Thursday, July 25, 2013

Last full week in the MTC


Dear wonderful family,

As always, I love hearing from you. I'm glad Chico and Lori have pulled through their surgeries and are doing well. And it sounds like finding a place for Lori to live has been quite an adventure... (If it makes you feel any better, lots of people here bath in buckets in the middle of the street, so I understand.)

To answer your questions, Dad: time in the MTC seems to go by quickly and slowly at the same time. It doesn't seem like I've been here for over 5 weeks, but at the same time I am eager to get out into the field and start working. We leave early Tuesday morning! Can you believe it? I'm not sure what my first area will be like, they range from very urban to very campo.

And Jessica! I bet you're super excited to go to London! Any news on your t-shirt and beach towel designs yet? And thanks so much for getting a package together for the kids - they are going to be so excited, you can't even imagine :) Also, do you think people here would be okay if I baptized them like Ignacio did for Steven?

Mom: You asked about the stores here, and I don't really have a good answer for you. It all depends on the area that I am assigned to. If I go somewhere in Santo Domingo, the stores seem to have most of what I'll need (more or less). However, if I go somewhere out in the country, I've heard that I won't really have access too much of anything except rice, beans, and soap. It'll be an adventure.

Okay... so this week, without a doubt, the most exciting thing that I did was intercambios (splits), which is when we get to leave the CCM and drive to our respective missions and spend about 6 hours paired up with a missionary out in the field!  We get to do it again tomorrow, as well! This is one of the reasons I am so blessed to be able to come straight to the DR CCM.

After lunch on Friday, the West mission APs came to pick up all the West missionaries, and it was about a 20 minute drive to a chapel where we were paired up with our new companions for the day. I was paired up with a sister named Hermana Beesley, who has been out for only about 4 months. Our area was one of the more urban areas in the mission, called Independencia, and was in more or less the center of Santo Domingo (not the Independencia on the map over by Haiti).

First, we went back to an apartment where 4 of the sisters lived. The APs were nice enough to give us all a ride, so - including me and the 2 other West sisters - we crammed 9 people into a car meant for five (which I've found is pretty much the norm here). Coupled with a liberal dose of Dominican driving, it made for a rather bumpy and sweaty ride, weaving in and out of traffic on the tumultuous, sun-baked streets. When we stopped at lights, people came up to our windows to sell us wilted produce or wash our windshield with a bucket of murky water.

The sisters' apartment was on a smaller side street up a winding cement staircase. The cracked wooden door didn't shut all the way and opened into a kind of outdoor hallway, minimally shielded from the sun by spaced wooden planks overhead. The windows were just holes in the plaster walls with several iron bars. The inside was small, but cozy (really just 3 rooms). The bathroom was about half the size of my closet at home and there was a large bucket in the corner for showering. There was no AC or fans, and the small light bulbs poking out of the ceiling didn't work. We stayed there a few minutes to go over our plan for the day, and then each companionship went their separate ways.

The first appointment on our list was a women named Benita, who already has a baptismal date. It was about a 25-minute walk down some larger streets and then we turned off into a barren concrete alleyway, that I thought was a shortcut, but turned out to be the entrance to a maze of narrow alleyways that comprised a Haitian neighborhood. They weren't houses so much as darkened rooms that opened directly into the shaded alley. Hermana Beesley led us expertly through the maze, saying hello to everyone we saw, most of whom gave us intrigued and slightly amused looks as we passed.

We splashed out way through a river of someone's recently dumped bath water and then Hermana Beesley stopped in front of a curtain that covered one of the many doorways, and then began calling Benita's name. After several tries, she turned to the group of people sitting a few feet away and asked if they knew where she was. One barefoot women rose from where she was seated and began speaking to us in French (or Creole - I couldn't tell) and motioned for us to follow her. She led us around several corners, and I was completely turned around by the time she pointed vigorously up at a set of precarious concrete steps, and then disappeared back around the corner.

It turned out to be a member's house where Benita had been staying for a few days while she was sick. The member, Shelly, emerged at the top of the steps when we called Benita's name and invited us up with a warm smile. The steps stuck out of the wall only about two feet and were partially eclipsed by the corrugated tin roof of the houses below, so we clung to the rough metal edge as we carefully made our way upward.

