Monday, August 31, 2015

By the Edge of the Sea -- August 31, 2015

Hello! This week was a good week! It was also transfer time. My house now consists of me, Elder Lopez, his new-companion-Elder-Mejia, and mine, Elder Vasquez-from-El-Salvador. The transfer is young. Oh, and even in August, Christmas is in the breeze. It's gonna be a good six weeks :)

So this week, the zone leaders called us and were like, "Hey, just so you know, you should probably go home for the day. There's a tropical storm coming. Named Erika. But no worries! It's not a serious threat unless you're in an area right by the ocean." Right by the. The. What. Like. That massive expanse of water where we can literally note the curvature of the earth three blocks from the house? Ahm. Right. Cough. That's. Um. Wait....... I get to see a minihurricane?! Sick! Amen! The kids back home will never believe it! What stories I'll have for my little grandchildren! Tropical Storm Erika! My first ever named storm. Well. She came rolling through, and I'll be honest- she sucked! It was like asking a nice-looking stranger how to get to your favorite sandwich shop and getting directions to the DMV. Total disappointment! Sure, it was raining sideways and it was windy enough to rip the neighbor's roof off, but then, rain comes out from wherever it wants here and it's always windy enough to rip the neighbor's roof off. 
And I'm not talking about getting a bad deal at your local colmado, either.

We got bored just sitting around while the world didn't end around us, so we headed on up to our roof, danced around, ate some mango with tajín, did some pull-ups (well, Lopez did pull-ups. I just serenaded them with qui quo money money and Livin' on a Prayer), and then came back inside and played cards. The neighbors probably thought we were doing exorcisms with the amount of shrieking coming from the apartment. One does not simply play a calm game of Egyptian Rat.

Also, we contacted a guy named Gilmer. There are three things you've gotta know about Gilmer. Gilmer is extremely smart. He doesn't walk very well (although he talks like a champ) And he also doesn't give a flying fiddlestick about anything. When his first son was born, his wife said, "Honey, we should name him Gilmer Jr!" and Gilmer said, "Over my dead body! No. I naming him... GilMerlin." That's right. He named his son after his own gamertag. Before gamertags even existed. About two years ago, Gilmer had a stroke, and his doctor said, "Gilmer, you've had a stroke. The left side of your body is partially paralyzed. You'll never be able to make fine motions with it again." Gilmer raised his left hand to the doctor and discovered that sure enough, the doctor was right. So, he flipped him off with his right. Two years later, against all odds (and after a lot of practice, I imagine) Gilmer can once again flip people off with his left. He's one of the funniest dudes I've ever met and best of all, he loves the lessons. We taught him the Plan of Salvation and when we came back the next time, he'd already taken the initiative to look up Joseph Smith, watch the documentary on his life, and read the first chapter of his biography, which is no small feat considering that Gilmer reads about five words a minute on account of that he can barely move his eyes ever since he had, you know, a stroke. Crazy guy.

Elder Lopez
Anyhow, along the course of my mission, by virtue of transfers, most of my companions and mission friends have had more time than me. I've had friends go home in the past, but this transfer in particular was full of names of people I've missed and continue missing. Barlow. Rodriguez. Brockbank. Froude. Carter. And others. This, of course, is no phenomenon. The list of names of people in general who were once a part- an important part- of my life who aren't anymore is much longer. In the midst of this process of people entering and leaving my life, I've come to the knowledge that one of the saddest moments in this life is when we don't realize just how much we should have appreciated someone until they were already gone. 

Personally, I was never a perfect neighbor, companion, brother, or friend, and I've all too often been a right chump. I did have my moments, of course, but looking back, I also have my regrets. Even so, I cannot say how grateful I am for the different people who have ever been a part of my life. 

One of the things I've done here in my letters from time to time is write a short remembrance of some of those who have gone home. I wish I could write something for every person who ever touched or changed me in some way, but unfortuantely, that is something that neither time nor circumstance permits. It's sad, perhaps, but such is life. People come and go no matter what you do. We cannot always write them a fancy goodbye, and even if we do, that goodbye will eventually be forgotten.

So hey. Neither your PS3 nor your TV nor your Facebook nor any of the other time-filling things in your life are as important as the people in your life. If you're free right now, which you should be, because heaven knows you shouldn't be reading this at work, call someone right now. Seriously. Pick up your phone. Choose a person. And hang out. Or write me. Ideally by hand. Email's fine too. The point is. Appreciate the people in your life right now.

You never know how long they'll be there.

