Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Changing it Up

Amada familia, 

This entire week has been a bit up in the air because of several unexpected changes. Firstly, Hna Pinchardo (the mini-missionary that was with Hna Reyes) finished her 2 weeks of voluntary service. When she left we weren't sure what was going to happen because we hadn't heard anything about a new companion for Hna Reyes, so the 5 of us returned home together. A while later, we received a phone call from the APs telling us that, until further notice, Hna Reyes would now be in a trio with Hna Stanton and I. 

Hermana Reyes is happy that - at least for now - she's not getting another mini-missionary, and she is a wonderfully dedicated missionary, so I enjoy being in a trio with her. I also think that this may be the answer to some of my prayers to help Hna Stanton with her Spanish. I think Hna Reyes is going to help encourage Hna Stanton to use her Spanish (out of necessity), and it is also nice to have some help in the lessons so that I'm not the only one talking. 

The second big change this week came during Zone Conference when Presidente Rodriguez stood up and announced that, as of this Wednesday, he would no longer be our mission president. It has something to do with his family's visa status in Canada (where they were living beforehand). So, Pres. Rodriguez is moving back to Canada on Wednesday, but will still be considered our long-distance president until the new mission president, Pres. Knuckles arrives in the DR at the end of May. 

This means that, for the next month, we will essentially be without a mission president. Hna Reyes says that it is going to be a 'caos,' which translates to 'chaos,' but really means more of an out-of-control disaster. All I know is that whatever temporary leadership structure we'll have in place will be highly experimental and most likely based on the good old-fashioned systems of improvisation and trail-and-error. But I guess we'll see come Wednesday. It should be interesting whatever happens though. 

Heart-warming things that happened this week: 

- I got to accompany 3 of my recent converts to the temple for their first time (Angelo, Yordys, and Miguela) and watch them do baptisms for the dead. It was so beautiful to see them all there together wearing white.
- Along with 2 other people from our branch, Yordys received the Melchizedek Priesthood.
- Little Manuel showed up to church by himself. He walked into the chapel a few minutes early, took a seat, and waited reverently for sacrament meeting to begin. When I came and sat down next to him, he told me that Miguela had a cold, so he got dressed in his church clothes and asked if he could go by himself because he loves coming to church. 

Les quiero mucho, 
Hermana Kaitlin Olsen
Coloring Easter eggs

The bucket shower

At the temple

Add caption

At the temple

P.S. Hna Matteson's clock also displays the temperature. It is pretty much a constant 8 to 90 degrees in our house, but I didn't believe it at first because it feels nice. If it ever gets any colder than that, I immediately start shivering and need my sweater. 
P.P.S. We get to Skype in 2 weeks :D

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Church as it is meant to be

April 21, 2014

Querida familia, 

Miguela has been passing through a lot of hard things recently. She still hasn't found work, so she barely has enough money to feed herself, Manuel, and Vladi. She's not receiving any support money from her ex-husband because he nearly cut off three of his fingers and is unable to work. On top of that, little two year-old Vladi got bit by a spider on his stomach. It swelled up, hardened, and became infected. The infection gave him a high fever that lasted several days. 

When we went to visit Miguela she had taken him to the hospital to get it drained, but it was still very swollen and painful, and it was Vladi's third day with a fever. The hospital wanted to keep him there, but Miguela didn't have the money. She confided in us that she was feeling very worried and depressed. She said that she had even been losing her desire to pray and read the scriptures. 

As I listened to her I could feel my heart dropping inside my chest, and then she turned to me and asked why the Lord would permit her to live such a hard life when she was trying her best to follow Him? The quiet sincerity of her question caused my heart to clench further and I felt helpless. I tried my best to share a message of peace and comfort with her, but no matter what I said, it just didn't feel like enough. I asked her if she would like a blessing of health for Vladi, and if she herself would like a blessing of comfort. She said that she did, and that she could do before or after the weekly Liahona class on Wednesday night. 

