Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Miracle at my Halfway Point

Dear family, 

I am keeping my letter short this week because there are simply not words adequate enough to describe it. Two days ago we were privileged to be a part of something that many people told us would never happen - put purely and simply, we witnessed a miracle. 

Earlier in the week we received the long-anticipated news from Miguela that - after much prayer and some additional consideration of Alma 5:62 - she had definitely moved past the fork in the road and made the decision that would forever define her path in this life. 

Frustrated by his prolonged mistreatment of their family and emboldened by her still-budding testimony, Miguela finally gathered the courage to force her 'husband' out of the house. She told me later that, even though she still loved the man he used to be and had hope that someday he could still change; she realized that she couldn't let him impede her salvation any longer. She knew what she had to do and she did it.

As a result, I am proud beyond words to announce to announce that this past weekend Miguela was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church! ...And I don't think I've ever seen her happier. 

I will always remember clearly the moment she came up out of the water with a smile on her face. She turned to look at us and I noticed immediately that resplendent light about her that we had seen a few weeks ago, now even brighter than before. It seemed to reach out to everyone present there because we knew how valiantly she had fought and how much she had given up to arrive at that moment. And I can honestly say that wrapping my arms around her to give her a tight hug at the end of the service has been one of the most sweet and rewarding moments of my mission thus far. 

It has taken a lot of effort and faith to finally get to this point and there have been countless ups and downs. It seems though, that the roller coaster may have finally rolled to a stop, but I am still trying to catch my breath and wrap my mind around the enormity of it all. All I can say is that I am immensely grateful and humbled to have witnessed - and perhaps been a part of - this joyous and irrefutable miracle. 

Interesting things that happened this week: 

- We brought one of Liu's cats home to catch the rats. We named it Trapper. The tiny little thing, as cute as it was, was actually a lot more trouble than it was worth. It ended up getting itself stuck inside the hole where the rats are coming out of. It took 12 hours, lots of patience, a little strategy, and a bowl of refried beans to coax it out of the wall. And it didn't even kill anything...so we took it back to Liu less than 36 hours after we carried it home from her house inside one of her lacy pillowcases.

- All of the young men in our branch wear 'future missionary' tags, which are printed on cardstock and say their names and the year in which each could potentially put in their papers. I am happy to say that both Angelo, and now Yordys, both proudly wear theirs to church each Sunday: Angerlin Vargas 2018, and Yordys Tineo 2015.

Todo mi amor, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Trapper the cat

Miguela's baptism

Miguela, Hermana Stanton and Kaitlin

Miguela and her family

After the baptism

Miguela's son

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Come hell or high water

Yordy's baptism

Yordy's baptism

Jordy's baptism

Hermana Stanton, Jordy and Kaitlin
Dear family,

Really the only significant event of the week was Yordys' baptism, which was more than hectic enough to make up for all the other quiet days we had this week. The baptism was scheduled to start at 6pm, so we told Yordys to be there at 5:30pm, but 6pm rolls around and no sign of Yordys. It was also pouring rain, so I was also worried that no one was going to show up. I tried calling Yordys, but his phone was off.

At 6:15, the 2 guaguas from the Rama temple trip dropped off their passengers and the room filled nearly to capacity, which was relieving that people had come, but also added to the quickly growing knot of stress in my stomach because there was still no sign of Yordys and he still wasn't answering his phone. At this point, I was beginning to think that maybe he had changed his mind and had decided to back out.

At nearly 6:30pm Eddy, one of Yordy's friends in the rama, shows up and says he'd received a muffled call from Yordys saying he'd been in a car crash, but he didn't know where Yordys was because he wasn't answering his phone. When President heard this he immediately jumped into his car and went out to search for him. For nearly half an hour I sat in the crowded room in anxious anticipation. Eventually, President and Yordys come rushing through the hallway outside the font room, poking their heads inside just long enough to snatch up the baptismal suits. President looked stressed and Yordys was soaking wet. Not 2 minutes later, they both emerged wearing the jumpsuits, and the moment I saw Yordys dressed all in white, I knew everything would be alright.

