Monday, January 27, 2014

Wet Laundry and Dry Members

Querida familia,

This week has been really enjoyable. I'm growing to love La Venta more and more the longer I'm here. I love the area itself, but the people here are just so fantastic - investigators and members alike.

As of right now, we don't have a lot of investigators. This is mainly because the ones the other Hermanas had before I arrived all got baptized - which is amazing - so we end up teaching quite a few recent convert lessons. The few investigators that we do have though are all progressing.

First, there's Estefani, a quiet, sweet 13-year-old girl who is scheduled to be baptized on the 15 of February.

Then there's Miguela and Manuel, a mother and her 9-year-old son, who have been attending church faithfully for several weeks. They both want to get baptized and Miguela is reading everything from General Conference to the Doctrine and Covenants. The problem is that her 'husband' doesn't want much to do with the church. However, things started to change a few days ago when he happened to overhear Manuel praying that God would soften his father's heart so that they could go to church together. There is always something powerful in the simple sincerity of a child's prayer, and Miguela certainly has hope for him, too. Time will tell.

Next, there's Fausto, whose wife Judi and 10-year-old son are baptized, but he still has his doubts. He's been investigating the church for 9 years and attends church most weeks with his family. He reads and he prays, but he says that he feels like he's never received an answer. We're trying to find out what exactly is holding him back, but I have no doubt that he'll get baptized someday (even if it’s not for a while longer).

Fausto is what is called a dry member: someone basically lives their life in accordance with the gospel, but isn't baptized for one reason or another. There are several in this branch, including Mario (who lives right below us) and the 2rd counselor's wife Raisa, who insists that she's Catholic but leaves mass early every Sunday morning to come to sacrament meeting.

Finally, Hna Erickson and I have started teaching an amazing family in Tierra Llana. The parents' names are Arturo and Miguelina and they have three young children. They truly are a golden family: very kind, sincerely interested, actively looking for a church, and highly family-oriented. They have amazing potential and we have high hopes for them.

So that's pretty much all the investigators we have at the moment, so we've been working to try and find some more. As I mentioned though, we also teach a lot of recent convert lessons because they make up the majority of the branch, and I've found that I really like it, too - we visit a lot of wonderful converts. I don't really have time to talk about them all this week, so maybe that can be the bulk of my letter next week.

Interesting things that happened this week:

- Arturo and Miguelina gave us chinola cheesecake (passion fruit). It was amazing - my new favorite dessert.

- It rains more in the capitol. So far I've left all my laundry on the line during a downpour and we've been splashed practically head-to-toe while walking along the side of the highway. It was actually quite hilarious.

- I ran out of bug spray and it’s so expensive here I didn't want to buy anymore. Several people told me that white vanilla extract works just as well, so I decided to try it. Now, I always smell like vanilla and it really does seem to keeping the bugs away.

- I finished El Libro de Mormon for the second time this week. I feel like I'm going to be a lot more familiar with the scriptures in Spanish by the time I get home.

All my love,

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

P.S. I found out that Daniel and Pamela got baptized last Saturday! I'm so thrilled!! Daniel has come so far and I didn't know if stubborn little Pamela would make it, but they both made it and I'm so proud of them!

Church in La Venta

View from on top of the church

View from on top of the church

Kaitlin and Hermana Erickson

Teaching English class - Kaitlin and Herman Erickson

Making empanadas for a zone activity today

Daniel getting baptized in Azua

Pamela getting baptized in Azua

Hermana Sanchez and her new companion

Monday, January 20, 2014

Primera Semana en Las Caobas

Dear family,

This past week has been amazing - I love my new area! I have been transferred to a part of the capitol called Las Caobas and my area is called La Venta. It's fairly new - only opened 3 transfers ago - but already it is the fastest growing area in the mission. It is located away from the heart of the capitol, but is still a lot busier than Azua. I've got to say, it was a little bit of a culture shock after 6 months in the campo (but according to the other missionaries here, it's about middle ground between capitol and campo).

My companion's name is Hermana Erickson. She's from Utah, she has 14 months in the mission, and this is her fourth transfer here in the La Venta. We get along really well and it's actually quite stunning how similar we are in many ways: she loves to read, she's an artist, and she's studying neuropsychology. On top of that, her first area in the mission field was Azua, too, so we know a lot of the same people and I was able to fill her in on how everyone was doing (including Adabertino, Carlos, and Tomas, who she taught).

