Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Step Back in Time - June 16, 2017

In a way, I feel like I've stepped through a time warp and am transported back to 2016, when Dallin sent newsy emails every week that left me laughing, crying, and feeling really good about life in general.
I opened my email today to find a perfectly unexpected and happy surprise in the form of an email from the Dominican Republic. Not from Dallin the "missionary", but from Dallin the "married to his best friend and former mission associate Nikki". They have had the privilege of returning to the DR to see friends and loved ones this week, and gifted me with a description of a portion of their tales in a beloved third world country.
Please proceed if you care to hear it. Cheers!
Well hello there!!!!
Today is June 12. It´s been nearly ten months since my mission ended, and yet here I find myself once again on a Monday afternoon in a cramped, muggy internet cafe writing an email home. It´s almost like I've done this before.

First of all, getting used to Spanish keyboards is an adventure again. That's all.

So Nikki and I landed on Saturday afternoon here in Santo Domingo. It was a strange sensation because everything is familiar and foreign at once. The first impression, as always, was the temperature. I actually felt the humidity skin the backs of my calves as I stepped off the plane, although we entered the airport in short order, thus dispelling any imminent threat posed by the sweltering heat of Santo Domingo in June. Stepping out of the airport was less surprising than it was the first time because we knew what to look for. Either way, it has been pleasantly refreshing to remember what it's like to sweat no matter where you are or what you're doing. And appreciate that Utah doesn´t do. That.

However, after braving the heat, we were picked up by Sister Corbitt and the current assistants, Elders Lemus and Harris. I actually knew them both, but they were fresh district leaders when I left the mission. They got us to the car rental place. We brought it back to President Corbitt´s apartment, where we'll be staying for the duration of the trip. Upon arriving, we went inside, scarfed down some dinner, and then collapsed immediately in bed, proceeding to sleep for thirteen hours straight.

The next morning was Sunday. It was an auspicious occasion because we had the opportunity to return to Consuelo to attend church with the branch there. It was as Dominican as it gets. Two minutes before sacrament meeting started, the branch president beckoned us over and said, "Hermano Johnson, how is your Spanish?" It's fine, sir. "And your wife's?" Better than mine, president. "Perfect, you two will be the first speakers." And so it was the I played the piano for sacrament meeting, we both gave talks, and we gave the prayers in elders' quorum and relief society respectively.

Seeing everyone in Consuelo was a truly amazing experience. Because it´s a branch, it's much easier to see the impact that my work had on it. There were four people in attendance who were baptized during my three transfers there. A man who I had contacted and given a baptismal date to before being transferred out was blessing the sacrament. One of the priests passing the sacrament was a young man with whom I had battled endlessly until finally being baptized two or three months after I left. And there was a whole slew of formerly less-active members who had been reactivated by myself along with the honorable Elders Polanco, Leiter, and Cuadra.

After sacrament meeting, I was reintroduced to the intricate delicacies that form Dominican cuisine by way of an unequivocally delectable moro de guandules con coco and pollo guisado (rice cooked with peas and coconut and Dominican-style stewed chicken) provided by the always enjoyable Suny Bermudez. I have never had such enjoyable diarrhea in my entire life.

Certainly the highlight of yesterday, however, was my reunion with one Katherine (KAH-teh-deen) Vizcaíno. She had only attended church one time whilst I was serving in Consuelo. As all of my companions, particularly Elder Leiter, can attest, we tried every single thing in the book to get her to church. However, Katy was a strong-willed and impetuous woman who wanted to do what she wanted to do and she did not want to go to church. So when I walked in to church and lo and behold, there she was, I was absolutely stunned. I walked right up to her, gave her a huge hug, and cried, "Hermanita Katy!!! What on earth are you doing here?" She told me that she had been attending church for quite some time, to which I excitedly responded, "Have you been baptized??" She replied that she had not, but that she would be baptized that coming Saturday. I was elated beyond all description. And then, she looked at me and she said, "It will be at five pm, and it will be at the Kennedy church in San Pedro. But I haven´t chosen anyone to baptize me. Johnson, would you be willing to baptize me?" I was humbled and I sort of wanted to cry but that would´ve just made things all emotional, so I just pasted an inhumanly large grin on my silly mug and assured her from the depths of my soul that it would be my honor and privilege. So that happened.