The service itself - once it finally got started - went well. The talks and testimonies that were shared were very personal and sincere (within a few short weeks, Yordys had already become an integral part of the branch family). And I don't think I'd ever seen him smile that much - not smirk, but genuinely smile.

After his baptism was performed, Yordys asked if he could share his testimony. As he got up in the front of the room, I was a bit worried that whatever he was going to say would be a bit unconventional... and I suppose it was, but as he began to speak, the room fell silent as everyone hung on his words and I really could feel the Spirit.

He began for apologizing for being for being so late and saying how thankful he was that he could be baptized. "Because," he explained, "there seemed to be a lot of obstacles combining against me, and for a while, I didn't know if I would make it here tonight."

He began his story by saying that he received a phone call at 3pm telling him that his mother was in the hospital in Villa Mella. She would be alright, but her blood pressure had risen to an apparently dangerous level. By the time he made it all the way across the city to see her it was nearly 4:30pm.

When he arrived at the hospital, he was relieved to find his mother well and told her that he couldn't stay long because he was getting baptized. His mother began pleading with him not to go, not to get baptized. "My mother is very Catholic," Yordys explained, "She told me, in her own words, that I was 'joining the church of the devil,' but nothing she said or could say to me would keep me from doing what I knew was right...because I know this church is true."

When he left the hospital, he realized it was almost 5:30pm and he rushed over to a cousin's house nearby to borrow a car. He began driving and hadn't even gotten halfway back across the city when the car sputtered and died. He rolled to a stop along the side of the highway in the pouring rain. After several unsuccessful attempts to revive the struggling motor he tried to call someone to pick him up, but then his cell phone died as well.

"I knew that I had to get baptized," Yordys said, "so, with no money for a taxi, I did the only thing there was left to do: I left the car and started running." He said that he felt like he had run several miles before he finally had to stop to catch his breath. As he stood there in the rain, in Yordy's own words an "interesting-looking man" who had watched him running along the highway called him over and asked what he was in such a hurry for.

"I have to get baptized!" Yordys said. The older man asked what church he belonged to and Yordys replied.

To his surprise, the man answered: "I was baptized in that church, but I haven't gone for many years." And after a brief pause: "I'll give you a ride," he offered, and Yordys happily accepted. The man dropped him off at the 11 kilometer marker along the highway, right near Yordys' house.

He ran home to grab a towel for the baptism, and right as he was leaving to begin the two-mile jog to Villa Aura, President pulled up alongside him in his beat-up Chi-chi Turbo and swung the passenger door open. "Get in," he said.

Five minutes later they were in the chapel, 7 minutes later they were in their baptismal suits, and in less than 15 minutes the baptismal service was underway.

"Tonight," Yordys concluded, "I think that God was trying my faith, but I think I've proven to Him and to myself how much I really want to be here and how much this means to me. I knew this was where I was supposed to be and nothing would keep me from getting here. I know that I've made the right choice."

Interesting things that happened this week:

- The war with the rats continues to rage on. We chased several more through the house this week using brooms and dustpans as weapons, but to no avail. Hermana Stanton did manage to kick one of them though. We tried to barricade the cupboards closed so they couldn't get in. We woke up to a pile of wood shavings on the kitchen floor - apparently, Hermana Jorgenson was woken up by it and describes it as one of the creepiest sounds she's ever heard as she lied awake in the dark and listened to a pack of rats trying to scratch and gnaw their way into our house. I was even woken up one night by one of them crawling on the outside of the net over my bed (apparently its good for more than just mosquitos out). On the upside, Liu is willing to lend us one of her cats if we decide it's come to that.

