Monday, August 26, 2013

A baptism upcoming and a trip to the finka


Dear family,

I love hearing from all of you. It sounds like it was an eventful week in Kentucky and I'm glad everything went well. Jessica, I can't wait to hear more about your new school/roommates, etc. I pray for you every day :)
Mom, I'm glad you had an opportunity to have a missionary experience. You know, you're always welcome to give people like that the address to my blog if they seem interested. Dad, thanks for the roadtrip photo and travel safely to South Africa. Also, tell Grandma and Grandma that the photos of the clocks are absolutely gorgeous!

As for my week, I can't believe that I've already been on my mission for 2 months! We celebrated on the 20th by buying a pizza (it didn't really taste like America pizza, but we loved it all the same) and watching The Work & The Glory. But I think the best part of the day was out leson with Altagracia.

Let me start with last Sunday. We had invited her to attend church and she said that she would come, however we weren't sure if she actually would because she had told us that she was a bit nervous becuase she didn't know anyone and she can't read. So, when we showed up at her little blue house on Sunday morning, we were shocked and overjoyed to see 5 of her children running toward us in dresses, their hair done up and huge smiles on their faces. To give you an idea of how wonderful and rare this is: about half the members (including the Branch President) usually wear jeans. Needless to say, we were quite proud to walk them into the chapel that morning, especially when we saw the mission president and his wife sitting up on the stand.

As the meeting began, Hna Matteson and I were both praying silently that Altagracia would be able to feel the Spirit and that she would hear the words she needed. That was when President Rodriguez stood up to speak, and the first thing that he did was have all the visitors stand up so that he could welcome them, and then he talked about the importance of befriending them and helping them. It was perfect, exactly what Altagracia neded to feel comfortable - as were the rest of the lessons, which talked about having charity and unity. As we walked her home, Altagracia had a smile on her face as she talked about all the "wonderful things" she heard, and insited that we come to visit her the next day.

So we did. We talked about church, her life, her faith, and her desires. She has had a difficult life, and often struggles to care for her 6 children, but she has a strong desire to grow closer to her Heavenly Father and a firm belief that this will bless her family. So that was it. By the end of that lesson, she had expressed a desire to be baptized. and the very next day, I got to extend the official invitation her her to prepare to be baptized on the 28 of September (which, of course, she eagerly accepted).

Since then, we've met with her neary every day (becuase despite her offers, we can't actually meet with her twice in the same day). And every time they see us, her children run over and ask us if we've come to take them to church. Altagracia is a golden investigator, especially prepared for us by the Lord, and Hna Matteson and I pray every day that she may continue to grow in her knowledge and testimony as we help her prepare for her baptism in the coming weeks. I'll make sure to keep you updated.

We also had a fun P-Day this past week. We had a zone activity at a local finka, which is essentially like a orchard. In the morning, we met up with the 8 elders that make up the rest of our zone and all of us piled into a member's truck. He drove us a little ways outside of town and slowly down a rocky dirt road lined in palm trees, the foliage around us growing thicker and brighter as we made our way deeper into the finka. We ended up walking a little way through the trees to reach a small shack that is sometimes used during the harvest.

That was where the member keeps the giant cauldron and a stack of fire wood that he used to cook us sancocho, which is a traditional Dominican stew. He hadn't really brough much with him, so a few of us helped him gather up the necessary ingredients, including picking guineos (plantains) and digging up yuca (a potato-like root). We then watched with interest as he grabbed up one of the many had been wandering among the trees, chopped it into pieces with a machete, and threw every last bit of it into the cauldron.

While we were waiting for the sancocho to cook, we took a walk and some of the elders pointed out all the different kinds of fruit trees there were, including coconut, mango, cherry, plantain, and some others we couldn't identify. Eventually, we came across a tall limoncillop tree, its branches heavy with the small green fruits. People here eat them like candy - biting them open, discarding the peel, sucking on the soft fruit, and then spitting out the pit.They're a little weird and a bit slimey a t first, but I've grown to really like them.

We returned to the shack before the sancocho was finished and relaxed for a while in the warm green light that filtered down through the trees above us, telling stories, sucking idly on limoncillos, and laying on a threadbare hammock strung up between two palm trees.

