Monday, May 26, 2014

Bittersweet Beginnings

Dear family, 

Last Monday night was very difficult and bittersweet. The branch put together a despedida for me (good-bye devotional) and everyone was there, even some of our investigators. When I walked into the church and saw them all waiting there for me, my heart quivered in my chest because I knew that would be the last time I'd see them all there and that they had all come just to say good-bye to me. As I walked up to them I was enveloped in hugs and handshakes. There wasn't much to be said, but that's all right because I didn't have the words anyway. 

I sat down and noticed sadly that Miguela hadn't come. I had a bag of photos and a note for her (as well as some for Angelo, Estefani, and Yordys). I figured I would pass by her house afterward. 

I was trying my best to put on a happy face and was doing pretty well until they decided to sing 'God Be With You Until We Meet Again' as the opening hymn and I lost it. It also didn't help that part way through the song Miguela walked in with Manuel, silent tears streaming down her face, and took a seat in the back row, then refused to look at me. 

After Presidente Ramirez shared a short message about missionary work, he told everyone that the time was now theirs to get up and share their thoughts. Raysa was the first to go to the pulpit. She thanked me for not giving up on her and helping them grow closer as a family. Eddy stood up and spoke about the night I showed up at the church crying for Miguela. He said that he would always remember me as someone who was "willing to bear one another's burdens, mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort." Humberto spoke about the time he went out with us and we couldn't find #23, but how I wouldn't give up until I found them. Joseph and Hermana Matteson spoke, and then even Yordys got up. He thanked me for my patience and good humor while teaching him and said that, one day, he hopes to develop some patience of his own. 

Several people called for Miguela to get up, but she silently refused, I turned around to look at her and was crying. That's we\hen President called on me to get up share my testimony. I walked up to the pulpit with a lump in my throat and turned to face everyone in the room. There weren't very many dry eyes and it was hard to look at them. I don't remember exactly what I said and it probably wasn't very eloquent, but I expressed my love for them, told them what I special spirit there was that little branch, and how I would always remember them and my time there in La Venta.

Then (as you all already know) Joseph has prepared a slideshow featuring photos from my time in La Venta and the photos you sent him of when I was younger. It ended with the video clips you sent him of you guys saying hello. Everyone loved them - there was a huge chorus of "aaahh!" and even one exclamation of "so sweet!" 

When it ended and the closing prayer was said, there were a few moments of complete silence and no one got up from their seats. Finally, people began coming up to me and saying good-bye. Yakeline brought me one of her empanadas because I had told her that hers were my favorite. Raysa's son, Viktor gave me a photo of himself with a note on the back thanking me for all the work I'd done with his mother. 

Finally it came time to say goodbye to Miguela. She came up to me and didn't say anything. She just wrapped her arms around me and sobbed into my shoulder. Even Manuel was crying and joined in on the hug. I gave her the envelope of photos and she broke down. She pleaded with me to write her, even if it was just one line. I promised I would. She told me not to forget her and I told her that was impossible. And it really is. 


The next morning at 6:30am I packed up all my things and got on a bus. I was the only sister missionary. The ride was almost 2 hours. I got off the bus in Bani and met my new companion. From there, we got on another smaller bus which climbed upward into the mountains on winding roads for another hour until we reached our final destination. As we drove into town, we passed a sign that read: "Welcome to Ocoa!"

My new companion's name is Hermana Hildman. She's from Idaho and came into the field the same time as Hermana Stanton. She's super sweet and easy to get along with. Although she didn't know any Spanish coming in, she knows quite a bit now and is always willing to put herself out there and speak in lessons, which really is a breath of fresh air. 

We live in a house with 4 other hermanas, but even so, out area is massive compared to La Venta. We walk a whole lot, and because we're in the mountains it's a real workout (which is probably good for me). 

