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

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