Interesting things that happened this week:

- We cut Hna Preisler's hair. Over 10 inches of it, in fact. Hna Matteson was eager to chop the pony tail, and then I trimmed it up and evened it out, even framing her face. I think that it looked pretty good for my first time, and she was decidedly happy with the result as well.

- The four of us sang a hymn at the baptism of one of Hna Nodal and Hna Preisler's investigators ('La oracion de profeta' to the tune of 'Come Thou Fount'). I even had a solo part, which I only agreed to becase no one here knows how to sing. But seriously. Even when the members have no idea how a song goes, they still sing at the top of their voices. The first time that I heard them during sacrament meeting, I could hardly recognize the song and Hna Matteson and I couldn't help but laugh until tears were running our faces.

- We found out that we get to go to the capital twice in the coming week (which means a lot of time on a crowded guagua): Temple trip on Tuesday, and on Thursday, we have an Hermana Conference for all the sister missionaries in the West... and I've been asked to speak - wish me luck!

All my love,

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Monday, August 19, 2013

Acting on Faith


Dear family,

I´m so glad to hear that you´re all doing well, my thoughts and prayers are with you during your time in Kentucky. Jessica, I expect a good letter soon telling me all about your new school/roommates/etc.

I got the package you sent this week! I wasn't expecting it for at least another few weeks, so it was a wonderful surprise! I'm trying to ration the treats (which came through relatively unscathed), so that they last as long as possible. I've given a few of the toys away to the children of some of our investigators, and they absolutely LOVE them (because, sadly, I haven't really seen any toys since I've been here). Mom, I hope you know that I've put all the cards you've sent me up where I can see them every day. And Jessica... your contribution was both hilarious and slightly disturbing. (How could I have expected anything less?) I'm thinking of sticking one on every telephone pole in Azua (although I'm pretty sure that no one here knows who that is). I love you all so much!

All the missionaries here are required to carry a hardback copy of the Book of Mormon in their hands at all times, and slipped inside the pages of mine I keep a lamenated copy of our family photo - that way you can always be with me and I can show you off to all of my investigators. In fact, I talk about you all with pretty much everyone that we meet, becuase family is the one topic here that always breaks the ice.

Speaking of investigators, I promised to talk about a few once we started to establish regular appointments. First, we've been trying to work family members of Tomas, including his wife Juanna, and his daughter Altagracia. We face a bit of a challenge with Juanna becuase she can't read, so we've been encouraging Tomas to read with her as much as possible.

In fact, we have a total of four investigators who can't read, so it makes our job interesting as we try to find ways to in which they can best learn and progress, especially when it comes to their confidence. One of the four who can't read, named Esperanza, was so overjoyed when she said her first prayer. After we assured her that she had done well, she clapped her hands and exclaimed excitedly, "I can learn! I'm learning!" She has such a great desire to learn and we have faith in her. Our job now is to get her to realize her divine potential.

In contrast, we have several investigators who love to read. Cesarina has graduated college in computer programming. She rhighlights the pamphlets we give her and even puts question marks beside the parts she doesn't understand. Julio manages an organic agriculture business, and likes sharing his opinion about economics and politics. He says he's not very religious, but he reads to Bible and enjoys trying to find meaning that no one else has thought of before (it has led to some interesting discussions).

We are also teaching several wonderful families. Samuel and Evelin have 2 young children that always sit on their laps during our lessons. And they have an actual family portrait hanging up on their wall (which is quite rare, considering many people here have neither family photos nor anything hanging on their walls). Altagracia is a single mother with 4 children (ages 2, 4, 5, and 7) who absolutely adore us. When they see us coming from down the street, they scream and run outside to meet us with enthusiastic hugs, and throughout the entire lesson, they continue to cling to us as if we might just float away. They also love to remind us that we're "muy blanca" and poke our skin until their mother tells them to behave.