We spend a lot of our time in the poorer part of our area, which consists of an intricate maze of hilly callejones, or narrow, uneven cement alleyways - not streets, by any means (oftentimes they don't even fit 2 people across). The callejones are bordered on both sides by tall, precarious-looking buildings made of crumbling brick and concrete: houses stacked two to three high, narrow doorways, and crude stairways carved out of the walls. I've got to admit that, after Azua, I felt a little boxed-in in those tall and narrow passageways.

In between the callejones there are areas with actual streets, passable to a small car. They're still walled-in on both sides by tall concrete buildings strung together with power lines, but definitely more open.

There is another part of our area that is about a 30 minute walk away along the highway. It's an apartment complex called Tierra Llana and has a surprisingly suburbia-US feel to it. When we first visited there I felt really strange and out-of-place for some reason. I suppose I'm just reacclimating to urban civilization. We don't get over there very often though because it’s a little ways away.

We live on of a boxy mis-matched building that contains probably about 6-7 homes, although it’s not an apartment complex. There's a tiny colmado downstairs (a lot smaller than Azua, ironically enough) and a car wash out front (and by car wash, I mean men standing around listening to music and waiting to soapy dump water on the next vehicle that pulls up). The house itself though is probably nicer than Azua, I'd say. It's about the same and has more interior detailing (i.e. painted walls, curtains), which is more of a perk rather than a necessity. What I was really excited about though, was the toilets - they actually flush! It was a beautiful sight after six months of bucket flushing.

It's a little cooler during the day, but of course, that also means its cooler at night. I now have to sleep with a sheet on top of me and I sometimes wear a sweater in the morning. I really don't think it’s all that cool here, though - I'm pretty sure I'm just used to Azua. The showers are freezing, though. It feels like I'm dumping a pitcher of icy water over my head each morning. At least I feel wide awake afterwards.

Another downfall is the pests. There actually seems to be more of them here. There are more mosquitoes, although smaller. And ants - they're everywhere, on everything, all the time (but also smaller). The cockroaches, however, are quite a bit bigger. Apparently, we also have mice/rats, although I haven't seen any.

What makes this area so great though, is the branch. It's still quite new and small for the capitol (about 100 people regularly in attendance), but it's thriving and growing quickly. We don't actually have a church building. We meet in what, from the outside, looks like an old warehouse along the side of the street with solid metal barriers that roll down to the ground over the doors and window. When Hermana Erickson first told me that was the church, I thought she was joking until I saw the small sign on the wall that read: 'La Iglesia de Jesucristo.'

It doesn't really look like a church on the inside either, but it certainly feels like it. There is such a wonderful spirit present among the members of the branch. They're amazing: they're loving, generous, unified, organized, and highly-focused on missionary work. They have Noches de Amistad (Friendship Nights) at least once a week to invite people to learn more about the Gospel and they even have a branch motto: La Venta - cada miembro un misionero (every member a missionary).

The most amazing thing about them though, is that about 80 percent of them are all recent converts (baptized within the last year). Because of this, they have such a passion for the Gospel and a strong desire to share it with others. It makes being a missionary in their branch very rewarding - I feel supported, appreciated, and encouraged, with greater motivation to dedicate myself completely to the work. I loved my time in Azua, but coming here was a refreshing change... and I definitely think I could get used to it.

Hasta la próxima semana,

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen
Kaitlin's new apartment

The bus ride from Azua to Santo Domingo

Along the way to Santo Domingo

Kaitlin's new companion Hermana Erickson

Friday, January 17, 2014

Me voy de Azua!

Platanos for dinner
Dear family,

This week has flown by so quickly and last night we received transfer calls. Guess what? Me voy! I'm officially leaving Azua! And so is Hermana Nodal. We don't know where we're going or who our companions will be - we'll find that out tonight (and you all will find out next week).

I have loved my time here in Azua, but I feel ready to leave. I've had 4 transfers here, 2 areas, 2 companions, and numberless investigators. I've learned and grown a lot from my experiences and made some memories that I will never forget. I'm sure Azua will always be close my heart as my first area in the mission field, but I'm eager to see a new area and experience the mission a little differently.

Of course leaving an area is always bittersweet. There are several baptisms I would have loved to see, namely Daniel, Yudi, and maybe even Pamela. I'll miss our amazing recent converts: Tomas, Carlos, Adabertino, and of course, Domingo. Finally, it will be hard to part ways with Hermana Nodal. We've been together every single day since we first met in the Miami airport on our way to the DR. However, I know that all the people I care about are in good hands and that I am headed off to the area where the Lord needs me the most.

We leave early tomorrow morning to catch a bus to our unknown destinations, so today I'm going to be busy preparing to leave and anxiously anticipating the opening of this next chapter in my mission journey.

Until next week,

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen