Monday, January 26, 2015

Transfers? Insanity? Transanity. January 26, 2015

Howdy, All!

Before I start this email, I need to define the word transfer for those who don't know. A transfer is a six-week period in the mission. Every six weeks, we have a chance of getting a new companion, a new area, or both. But we always get a new planner.

So transfer orders are in! I'm gonna stay here in Espaillat. My new companion is an old man, and this will be his last transfer, so I will probably be here for not one, but at least two more transfers. If we're being honest, I'm not exactly doing cartwheels over it. But that's more because me doing cartwheels is one of those things that gets videotaped, put on YouTube, receives twenty million views, and shows up on "related videos" lists next to Charlie Bit My Finger and Scarlet Takes a Tumble. Y'all, it's transfer number four :)

In case anyone's wondering, yes, that IS a picture of Miller with his stuffed Aruba iguana puppet. 
Also, he's packing.

Last week, we all got new phones. We were super excited because our old ones were these awful old chunks of plastic that made the phone I had before the mission look like a Galaxy 5S. Also, the new phones had Snake on them, and while we certainly don't play the games on the phones after we're done proselyting at night, Snake is a heckuva lot better than F1 Racer. And then of course the very next morning, they called us and told us they'd distributed the phones wrong and had to take back every one in the mission. Talk about disappointing! It was like going to a kissing booth and getting a handshake.

There's something wrong with all the dogs in this country- They're all missing legs.

Anyhow, training's over! It's been a swell time. Elder Miller and I have had quite the party. I remember one time we were teaching a lesson to a fifteen year old girl, and she said that they had a worship service at school. Miller perked up and said, just like this, to this girl who doesn't know a word of English, "Oh, como 'Hallelujah, praise the Lord Baby Jesus?" And she just nods emphatically, "Oh yeah, yeah, that's how it was." Nyahaha English.

We've also taught a lot of.... interesting people. In a moment that sent me into heart palpitations, we discovered the other day that one of our best investigators is schizophrenic. We were sitting there telling her about tithing when she just started screaming. I sat there, slightly confused, contemplating peeing my pants. I mean, I get it, ten percent sometimes seems like a lot, but holy overreaction. Luckily, she wasn't upset by the doctrine. She was just off her meds and thought that someone was attacking her with a toaster. I wish that was a joke.

Then, we're teaching a guy from the hood. Okay, so technically everyone in this area is from the 'hood, but he was OF the 'hood. He's already told us that yes, he has quite emphatically broken every single commandment, and I mean EVERY SINGLE commandment, but he already served his jail time. He always shows up for church activities with two of his friends. They introduce themselves as "Chancho" and "Papa Chon." I strongly suspect that those are not their real names. A lot of times, I find myself just kind of sitting there, my head tilted bemusedly to the side when I see him walk into the church. But hey, he's always there. Hat, bling, chains, and all.

And of course, we have the crazy people. I don't know what the exact ratio of crazy to normal people here is, but I imagine it's somewhere around the Utahn ratio of men to women. There's one eighty year old guy with a beard who always comes to church. He is almost impossible to understand, but I think he spends a half hour every Sunday trying to get me to explain to him how the word "can" works in English. He also gets up and starts shaking his booty at random moments in the middle of sacrament meeting. It's inappropriate, but so is laughing your head off while the bishop's speaking, so I guess he and I are both at fault. Another crazy guy came up to us in the street one time and started trying to speak to us in English. When it became apparent that we couldn't understand him, he grabbed Miller and before Miller realized what was happening, kissed him and ran away, cackling his head off. Then we were once contacting a lady who seemed perfectly normal until her phone started to ring. She went back to her cupboard and picked up every dish one at a time and held it to her ear, mumbling, "Which one of you is making that sound?"

However, the thing I think I'll remember the most is the difference a little bit of hard work can make. When we got here, we were taking the area over from two elders who hardly ever left the house. They left us two names which we ended up dropping within the first week.

The area was dead.

But now? We've had a baptism. Two more investigators have baptismal dates, and we have a solid body of over a dozen firm investigators and a plethora of others that have the potential to progress. We're bringing gospel truths to the ears of those who don't have them. We're literally changing lives out here. The elders that were in our area before us also sacrificed two years of school, dating, and all that jazz to come out. They all payed the same as us. The only difference between us and them? We went out and did what we came to do.
We forgot to pull the plug out of the font before changing after Wellington's baptism. 
We were fresh out of font plug pullers, so you best believe we tied a coat hanger to a mop.

It's not really possible to describe what a mission is like to someone who hasn't served one. I know that because I've heard hundreds of stories, read books, seen movies, and not one single one really made sense until I came out and experienced it for myself. And now I know. A mission sucks so good. It's a bizarre experience. Your world changes, sometimes daily. It's confusing. It's frustrating. You get angry. You get sad. You get depressed. You miss things you never thought you'd miss and don't miss things you thought you would. Change and readjustment are a way of life.

But I'm happy. Why on this green earth am I happy? By all reasonable accounts, I shouldn't be. Not at all. Maybe I'm going crazy.
Maybe I already have. But I don't care. Because what I'm doing matters. 

