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,