We also have a very special investigator named Juan, who is 18 years old. He has a problem with the bones in his legs and can't walk. He also has some sort of learning disability, so lessons are very short and simple, and we often have to repeat them several times. But he has such great faith, and a strong desire to grow closer to his Heavenly Father. Every week, one of the ward members named Maximo, walks to Juan's house and pushes him (all the way across town)to church in his wheelchair. Juan has told us several times that he wants to be baptized, however, there are several problems with this. First (and probably the least of our concerns), we're not sure how baptizing him would work becuase he can't stand. Second, we're not sure how much he really understands, and we need to make sure ke knows enough of the doctrine to gain a testimony of its truth. Lastly, he has no support from his family: no one to read to him (because he can't read) and no way to get to church on his own. It is so frustrating and we pray for guidance constantly because he has such a strong desire and we want him to be happy, but I know that with the Lord's help, everything will turn out fine in the end.

Equally as frustrating is that several of our investigators have the faith, or rather, believe the things we have taught them, but have absolutely no desire to act on their faith. Unfortunatly, this attitude seems to be shared by quite a few people here. I have yet to meet someone that say they don't have a belief in God, however, we also have a very hard time finding people who are willing to act on their faith, change their lives for the things that they say they believe, or even attend church. And really, what does our faith mean if we aren't willing to sacrifice anything for it?

I've been asking myself that a lot lately. Each day, am I doing all that I can to live the principles that I say I believe? What would I be willing to give to defend my faith? Eighteen months of my life? But what does that really mean if my heart isn't in it? Here's what I do know. I'm here becuase I believe in the message I am teaching. I'm here becuase I care about the people and I want them to share in the joy that this Gospel has brough to my life. And when my mission is over, and I look back on these eighteen months, I want to be able to say that I worked every day with all my heart, might, mind, and strength to defend and fortify my hard-won faith, to show those I met that this message is not just empty words, and that no one needs to walk away empty-handed. True faith inspires action and sacrifice. So, if you know something to be true, you'd better do something about it.

All my love,

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Monday, August 12, 2013

Creepy Crawlies & Clothing Optional


Dear Everyone!!!!
I loved all of your letters this week, they were especially wonderful! I laughed a lot :D Your support and encouragement are such a blessing!! A special thanks to Andrea and Kendra for your thoughtfull letters :) I also loved your letter, Jessica, about London - it sounds like it was super fun and I LOVED your descriptions of the areas and the people and what you did! It made me miss London and, of course, you. haha
Ok... So, here's what my typical day looks like. We wake up at 6:30am and have a quick over-the-phone devotional with the 2 other elders in our district. From 7 to 8am, we eat breakfast and get ready for the day, then we have an hour of personal study followed by an hour of companionship study, Next, is an hour of training activities and an hour of language study.