Just shooting the breeze,

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fall of the Walking Dead -- August 24, 2015

Hello, everyone! It's a good day to be in God's service. Missionaries are dropping like flies and leaving me behind to pack and unpack like a Mormon in a charity peach cannery, but to quote the soon-to-die Elder Brockbank's translation of the Book of Mormon when in the Book of Ether, Coriantumr strikes down the leader of the rebel Jaredite army, "And it came to pass that Shiz went down." And so it has.

In business news, I'm no longer in La Isabelita! One whole week after getting transferred out of Los Mameyes, I've been transferred to- get this- Los Mameyes! Yup. I'm back. It's odd. I usually feel like I learned a lot in every area, and even with just one week, La Isabelita was no exception. I learned important lessons such as the fact that ironing your clothes while you're wearing them is a horrible idea. Also, sunblock makes a really lousy burn salve. And when you want to make sure that having your toes snapped in a mousetrap doesn't hurt too much to use as a friendly prank, you should probably design an experiment that doesn't involve actually snapping your own toes in a mousetrap. Let that be a warning to you. If something looks stupid, it probably is.

So this week, as I was walking through the street with Elder Martinez, some dipnickel threw an avocado at me. I turned around, ready to punch me some face, when I realized that it was a four year old and goshdangit, it's still not appropriate for a twenty-year-old missionary to punch a child in the face. Welp. Joke's on him. I love avocados.

In career news, I got to be a military translator for a day! Twice! Exciting stuff. A gigantic American hospital ship loaded with Navy doctors/personnel and some civvie volunteers came to town and all week, they gave free medical care to anyone who needed it. If this sounds like an unimaginably expensive government photo op, don't worry- it is. But we did some good! I started out on the deworming station. This would probably have been much more painful work had I not just spent the last year dealing with small children doing things like, you know, throwing avocados at me. As it was, it was an extremely fulfilling job that involved lying to children in order to convince them to take grotesquely bitter pills that are going to destroy them with diarrhea for the next few days. I can't tell you how much satisfaction it brought me to know that my efforts are going to help the future generation of this country rest easy. In five to seven days. Nyahaha. Also, after I got over the vaguely uncomfortable sensation of my eternal soul being cast down to Tartarus, talking with the American girl nurse who-was-definitely-not-a-missionary was actually quite pleasant. After deworming, I was sent over to pediatrics, which was less fun, since we actually helped children, and from thence to physical therapy, where I translated for a beet-red sociopath who got angry at me for not knowing how to say "jacked-up rotator cuff." They tried to give us MREs for lunch, but having lived here for a year, I decided it was probably better to just have Pica Pollo since my intestines were going to get wrecked either way. All in all, it was an awesome experience, and who knows? Maybe I'll volunteer for Project Hope when I go home. 

Fun times as a military translator
So anyway, after all the hullaballoo with the military settled down, I had some time to reflect on my experience. For all the jokes, I don't mind having avocados thrown at me and I really do like kids. Even after a year living among my brothers and sisters here and seeing so much suffering, it was very sobering work. A lot of the people who came through were people who had been dealing with horrifying debilities and injuries for years, just waiting for something like this to pass through. If they hadn't come, no one would have. I helped one girl who had her entire heel burned off in a motorcycle accident. Four years ago. This was the first medical treatment she'd been able to seek, but after so long, the doctors told her the foot couldn't be saved. I had to tell another child's mother that her son, who had a developmental deficiency that could have been solved but went untreated for ten years, would never be able to walk as long as he lived. Still others I had to turn away because the line was simply too long. It was heartbreaking on a level I can't begin to describe. 

This experience brought me to two things. First, that I still, after a year, do not and can not fully appreciate the blessings we enjoy in the United States. When I broke my arm, I got treated the same day. I got a cut that only required three stitches taken care of within hours. On both occasions, it was expensive, but we never had to wonder where our next meal would come from while we paid for it. I sat and debated with people for hours about healthcare and the politics of it and all that, but I never once comprehended just how lucky we all are to be able to receive treatment when we need it. It is a blessing that many people do not and will not ever know, which brings me to the second thing.

When we see someone suffering, we must help them. We must. For all the political and societal and other demographical lines we draw, we are not in this life to contend against one another. We have exactly one enemy, and that is Satan. As humans and as God's children, we have to take the initiative and help one another. It is not something that would be nice to do or even something that we simply ought to do. It is something we MUST do. No, we can't all travel to foreign countries and perform surgery on random strangers for free. But in the world we live in, there is always suffering in one form or another around us all the time, and there is always something we can do. I believe it. I know it. And I go out and work every single day because of it. We have one enemy. Just one. Even in the midst of all his angels, Satan is alone. And so there is only one way we can fight him- together.