We finished out the night by visiting some of Nikki's friends and converts in La Romana, where we had a most excellent spaghetti and capped off the night by getting thoroughly lost on the way home where we were then reunited with President and Sister Corbitt together. They were both excellent conversationalists and we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning just chewing the fat and having a grand old time. It was delightful, and he didn't even seem put off at the lack of Thin Mints.

Today is Monday and before even realizing that we had essentially planned a P-Day, we decided to forgo using our rental car and instead use guaguas, missionary style. We determined to spend the morning going to Los Tres Ojos, a series of underground cave lakes right in the middle of the capital (and a very popular missionary P-Day destination) after which we'd get lunch at Megacentro (a classic lunch spot for missionaries) and then to email our families and let them know how we're doing (seriously right now?) before getting ready to go to a family home evening with one of Nikki's wards. Right at six. When a missionary's P-Day ends. Just wait- watch us get home at nine and be in bed by 10:30.

All told, it's been the most fun I've had on a vacation possibly in my entire life. The Dominican Republic is a country that I have loved since the day that plane landed on September 24, 2014. It's still a loud, stinky country full of crazy people, lame dogs, and excellent Coke. People still say hi to everybody and they still look at us just as weirdly when we get on public transportation or walk into colmados. But I get to do it on my schedule. And with my favorite companion. And I get to be here in this crazy place with these people and this culture that I love so much. What can I say? It´s not perfect. But it's perfect for me.
Hermano Dallin Johnson

P.S. My phone died before I could get my pictures loaded, but I'll send them probably tomorrow because I won't have a charger until tonight. But luckily, since I am not in fact a missionary, I can do that sort of thing. Peace!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Final Chapter -- August 30, 2016

The final chapter in Dallin's mission has come to a close. It is bittersweet. Part of me is turning cartwheels and shouting for joy that he is home, and the other part is screaming, "NOOOOOO!!! You are doing so well, you are so happy there! Stay another year where I know you are on God's errand!"

Yet, it is time to open the first page of a new book. And so it is.

 It really is him!!

Dallin greets a very happy Robbie at the airport.
Elders Barlow and Johnson 
 Elders Johnson, Rodriguez, and Barlow.
 Panda Express never tasted so good!

Thanks for following our journey. It's been fun!!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Turning the Page -- August 22, 2016

Well. There's no point in beating around the bush. This is the last email of my mission. 

I'm going to fly home this Thursday. I'm going to leave the mission. I'm going to take off my nametag. And all at once, I'll be Brother Johnson again. This is true. I'm conscious of this fact. I understand that I'm going to see my mom this week. I know that I'm going home. I get it. But. I also really don't. Because right now, I still have my tag. I still have a companion. Two, actually. I still keep rules. I still eat more rice than you can shake a stick at. And maybe the weirdest thing about all this is that honestly, I feel completely normal. This has been my life for the last two years, and although it only will be for three more days, it still is.

One of the great cruelties of life are "the lasts". Having to square with the fact that things or people you love are gone and aren't coming back. But the blasted thing about it all is that I'm here at one of the great lasts, the end of my mission, and I'm constantly waiting for some grand feeling to sweep over me. I want everything to be super extra special because it's a last. My last district meeting, last weekly report, last testimony. Cough. Last weekly email. But sadly, I've had dozens of district meetings. I've born my testimony hundreds of times. These things will only be special when they're gone.

But that's okay. Although there's a weird bittersweet sensation hanging over everything I do, the biggest feeling I have is peace. I feel at peace with myself and with my mission. I have made countless mistakes and I know I could have done more. But I do not regret my mission. And I feel that the Lord is satisfied with the work that I've done. And so I am at peace.

And so after all that has been said, after so many eloquent stories and painstakingly drafted emails, all I want to say is that I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. I know that Joseph Smith was called as a prophet to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ in our day. I know that this is the true church. I know that the Book of Mormon is true. And above all, I know that I have a Heavenly Father who loves me.

This is not a unique testimony. There are millions of people who have the same one. It's just another brick in the wall. But it's my brick. And I thank God every day for it.

So now it's on to the next great adventure. I will never forget what happened here, and I will carry shades of my mission within me literally forever. And I'll press onward. Life is a progression and although this chapter is about to close, it just means that it's time to start another. And that's a great gift.

See you soon.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Reflective Miracle -- August 15, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

What a wild ride. I want to start by sharing an experience we had this past week.

