everyone was there, we all filed outside to take photos and then packed ourselves back into the room - with several people having to stand up in the back and in the doorway.

When we finally got the service underway, I was able to let my breath out a bit and just soak in the beautiful scene of Domingo sitting up front next to the shining blue font in his bright white suit and smiling like a child on Christmas morning.

After the speakers it was time for the baptism. Domingo and Reymundo walked around to the opposite side of the font and descended the small set of tile steps. The water sloshed noisily back and forth, and as the two larger men entered, I was reminded of the font's design flaw. I picked my bag up off the floor and put it on my lap. One of the elders gave me a questioning look. "We're going to wet," I explained, although he still looked a bit confused.

And sure enough, as the blessing was pronounced and Domingo was lowered down into the water, the contents of the font heaved up over its bounds and rushed into the room like a wave on the seashore. A few people lifted up their feet, but most of us just laughed and let it happen.

As Domingo changed his clothes, everyone sang hymns and Hermana Sanchez and I tried to mop the floor as best we could. When Domingo reentered he was enveloped by a crowd of warm handshakes, smiles, and hugs. As I stood a ways back, I couldn't help but tear up at the beautiful sincerity of the scene.

Ironically enough, I think that Domingo was the only one of us to leave the church completely dry. As I walked home that night in my wet socks, I was full to the brim with love for the Gospel and a testimony of this amazing work, which truly is a work of salvation.

All my love,

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas in Azua!

Dear Mom, Dad, and Jessica, 

It was soo great to talk to you all yesterday!!! It still feels a little surreal (as you could probably tell from me just smiling stupidly for the first five minutes of our conversation). We didn't talk about anything big or important, but it just felt natural, like spending time together. I know that I'll treasure every minute of our conversation for the next five months when we get to do it all over again! 

Bueno. I thought know I could give you all a rundown of what I did yesterday on Christmas Eve and what my plans are for today. Yesterday, of course, I began the day with... personal study, where I finished reading Jesus the Christ! Then Hermana Lujan taught us all how to make pianono (sp?), which is a traditional Argentinean dish. 

Then I couldn't wait any longer - I had to open my packages! Finally! They had been sitting in the back room tempting me since before Thanksgiving! And it was so much fun! I'll be thinking about you every day as I enjoy all the goodies that you crammed in there. I loved it all - it's hard to pick a favorite thing! Also, please tell Grandma and Grandpa and the Brimhalls a HUGE thank you for their packages as well. It was sooo sweet of them! It really was like Christmas morning, and it's like you all knew exactly what I needed! I hope you know how much that meant to me! 

And of course, immediately as we pulled out the crepe paper and snowflakes, we had to put them up! So we blasted some Christmas music and went crazy, covering the house in green and red and white. It looks so festive now - it's exactly what we needed to get into the Christmas spirit. And there is still so much crepe paper left over, we're probably going to use it to decorate for the ward Christmas dinner at the church on the 27th!

For lunch, we decided to go to our favorite (only restaurant), called La Esquinita, where we met up with the 4 elders in our district. We ordered American hamburgers, pushed some tables together under the canopy, and the elders watched football on the TV tree and yelled so loud that even the Dominicans were looking. It was like a little taste of America...almost.  And of course, you know what happened after that because I was talking to you! It was the best part of my day by far!

After I left the internet cafe, it was a bit hard to refocus on the fact that I was still in the DR and not actually at home with you all, but all the same we walked over to Domingo's house to read a few chapters in El Libro de Mormon. As we left he gave us a fresh bottle of dulce de china (white part of the orange stewed in sugar, cinnamon sticks, and raisins) that he had made earlier that day - apparently he's known for it.

We tried to teach a few other people, but no one is really interested in listening to the missionaries on Christmas Eve night (Noche Buena). Everyone is cooking a huge meal or dancing in the streets. It can actually get pretty crazy. This is because, ironically enough, Christmas is the one time of year that Dominicans are the least willing to talk about Christ. December is a month of spending money, going to parties, and other hedonistic pursuits in general. 

So, all four of us ended up at our ward mission leader's house. His birthday is on the 25th, so we stopped by a reposteria (bakery) on our way over there to buy him a little cake. We all tried to sing a Christmas hymn, but the music was so loud outside that the glass coffee table was vibrating and the vase of flowers of sliding around. We had a lot of fun, though - talking, laughing, singing along, and eating tres leches until almost 9pm when we made our way home (down the street).

This morning, the other hermanas opened their packages and we rocked out to some more Christmas music. And now I'm here at internet again! After this, I plan to go home and back some more of Grandma Padley's tarts in preparation for our Christmas dinner. Each of us is making a "traditional dish" from our countries... well, kind of. Hermana Sanchez is making fritos, Hna Lujan made pianono, I'm making the tarts, and Hna Nodal is making cake from a box...haha. It should be good, though. 