Con amor,

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Monday, March 10, 2014

Roller Coasters & Classic Gentleman and Alma 5:62

Dear family, 

Training Hermana Stanton is still going well - we get along really well and have many common interests - although sometimes I worry that I could be doing more to help her Spanish because she is still very quiet in all the lessons. It's a very different experience to my own training because I already knew quite a bit of Spanish coming into the field so I never really had any trouble speaking in the lessons (and by the end of 2-3 weeks, Hermana Matteson and I were pretty evenly matched). Hermana Stanton, though, is still at the stage when she pretty much needs to memorize anything that she says in the lessons, so her responses are rather limited. I'm trying to practice a lot with her, though, and she's making progress - slow, but sure. 

As for investigators, Yordis is doing magnificently well. He's still doing eagerly participating in every meeting and activity and his baptism is still scheduled for this upcoming Saturday. He even brought his brother to church yesterday. 

He continues to be a model investigator as well. We taught him the Word of Wisdom and he seemed practically appalled that anyone would ever voluntarily ingest any of those 5 substances. Then, we have him the chastity folleto to read for our next cita and he got really excited and told us how much he loves chastity. He seems so happy about it that I thought he might have been confused about what it actually was...but it turns out he wasn't. He loves chastity so much because me considers himself a classic gentleman (you know: roses, love poems, opening car doors, and the like). He said that his parents always told him that he was born in the wrong era. In many ways, I feel as if we're just reviewing the lessons with him because he's essentially been living many of the commandments for years. 

And then there's Miguela - teaching her is like riding a roller coaster. This week started of very promisingly. We showed up at her house for our cita, and when she came to the gate, she looked just radiant - there truly was a light about her, she looked physically different. We sat down with her and the first thing she says to us is: "I want to be baptized this Saturday." Needless to say, I was taken very much surprise. When I didn't say anything for a moment, she repeated herself and I just started smiling. I couldn't believe it! 

Then I remembered. "What about your husband?" I asked. 

"You don't have to worry about that," she said, "I've taken care of it."

"What does that mean?" I asked. "What changed?"

She said that it had started a few days earlier. She was reading in the Book of Mormon and came across a verse that seemed to speak directly to her and it struck her to the very core. The verse was Alma 5:62, which reads: "I speak by way of command unto you that belong to the church; and unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life." She said that, when she read that, an urgent thought came into her mind: "Get baptized! Now!" 

So that was it. When her husband wandered into the house the next day, she told him that they were through and that he had to leave. She said that he would be coming back to collect the rest of his things soon. I told her that as soon as everything was definitely out of the house, we could set a date for her baptism. I left Miguela's house that night walking on a cloud. I still couldn't believe that she'd finally done it! 

Here's where the roller coaster takes a sharp turn though. The next day Miguela ended up talking to Presidente Ramirez about her situation and her baptism, and Pres. Ramirez - being unaware of what her husband is really like - counseled her to try and work things out with him, which only fanned that still-glowing ember of hope that she has. Now she's plagued with second thoughts about her decision and is no longer pressuring her husband to remove his things from the house.

We went to visit her a few days later. She came to the gate and I immediately noticed that the light she had had about her had dissipated and that hopeful spark of vitality had left her eyes. I knew what she was going to tell us before we even sat down. But we're not giving up on her. I refuse to.

Interesting things that happened this week: 

- We ran into Roland again. He was excited to tell us that he got himself a flight back to England through the British Console here in Santo Domingo. He said that the first thing he plans on doing when he gets back is taking a piping hot bath and then he's going to find himself a good job and save up some money. We told him that seemed like a great plan. "Then," he added, "as soon as I've got meself enough money and I've earned back me privilege to 'old a passport, I'm 'eading straight to Africa to open meself a li'le shop." Apparently he really hasn't learned his lesson...

- No progress on the rat situation. This house is just impossible to rat-proof! Late Saturday night, I was startled by a rat eating from the trash in our kitchen. I tried to scare it away and ended up chasing it down the hallway into our bedroom, where it jumped up onto my bed, scampered from one end to the other, and then squeezed itself through the impossibly tiny space between the slats of our window and disappeared. 