We've been trying to hit it really hard with less-active members these last few days, and as I was digging through our area book, I stumbled across the name of an inactive returned missionary. We went out to his house and he let us in. We discovered that this guy, Starlin, is married to a nonmember named Rosa. Rosa had talked with dozens of companionships of missionaries throughout the years, and had been on the point of being baptized several times, but something always held her back. Starlin and Rosa have also been trying to have kids since they got married, without success.

Well, we taught her once, and it was an alright lesson. Starlin came to church that Sunday, and although Rosa didn't, he told us excitedly that they'd been to the doctor between our last visit, and Rosa had discovered that she's pregnant. They were both elated. They'd been trying for years and nothing had stuck. Finally there was hope.

But when we got to their house on Wednesday, we heard sobering news. Rosa was bedridden. I don't know what the actual phrase is in English. She was suffering from an "amenaza de aborto" which translated means "threat of miscarriage." Don't know if that's the actual term or not. Either way, it was looking like Rosa was probably going to miscarry thier baby, and they were both really torn up about it.

We talked to her about faith. We talked about how God can work miracles. And then I felt the spirit prompting me to ask her a question. Kind of an unusual question. I asked her if she had the faith to lose her baby. If she trusted in God enough to let him put them through that trial. She thought about it for a good long minute. And she said yes. So we laid our hands on her head and gave her a priesthood blessing. It was one of the most powerful moments of my mission. She told us that she'd see the doctor on the 19 and they'd get a final verdict.

And then. The next time we passed by, she was sitting on the couch, and she had a big smile on her face. The doctors were baffled. She hadn't had to wait until the 19th. Overnight, the situation had corrected itself. The threat was gone. It was a miracle. And not a small one either.

And this is just one of the many experiences I've been so privileged to be a part of in these two years. For those who aren't counting, this is my penultimate email. I go home next week.

It feels unreal. I can't believe it's happening. I don't want to.

But I mean, that's life, isn't it? When you're a bright-eyed kindergartner, you think you'll never get out of the public education system. But you do. As a college freshman, that degree seems impossibly far away. But you get it. Being married seems like a distant future. But it happens. Being a father? You will be. And when you start a mission, it also feels like a world that you'll be in forever. But you won't. The end comes. The end always comes, all throughout life. Even to the end. I can't even imagine being on the point of death. But as the scripture says in Alma, "It was appointed to man to die." Everything. Graduation, family, career, and even death, will get here eventually.

And so, if there's any piece of advice that I in my whopping 21 years of life experience could give to anyone, it would be that wherever you are, enjoy it. If you're starting your freshman year of high school, enjoy it. Suffering through finals in college? Enjoy it. Greenie in your second transfer in the field and the end seems impossibly far away? Enjoy that. Focus on the now. Live in the now. Because the future will arrive. But you'll never get this moment back.

Love you all,

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Chocolate Thunder From Down Under -- August 9, 2016

You guys know that feeling you get when you're in school and it's mid-May and there's like two weeks left before summer vacation and you can just smell it in the air? Yeah. After nearly two years. I finally feel that feeling.

So this week, Elder Koerper had to get some medical tests done. We will not elaborate on the specific issues, but he had to get some bloodwork done. The mission doctor does not have the facilities to do such things, so we went to a Dominican clinic to get it done. It was actually very clean, very modern, and all in all pretty impressive. Until the guy had Elder Koerper's arm there, about to stick the needle in, and Elder Koerper popped a question. "So how long have you been a doctor?" The guy looked up at him through his glasses, and quipped cheerfully, "Oh, we're not doctors." And then he stuck him. Haha. It turned out good.

It's been pretty rainy this last two week, which has sucked a
 There's a bridge outside Espaillat.
See those houses by the river?
That's where Elder Miller and I went when
 I wrote that discourse on poverty as a trainee.
bit, because the streets have been flooded. On Saturday night, we had just bought eggs and bread and were walking through the swampy street on the way to our house. I couldn't see the blacktop through the murky water, so I was just kinda shuffling around, feeling my way along the pavement with my foot when all of a sudden, I took a step with my left foot and by jove, the street was no longer there. Well this was unfortunate. My whole left leg fell into a flippin' manhole and I went down hard. Elder Koerper said afterward that his first instinct was just to yell, "SNIPER! MAN DOWN! SAVE YOURSELVES!!!" Elder Beecher was just happy the eggs were okay. Bums. I too was okay! A bit scraped and a lot shaken up. But okay.

