Monday, February 24, 2014

Gracias! Gracias! Gracias!

Dear family, 

This week has seemed to go by very quickly, which I suppose is good because it means we've been busy. First, we cleaned the house all Monday until about midnight and then continued cleaning any spare moments we could find on Tuesday and Wednesday (we totaled it up and it was over 20 hours). We literally cleaned everything, down to scrubbing in between each tile with a toothbrush, touching up the paint on the walls, and re caulking the kitchen and the bathrooms. We even flooded practically the entire house Dominican-style.

Throughout the whole process we found a lot of very disturbing things that had probably been there a very long time, including a rusty pickax and a rats' nest inside our oven. (And speaking of the rats, I saw some of them the other day and they're literally the size of Chihuahuas. One even tried unsuccessfully to carry away an entire bar of soap that was sitting on Hermana Conrady's bed... we found it in the hallway covered in bite marks). 

Cleaning was a laborious process that left us exhausted and sore for the next few days, but we managed to make it fun together and it was totally worth it because of how beautiful the house looks now. For the inspection, we even topped it all off by baking some homemade bread and singing the senior missionary couple a special musical number that left them it tears... obviously, we won the competition against the elders. No one cleans like an hermana. 

Another interesting thing that happened this week is that we ran into a British man named Roland. He literally doesn't know any Spanish and has been stuck in the DR for 15 months now because he doesn't have money for his flight home. Or any money at all, really... I'm not sure how that happened, I haven't asked. He's living with a Dominican family and finds work doing whatever he can. He enjoys talking to us because we know English and I can talk to him about living in England. We gave him a Liahona magazine and he seemed quite excited to read it, which I thought may just have been for lack of English reading material, but then he randomly showed up to church yesterday. He didn't understand any of it, but he said he enjoyed the feeling of peace inside the chapel.

We also found a new investigator this week. His name is Yordis, he's 18 years old, and he just showed up to church last Suday by himself. He says that he is looking for the one true church according to what it written in the Bible, but none of the other churches he's visited have been able to answer all his questions. It's no wonder though - he asks some unconventional questions (for example: the symbolic meaning of the number 40 throughout the Bible). We gave him a folleto and before he would accept it, he said: I hope you know that, if you give this to me, I will come back with a paper full of questions." We told him that we'll look forward to it. He is generally receptive though, and I can tell that he has a lot of potential. 

Another reason we've been so busy this week is that we had to teach Angelo practically everything this week before his baptism on Saturday. We met with him 3 times this week for an hour and a half each. He's a really good kid, but he's got a lot of energy and loves to mess around. He tends to interrupt us and ask how to say things in English or irrelevant questions about our personal lives. He even tried to pray in English the other day and it just pure nonsense. Sometimes we'd swear he wasn't listening, but then we'd ask him a question and he always knew the answer perfectly. Our lessons with him are always really fun though, ad we end up laughing a lot. 

His baptism was a bit hectic though. It started in the morning when we got a call from the zone leaders telling us that another ward had decided to have a baptism there at the time we had scheduled, and then Hermana Erickson was sick in bed, so all the final preparations were left to me.

She ended up feeling well enough to come to the baptism that night, but then we discovered that we still didn't have Yakeline's signature (Angelo's guardian), so we couldn't start the service. President ended up having to go out to look for her, and - in typical Dominican fashion - he found her in a hair salon. And of course, the whole time that we were waiting, Angelo was running up and down the hallways in his baptismal suit pretending to do karate.

Once the service started though, everything was smoother sailing. At Angelo's request, I bore my testimony and then he was baptized by one of his friends in the young men's quorum. At the end, Angelo came up to me and told me that he felt amazing... and that in 2018 he was going to put his papers in to serve a full-time mission (so then he could come to our country and teach us). 

As we walked away from the church that night, Angelo called after us. We turned around and threw both his fists up into the air and shouted three times: "Gracias! Gracias! Gracias!"

Until next week, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

P.S. We got transfer calls last night. Hermana Erickson is leaving and I'm staying....and I'll be training a brand new hermana. I go into the city center to pick her up tomorrow. Wish me luck and keep me and my new companion in your prayers :)
Angelo's baptism

The way in!