On my first full day here, we decided to go to a part of our area called Parra, which is a tiny village on the top of a mountain where basically everyone is a less active member of the church. To get there, you have to cross a river, jumping from stone to stone, and hike up a rocky dirt road into the mountains (about an hour). By the time I got up there I was pretty thoroughly exhausted but it was more than worth it because the journey is absolutely gorgeous. 

Ocoa is hands down the most beautiful area in the mission. It is surrounded on all sides by striking lush green mountains and everywhere you turn there are fruit trees and tropical flowers. There is even a mango and an avocado tree right outside my bedroom window, close enough to reach out and pick some fruit off the branches. I'm told there's even a waterfall and some caves up by Parra. It's also a bit colder here, so I usually have a sweater on in the mornings and evenings. But I love it here already. I'm so excited to get to work!

Until next week, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen
Kaitlin's new area Ocoa

Kaitlin and Hermana Hildon

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Place of Beauty and a Whole Lot of Heart

May 19, 2014


Dear family, 


This week has been rather slow - very good, but slow - so there's not much to report. We were able to go to the temple again. Miguela came to do baptisms for the second time. She says that she wants to go on every branch trip if possible because "the temple is such a beautiful place." We helped her with some family history this week, so she was able to bring her grandfather's name and watch the baptism performed for him. She also has plans to gather the necessary information for several other relatives. 


After she did baptisms, she changed out of her wet clothes and came and sat down next to me outside the font, where I was watching the others. I asked her how she felt being here for the second time. She told me that as she stood in the font and came up out of the water she felt beautiful. "I don't often feel beautiful," she said to me, "but when I'm in the temple I always do." 


As for the rest of the week, the biggest news is that we received transfer calls last night and... guess what? I'm leaving La Venta! I'm not sure where I'm going, though - I'll find that out tonight. 


It's going to be a lot harder to leave La Venta than it was to leave Azua. I've really come to love this little branch - many of them have become like family to me and I'm really not looking forward to all the good byes that I will have to say tonight. 


I don't think I'll ever serve in another branch quite like La Venta. Admittedly, they can be slightly dysfunctional and, at times, irreverent - but they have their hearts in the right place... and I don't know if I'll ever find another branch with as much heart as they have. 



Interesting thing that happened this week:


- Raysa bought the statue I painted at Josefina's and has it displayed in the front room of her house. She collects African/Taino art and says that it fits in perfectly with her other pieces and that when she looks at it, it reminds her of me. 



Until next week, 


Hermana Kaitlin Olsen
Some interesting flavored incense at the store
An average night in the house

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

FHE with Presidente Rodriguez

Dear family, 


This week began with the unexpected arrival of a new mini-missionary for Hna Reyes. Her name is Hna Paniagua, and sometimes we affectionately call her Hna Santa Cena. She's from another part of the capitol and is probably one f the most quiet Dominicans I have ever met. Although Hna Reyes wasn't too happy to receive another mini, they work well together and she's very sweet. 


As for happenings with our investigators, I think I've mentioned Raysa is my letters before. She is the First Counselor's wife and has been investigating the Church for many years. She is the only member of her family that isn't baptized, but you would never know that she's not a member unless someone told you. 


When I got to La Venta the other missionaries had essentially given up on her: they would visit her occasionally to share a scripture and just visit, but there was no invitation to progress. When Hna Erickson left, I decided that I wanted to get to the bottom of why she wasn't baptized, so I began working more actively with her. 


Since then I've had a lot of very open spiritual discussions with her about baptism and her eternal progression. We found out that, simply put, she has a fear of commitment and tends to doubt the strength of her faith, but there is essentially nothing holding her back from being baptized (which is both encouraging and, at the same time, disheartening - I'd like to lean toward the former). 