Until next week, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen :)
Pizza that the Sisters make every Thursday

Life in the Dominican Republic

A picture from the callejones

A picture from the callejones

Hermana Stanton and a puppy

Kaitlin's zone

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sarcasm, Faith, and Coming to a Crossroads

Querida familia, 

As I mentioned last week, I'm training a new missionary, and I have actually been pleasantly surprised about how well it has gone. It's not that I was expecting it to go badly, on the contrary, I was actually quite excited to train. I had just heard that training is very tiring becuase you have to do pretty much everything (at least at first). It definitely is a lot of work - I direct the planning and proselyting, I do most of the teaching in lessons, and during study time I feel more like a personal tutor - but I've found that I really do enjoy it. 

I've definitely gained a testimony of the fact 'whom the Lord calls, He qualifies' because there has never been a time this week when I have felt overwhelmed or unprepared to deal with all the new challenges that come along with being a trainer. 

My companion's name is Hermana Stanton. She's from Utah, she's 21 years old, and she's studying to become an orthodontist. She's a hard worker, very kind, and easy to get along with. Before the mission she knew absolutely no Spanish, but she's a quick learner and it's great to see her progress. I think we'll make a good team for these next 3 months while she's in training, and I have no doubt that we'll see a lot of success together. 

Speaking of which... we have made a lot of progress with Yordis. He's very interesting to teach. The word I would use to describe him would be sarcastic - very recepticve, but very sarcastic - it's a unique combination. For example, we asked him what he thought of the Restoration and his answer (said with a smirk) was something to the effect of: "It's perfectly logical. After Jesus Christ died, the state of apostasy was very evident in world history, so of course, there needed to be a Restoration." And the Book of Mormon? According to his definition, it is a "logical and necessary compliment to the Bible." 

We're working with him on also emphasizing the spiritual confirmations that accompany his logical reasoning, but he truly does have a testimony. He comes to all church each week, all the activities, and the Tuesday night Liahona class. He was even one of the first people at the devotional last night - helped set up chairs, pass out hymnbooks, and his hand hand was always the first one to shoot up into the air to answer questions (the only person who talked more was President). 

So, as you might have guessed, in our last lesson with him, we invited him to be baptized on the 22nd of March. His response: "Why so far away?" It took me off guard at first and I had to ask him to repeat himself, but once I realized he was actually saying what I thought he was, I told him that he could get baptized on the 15th of March if he wanted. "That's better," he said. And you know what? I think it really is.

But...not all investigators can slide as easily on the baptism as Yordis. Miguela, for example, is being stubborn. She has all the lessons and then some and she knows it's all true - she's reached that pivitol point where she has to decide what to do with her testimony: leave it be and let it gradually fade away, or act on it. 

The problem is her 'husband.' He' s shown absolutely no further interest in the Church and is still treating her very badly. (And by 'very badly,' I mean he's left her and their 2 children with no money while he's away in the campo with his "other woman" while she's having his baby). It's a mess and he hasn't really made any attempts to hide his actions becuase he knows that Miguela loves him and doesn't think she'll leave him. And she does love him: he is the father of her children and they've been together for 12 years. 

So this is what is has come down to: Miguela needs to make a decision between her husband and her salvation. She's told us that she wants to get baptized, but that it probably won't be for a few years becuase she still has hope that he can change, but when she says it, she doesn't sound very hopeful. It's frustrating becuase she knows what she shoould do, even what she WANTS to do, but she can't quite muster the courage to do it. I have hope for her though. She has a strong will and a strong testimony, and somehow, I feel as if that will inevitably win out in the end. It always does.

Hasta la proxima, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

P.S. The rats are avoiding our traps and have even managed to set one off without getting caught. The stupid little things even chewed some holes in my bag, which is now even uglier than it was before. We're going to have to get creative.
The local market named after the sisters!

Crowding into the back of a taxi

Kaitlin's new companion Hermana Stanton

Kaitlin's bag with holes courtesy of the rats