We all sat together on plastic chairs in the half of the home that didn't have a roof, and Hermana Beesley and I taught Benita the Plan of Salvation. Even though she wasn't feeling that well, she was very attentive and I could feel the Spirit there. The thing that stuck out the most during that visit, however, was that I understood virtually everything that was being taught and said. I was able to add my thoughts to the teachings of Hermana Beesley and bare testimony of the principles being taught. In fact, especially as the day progressed, I realized that I knew just as much (and in some cases, more) Spanish than Hna Beesley. She even began turning to me to ask about specific words or conjugations. It helped me to realize that, even though my Spanish is far from perfect, I can still be an effective and loving missionary with the skills that I already possess and continued trust in the Lord.

At the next stop of the day, our investigator wasn't home, so we were able to teach his mother, Carmen, for a few minutes before he showed up. She has been reading the Book of Mormon and has a strong desire to draw closer to her Heavenly Father, but when we brought up the possibility of baptism, she was insistent that she just wasn't ready - despite our assurances that baptism is a beginning, not an end, and an expression of our faith and desire to follow Jesus Christ. At the end of the lesson, Carmen chose me to offer the closing prayer (as had Benita). Hermana Beesley laughed, saying, "Siempre el nuevo" (meaning, always the new one). When Carmen's son walked through the door a few minutes later, he was carrying a bag of groceries and his little niece, whom Hna Beesley had never met. When we asked about her, he proudly informed us that she was born on the very floor on which we were now sitting, and then laughed at our reactions. After setting up another time to come back and speak with them, we left for another appointment, which unfortunately fell through.

The rest of our time together, Hna Beesley did some contacting in the streets, inviting people to church and sharing brief messages. In less than 2 hours, we were able to talk to nearly 30 people because the streets are always teeming with people: gossiping women holding babies, men playing cards or dominoes, and children chasing one another through the crowds and puddles. And then there's us: obviously a long way from home, saying hello to everyone, and followed by groups of interested eyes as we make our way through the lively chaos, amidst the hum of voices, laughter, and pulsing music.

The whole day was a lot to take in. By the time we got back to the MTC that night, we were all drained, hungry, and sweaty virtually head to toe. But, despite our exhaustion, we were all still smiling - and I think that pretty much sums up what a mission is: hard work that brings true joy.

Hugs & kisses,
Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

P.S. We were walking around the Temple a few nights ago and we saw a centipede that was over a foot long and as thick as my thumb. Our teacher who was with us, Hno Rodriguez, screamed and ran away. It was comforting to know that even Dominicans can get scared of all the giant bugs here.

P.P.S. I was talking with some of the missionaries out in the field, and they said that when you send packages, you should put religious stickers on them (especially Mary and Jesus, because there are so many Catholics here). Some also suggested that you write Elder instead of Hermana, but I'm not sure if that really matters as much.







Last full week in the MTC


Dear wonderful family,

As always, I love hearing from you. I'm glad Chico and Lori have pulled through their surgeries and are doing well. And it sounds like finding a place for Lori to live has been quite an adventure... (If it makes you feel any better, lots of people here bath in buckets in the middle of the street, so I understand.)

To answer your questions, Dad: time in the MTC seems to go by quickly and slowly at the same time. It doesn't seem like I've been here for over 5 weeks, but at the same time I am eager to get out into the field and start working. We leave early Tuesday morning! Can you believe it? I'm not sure what my first area will be like, they range from very urban to very campo.

And Jessica! I bet you're super excited to go to London! Any news on your t-shirt and beach towel designs yet? And thanks so much for getting a package together for the kids - they are going to be so excited, you can't even imagine :) Also, do you think people here would be okay if I baptized them like Ignacio did for Steven?

Mom: You asked about the stores here, and I don't really have a good answer for you. It all depends on the area that I am assigned to. If I go somewhere in Santo Domingo, the stores seem to have most of what I'll need (more or less). However, if I go somewhere out in the country, I've heard that I won't really have access too much of anything except rice, beans, and soap. It'll be an adventure.

Okay... so this week, without a doubt, the most exciting thing that I did was intercambios (splits), which is when we get to leave the CCM and drive to our respective missions and spend about 6 hours paired up with a missionary out in the field!  We get to do it again tomorrow, as well! This is one of the reasons I am so blessed to be able to come straight to the DR CCM.