We had invited her to pray about a baptismal date... She prayed - always does - just not about a fecha. (Personally, I think it’s because she knows what the answer will be and she doesn't want to hear it.) So, this past week we had a wonderful lesson with the whole family, where they all shared their testimonies. At the end, I invited Raysa to fast to receive a baptismal date. I said that Hna Stanton and I would fast for her at the same time and I invited the entire family to join with her in this special fast. They all readily agreed and we set our next cita for a few days after when we had planned the fast. 


Yesterday we had the follow-up cita and it went very well. Everyone shared about the experiences they'd had during the fast, and I'd love to be able to say that Raysa finally received her answer and agreed to be baptized, but unfortunately she's still got her head in the sand. I say that it went well though because Raysa admitted that it was the first time that she's ever fasted, even her son (recently returned from his mission) said that it was probably only his third time going a full 24 hours. They all talked about it was very spiritual, how it helped them feel closer as a family through beginning and ending the fast with a kneeling family prayer. That's why I say it went well: anything that helps to strengthen a family is irrefutably a success. 


As for other investigators, Cristian continues to eagerly progress. He says our visits are too short, even though they are usually about an hour and a half long because he asks so many questions and insists on reading 1-2 chapters from the Book of Mormon together before we leave. The only obstacle for him is that he works on Sundays - ONLY Sundays. We taught him about keeping the Sabbath Day holy and he seemed to take it very well. He said that he is going to try to find someone to switch shifts with him so he can work another day. We're praying and crossing our fingers that everything comes together well. 


But of all that happened this week I would definitely say that the highlight was last Monday night.  Last Monday we had Family Home Evening with Presidente and Hermana Rodriguez in their house (just us missionaries, Presidente Ramirez, Joseph, and Yakeline). 


It was actually a surprise for Presidente Rodriguez, so Joseph coordinated it all with Hermana Rodriguez. When we arrived at the mission home that night, she let us in and sat us all down in the living room. She said that President was still working on a few things and that he would probably be done in a few minutes. So we waited... in slightly uncomfortable, anxious silence. 


When Presidente Rodriguez walked into the room and found is all there, he was definitely taken off-guard, but recovered quickly and welcomed us into his home with a round of handshakes. 


What we did was essentially set up like a Family Home Evening, but it was really more of a small, intimate farewell devotional to thank them for their service and express our love for them. President Ramirez presented a slideshow of photos encompassing their 3 years of service (especially their contributions to the growth of our little branch) and each of us missionaries took turns sharing our testimonies and thanking them for everything they've done. There were lots of tears shed (especially on the part of Presidente Rodriguez). At the end, we sang them a special musical number and Pres. Rodriguez shared with some parting counsel - or final exhortation, if you will - to keep focused on the work with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and endure to the very end. 


As we were leaving President took turns shaking our hands and saying good-bye to each one of us personally. He thanked Hna Matteson and me for all of our hard work in Azua. He said that, when we got there, there were only 4 active priesthood holders in the branch, and when we left, there were 19. Because of that, very soon it will become a ward and Azua will become the first stake in the South. 


When he got to me, he took my hand, looked into my eyes, and then broke down into silent sobs (which, of course, meant that fresh tears welled up in my eyes as well). We stood in silence for a moment, his hands holding mine. When he finally managed to lift his head and speak, his voice was soft and sincere. He thanked me for my hard work and my love for the people. He said that I was a wonderful missionary and that I would see miracles on my mission. I smiled and told him that I already had. 


As we drove away, President and Hermana Rodriguez stood outside and waved to us. The image of them slowly fading away into the darkness is one I don't think I'll easily forget. 


It was a wonderful way to say good-bye to them. President Rodriguez truly was a great mission president, loving and dedicated - they both were - and I look up to them both immensely. Being able to spend time with them one-on-one was an amazing privilege because I came to know and love them both better. My only regret was that it was probably the last time I'll ever see them...but whether that be the case or not, it was a beautiful experience that I am very grateful to have among my treasured mission memories. 



Until next week (on SKPYE!!!), 


Hermana Kaitlin Olsen :)

FHE with Presidente Rodriguez