Super clean apartment

More visitors

Angelo's baptism

The next option

Cleaning with toothbrushes

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lots of Love and Pond Scum

Dear family, 

The only word that I could possibly use to describe this week would be amazing. Of course, it was Valentine's Day and I got to open the package you sent - a GIANT thank you for that. I needed both the shoes and the t-shirt, and the candy and earrings were very much enjoyed as well. And throughout the day, the love kept coming. By the time we got home that night we had received a painted ceramic box from Josefina, bracelets and rings from a group of children we always talk to on the streets, a tin of Christmas cookies, and some unidentifiable food that looked like brown mashed potatoes stuffed inside a plastic bag. It was a good day and we definitely felt very loved.

The following day, we had a branch temple trip and we were fortunate enough to be able to go with them and even participate is some confirmations. The temple is actually only about a 20-minute drive away from La Venta, which is surprising because of how different the two areas are (La Venta is sometimes described as campo-capitol). 

We made it back from the temple just in time to get over to the Villa Aura chapel for Estefani's baptism (which was a double with the other hermanas' investigator named Mari). Hermana Erickson and I were a bit nervous all week because of how timid Estefani is that she might not show up. She had told us that if there were too many people there, she would leave...and so, of course, everyone who went to the temple followed us to the baptism and we had one of the largest turnouts anyone had ever seen (nearly 50 people). But Estefani came and she even brought a group of friends with her. 

The longer she was there, the more comfortable she seemed to feel, and it was truly a wonderful service the church was just full of people, smiles, laughter, and so much love. One of the elders in attendance told us that it was the best baptismal service he'd ever attended. 

And if all this wasn't enough to make the week amazing, we had another lesson with Angelo last Thursday. He is reading in the Book of Mormon and was able to quote back nearly every detail of what he'd read. He even says that he know that it is the word of God. At the end of the lesson, we felt prompted to extend a baptismal date to him, which he happily accepted. So guess what? He's getting baptized this Saturday! We've still got a lot to teach him and it's going to be a busy week, but I think we're all eager for the challenge. 

Interesting things that happened this week: 

- You were right, Mom. Mice aren't big enough to carry away the traps. It's definitely rats. Big ones. One of the other hermanas saw one. They knock things over in the kitchen at night and make a mess. On the upside, at last they kill the cockroaches. 

- Cleaning checks are this Wednesday. We're having an intense competition with some of the elders. The whole zone knows about it because whoever loses has to bake cookies for the entire zone. It's pretty serious - let's just say we bought a caulking gun and nearly 1000 pesos of cleaning supplies, and I just spend nearly 2 hours scrubbing off pond scum in our outside 'laundry room.' It's going to be a long day, but its going to be hermosa al final.

Until next week, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Estefani doing Kaitlin's hair

Estefani doing Kaitlin's hair

Estefani's baptism

Estefani's baptism

Birthday party

A crazy time in Primary on Sunday

Eating 'chambre' until it is all gone!

The evidence

Monday, February 10, 2014

Super Mice, Pigskin, & Bottlecap Baseball

Dear family, 

The work here is still moving a bit slowly. We have a lot of recent converts to teach, but we're having trouble finding some new investigators - although we did find two this week. The first is named Julissa. She is a single mother who is super busy with work and school, but also very interested and receptive to the Gospel. She doesn't really have much free time, so we're teaching her where she works at a chincharron shop, which is a tiny one-room restaurant that sells fried pigskin and beer. Every time someone comes in to order something we have to stop and let her help them, but we usually go at a less busy time of day so we're not interrupted as much.

Our second new investigator is named Angelo. He is 14 years old and friends with several of the young men in the branch. He's actually been to church several times and loves it, but has never actually been taught by the missionaries before.

Other than that though, the rest of out investigators are all about the same - including Estefani, who is still planning on getting baptized next Saturday (she's still very shy though and wouldn't let us announce it sacrament meeting, but we made sure to invite everyone). Although progress is a little slow right now, I'm still living my time here in La Venta and I have faith that the work will start to pick up soon.

Interesting things that happened this week: 

- One of our recent converts, named Josefina, is an artist. She paints ceramics (i.e. pottery, statues, etc). We asked her if she needed help with anything and she told us that she could actually use our help with several pieces for an upcoming exhibition. So, we've been over to her house several times this week to paint some statues (munecitas). Best service ever.

- We definitely have mice (they've left several gifts for us on the kitchen counters), so we decided to put out a trap. When we woke up the next morning there were no mice in sight...however, the trap was nowhere to be found either... so we're not sure how to get rid of them.

- We've also been having some annoying plumbing problems in the kitchen sink, so we decided to take the pipes apart to clean them and let the water drain. Let's just say it was probably one of the grossest experiences of my life, but the sink seems to be functioning fine now, so we don't have to wash the dishes outside anymore.