After lunch on Friday, the West mission APs came to pick up all the West missionaries, and it was about a 20 minute drive to a chapel where we were paired up with our new companions for the day. I was paired up with a sister named Hermana Beesley, who has been out for only about 4 months. Our area was one of the more urban areas in the mission, called Independencia, and was in more or less the center of Santo Domingo (not the Independencia on the map over by Haiti).

First, we went back to an apartment where 4 of the sisters lived. The APs were nice enough to give us all a ride, so - including me and the 2 other West sisters - we crammed 9 people into a car meant for five (which I've found is pretty much the norm here). Coupled with a liberal dose of Dominican driving, it made for a rather bumpy and sweaty ride, weaving in and out of traffic on the tumultuous, sun-baked streets. When we stopped at lights, people came up to our windows to sell us wilted produce or wash our windshield with a bucket of murky water.

The sisters' apartment was on a smaller side street up a winding cement staircase. The cracked wooden door didn't shut all the way and opened into a kind of outdoor hallway, minimally shielded from the sun by spaced wooden planks overhead. The windows were just holes in the plaster walls with several iron bars. The inside was small, but cozy (really just 3 rooms). The bathroom was about half the size of my closet at home and there was a large bucket in the corner for showering. There was no AC or fans, and the small light bulbs poking out of the ceiling didn't work. We stayed there a few minutes to go over our plan for the day, and then each companionship went their separate ways.

The first appointment on our list was a women named Benita, who already has a baptismal date. It was about a 25-minute walk down some larger streets and then we turned off into a barren concrete alleyway, that I thought was a shortcut, but turned out to be the entrance to a maze of narrow alleyways that comprised a Haitian neighborhood. They weren't houses so much as darkened rooms that opened directly into the shaded alley. Hermana Beesley led us expertly through the maze, saying hello to everyone we saw, most of whom gave us intrigued and slightly amused looks as we passed.

We splashed out way through a river of someone's recently dumped bath water and then Hermana Beesley stopped in front of a curtain that covered one of the many doorways, and then began calling Benita's name. After several tries, she turned to the group of people sitting a few feet away and asked if they knew where she was. One barefoot women rose from where she was seated and began speaking to us in French (or Creole - I couldn't tell) and motioned for us to follow her. She led us around several corners, and I was completely turned around by the time she pointed vigorously up at a set of precarious concrete steps, and then disappeared back around the corner.

It turned out to be a member's house where Benita had been staying for a few days while she was sick. The member, Shelly, emerged at the top of the steps when we called Benita's name and invited us up with a warm smile. The steps stuck out of the wall only about two feet and were partially eclipsed by the corrugated tin roof of the houses below, so we clung to the rough metal edge as we carefully made our way upward.

We all sat together on plastic chairs in the half of the home that didn't have a roof, and Hermana Beesley and I taught Benita the Plan of Salvation. Even though she wasn't feeling that well, she was very attentive and I could feel the Spirit there. The thing that stuck out the most during that visit, however, was that I understood virtually everything that was being taught and said. I was able to add my thoughts to the teachings of Hermana Beesley and bare testimony of the principles being taught. In fact, especially as the day progressed, I realized that I knew just as much (and in some cases, more) Spanish than Hna Beesley. She even began turning to me to ask about specific words or conjugations. It helped me to realize that, even though my Spanish is far from perfect, I can still be an effective and loving missionary with the skills that I already possess and continued trust in the Lord.

At the next stop of the day, our investigator wasn't home, so we were able to teach his mother, Carmen, for a few minutes before he showed up. She has been reading the Book of Mormon and has a strong desire to draw closer to her Heavenly Father, but when we brought up the possibility of baptism, she was insistent that she just wasn't ready - despite our assurances that baptism is a beginning, not an end, and an expression of our faith and desire to follow Jesus Christ. At the end of the lesson, Carmen chose me to offer the closing prayer (as had Benita). Hermana Beesley laughed, saying, "Siempre el nuevo" (meaning, always the new one). When Carmen's son walked through the door a few minutes later, he was carrying a bag of groceries and his little niece, whom Hna Beesley had never met. When we asked about her, he proudly informed us that she was born on the very floor on which we were now sitting, and then laughed at our reactions. After setting up another time to come back and speak with them, we left for another appointment, which unfortunately fell through.

The rest of our time together, Hna Beesley did some contacting in the streets, inviting people to church and sharing brief messages. In less than 2 hours, we were able to talk to nearly 30 people because the streets are always teeming with people: gossiping women holding babies, men playing cards or dominoes, and children chasing one another through the crowds and puddles. And then there's us: obviously a long way from home, saying hello to everyone, and followed by groups of interested eyes as we make our way through the lively chaos, amidst the hum of voices, laughter, and pulsing music.

The whole day was a lot to take in. By the time we got back to the MTC that night, we were all drained, hungry, and sweaty virtually head to toe. But, despite our exhaustion, we were all still smiling - and I think that pretty much sums up what a mission is: hard work that brings true joy.

Hugs & kisses,
Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

P.S. We were walking around the Temple a few nights ago and we saw a centipede that was over a foot long and as thick as my thumb. Our teacher who was with us, Hno Rodriguez, screamed and ran away. It was comforting to know that even Dominicans can get scared of all the giant bugs here.

P.P.S. I was talking with some of the missionaries out in the field, and they said that when you send packages, you should put religious stickers on them (especially Mary and Jesus, because there are so many Catholics here). Some also suggested that you write Elder instead of Hermana, but I'm not sure if that really matters as much.

Friday, July 19, 2013

1 Down 17 More to go


Hey family! :D

It's so great to hear from you all! I love reading about the same week from 3 different perspectives.

MUM: Yes, I'm feeling much better and have eaten all of my biscuits, which were amazing!!!! I have also waterproofed both of my shoes, and as far as I can tell by splashing them in the bathroom sink, it's working well and I'm so relieved! I glad to hear that your RS lesson went well - and if anyone wants to know how I'm doing, you could always give them the address for my blog. I'm relieved to hear that you were all safe when that car spun off the road! I know that Heavenly Father was watching out for you, I pray for your safety every day. And yes, please let me know how the search for a place for Lori to live is going. I also think that she would enjoy having a roommate.
P.S. You're not a baby. I <3 U.
P.P.S. There is an Elder in my district who loves to quote Elf and it always makes me think of you.

JESSICA: Wow, time really does fly by fast. I can't believe that you have only 2 weeks left at SPG. Congratulations on all the responsibility there - going out with a bang :) I hope your towels and short get approved - it would be so cool to have something you designed in the stores! I told my roommates and they were all very impressed - they would also like to know what your giant painting is of. I'd also love you to send me one of the t-shirts if everything works out. I sorry I missed dinner at Chuck O Rama, I think I'll try that brownie thing some time... And about the toys for the kids, I think they would love them (especially the bouncy balls and the jumpy frogs)! Just hold off on sending anything for a bit: the temple is closed until I leave for the field in 2 weeks, so there won't be a lot of people around. I'll let you know when I get to my first area :)

DAD: The game at Rio Tinto stadium sounds fun - I haven't heard much about soccer here, people really only talk about baseball. And my Sundays? Pretty relaxed: no classes, sacrament meeting is in Spanish, but Sunday school and RS aren't. We also watch devotionals and have personal study for the rest of the day. Everyone's favorite part is Sunday Sundaes before we go to bed.

P.S. Tell President Castillo thank you for the letter. It was very thoughtful.


We went contacting at the university again this week. Hermana Nodal and I were more excited this time because we knew what to expect, or at least we thought that we did - but our experience this week was entirely different from the last. Last week we talked to many people for relatively short periods of time. It was an exhilarating feeling to flow continuously between people and groups and watch our bags gradually empty of their pamphlets. We left the university that day feeling quite accomplished.  This week, however, we only talked to 4 people. We talked with two separate individuals for about 15-20 minutes each, and then we talked to a couple for nearly 40 minutes. As we got to know the people, I was struck by the sincerity and kindness of practically everyone we have talked with. They are all so willing - excited even - to talk with about anything and everything (from Jesus Christ to our favorite Dominican food).

This change of pace was not a goal we had when setting out, that was just the way it turned out. I'm not sure if it was because our conversation skills are improving or because the Lord placed these individuals in our path as an opportunity for us to learn and teach on a deeper level. Perhaps both. All I can say for sure is that, even though we finished with the majority of our pamphlets left, we felt just as accomplished and edified - maybe even more so.