Our lunch is from 12 to 2pm. Those 2 hours are actually a combination of our lunch and dinner times for the day. This is because 10am to 2pm are the hottest hours of the day and also because people like to take siestas around this time as well. The past few days we’ve been using this time to try to cook some Dominican recipes from people we’ve met, including morro (a traditional preparation of rice and beans) and Dominican spaghetti. If they turn out well, I'll copy them down and cook them for you all some day. Speaking of recipes, Mom: if you have the time, the four of us would love if you could send us a few simple recipes (that don't contain baking powder, baking soda, or shortening). Because, let's just say, we could use some variety in our diet.  You can just email them and I can print them out. Thanks :D
After lunch is where the real work begins. I get to spend the rest of the day covered in dirt and sweat, walking until my feet hurt, and smiling until my mouth hurts. But I love it. Our area of Azua is still fairly undeveloped, so as of now, we've mostly been trying to find new people to teach, which I really enjoy because I'm not just coming in and taking over the work that previous missionaries have left. Also, I'll get to see our investigators progress from the very beginning. So, as we start to accumulate some progressing investigators, I'll tell you more about them.
We've met a lot of new and interesting people over the past 2 weeks. To name a few, there's... Wilky, Santa, Pinki, Dorka, Chickie, Chico, Chanco, Chuchu, and more than a few Juans and Marias. We've met some of them while going door-to-door, but we've also met a lot while they're sitting on their front porch, at a street corner, or under a tree - usually doing nothing in particular (although, one time, we helped a man building a chicken coop). I'm starting to get the impression that some people here just sit around a talk for a good portion of the day.
Their second priority seems to be keeping cool. I'm inferring this mostly by the fact that people here hate wearing clothes and generally wear as little as they can get away with - especially the younger children, many of which opt to go without clothing altogether. We even have one investigator that we haven't actually ever seen with a shirt on. Also, running directly beside one of the main streets in our area, there's a canal (that everyone calls a river). It is always full of people bathing and they wave to us as we walk past. I swear, we must look like we're wearing parkas as we walk down the street.
People think it's hilarious to point out how sweaty we are, and always tell us that we should get out of the sun or carry an umbrella. And when women see all of the lovely pink bug bits on my legs, they say: "Mi amor! Menthol! Menthol!" I'm not sure whether that is to keep the mosquitoes away or stop the itch, but I assure you that I am using repellant both day and night.
Hmm... our recent converts are doing well and are always fun to spend time with. Adabertino likes to make sure we've tried all the local produce. A few days ago, he gave us each a stalk of sugar cane that was nearly long enough to use as a walking stick and laughed as I struggled to bite off a piece. Carlos is writing love note to a woman in the ward and always asks us to transcribe them because he like our handwriting and we check his spelling (like a typical Dominican, he tends to drop the 'S's from the ends of words). And did I mention that Tomas has 12 fingers? Yesterday, I asked him how old his niece was and he held up a hand. I wasn't sure whether he meant 5 or 6 (turns out it was 5).
What else can I say about teaching the people here? Well... I'm quickly learning to teach through all types of distractions, including - but not limited to - blaring music from the surrounding area, chickens under my chair, cows peeking in through the window, cockroaches running over my feet, and mothers pulling down shirts to breastfeed their crying babies, We teach while sitting on buckets, on crates, on walls, logs, front porches, the side of the road, and even baseball fields. It certainly keeps things interesting.
Interesting things that happened this week:
- A dark moth the size of a small bird flew inside the apartment and some of other hermanas screamed because they thought it was a bat.
- One of our fans was so old and rusty that it caught on fire. We got it out pretty quickly and it was fine.
- We were kept up later one night by several dozen children banging on drums and dancing in the street below. They were actually quite good and when they saw us watching them, they put on a little show.
- Also, several people have asked about the photo of the tarantula I sent last week. The story behind that Carlos helped us lure it out of its hole in the ground with water and a stick and then pushed it onto my Book of Mormon for sizing. Needless to say, it got quite angry with us.
Until next week,
Hermana Kaitlin Olsen





Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Azua!


Dear family,

As always, thanks for you letters I love reading them. I’m glad you’ve all had a great time in London! One of you asked about the best way to send me letters now that I’m in my first area, and I think DearElders are still the best (with the added email option). For packages, just send them the mission home address (and don’t forget the pictures of Jesus). 

This week has been an interesting experience, and I have so much I´d like to include, but I know I won´t have room for everything, so I´ll just start at the beginning and you can look forward to more details in the subsequent weeks. 

Before I left the CCM this week, we had our final day of Intercambios. I got to go to a different area of Santo Domingo with 2 new companions. They didn´t have any appointments that day, so it was all contacting. We spent the day in a narrow network of crumbling, colorful homes that overlooked the ocean. At the top of the hill, a great rusted out airplane had been laid to rest, its nose pointing out over the water and its base surrounded by a flock of chicken pecking fruitlessly at the swirling dust. 

As we wandered from door'to'door that day, we were able to teach several full length lessons after being invited in on the spot. I especially enjoyed teaching one family that consisted of a single mother and her three daughters, aged 6, 7, and 8. When we asked if they wanted to learn a new song, they cheered, and when we asked who wanted to offer the prayer, they fought over whose turn it was and ended up saying it all together. It was the sweet spirit present in those precious families that is the lifeblood of missionary work and, at the time, fanned the flame of my growing eagerness to enter the field that following Tuesday morning, 

XXXXXXXXXX

We left the CCM at 0630 on Tuesday and drove to transfer chapel in Santo Domingo. After interviews with President Rodriguez, we met in the chapel for orientation and area assignments. Hermana Nodal and I were the first 2 missionaries announced, and we have BOTH been called to serve in Azua! Hna Nodal´s companion’s name is Hna Preisler and my new companion’s name is Hna Matteson.

After lunch at the chapel, some of the elders drove us 4 to the bus station where we waited for nearly 4 hours before boarding our bus for the 2 hour journey westward to Azua. I mostly slept along the way, but Hna Mattesen woke me up when we were about 15 minutes away to show me a glowing sunset above the sparking waters of the Caribbean Sea and a rolling green coastline. 