Good weeks and happy memories all around,
Dallin Johnson

Monday, August 17, 2015

Little Isabel -- August 17, 2015

As my old history teacher, Mr. Bruce Crane would say, "Hello, ladies and gentlemen! How are you all today? How was school?" Now, whether or not you are in school at this moment in time is beside the point, because all of you that had Mr. Crane read that in his voice and those of you who didn't got through this paragraph are just fine anyway. This week, I packed and moved, said bye to too many people, and ate some rice. Folks, we're almost to a year.

On Tuesday night, I was sitting at home waiting for Elder Velasquez, one of the office guys, to call and tell me who my new companion is. At ten twenty, a whopping ten minutes before lights out, he called at told me that I would be receiving..... Literally no one. I got transferred. Five minutes away. After less than a month. Naturally. So, as the subject line sort of kinda suggested, I'm no longer in Los Mameyes! After Elder Barlow went home, the people-with-luck gods decided that I'd burned up all my luck points and after less than a month in Mameyes with two of my best friends in the mission, I've been transferred out to La Isabelita (that's Little Isabel in English) with Elder Martinez, 
My companion, Elder Martinez, whose English
consists of the phrase, "What's goin' on, man?"
a Honduranian with seven months and no sanity. I'm also living with Elder Turketo, the mission's lone New Zealander, and an old familiar face.

Elder Zetina, my first companion back in old Los Solares, is in my house. I'm not sure if that was inspired by God or Satan, but either way, we should not be housemates. Ever. When I got home at the end of the first night, I found a plate of banana peels and Marshmallow Mateys hid in my suitcase. I responded by stealing Elder Zetina's recorder flute and sticking it on a ledge just beyond his hopping range. Later that same night, he threw a football at me while I was writing in my journal, but being Zetina, he  missed and ripped the curtain rod out of the wall behind me. I threw it back, but being me, I went for broke and hurled it into Elder Turketo's crotch. It was an accident, but  suffice it to say, first impressions could've gone a bit better.

I'm actually enjoying myself in the area quite a bit! Although there aren't as many certifiably insane people, there are still plenty of idiots, so I stay entertained. We met a gentleman this week who informed me that the Hawaiian Islands, which belong to France, are actually within Venezuelan territory. This may escalate into war with the United States, since they shot their earthquake gun at Cuba but accidentally hit Haiti. Also, Japan, which was largely uninhabited after its nuclear war with China fifty years ago but was ironically repopulated by the Chinese who shipped their dead and dying over there, is finally about to gain its independence from South Korea. Reminded me what a rock I live under. You people gotta let me know when this stuff happens more often.

So this isn't so much of a spiritual thought as a Holy Cow! I
Wellington, his fiancee, and me.
was walking through the street yesterday when who should I run into but my boy Wellington. I don't know if you folks remember Wellington, but he was my first baptism way back in Espaillat with Elder Miller. And I cannot tell you how happy I was to see him. See, not only are we quite the pals, but I found out he is still roaringly active and has a calling. Also. He was walking with a girl. Who is his fiancee. They're planning on getting married legally in December and in January, they're going to the temple to be sealed for time and all eternity.
Holy. Smokes.

That, my friends, is a prepared son of God. Miller and I did good work with him, but he was ready when we found him. And now, I realize that not only did Wellington's baptism bring him to the gospel, but he and his future wife are gonna be able to enjoy the blessings of eternal marriage and all their children will grow up in a gospel home. It was a moment of pure joy.

I hope you all get to feel some of the same.

Much love, 
Dallin Johnson

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Never Set the Bar-low -- August 10, 2015

Hello! Happy P-Day. I hope the world is as beautiful wherever you are as it is here. These last two weeks, we've felt the spirit, drunk juice, and done more contacting than you can shake a stick at. I may have to get some worn-out cartilage insurance with how much we're walking. If any of you are willing to donate a hip to me in about five years, submit applications at your convenience.

By the way, I've seen Elder Barlow live,
and he is actually quite a handsome lad,
in spite of the many less than flattering
photos and statements on this blog.-- JAJ
 So. Ah. Ugh. Blast. Okay. I'll say it. The time has come. Two years are up. And Elder Barlow is going home. NOOOOOO!!!!! Ah. Elder Barlow entered my house (and life) last December about a week before Christmas. I was not happy about it. Elder Osorio, whose place he took, was a charming lad who made one heck of a pot of beans and rice. All I heard about Elder Barlow was that he was some skinny white kid who played the piano. But then, I saw him for the first time, and sure enough- he was a skinny white kid who played the piano. But! There are some things you should know about Elder Barlow.