- We invented dessert empanadas. We bought some dough and, instead of filling it with meat/cheese/egg, we decided to use apples, cinnamon, sugar, and chocolate. We then fried them as usual and sprinkled powdered sugar on top. It's a simple idea, but no one here has ever heard of anything like it. We were quite pleased with the results so we decided to take a sample down to Mario, a dry member who lives below us and sells empanadas for a living. He seemed decently impressed with them too, and may even start selling them (which would probably mean more free empanadas for us - our ultimate goal for brining him some). 

- This morning we played Batia with the elders from our zone, which is the Dominican child's version of baseball. Instead of a bat and ball, you use a stick and bottle caps.  We got some amused looks from people passing by, as if they were thinking, "What are those Americans doing trying to play our game?" We had a lot of fun though. It actually requires more precision that normal baseball and I'm proud to say that every time I bat I made it on base.

Les quiero mucho, 

Hna. Kaitlin Olsen

Where Kaitlin does her laundry and sometimes the dishes
Dinner at a members house

Estandarte de la Libertad (Standard of Liberty) per last week's letter

Where they play Batia (the church steeple sits in the yard)

The plumbing experience

Monday, February 3, 2014

Dreams, Tea Time and a Bright Future

Dear family, 

This week has been relatively quiet; we're still looking for new people to teach and have been mostly opting to ask members for references rather than contacting because it tends to be more efficient. This, of course, has meant that we're teaching even more lessons with members, which is fine because the members here are great.

For example, we always love going over to Liu's house because she is the ultimate hostess. She loves to make us ginger and limoncillo tea and bring it out on a shiny silver platter with some dainty china teacups and a plate of tiny heart-shaped cookies. We love our tea times with Liu - it makes us feel refined in a country where most people... well, aren't. We mentioned to her one time that Americans love peanut butter and the next time we showed up she had a jar waiting for us (and its not cheap here). She even gives us a ride home from church each week.

Then there's our new ward mission leader named Elvis, who we always have a lot of fun with. He has such an enthusiasm for missionary work (if he wasn't in his 40s I think he'd be putting his papers in as soon as possible). He's a recent convert of 2 months, and the other day he told me a little about his experience of learning about the Gospel. 

He said that over 20 years ago he had a very vivid dream. In the dream, he was an older man and he was standing at the foot of a tall, beautiful building that, to him, looked like a castle. As he craned his neck to look up the towering walls he was filled with an almost overwhelming sense of joy and a desire to go inside. He looked around him and saw that there was a long line of people waiting to enter, but for some reason, he knew that he was unable to join them. He took one last glance at the lofty towers and vowed that he would go inside. The dream made such an impression on him that it stuck with him for over two decades until the time that he began taking the missionary discussions. One lesson, the sisters showed him a photo of the Salt Lake Temple and immediately he recognized it as the building from his dream. "Now," he said reverently, "I am finally worthy to go inside."

Another member with an amazing story is Hno. De Leon. He learned about the church in his late 40s and immediately had a desire to read the Book of Mormon... however, he had never learned to read. So, the elders who were teaching him helped him memorize several scriptures and wrote them down on a sheet of paper. For hours and hours, he pored over those scriptures, reciting them aloud while studying the words on the page. With time, he learned each of the letter and their respective sounds and eventually began reading the Book of Mormon. It was slow at first, but by the time he finished he could pick up any book and understand it perfectly. Now, over 20 years later, he has read the Book of Mormon many times and considers it the key to his conversion (and also his literacy). 

And finally, there's Presidente Ramirez who has lofty goals and a grand vision for La Venta. He's constantly writing up, handing out, and hanging up inspiring and motivational posters, including 'La Venta's Standard of Liberty,' which is a massive 6x8 foot epistle to the backdrop of Christ's Second Coming, hanging up just inside the chapel doors - it makes quite an impression as you walk in. He's also constantly devising creative strategies to invite new people to learn about the Gospel and new programs for member capacitation and retention. Sometimes I think that his enthusiasm can outweigh his logistical practicality, but I do think that he is one of the main reasons why La Venta is flourishing and growing so quickly. He knows how to get people excited about the Gospel and sharing it with others, and he has an undiluted hope that this little branch has a bright and consequential future ahead of it - and from what I've seen, I'd say he's probably right.

Hasta la próxima, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen
Local wildlife

Baking cookies with a member

Painting a house

Zone Conference

It is greener in the Capital