I left her house with the enormity of the situation pressing down on my shoulders. I felt that it was up to me to do something because Miguela doesn't really have anyone else, but I just felt so small. What could I do?

We arrived at the church for our cita with Yordys and around 7pm and found it still full of people from a devotional that had just finished (which had started nearly 3 hours earlier). We went to talk to Brito, the 1st counselor, about giving Miguela and Vladi blessings on Wednesday. When he asked what the blessings were for I began to explain, but I was beyond words and couldn't hold back my tears. 

Suddenly we were surrounded by everyone there, wanting to know what was wrong. I had to explain several times that I was alright, but that I was just worried for Miguela because Vladi was sick and she was passing through a very difficult time. I explained that she and Vladi both needed blessings. "Well, let's go then!" they all said together. 

"Right now?" I asked.

"Of course!" came the chorus. 

And so we went. We left the church and I led a group of nearly 10 people through the callejones to Miguela's house. When we arrived, they didn't even wait for her to come to the door; they just walked right inside while calling her name. She came out of her room and was surprised to find her little house full of people, but welcomed us with a tired smile all the same. 

I didn't even really have to do anything, just stand up against the wall and watch the Church as it should be: everyone of them comforting and offering their help to Miguela - members who, after a long meeting were probably looking forward to going home to relax, but instead dropped everything to help another in her moment of need. The genuine love and selflessness of the scene before me brought fresh tears to my eyes and I silently choked them back during each of the blessings. 

When Miguela opened her eyes, she looked over at me. She told me not to cry because then she would start crying. I smiled back at her. She stood up and gave me a hug and we both cried together. 

The next day when we went back to check on Miguela, we were relieved to find that Vladi's fever had broken. He was running around and as happy as ever to see us. Miguela said that she felt a lot better as well, and even told us that she felt a renewed motivation to pray and read the Book of Mormon. When I left her house, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted of my shoulders. 

The rest of the week passed by rather uneventfully: Vladi continued to get better each day and we all enjoyed the festivities of Semana Santa (Holy Week). Some of the local traditions include getting cornrows, going to the beach, and putting up large plastic pools in the street (none of which we were able to participate in, but it did make walking through the streets a bit more interesting). 

We were, however, able to try the traditional dish of habichuelas con dulce (sweet beans), which tastes a little bit like pureed pumpkin soup (beans and cinnamon cloves) with raisins, vanilla wafers, and batata (similar to sweet potato). We got some from pretty much all the members we passed by. Miguela even insisted on giving us some, and I can honestly say that I think I liked hers the best. 

Yesterday, we also had fun teaching Hna Reyes and Hna Pinchardo how to color Easter eggs, which they'd never heard of before. (I think the man in the colmado thought we were crazy when we walked in and asked for 20 eggs.)

Another highlight of the week was the long-awaited and satisfying victory over a bitter foe. I was in the bedroom when I heard all of the other hermanas screaming. I ran into the kitchen to find that one of our rat traps had finally done its job! (It turns out we had them set wrong for a while, so that's a bit embarrassing). After cleaning up, we took it down to show Mario, the member who lives below us. He's heard us screaming and when we told him it was because we had rats he never believed us. He thought we were exaggerating. He believes us now, though. 

Hasta la próxima, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen
Watch lines


Miguela's children and Easter chicks

Miguela's son

Rooftop view

From Kaitlin's rooftop

Cocoa tree

Hermana Stanton's Birthday

20 Eggs to decorate

Friday, April 18, 2014

Floods, Fires and Marking our Territory

Dear family, 

As I mentioned in my letter last week, we got 2 more hermanas here in little Rama La Venta, which made a grand total of 3 new hermanas in the house: Hna Reyes (from Costa Rica), Hna Pinchardo (a mini-missionary from this stake), and... Hna Matteson (transferring out of Ochoa)! It's great to see a familiar face and be living with her again. Sometimes it brings back memories of Azua, but at the same time it's still different because we're in a whole new area (that I know better than she does) and we both have a lot more experience in the mission: she hit 14 months this past week and I'm just about to hit 10. 