First, he does not speak English. The poor lad tries, but he just doesn't get some of the finer points of English. For instance, words like "madurred" do not exist, even and especially when referring to ripe bananas. Also, sentences like, "I'm sick of Evangelicals molesting me!" are not appropriate in the English-speaking world. (FYI, in Spanish, "molestar," not to be confused with "violar," means "to annoy," a pretty important difference, although it makes for very funny jokes when you have a Latino companion.) He is also completely incapable of saying the word snickelfritz.

Also, I have been mooned by Elder Barlow from time to time while we have lived together. I think it's fair to say that I've seen his butt more times than I've seen my own, although it is in fact a great debate in our house whether or not the man really has a backside or if someone just drew a black line down the middle of his fleshless pelvis. And no, I don't feel bad making that joke. Haha, he hopes his wife makes fun of his buttlessness.

I should also probably mention that Elder Barlow in a way grabbed my soul by the nostrils and dragged it out of the very jaws of Hell. He once posed a question to me after I insisted that there was no way I could ever be a missionary as diligent and motivated as the Lord wanted me to be. "Johnson," he said, "the Lord does not care who you are. Who  could you be?" That question, combined with his example (getting repeatedly and viciously shafted by companions for about the first year of his mission, especially his trainer, and still turning out very well despite garbage that would have destroyed any lesser missionary) was a powerful motivator for me in some very dark times. I thank God for sending him to my house, and although he is leaving me now, I am eternally grateful for the time we had to serve together. We've had some of the funnest, funniest, most building time there was to be had.
My District
With all that sappy Jaredite villain out of the way, he and I crunched some numbers. In the last four weeks, we have knocked on nearly fifteen hundred doors. Of those doors, we've gotten in for one hundred and seven lessons. In case you didn't just whip out a calculator and break that down, we got rejected from thirteen of fourteen houses we tried to get into. Which is to say, we got lessons with just over 7.1% of the doors we knocked on, a number that is also about on par with the number of times people were too busy to listen to how to obtain eternal happiness because they had to eat a mango (although you could argue that that's kinda the same thing), the number of times bilingual Minecraft addicts said the words "skin toolkit" to us, and how often the door was answered by a dog. Yeah, it's fair to say that this work is not easy. Some might get discouraged. But we don't. No, sir, we do not. Why?

Because this work was never supposed to be easy. We aren't here to sit on the beach and sip piña coladas. We aren't here to slide our iPads under the seats of our air conditioned car as we go from golden investigator to golden investigator. We are here to do the work of salvation. To bring the world His truth. And what a truth it is.

This church is true. The church is so true that it's obvious. You cannot look at the Book of Mormon and suppose that it was written by Joseph Smith or any of his translators or associates back in the day. It is a book so rife with lingual and doctrinal complexity, from the stories down to individual words, that it would be ludicrous to even suppose this book could be a fabrication. If that isn't obvious, you're not reading it closely enough. 

As for Joseph Smith, his blunders are as telling as his successes. God took a man who was so imperfect and ignorant and yet so prepared and with him, He chose to do this work. How lost and confused Joseph Smith must have been, trying to fulfill his role as a prophet in this dispensation with no guide, no example of a modern prophet who had gone before. He could only trust in the Lord and keep moving forward, and his determination, the Spirit that accompanied him, and the very life he sacrificed in this cause are a testament to his divine calling as a prophet.

But the most important, compelling, and impossible-to-deny evidence there is for me is the hand of the Lord that I have seen in my own life. Looking back, it's so clear how the path of my life had brought me to this point. Specific people in specific places at the right time were prepared so that I would be able to finally come to this knowledge. It's so simple it's brilliant, and it's so crazy to see how even Satan's moves, sly as they were, only served to help the purposes of God. And this, after all, really is His work.

Elders Rodriguez and Johnson
So we are here and so we work. This work is a work of love and it is the most important kind of love. We are in the business of the salvation of the human family. I'm here, I'm happy here, and here I will stay. If any of you are wondering if you should serve a mission, allow me to answer that question with a loud, clear, and humble YES. Yes you should. It is the greatest thing that could happen to you. If God can take someone as messed up and imperfect as me and make anything useful out of it, He can do the same with you. I have seen it. I know it. I testify of it.

Pressing forward in the faith,
Dallin Johnson

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Mother's thoughts -- August 6, 2015

I want to bear witness of a very important truth. This quote has power, and blessings that we are not taking advantage of.

I have seen it manifest in the lives of my children. I have seen miracles occur. I know those unseen angels are there waiting to help us, we just need to ask for it. I hope to be mindful of taking full advantage of the opportunity to attend the temple far more than I have in the past.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Janell A. Johnson