Today's a Tuesday. Time's short, which is why this is ever so slightly sporadic and poorly organized. But yesterday, I went back to Verón. I saw some converts, saw some members, and I went to Outback Steakhouse for the first time in my life. I can honestly say that I have eaten a Chocolate Thunder From Down Under. It was heavenly. I think it was life-changing.

Sorry this wasn't very spiritual.

Love you all,
Dallin Johnson

Monday, July 25, 2016

Reaping the Whirlwind -- July 25, 2016

Happy July, errbody. Well. Wouldn't ya know it. I'm writing this from the internet cafe in Espaillat. Yes. THAT Espaillat. My birth area. The one where a very fat, very lost gringo touched down on November 4, 2014.

My great lozzy. What a whirlwind! It's weird to see everything through experienced eyes. At this precise moment exactly one month from today, assuming I don't get hit by a bus or struck by lightning or something, I'll be sitting in JFK International Airport. Eating Panda Express. I know that's really not bragging to any of you (except for Elder Jake Hogan haha) but it seems pretty stupendous to me.

But really, when I first arrived here, I was blown away. The
noise, the smell, the lack of grass, the street vendors, everything was just this Spanish-speaking cacophony and I thought that all things considered, I was probably going to die.

Things have changed. I feel at home in these streets. Spanish flows naturally for me now. I understand the nuances, the dips and rises, and I think it's beautiful. There's still no grass, but I forgive Espaillat for not being the prettiest barrio in the whole city.

But after just the few visits I've made, I've received a testimony of sowing seeds. Let me explain. In my two transfers here with Elder Miller, we taught exactly 400 lessons. FOUR. HUNDRED. We worked like animals. I showed up to the house every single night feeling like a donkey had kicked me in the back. And even after all that, we had just one baptism, Wellington. I was so sick of fighting with people. I was about ready just to blow the place up. Do baptisms for the dead.

Then, today, I found out that four people who Elder Miller and
I found have been baptized since I left. Two of the less-actives who we brought back to church have gone on missions. Another couple we taught is preparing to be married and baptized. Walescak, who was baptized and whose husband we reactivated, is preparing to go to the temple to be sealed to her family for time and all eternity. And Wellington continues strong in the church.

And I didn't know about hardly any of it. I wouldn't have even known had I not come back to visit. And it blows me away. I can't realistically take credit, because miracles like that are a composite of the efforts of many members and missionaries and above all by the Lord. His work will always be done no matter who the person is that does it. Anyone could have done what me and Elder Miller did here in Espaillat. But we did it. We were blessed so completely, so miraculously, to be able to do it.

That to me is the miracle of the mission. I used to think the mission was a sacrifice. I gave up girls,studying, music, orange chicken, reading non-gospel books. I gave up my life. 

And so God gave me another life. A better one. Infinitely better. I finally am beginning to understand what the scripture means that says, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." And beyond just me, He blessed His other children through me, even with all my rough edges and unrefinedness. No, in the end, I didn't sacrifice anything at all. I invested it. And I have received one hundred fold every single thing I gave up. I have not been a perfect missionary in any sense of the word.

But that's okay. It really is.

Have a grand week!

Monday, July 4, 2016

¿Qué lo que, papá? -- July 4, 2016

Happy Independence Day! Things are going pretty dandily down here in San Isidro. Speaking of which.

So I'm here in San Isidro! It's still a capital area, and I'm actually only about a 15 minute guagua ride away from where I was before, so it's almost like I just moved houses and go to someone else's church. My new companion is
Me and Elder Koerper
Elder Koerper. We're an interesting companionship. Both tall guys (6' 3" and 6'4") and they can't pronounce our names. I'm JOH-soh and Elder Koerper is Elder Cooper. It could be worse. Elder Orchard was companions with a guy named Elder Croshaw at one point and their names were pronounced almost the same (OH-chah and Croh-chah) I like Elder Koerper though. Direct guy. The week before I got here, he went up an alleyway to bring an investigator named Wanda to church. She said she couldn't, which subsequently peeved Elder Koerper off (this happens often haha) and so, upon emerging from the alleyway, he saw this fruit vendor across the street with his son sitting by him. Elder Koerper crossed the street, pointed at this totally unknown kid and said, "HEY. COME TO CHURCH WITH ME." and the kid was like, "Hey, dad, can I go to the church with the big gringos?" and his dad was like, "Sure." And so he did. And now he has a baptismal date. Welp. I guess it works.