After we eat, we plan to watch the DVDs you sent and munch on the treats from our packages. We all super stoked! And finally, tonight we're all planning on going out to ice cream as a district. Basically, our Christmas plans include a lot of eating (we're all going to be stuffed). Let's just say that there isn't much else we can do in Azua. haha. But it’s all part of the experience, and I'm sure this will be a Christmas I'll never forget.

Safe travels! And all my love, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December 16, 2013

Dear family,

First of all, we had our Christmas conference yesterday, so that is why I'm writing you today. It was a lot of fun and included all the missionaries serving in the south (outside the capitol). Usually, everyone travels to Santo Domingo for one big conference, but with the recent growth in the number of missionaries, President decided to split this year into 2 conferences. It was admittedly a bit anti-climactic because everyone came to our area, but it was well done - it included a nice Christmas dinner, skits by each of the 4 zones, and lots of singing.

This week, we decided to start teaching a Clase de Religión on Tuesday nights in response to several people who have asked if there is any other times they can come to church besides Sunday morning (it's like institute, but for anyone over age 30). And also, in response to the overwhelming popular demand, we are also now offering free English classes on Saturday mornings. It's a great no-pressure kind of way to get people to visit the church - and after only the first week, one of the girls who came to the class showed up to church the next day.

I'm also proud to say that we had 4 investigators and 2 menos activos in church this week. Of course, Domingo was there with his big smile and his little stack of books. This was the fifth Sunday in a row and his baptism is scheduled for this coming Saturday. He has been having a hard time giving up coffee, though, and he can't drink any this week or his baptism will have to be postponed. We have faith in him, though: a few years ago, he was able to quit drinking and smoking all on his own. Today we are having a special fast for him and we also plan to meet with him a few minutes each day before Saturday for extra support and preparation. I wish you could all see him, though - he's grown so much these past few weeks, he's so ready to take this wonderful step in his life, and he already seems like a member of the branch. Please keep him in your prayers this week so that he will be able to get baptized this weekend.

Yudi also finally made it to church this week. She’s the quiet young woman I mentioned in my letter 4 weeks ago who is really dedicated about doing all her reading assignments. She's very intelligent and always has great questions and comments. She even has a baptismal date for the 25 of January. She's quite reserved, though, so it has been a bit hard to get her to church. So this week, we were thrilled that she came.

In fact, it worked out perfectly because it turns out that Yudi knows Pamela, our stubborn, little investigator (who was in church for the second time this week after much persuasion and our agreement to do her morning chores for her if she would just go put a dress on).

So Yudi sat with Pamela, who was sitting with her menos activo sister Leilany. To our delight, Leilany has been in church on time for the past three weeks, before which she hadn't been for several years. Hermana Sanchez and I agree that she is showing the signs of someone who is truly reactivated (among which was reprimanding Pamela for being late and not combing her hair).

And finally there's Daniel, who is a primary school teacher working on his master's degree. We've been teaching him for several weeks, but he has really only started to progress this past week. When we first met him he was very friendly, but also highly skeptical with a tendency to interrupt us while we were talking. In our first lesson he told us that he didn't believe that there was one true church and that the only thing that he knew about Mormons was that they worshipped Jose Smith. In our last lesson with him, however, we were amazed to hear him speak up to his friend that was saying the same things and clearly explain to him the need for a living prophet and the authority of the priesthood.

Since then, we've passed by his house several times and seen him studying his pamphlet about the Restoration, and on Sunday morning he surprised us by sliding silently into the back row 20 minutes into sacrament meeting. It is the quiet but momentous moments like those that make missionary work so fulfilling.

All my love,

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Kaitlin and Hermana Sanchez

Christmas Conferencce in the mission

Kaitlin and Hermana Matteson

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fill the tanks!!

Dear family,

I can´t believe it´s December already - it certainly doesn't feel like winter here.

I'm glad you received my package. One thing I forgot to mention was that the office elders had to split into 2 separate packages to send it because it was overweight, so you should actually expect to receive 2 packages from me, but they were both intended to be in the same box. And yes, you can open them before you leave for Hawaii.

I also received 2 wonderful packages this week: one that Dad sent that has Catholic-looking Jesus pictures on it, and one from the Brimhalls - please give them a BIG thank you from me!!!

I enjoyed reading your letters about Thanksgiving, and I think everything will work out with Skyping because, according to our District Leader, we usually Skype on the P-Day before Christmas, which I think is the 23rd. But I'll let you know when I have more information.


The last week of the transfer has been really good, aside from the fact that we haven't had any running water since a week from yesterday. Our reserve supply was getting really low when the water came back on for about 20 minutes on Wednesday. As Hna Nodal heard the faucet sputter to life, she yelled, "Fill the tanks!" and we all dropped what we were doing and scrambled for the buckets. Unfortunately, it wasn't on long enough for anyone to get a shower in, but at least we had enough water to wash the dishes so that we could cook for Thanksgiving.