And that's all that matters to me.

Dallin Johnson

Monday, January 19, 2015

I Met Stalin. And baptized Wellington. January 19, 2015

Dear Everyone,

Happy P-Day! I don't know how things back in the States are, but down here in Espaillat, we had a week of firsts. I gave my first talk in church, we GOT OUR FIRST BAPTISM, and, of course, I met Stalin. For the first time.

So out here in the Dominican Republic, you meet people with some wacky names. Of course you've got your Miguels and Juans and all that good stuff. Then, you meet people with names like Stuart. Or Algernon. Then you meet some that are just weird. I've met Smirnas, Agnerrises, Yahairas, and we're even teaching a lady named Walescak. Then, the other day, we were out contacting, and we met a nice gentlemen who told us with a pleasant smile on his face that his name was..... Stalin. Yeah. Like THAT Stalin. Some peoples' kids. Golly, some peoples' parents.

As it happens, those of you who aren't into the whole Star Wars thing should know- Sith are real. Don't believe me? Child, talk to the word of God. Ezekiel 35:6.

This last Sunday, I gave my first talk in the field. And, appropriately, said talk was the site of.... THE LANGUAGE GAFFE OF THE WEEK!!! Ha. Ha. Three months in the field and it still gets me. Hahaha oh how I hate it. So what happened. The bishop asked me to speak on mission work. I was quite pleased with that. It's an easy topic. I know a thing or two about mission work. The angle I took on it was straightforward enough. I talked about how the mission work is something all the members should be helping with, not just the missionaries. And then. It happened. There's two words in Spanish that are very similar. Cargar and cagar. Cargar means "to load" or "to burden". The sentence I was trying to say was, "This work isn't always easy. It's something the Lord has loaded upon each individual member. But He's loaded it on all of us. We can share it." But I didn't use cargar. I had misheard Elder Areas when I asked him how to say "to load". I used cagar. Cagar means, for lack of a better euphemism, to excrete stool. Only a lot more vulgar. At least in the Dominican Republic, profanity-level more vulgar. What I actually said was, "The work isn't always easy. It's something the Lord has s%!&&ed upon each individual member. But He's s%!&&ed it on all of us. We can share it." I said it. At the pulpit. In sacrament meeting. In front of a good dozen investigators. And 150 members. Including the first counselor of the mission presidency. . . . . . GAAAAH WHY????? Ugh. I'm studying, I'm studying.

In Sambil, I walked past a movie poster for The Hobbit. I didn't recognize it at first. But then. That hair. Then, that sword. Then, the gigantic THE HOBBIT emblazoned on the front. I felt my heart freeze into ice and shatter into a thousand tiny shards of despair. I was always super excited for the mission after I submitted my papers. Never doubted my decision from the day I got my call to the day I left. But I had one moment in August when I was sitting in the movie The Giver and the preview for The Hobbit came on. I was thoroughly enjoying the preview until it finished and I saw the release date. I stopped. I got real for a second. And I had to ask myself. "Is this really the right thing to do? Do I REALLY want to go on a mission?" It was a sacrifice! But here I am.

So we got our first baptism on Saturday. We went to go fill the font in the morning when we discovered that the last guys to baptize someone in the font hadn't drained it properly and the floor was covered in deep moss stains. They were super hard and dang near impossible to get out. We scrubbed, we soaked, we scrubbed again, and it did absolutely nothing. We decided to get more creative.

So it was that I found myself crouched in a dirty Dominican baptismal font at 10:15 AM on a Saturday, scrubbing the floor with a rock.

But the baptism went super well. His name is Gaspar Wellington Rodriguez Rodriguez. He was a reference we met my first week. He was tough to teach. He was born legally deaf and didn't get a hearing aid until he was eighteen, so he's really hard to understand when he talks and in turn, he struggles understanding when people talk to him. He was also born with some kind of mental inhibition. In some ways, he's really a lot like a little kid. But he was super receptive to the Spirit, and it's been nothing short of inspiring to see how proudly he carried himself after he was baptized. I'll never forget the day we taught him the law of chastity. The second we finished the closing prayer, he stood up, marched down the street to his girlfriend's house, knocked on her door, and announced to her, "Honey, we can never have sexual relations again until we are married in the Mormon church, and that is THAT." Super cool guy. I'm excited to see where he'll go in this life.

Anyway, that's life for us. Let me know how all things are going for you folks back at home. Best of luck and God bless!

Dallin Johnson

P.S. We also went to the temple this week. The third picture is of all the elders in my house.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Memories of my Grandmother January 12, 2015

Hueco Mundo!

Firstly, there are such a thing as motorcycle ambulances in this country. There was a car crash right in front of my house. About ten minutes after they collided, a white motorcycle with the word "AMBULANCIA" printed on the side showed up. Can you imagine that feeling? Being told, "Hey, there's an ambulance coming!" and then you hear a teeny little "nuuurrrggh MEEP MEEP!! Hop on, buddy!" Those poor souls.