Having 6 hermanas crammed into our area isn't quite as big of a disaster as I thought it might be, but at first, we did have what you might call a territory dispute - not inside our house (although we are a bit tight for space now) - bit with our proselyting areas. Six missionaries is a lot for one small branch (and the area of La Venta is small to begin with anyway). 

The entire area is essentially made up of 8 sectors, and what it all boiled down to is that you just can't divide 8 by three, especially when 4 of the sectors are neighborhoods and 4 are the less-desirable apartment complexes. As Hermana Stanton put it: "You just can't fit a square into a circle hole."  In the end, Hna Stanton and I were able to keep more or less all the areas we work in daily (as it should be). 

As for investigators, we were able to find a few new ones this week. One man named Cristian called us over as we were passing by in the street. We've had 2 citas with him and he always asks a lot of in-depth questions. After we finished teaching him the Restoration he told us that he didn't want us to leave, that he wanted us to keep talking so he could learn more. We left him with a copy of the Book of Mormon and he started reading it even before we got out the door.

We also got a phone call with a reference from one of stake leaders. He described it as "una familia de oro" ("a golden family"). I called them and set up an appointment, but before the cita Hna Stanton and I decided to try and find the address so that we would know how to get there beforehand. 

We found the street and the #23 easily enough, but when we knocked on the door at the time of the cita we found out that someone else lived there...and that no one on the entire street had heard of the family. We didn't have their phone number, so Hna Stanton and the member were with wanted to just try again next week. I felt devastated because it was such an important reference and Presidente Ramirez was personally keeping tabs on our work with it. 

I felt strongly that we had to find them that day, so I said a silent prayer and then just started walking without knowing where I was going. I led them around the corner to a different street where I saw another #23. I asked the woman there was where the Jose Rosario lived, but she hadn't heard of him. She did say, however, that she did know of someone by that last name that lived in the callejon behind her house. So we all filed into the narrow alleyway. There were several doors, but the first one that I walked up to was theirs. I said a silent prayer of thanks for guiding me to the house, and then we all enjoyed a very nice lesson with them.

Interesting things that happened this week:

- Some drillers hit a water line and completely flooded the only street leading to one of the main part of our area. We had to wade through it to get. It's so hot here that on the very next day, it was all bone dry again.

- An elder in my zone proposed to me. He was completely serious and I had to tell him no.

- One of the power lines on out street exploded. Hna Stanton and I were walking and we saw it up ahead. There were 3 explosions in a row that left the line up in flames. They seem to have fixed it though, because we still have power.

Until next week, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Kaitlin's area

Kaitlin's area

The 6 Hermanas in Las Ventas

Yordys on his mini-mission

Eating at Pica Pollo

Las Ventas

Monday, April 7, 2014

Loose cannons and cramped spaces

Dear family, 

At the beginning of this week, one of the elders in our zone finished his mission and went home 1 week before transfers. We weren't exactly clear as to why he went home a week early because that left his companion alone for a week. Obviously he wouldn't be alone though - we were thinking that he'd probably just get stuck in a trio until transfers...but, as usual, life is surprising. 

We showed up to the Trainer/Trainee Meeting on Thursday excited to talk to all the other missionaries and also interested to see what had happened with the companionless elder. A few minutes after we show up, he walks in with a large group of elders and we notice from afar that he does seem to be with a new companion. As we looked closer, however, we were surprised and more than a little confused to clearly recognize his new companion as none other than Yordys: our recent convert of less than 3 weeks!

To explain how this is apparently quite possible, there is something called mini-missionaries. They are normal members (young single adults) who volunteer to spend anytime from several days to several weeks in the mission field when the need arises (until a full-time missionary can be brought in). During this time these members act essentially as full-time missionaries, including living in the same house and living by all the same rules. 