Language progress is slow but sure, I think. A lot of our learning in self-directed now and the teachers are just here to clarify or expound upon a certain topic if we need them. Hermana Nodal and I are continuing to teach several "investigators," and we're still aiming to use less notes and include more scriptures and more questions to foster discussion. I suppose the biggest change, however, is in my personal study because I have started reading the Book of Mormon in Spanish... and it is going surprisingly well. With my newly formed - and growing - bank of gospel vocabulary and the help of contextual reasoning, I have found that I understand most everything (at least on a general level). I still have a long way to go, but I know that fluency doesn't happen overnight. I just have to remember the 4 P's: practice, perseverance, patience, and prayer. (And a note to myself for the times I feel frustrated: perfection is not on the list).

In other news, technically (and I say technically because it's not as impressive as it sounds), since I've arrived in the Dominican Republic, we've already experienced a hurricane and an earthquake. The hurricane, named Chantelle (sp?), happened last week and lost a lot of force before hitting Santo Domingo, so it was really just tumultuous skies, a LOT of rain, and some strong wind. We lost power on and off throughout the day and there was some minor flooding in some parts of the city, but that's about it. The Elders in my district were admittedly disappointed and have begun referring to it as Hurricane Bummer. The earthquake happened on Monday while we were sitting in class. It was a very low magnitude, not even enough to shake the clock hanging on the wall, and lasted less than a minute. Hermana Nodal turned to me and asked, "Do you feel that?" I nodded. Our teacher told us not to worry about it and that it was normal... then just kept teaching. So we shrugged and kept listening until the shaking stopped. Later that night - in an event that we've unanimously agreed was more exciting than the 2 natural [not-so] disasters: they served lasagna for dinner. It was the most American, least mysterious we’ve had in 4 weeks and people literally cheered.

I'd like to end with something that I realized recently. Before leaving on my mission, I thought I might find it difficult to go without many of the staples of modern life (TV/movies, internet, "normal" books/music). However, I only realized a few days ago that I hadn't been doing any of those things for a month - like I'd forgotten about them. And I don't feel like I've been missing out on anything. I think part of the reason is we're so busy all the time, and the other part is that we can have a lot of fun in other ways: we play a lot of games, tell stories, and I draw quite a bit. Mostly, however, those gaps in my daily life have been filled with spiritual learning. This lifestyle is completely different from what we are all used to, but it does not feel like it is missing anything. On the contrary, I feel like those who have never known the lifestyle of a missionary - in all its transcendent fullness - are the ones truly missing out.

All my love <3,
Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Friday, July 12, 2013

Week #3: Lots of rain & some contact with the outside world


Dear wonderful family,

Thank you for all your love and support! I know that your prayers for me are blessing my efforts in ways that I don't even realize. And I want you all to know that I pray for you all multiple times each day and put your names in the temple each Thursday. Also, the package that you sent arrived today - I can't believe how fast it got here! You are the best, Mom!!!! Your card made me laugh :) Everyone is so jealous of me ("What? She got another one?!" :P). All of my roommates loved looking at the family photos, and I cheered when I saw my camera cord (and maybe spilled a few of the packing peanuts all over). I will DEFINITELY need that shoe polish (it was literally a monsoon here a few days ago - people had a slip n' slide going in the parking lot).

Also, another quick note about how DearElder has been working. Usually, the office will print off the letters on Wednesday and I'll get them then, but not always. For example, I didn't get any this week (I think it was because of the storm yesterday: many people went home early and power was on and off). But if you select the option to also send me an emailed copy of your letter, I can always read it on P-Days (thanks, Dad & Mum). Speaking of your letters, I'm super jealous that you all get to go to London (send me some pics).

Next, I keep running out of time to include this in my letters, so I want to describe what our P-Days are like. We still have personal study in the morning until 8:30, but after that we get to attend the Temple. We are so blessed that it is literally only a few steps away. We usually start with a 9am endowment session (in English, thankfully), and then we do either some sealings or some initiatories afterwards (both of which are a really special experience). It is such a beautiful temple, inside and out, but what makes it the most beautiful is its wonderful blend of cultures. Usually, sessions are performed in 2-3 languages: Spanish, English, and French. Furthermore, we've been working primarily on names from Europe. What a miraculous convergence of events has to take place for an American missionary serving in the Dominican Republic to perform work for someone from Hungary! It has helped me to widen my perspective and see all people the way that our Heavenly Father does: one great family, bound together for eternity despite being separated by language, distance, and generations.