So every Wednesday, we have an english class in the church. Wait. First. I'm going to teach you a word. Conani. A conani is a gang of small children. This is  important. See, apparently something about learning english can't draw one single adult, and so when we showed up to the chapel at 6:30, we were faced with a conani of about fifteen kids. And zero adults. Well, we couldn't go in the church unless we had another adult, so we called some members until we finally got a brother who was willing to come out. In the meantime, the conani was getting restless. They were thirsty and wanted to go inside the church to drink some water. We. Did not care. We were fine just leaving them outside. Everything was going so smoothly until one of them figured out that I had a key. And the pestering began. And the nagging. And the whining. And the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. I was just about to the point where I was weighing the ups and downs of kicking some kid butts when one of the little gremlins stuck his paw in my pocket and grabbed the keys. I, er, patted his hand and the keys slipped out. There was a quiet clink as they hit the ground.

And then all hell broke loose. I dropped and covered the keys as the conani swarmed like a school of piranhas, punching, kicking, pulling my hair. One little punk bit my right hand, which logic sort of boggles the mind when you consider the keys were in my freaking left. So here I am. A 6' 3", 180-pound adult 'Murican missionary being mobbed by a group of little Dominican kids like we were in the Walking Dead, I finally managed to stand up and toss the keys to a red-faced-from-laughing Elder Koerper. He caught them, took one look at the advancing conani, and casually tossed the keys on the pavement. They snatched them up and in one cackling horde stampeded into the church. BUM. MOVE.

A picture of the zone Hainamosa
Anyway, today is the fourth of July. Independence Day. Don't really know what I'll do to celebrate it. Independence here happened in February. Last year, I still bought a hamburger, drank Coke, and sang The Star-Spangled Banner on the roof of the Los Solares house with Elder Tillmond. It was patriotic in its own sad little way. I enjoyed it.

But being a foreign missionary has really been interesting on a couple of fronts. On the one hand, I've gotten exposed to a different culture. But it's also been fascinating for me to be exposed to my own culture from a foreign point of view. I could go for a long time about the differences, but the point I really want to touch on is the sameness.

The Dominican Republic and the United States are very different places. Very different. Traffic is organized chaos.
It was raining, so rather than be in the rain
for all of two seconds, that car owner just jumped
the sidewalk and parked under the roof. It's whatevs.
Laws are more like guidelines, anyway. People are sooo open. You walk up to any colmado guy and as long as you're open with him, he'll treat you like you've been friends for years. It's nuts. People here are by and large dirt poor, but if even us, big foreigners from a country with a reputation here for being rich, were to knock on the door of some hovel and say, "Please give us some food, we're very hungry," they would go through hell and back to get us at least some bread and rice. Employment here is sketchy at best and savings plans aren't overly important because you can't save when you're scraping a living. They print bible verses on peanut wrappers. (I once walked into a bathroom in Verón, and all over the walls, people had graffitied things like, "Christ is coming" "Repent!" "Satan is a liar" "There's no happiness in sin" etc. And I'm like. Well. Graffiti's bad. But. Better than American graffiti.) Teenage pregnancy is rampant and families that are divided and scattered all over the place is the norm. I can count on one hand the number of families I've met that were just two parents and all their kids in one house.

And you know what? Their desires are just about the same. They want a job they like. They want stability. They get self-conscious. Girls want to look pretty. Guys act stupid to impress girls. They worry about whether or not the girl who sits in the colmado is gonna reject them or not. They want to learn the guitar. Children dream of being professional athletes. They dream of changing the world. Everyone just wants a happy, healthy life, being accepted and surrounded by their loved ones. They want the same thing.

This is a lesson that should be obvious. That people have the same fundamental needs and desires no matter where they're from. But I know that I always thought of people here or in Africa as people whose entire existence was devoted to carrying water jugs fifteen miles each way every day and eating millet and walking in the bush. And it's not. There are different standards of living, but people are people, and we are no more people than they are. Because from a Dominican point of view, that right there is a hallmark of Americanism. The arrogance.

I don't really know where I'm going with all of this. I'm slightly unfocused. But. We're not in this life to compete with each other. We're all playing the same game. And we're all on the same team.

The Santo Domingo temple grounds