By the time I started making the tarts, the power had gone out, too. Fortunately, however, we have a gas burning oven, so we were all able to cook our dishes in time for Thursday. (Hna Sanchez was assigned to make a green salad, and it turned out she didn't really know what that meant because Dominicans don't really eat salads, so I showed her what vegetables to buy at the market and how to put it all together).

On Thursday morning we all met at the church. As we all set our respective dishes on the table and uncovered them, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had actually managed to pull together an almost traditional-looking American Thanksgiving meal (except for some of the elders, who said they'd try to find a turkey, but instead shamelessly paid a woman in their branch a couple hundred pesos to stew some chicken from a colmado). The sisters from Sebana Yegua even managed to bribe the office assistants to hunt down a can of pumpkin in the capitol so they could make a pie.

Hna Sanchez was a bit wary about trying the things we'd all made, especially the pumpkin. The only thing she really seemed to like was the chicken... and my tarts, although she was convinced that they would be better frozen for some reason.

As we ate, we all went around the table to say what we were thankful for. We spent several hours just talking, laughing, and eating, and we left later that afternoon with empty plates and full stomachs.

As for investigators this week, Domingo is still super excited for his baptism in less than 3 weeks. The old woman who we contacted in her doorway a few weeks ago (whose name is Araseyli) has been in church every week since then. We finally got Pamela and her older sister to some to church. We even managed to get the 19-year-old son of the First Counselor, named Day, to come to church for the first time in several years. After the meeting his father came up to us, grabbed our hands and thanked us for our work. He said that he didn't think he would ever see the day that Day returned to church.

Interesting things that happened this week:

- I was chosen to sing a solo in the stake Christmas program last night. I sang 'Venid y Adoremos.'

- I trusted Hna Sanchez to cut my hair. Let's just say her confidence level doesn't accurately reflect her true abilities. Fortunately, I don't ever wear my hair down, so you don't really notice it all that much.

You know you're in Azua when:

- You're sweating at 10pm on a December night.


!Y finalmente, tuvimos las llamadas del traslado anoche! Las resultados: Me queda con Hna Sanchez, Hna Nodal se queda también, y Hna Preisler se va (no sabemos por donde). !Entonces, parece como yo tendré mi Navidad aquí en Azua!

All my love,

Hna Kaitlin Olsen

Thanksgiving in Azua

Add caption

Kaitlin's tarts

Monday, November 25, 2013

5 Months on the Island

Dear family, 

This week has been unusually hot and sunny, with not a raincloud in sight. It still feels like the middle of July here - it's like a place stuck in time, without any seasons. All the flowers are still in full bloom and the air is full of clusters of butterflies and the occasional iridescent hummingbird (one actually flew into the house the other day and hung out for a little bit until it eventually found its way back out). Hermana Sanchez and I have been trying a lot of new and interesting fruits that are in season (well, new for me), including guayaba, zapote, lechosa, and uva de playa, which we made into a bright purple batida (smoothie) and topped with a wedge of pineapple. I'm starting to wonder if it will ever get colder here or if my mission is just going to be 18 months of perpetual summer heat.

The biggest news this week with our investigators is definitely Domingo (he's pretty much our only investigator that seems to be actively progressing). He came to church again this week and has vowed to come every week because of an experience that he had after the first time he attended. We met with him on Tuesday and we told us that he was a bit worried about closing his colmado for 3 hours each Sunday, especially because he was trying to save money for some expansions, but he decided to come to church the first hour anyway. Once he got there, however, he liked it so much that he decided to stay for all three hours! After he returned home later that day, he said that he was approached by a friend that happened to have a refrigerator and materials to build some shelves: exactly what he had been looking and saving for! The friend said that he would sell them to Domingo for such a good price that he could buy them right away! 

So the first thing that Domingo said to us when we showed up on Tuesday was: "Hermanas! I have a testimony! The Lord blesses us when we go to church! I will never miss another Sunday!" In that lesson, we gave him his own copy of the Book of Mormon, which he eagerly added to his growing stack of church materials (which includes the pamphlets we've given him, a family history workbook that was passed out last Sunday, and a 'Teachings of Lorenzo Snow' Sunday school manual that he "borrowed" from the church). 

In another lesson a few days later, he told us that he had prayed about the things we had taught him and that he knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet. We invited him to prepare to be baptized on the 21 of December and he eagerly accepted the date!

Domingo is a golden investigator; I feel like he would fit in wonderfully with our recent converts, and I am so thrilled to see his progress in the coming weeks.

Please send everyone a big hello this week for Thanksgiving! We will be having a get together with a few of the other missionaries from our zone this Thursday to watch a movie and eat a traditional Thanksgiving meal (well, as traditional as possible with the ingredients available here). 

All my love, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen
Kaitlin's area

This morning on the way to the service project

Hermana Sanchez and Kaitlin

Today's service project