We got off the bus at dusk on a small bustling street in the center of town, and loaded our cumbersome bags into a guagua (bus, van) for the short ride back to our new apartment. 

Azua is a small, but lively city in a dry, sun baked region of the country. The homes are modest, topped with tin roofs, made of concrete and cinderblock, and painted in bright, chalky colors. The streets are dusty, uneven, and more often travelled by heavy laden motorcycles than cars. Stray dogs and cats make their way along the weather beaten pavements and chicken peck at loose pebbles. But under the bright, beating sun, this crumbling city is so full of life. The streets are full of music, yelling, laughter, and the patter of tiny feet. Amidst the buzz of motors, people will sit in the shade of a tree and talk for hours. Everybody knows everybody and life seems to move at a slower pace. In fact, I doubt if life has changed much here in the past few decades.

Our apartment is above a colmado, which is a tiny 1 room store that is always blasting music to let people know that they’re open. (There are colmados on many corners here, which is helpful because the nearest grocery store is a 30 minute walk away.) Our apartment is a lot nicer than most of the homes here. We have 5 rooms, a tile floor, a gas stove, and a fridge. Our electricity and water are very unreliable, though (especially the water, which we really only have about half the time). My first shower here was a bucket shower, and as of now, we haven’t had water in 3 days. It’s admittedly inconvenient, but we make do, and I know that I’ve been called here because I can weather the challenges that Azua will inevitably send my way. Hna Matteson always says that is takes special kind of missionary to handle Azua. 

My very first lesson on the afternoon of my first full day here was with a man named Tomas, who was getting ready to be baptized on the following Saturday. Tomas lives a little ways outside of town, and to get there, we had to cross a dry riverbed and follow a narrow dirt path through a field of tall grass, which ended at a solitary line of houses. 

Hna Matteson walked up to one of them and peered through the open door, where we found Tomas and 2 recent converts names Carlos and Adabertino. They invited us in and we sat down on a worn couch. The 3 of them began talking to Hna Mattesona and asking about me until they realized that I could more or less understand what was being said, and then they began talking to both of us. 

As we began going through the program for Tomas’s baptism, Adabertino leaned over to open a bag at his feet and began pulling out some large green coconuts. He then picked up a long machete from a shelf above Carlos´ head and walked outside. He returned a minute later and offered me the split coconut, and as I began sipping the milk from the small hole in the top, I looked out the open door and had a surreal moment as I watched the palm trees sway serenely against the bright blue sky. 

Before we left, Adabertino shared an amazing story with me. He told me of a dream that he had one night. In his dream, he was wandering the darkened streets of Azua when he heard a woman begin calling his name. He followed her voice for some time, and was just about to give up the search when she and another woman appeared in front of him and offered him a book. The very next day, 2 sister missionaries knocked on his door, and because of the dream, he let them in. 

....Well, I don’t have much time left, so just know that I am safe and thinking about you all daily. Missionary work is difficult, and I’m covered in dirt and sweat pretty much all the time, but I know that I am where the Lord needs me, so I’m up the challenge and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

All my love,
Hermana Kaitlin Olsen






An exciting and exhausting first week!


Dear family,

As always, thanks for you letters I love reading them. I’m glad you’ve all had a great time in London! One of you asked about the best way to send me letters now that I’m in my first area, and I think DearElders are still the best (with the added email option). For packages, just send them the mission home address (and don’t forget the pictures of Jesus). 

This week has been an interesting experience, and I have so much I´d like to include, but I know I won´t have room for everything, so I´ll just start at the beginning and you can look forward to more details in the subsequent weeks. 

Before I left the CCM this week, we had our final day of Intercambios. I got to go to a different area of Santo Domingo with 2 new companions. They didn´t have any appointments that day, so it was all contacting. We spent the day in a narrow network of crumbling, colorful homes that overlooked the ocean. At the top of the hill, a great rusted out airplane had been laid to rest, its nose pointing out over the water and its base surrounded by a flock of chicken pecking fruitlessly at the swirling dust. 