After the temple, we eat lunch and then have until dinner time to do whatever we'd like, which includes things like cleaning our room, doing laundry, and usually joining up with a group for our weekly trip to the store. We don't always need something specific, but it is one of our few opportunities to get outside and we all jump on it. The store is only about a 10 minute walk away, and we always draw quite a bit of attention as we make our way along the cobbled city streets. We passed one shop where several people were sitting out front on plastic chairs. One of the men laughed as we all filed past him, counting, "Uno, dos, tres . . . diesisiete Americanos!" He kept laughing like it was the punch line to his favorite joke and waved at everyone as we walked away. It's normal here, and not considered rude to stare at people (namely foreigners) who you find interesting. Once we smile and say 'Hola,' however, their faces light up and they'll always answer back.

The store itself, which is essentially like a Walmart, is called La Sirena. The most notable difference is the loud merengue music playing over the PA, and the fact that everything is super cheap. For example, last week we all chipped in to buy a shower curtain for our room (because our old one was just a moldy tablecloth and safety pins) and it cost us less than 200 pesos ($5). Mostly, however, the missionaries just buy a lot of candy and junk food because many of the options look remarkably similar to brands in the U.S.

After we return from the tore is my favorite time of day: email time! We get one hour on the computers, but one of the perks of a tiny MTC is that this time limit is often flexible. But I am still always rushing to say everything that I'd like. So, I apologize if I don't always write some of you back personally, but just know that I read and cherish every letter I receive. They always brighten my day and warm my heart.

This week, I think I've been making noticeable progress in my studies. Firstly, I gave a short talk in Spanish on Sunday, and it went well. Second, our morning teacher took Hermana Nodal and I aside after class and told us that we were both competent enough in the language that we were no longer allowed to use notes when we teach our lessons, only scriptures. It was daunting and a little rocky to begin with, but we've been getting more comfortable with speaking (and making mistakes). Most importantly, it has helped us to realize that we can do more than we imagined, and to progress in ways that only natural, unscripted conversation can foster.

By far, the most noteworthy event of the week was out trip to the University here in Santo Domingo to do some contacting. Like the store, it is only a short walk away. Just outside the chipping stucco archway of the entrance, about half a dozen street vendors of all kinds had popped open their umbrellas and turned on their radios. The smells of cooking food had attracted several stray dogs that were wandering languidly around the small stone plaza. I look up at then iron letters as we passed through the gates and noticed that the university was founded in 1538. One of our teachers later told me that it is the oldest university in the Americas!

We all gathered together as a group in front of one of the buildings inside and were told that we had a little less than 2 hours to go talk to people, and that we should spread out across the whole campus. So, armed with 11 pamphlets and 1 Book of Mormon, Hermana Nodal and I began walking down the main road and were soon out of sight of all the others.

Our first contact was the hardest, We'd never done anything like this before and we weren't sure what to say at first. The man we were talking to sat patiently as we asked him some questions and faltered through a brief message about the Restoration, and then accepted the pamphlet we offered him, He answered our questions and even asked a few of his own, one of them being: "Is this your first time proselyting?" We sheepishly nodded. He laughed out loud, told us well done, and said that he would read the pamphlet. After that, it got easier to approach people - and 2 other people from that afternoon stand out vividly in my memory.

The first is a woman named Heidi (Hay-dee), whom we found sitting on a bench in the shade of a tree. When we approached her, she immediately moved over and invited us to sit with her. She was easy to talk to and had plenty to say, including quite a few questions. She said that she knew a little about the Church, and had even gone one Sunday. We talked with her a lot about modern day revelation, the Restoration of the Gospel, and the Book of Mormon. When we asked if she had ever read it, she said that she hadn't - and without even having to talk with one another, we simultaneously pulled out our copy of the Book of Mormon and invited her to read and pray about its truth. When we told her that it was a gift, her face split into a wide grin and she took it excitedly from my hands, cracked it open and pulled a pen from her bag. Inside the front cover, she wrote: 'Un regalo de Hermana Olsen y Hermana Nodal para Heidi [Surname] - 5 Julio 2013.' She ended with a flourish and then proceeded to fill the rest of the page around the inscription with a beach scene. She held it up for our inspection, promising she would read it because she loves to read. As we walked away from Heidi, we turned to one another and smiled. I could see that we were both thinking the same thing: we felt like real missionaries!