We're still not exactly sure how Yordys ended up as a mini-missionary because he's being frustratingly evasive about it, but we do know that he was absolutely thrilled to be there. He smiled and laughed more during that morning than I'd ever seen before (including his baptism...because that was just a stressful day for everyone). 

He even participated in the meeting more than probably any other full-time missionary present. Every time his hand shot up into the air to answer a question, we would all exchange looks with each other as if to say, "Oh no, what's he going to say?" (Because, of course, everything he says would be reflected back on us.) His comments we actually pretty solid though, and Presidente Rodriguez even commended him on his knowledge (I don't think he realized that, at this point, Yordys had only been a member for 19 days and a priesthood holder for 4). 

It was a rare and strange experience to be in the same meeting with one of my recent converts who was serving as a missionary in my zone. The whole time I felt a mixture of pride (because of his evident enthusiasm for missionary work) and apprehension (because he's still so new and has the tendency to be a slightly narcissistic loose cannon). Everything turned out great in the end though: he seemed to adapt very well and love every minute of it.

As I talked with him after the meeting, he said that he was upset that his time in the mission field would only last a week. He admitted that, when Presidente Ramirez called him to tell him that his service was needed as a mini-missionary the following morning, he misunderstood what that meant and immediately began packing as if he would be gone for a full two years. That's the kind of person Yordys is: although he still has a ways to go in the humility department, he has a profound desire to share the Gospel that seems to have bloomed overnight, simultaneously with his own conversion. And I have no doubt that, as soon as he hits his year mark, his papers will be in as soon as possible. 

Interesting things that happened this week:

- General Conference! I was happy to find how much more I could understand compared to 6 months ago. I actually found that, if I was paying close attention, there was very little that I couldn't understand. 

- The number of rats in the house has been significantly reduced. Mice, though... don't need very big holes to get in, so are a little harder to keep out. But it's definitely progress. 

- We received transfer calls last night. As expected, I'm staying in La Venta to finish training Hna Stanton. The only person leaving in our house is Hna Jorgenson. The biggest shock though, is that we were told that we would be receiving an ADDITONAL 2 hermanas into the house, to total 6. We're all a bit stressed because there really isn't space for 2 more - in the house, and especially in the area (there simply isn't enough work for 6 hermanas in tiny La Venta). But we'll see how everything works out...

Until next week, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen :)
Trainer/trainee meeting 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Fruit ninjas and a trip to the temple

Querida familia, 

It's been a quiet week, especially when compared to the last few we've had, but that's alright (I suppose it's just deviation toward the mean). 

As for proselyting, we're trying to concentrate on finding new investigators to build up our teaching pool again. It's going a bit slowly at the moment, but I'm sure things will pick up. We did find one new family, la Familia De Jesus, through the Pres. Ramirez's wife. The mother was baptized at age 15 and has been inactive for many years, but is interested in coming back to church. Her two daughters, ages 12 and 16, also seem quite interested especially in the YWs program (they came to an activity this week and really seemed to enjoy it). However, the father and son (age 9) don't really seem very interested. Overall though, I have high hopes for them. 

As far as Hermana Stanton and I go, things are still going well. As a companionship we're still getting along easily and we have a lot of fun together.

Interesting things that happened this week: 

- We got to go to the temple with several other zones this week and I FINALLY saw the new temple video, which I loved! :)

- We also FINALLY got our dueno (landlord) to come fill the gaping hole under the kitchen sink where the rats were coming in and the cat tried to get out... so we may have solved our rat problem, or at least cut it down my about 75%. It was definitely one of the highlights of our week.

- We had an interesting service project this week. We were told that we would be weeding, and by "weeding" apparently Dominicans mean, "everybody pull out your machetes and let's chop down a rainforest" - and that's literally what we did, trees and all. At the end, we even played real Fruit Ninja: half of us lined up with our machetes and the other half threw wild bananas, mangoes, bamboo, etc. into the air that we had chopped down while "weeding." :)

Until next week, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Hermana Stanton and Kaitlin

Temple trip

Fruit Ninjas

Hermana Stanton and Kaitlin