Dominican Tow Truck, similar to ambulances

I received news this week that my grandmother, my dad's mom, had passed away. She was born and raised in Denmark, and had this remarkable accent. My dad and his siblings all swore she never had an accent, but that her sister had a heavy accent. The truth was, they both did. We called her Farmor, far = father, mor = mother, father's mother. My dad called the mission office and asked them to tell me about her death.

President Corbitt actually came to the house to tell me about Farmor. He scared the crap out of us at first. He called up from down below and we went down and let him in. He stepped through the door and announced, "Gentlemen, I'm here for a 24 hour companionship exchange. Who's bed am I taking?" We all just about peed our pants. We all love and respect president, but the man is a bit intimidating at times. Being his companion for 24 hours? Terrifying. But he was joking. Then he pointed at me and said that we needed to talk in private. This was surprising to all of us. Two zone leaders live in our house. We all thought for sure they were the ones he wanted to talk to, not some no-name greenie who hasn't so much as made a peep to the mission office in three months here. But he wanted me. We went to a side room and chatted. He told me about Farmor passing away. He told me about the phone calls between him and my parents. All that good stuff. And then he left.

I was left to myself for the most part. So I just started thinking. I remembered the story about Farmor and the box of chocolates that she ate while the kids were in school, and then to make it look like she hadn't eaten the whole box, she opened another box of chocolate. About her mother forgetting that her and Farfar were married. About how I couldn't say Farmor and just called her Farmy as a little kid. All the times they visited. All of everything. I missed her and I knew that my family was definitely hurting over it. I prayed for all of them. And as I was praying, I got the distinct impression that when she passed, there was rejoicing on the other side of the veil. Farmor had served three missions, worked in the temple, and had much family already over on that side. She did more in her life for the most important work there is, that being the work of the Lord, than most people can ever dream of, and I know that she touched countless souls.

So although it's certainly sad when one mortal experience ends, she's got plenty to do on the other side, and now, she doesn't have the physical problems she was experiencing back here on earth. She can start helping people with all the energy of her soul. And it's okay. It's sad, but every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. Of course we didn't want this, but the Lord's got a plan, and everyone, including Farmor, is a part of it. That's the gift of eternal perspective for you.

I'll keep you all in my prayers.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy New Year January 5, 2015

Happy 2015, everybody! I hope y'all did a bunch of smooky things and rocked Year's End like you should. Out here in Espaillat, we drank Chinola, ate Ramen, and did not kiss anyone at midnight. Also, there were more drunks than chickens, and if that doesn't horrify you, then you don't know what it's like to have #thirdworldproblems. Ladies and gentlemen, it's 2015.

Cultural Note- Here in the Dominican Republic, the shopping bag is a must. If you buy something, you get a bag with it. If you buy a can of soda, you get a bag. If you buy one pen, you get a bag.If you buy a chair or a table, they will literally tie a shopping bag around one of the legs. I saw someone buy a cat. From a street vendor. And yes. They got it in a bag.

The other night, we helped a lady crack peas open. She was preparing for her New Year's Eve feast. We taught her the Plan of Salvation, and it was pretty cool. But she did also comment that I made pretty short work of those pea pods. I felt very flattered, and I don't mean to brag, but it turns out that I'm kind of the shiz at cracking peas. So hey, if my dreams of being a doctor, professional writer, or afternoon shift fry cook at Sonic fall through, I can always take my new fallback option and become a professional peacracker.

So it's 2015. Two things stick out to me about that fact. First, how bafflingly different my life has become between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014. At the start of this year, I was working at Sonic and living in an apartment of four people making up roughly one and a half active members. I'd just hit 240 pounds, and my diet consisted roughly of Sonic, Hamburger Helper, Hot Pockets, Cups of Noodles, and Taco Bell. I didn't really bother much with being social or going to church or anything productive like that. I just sort of lived because I had nothing better to do. Which brings us to December 31st. I'm still living in an apartment, but my roommates are all very active in the gospel. I'm roughly bilingual. I'm a full-time missionary, and I finish my training in less than three weeks. My diet consists almost entirely of cereal, rice, beans, and chicken. Okay, and Coke. I'm under 200 pounds for the first time since I was fourteen years old. I'm out all day every day and I'm constantly working to be social and connect with people. And I feel good. What a year it's been. Thanks to Jake, Andrew, Natalie, Danee, J-Dawg, Nicole, Claire, Jaque, Quinton, Aaron, Lizzie Bean, Blount, Durrant, my mom, my dad, all you camp people, everyone in my family, all the mission folk, and all the other people that I should have thought about and written down before I started mentioning people by name and ran the risk of offending everyone I forgot. Y'all made it possible.

The other thing is how fast it's gone by. It's flown. Even though looking back, I had tons of adventures including three major lifestyle changes between E202, camp, and the mission, and I could tell stories for hours, it went by so fast. Ridiculously fast. It's not even fair. I'm starting to appreciate the phrase, "Don't blink." Cause it's true. Don't get distracted and forget to live life. Don't blink. You just might miss it.

Hoping all's well,