The next notable contact was a very tender experience. We had only 1 pamphlet and 10 minutes left, and we were determined to meet back up with the group empty handed. As we walked, Hermana Nodal pointed out a young girl sitting on a stone wall not too far away. The moment that we walked up to her, I got the distinct impression that this girl did not need a message about the Restoration or the Book of Mormon - she needed peace in her life, assurance of her Heavenly Father's love for her, and a way to receive answers from Him. And I knew this as clearly as if she had told me herself. It was a message completely different from any other we had given that day, but without so much as a glance between us, we opened our mouths and began sharing the same message. She didn't say much; she just thanked us for the pamphlet and wished us a good day. As we walked away from her, neither of us said anything for a moment as we marveled in the heart-swelling realization that we had just heeded the prompting of the Holy Ghost and he had spoken through us to touch the life of a young girl who was searching for peace. This is why I am serving a mission: I feel both humbled and strengthened to know that I can be an instrument in the hands of the Lord to bless the lives of those around me when they need it most.

Until next week,

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen





Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July!


Greetings everyone! Happy 4th of July!


I love hearing from you all and reading about what is going on back home!

Aunt Barbara & Uncle Dan: Thanks for the encouraging words and the good advice about writing home.

Grandma & Grandpa: I love you both so much! It's even hotter in St. George than it is here in Santo Domingo!

Andrea: Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed reading my blog :)

Kendra: I'm glad you're having a good summer - have fun tonight, but be careful with those fireworks!!! Oh, and my plaque scripture in 1 Nephi 10:19, but right now, my current favorite scripture is Ether 12:4

Jessica: Congratulations on your new assignment at SPG - you'll do great! And yes... we're all very sweaty. Ellen says hello. Oh, and by the way, the teddy bear I sent was meant for you - his name is Juan.


First, I want to thank all 3 of you for my package. I received a few days ago. I came just when I needed it. Me and a several of the others sisters in my room have been a little sick this week. It's been going around the CCM. When Hermana Nodal and I came back to our room to lie down for a bit, it was waiting there on my bed for me! I was so excited. As far as I know, I'm the first missionary from our group to receive a package! I haven't really been able to eat any of the biscuits yet, but I'm saving them for a rainy day (in other words, pretty much every day).

This week, I feel as if I've hit a bit of plateau with my language study. I think that it's a combination of learning so much the first week (prayers and testimonies) and that fact that we often move more slowly for the missionaries in our district who have little experience with Spanish. Every day Hermana Nodal and I are learning a handful of new words and preparing and teaching 1-2 lessons. I'm also trying to read the Book of Mormon in Spanish, which I think is beneficial, but it's slow going. At this time though, it just seems a bit difficult to gauge my progress. I know, however, that with the help of the Lord, that the language will come if I supply the dedication and faith.

I still feel unsure of myself when I have to speak in front of large groups or native speakers, but in the last week, I've had the opportunity - or obligation, rather - to do both. A few days ago, Elder Civic from the Quorum of the Seventy came to give us a devotional. He and Sister Civic spoke about the story of the Restoration of the Gospel is so essential to the work of missionaries and how we can use it as a powerful tool to help investigators feel the Spirit. At the end of the devotional, President Freestone gets up and announces the closing and hymn, and then says, "We will then hear a closing prayer by Hermana Olsen, who will be serving in Santo Domingo West mission." In Spanish, of course, and in front of everyone at the MTC (about 50 people) and a member of the Quorum of the Seventy who speaks Spanish. But that's just how it works here. You're never asked to give a closing prayer during a meeting, or even a talk on Sunday. They just announce your name and you've got to do your best. But in this case, it turned out well for me. I had moment to think, and when I got up to the pulpit I said probably the best prayer I've ever said in Spanish. Elder Civic even complimented it on me afterwards. I know I'll have to get used to a lot of impromptu speaking on my mission, but I'll feel more confident when I have a less tenuous grasp on the language.