As we wandered from door'to'door that day, we were able to teach several full length lessons after being invited in on the spot. I especially enjoyed teaching one family that consisted of a single mother and her three daughters, aged 6, 7, and 8. When we asked if they wanted to learn a new song, they cheered, and when we asked who wanted to offer the prayer, they fought over whose turn it was and ended up saying it all together. It was the sweet spirit present in those precious families that is the lifeblood of missionary work and, at the time, fanned the flame of my growing eagerness to enter the field that following Tuesday morning, 

XXXXXXXXXX

We left the CCM at 0630 on Tuesday and drove to transfer chapel in Santo Domingo. After interviews with President Rodriguez, we met in the chapel for orientation and area assignments. Hermana Nodal and I were the first 2 missionaries announced, and we have BOTH been called to serve in Azua! Hna Nodal´s companion’s name is Hna Preisler and my new companion’s name is Hna Matteson.

After lunch at the chapel, some of the elders drove us 4 to the bus station where we waited for nearly 4 hours before boarding our bus for the 2 hour journey westward to Azua. I mostly slept along the way, but Hna Mattesen woke me up when we were about 15 minutes away to show me a glowing sunset above the sparking waters of the Caribbean Sea and a rolling green coastline. 

We got off the bus at dusk on a small bustling street in the center of town, and loaded our cumbersome bags into a guagua (bus, van) for the short ride back to our new apartment. 

Azua is a small, but lively city in a dry, sun baked region of the country. The homes are modest, topped with tin roofs, made of concrete and cinderblock, and painted in bright, chalky colors. The streets are dusty, uneven, and more often travelled by heavy laden motorcycles than cars. Stray dogs and cats make their way along the weather beaten pavements and chicken peck at loose pebbles. But under the bright, beating sun, this crumbling city is so full of life. The streets are full of music, yelling, laughter, and the patter of tiny feet. Amidst the buzz of motors, people will sit in the shade of a tree and talk for hours. Everybody knows everybody and life seems to move at a slower pace. In fact, I doubt if life has changed much here in the past few decades.

Our apartment is above a colmado, which is a tiny 1 room store that is always blasting music to let people know that they’re open. (There are colmados on many corners here, which is helpful because the nearest grocery store is a 30 minute walk away.) Our apartment is a lot nicer than most of the homes here. We have 5 rooms, a tile floor, a gas stove, and a fridge. Our electricity and water are very unreliable, though (especially the water, which we really only have about half the time). My first shower here was a bucket shower, and as of now, we haven’t had water in 3 days. It’s admittedly inconvenient, but we make do, and I know that I’ve been called here because I can weather the challenges that Azua will inevitably send my way. Hna Matteson always says that is takes special kind of missionary to handle Azua. 

My very first lesson on the afternoon of my first full day here was with a man named Tomas, who was getting ready to be baptized on the following Saturday. Tomas lives a little ways outside of town, and to get there, we had to cross a dry riverbed and follow a narrow dirt path through a field of tall grass, which ended at a solitary line of houses. 

Hna Matteson walked up to one of them and peered through the open door, where we found Tomas and 2 recent converts names Carlos and Adabertino. They invited us in and we sat down on a worn couch. The 3 of them began talking to Hna Mattesona and asking about me until they realized that I could more or less understand what was being said, and then they began talking to both of us. 

As we began going through the program for Tomas’s baptism, Adabertino leaned over to open a bag at his feet and began pulling out some large green coconuts. He then picked up a long machete from a shelf above Carlos´ head and walked outside. He returned a minute later and offered me the split coconut, and as I began sipping the milk from the small hole in the top, I looked out the open door and had a surreal moment as I watched the palm trees sway serenely against the bright blue sky. 

Before we left, Adabertino shared an amazing story with me. He told me of a dream that he had one night. In his dream, he was wandering the darkened streets of Azua when he heard a woman begin calling his name. He followed her voice for some time, and was just about to give up the search when she and another woman appeared in front of him and offered him a book. The very next day, 2 sister missionaries knocked on his door, and because of the dream, he let them in. 

....Well, I don’t have much time left, so just know that I am safe and thinking about you all daily. Missionary work is difficult, and I’m covered in dirt and sweat pretty much all the time, but I know that I am where the Lord needs me, so I’m up the challenge and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

All my love,
Hermana Kaitlin Olsen