Also, every Saturday, the entire building is full of people coming to the Temple. This is because the building that houses the CCM is also a hotel for people coming to the temple from a great distance. In fact, the CCM takes up only about half the building when you add up all the rooms we use, scattered across the 4 floors. It gets really crowded around the MTC and the Temple on Saturdays because everyone is off work, which provides the perfect opportunity for our teacher to usher us outside and force us to talk to everyone. And I mean everyone. He told us we couldn't leave the lobby until everyone there had heard our testimony. We were also supposed to bring a photo of our family to share with people, but I don't have any (hint, hint), so... he made me draw it, and I spent almost an hour showing random people a piece of crumpled notebook paper with some stick figures on it, and then bearing my testimony to them.

The children are especially fun to talk to. They all love the missionaries, especially the little ones. I was talking with a small group of sisters outside the temple, and I felt something tug on my skirt. I turned around to find a small boy - maybe 3 or 4 years old - smiling shyly up at me. Smiling, I bent down and said Hola. But he just let out a little 'peep' and ran away. Most of the children that are a few years older are less shy and will babble away about anything and everything once you get them talking. Even when we aren't outside talking to people, they'll come up to talk to us inside the building. Sometimes, we'll look up while eating in the cafeteria (or even during class) and see several of them with their faces pressed up against the windows, waving at us. They love it when we make faces back at them.

It is a unique experience having the MTC and the Temple essentially combined. There are always a myriad of people coming and going, and I think that it helps us to feel a little less isolated from the rest of the world bustling on around us outside the gates.

Another activity that helps break up all the studying during the day is Gym Time. We have about an hour and half each day to abandon our skirts and work stress away. Hermana Nodal and I sometimes get together with a group of Sisters and play ultimate frisbee or basketball. Some missionaries have even made their own bat and baseball (which looks suspiciously like a potato wrapped in duct tape). Other times, we'll go the Rec Room. It's incredibly small, everything crammed together, and the equipment is ancient - but it is always full of people lifting weights, walking on the treadmill, or (one of our favorites) playing foosball. The tables are practically falling apart and the bars make terrible screeching noises when you turn them, but we have a lot of fun. Our games get quite heated, with lots of cheering and yelling. We even taught some of the Haitian missionaries how to play.

Another of our favorite activities is walking around the Temple. There is a pathway that loops around it and runs parallel to the city street for a ways, and we always say hello to people walking beside us outside the fence. Sometimes we'll just sit on the bright expanse of lawn that runs down from the Temple to the street and watch the people and the traffic flow back and forth. From there, we can even see the ocean sparkling in the distance. There is a high-rise building being constructed across the street, and we watched with interest a few days ago as men carried materials in and out without hardhats and several others mixed cement without shoes.

It's refreshing how when you eliminate all of the thought-consuming distractions that are so deeply interwoven into our daily lives, that smaller things - like playing frisbee or just relaxing on the grass - seem more fulfilling. Each moment is undiluted by the innumerable thoughts that usually pull our consciousness in thousand different directions. It helps me to feel too closer to my Heavenly Father and also, in a way, to myself.

A few times as we've been outside, we've gotten caught in the torrential downpour that seems to come out of nowhere. Blue skies are suddenly cloudy, and then you have about one minute to find cover before the flood gates open and then you're soaked to the bone within 30 seconds. One of our teachers told us that hurricane season if from June to November, which really just means lots of rain here. Yesterday at lunch, there was a clap of thunder so powerful that the windows shook and the power went out for a few seconds. (Sometimes, the power goes out for no reason at all, even when it isn't raining.)

But no matter what the weather is like, we always keep our windows open, so it doesn't get stuffy inside with all the humidity. There's always a pleasant, balmy breeze blowing through our room. I love it because we can hear all the vibrant sounds of the city around us. During the day, we can hear the cheerful trill of birds and the sounds of baseball games from the field two buildings over. But I like the sounds of the city at night best. It is when Santo Domingo really comes alive. I love to sit on my bed next to the window and listen to the sounds of the crickets, faraway car horns, and the indistinguishable voices of people in the buildings surrounding us. I often fall asleep to the muted Merengue music that is always wafting through the air from somewhere nearby.

All my love,
Hermana Olsen