Monday, November 23, 2015

Three Moments of Charity -- November 23, 2015

Right. So. I try to keep most of my emails pretty lighthearted and funny. To be honest, I sometimes worry that if I didn't, people would stop reading them. But, I was sitting here, basking in the glory of the prospects of a missionary Thanksgiving and I just wasn't feeling it. So. Well. Whatever. This is what I've had on my mind all week.

Whenever I hear returned missionaries speaking or I read other missionaries' letters, it sounds like their missions are just these incredible spiritual experiences where every day they go out and teach the gospel and stretch out in the glow of the guidance of the Holy Ghost and even though it was hard, they love every minute.

Well. That hasn't been my experience. Maybe that's because of my own attitude or the geography or the culture of this particular mission. But for me, a mission has been hard. It's been really hard. I'm finally to where I can say that I love it, but it took more effort than I care to admit to get there. It's funny, though, because perhaps the most important moments in that process weren't manifestations of angels or mind-blowing spiritual experiences generally or Eric Weddle himself descending upon a winged wolf to carry me along specifically. The most powerful moments on my mission have been small. So small that the people who did them might not even remember. They weren't grand acts of valor or courage. It was always simple charity. Today, I want to share some of those moments. Three. Yes. Three moments of charity.

Me and Elder Miller
First, I think it's only appropriate that we start at the very beginning. I started my mission in Espaillat with Elder Miller. Training is a tough time to begin with, but there was one particular day in which we walked into our house's colmado after a long day to buy a Coke. I approached the counter, pulled out fifteen pesos, and pointed at the fridge. The guy quipped something. I just kinda stared. Another customer started laughing and shot something at the colmado dude. He then smirked and quipped something else. I had no idea what the crap was going on, but before I knew it, the entire colmado was rocking with the sound of people laughing at the lost gringo. I was already tired and my mind was fried and I was sick of Spanish and being catcalled and I just wanted my freaking Coke. I just turned around and walked out empty handed.

Me and Miller climbed up the stairs to the house, not saying anything, and quietly planned. We finished and I walked to the back room, took off my tie, and flopped down on my bed, facing the wall and hating everything about my existence. Five minutes passed when I heard Miller's voice. "Johnson. I made you a sandwich in case you're hungry." He paused when I didn't respond and then continued. "Hey. Those guys are all losers. You're a great guy and you're gonna be a fantastic missionary. I'll be out at the desk if you need anything." And he left.

I turned slowly around and looked at the plate he'd left me. It was a signature Miller triple decker PB&J. Those things were so thick and I didn't even really like them. But. I looked at the sandwich. I looked at the empty doorway. And everything was okay.

A couple of months later, Miller was gone. I was still in Espaillat with my second companion, Elder Lora. Most of you probably don't even know I had a companion named Elder Lora because, well, I wrote a grand total of one sentence about him. See, we didn't get along. We were together for three weeks and it's fair to say that we were not friends. It wasn't his fault. He was just unhappy because with less than three weeks left in his mission, he'd been transferred to a new area with a greenie American whose Spanish was less than incredible. I'd have been unhappy too.

Despite any companionship friction, though, I loved Espaillat. I loved it with all my heart. I still do. And at the beginning of that transfer, I'd been told that although my companion was going to finish his mission, I'd be left there indefinitely. Well, three days before he was out, the office called me and told me that, psyche, sorry for no warning, but I was going to be transferred. I'd be leaving. I hadn't told anyone. There wouldn't be time to say goodbye. Heaven knows what was gonna happen with the area. We'd be whitewashed. And I was furious. FURIOUS.

Elder Barlow
My reaction. Wasn't great. I. Um. Starting yelling. Everything went kind of fuzzy. I said some unkind things to Elder Barlow. And may have been using. Er. Colorful metaphors. His untainted ears were burning. But I essentially ended up storming back into the room, once again, and flopped down on my bed, seething.

About a half hour later, Elder Barlow stuck his head in gingerly. "Johnson? Are you calm?" I was like, ".......yes." And he said, "Hey. Um. We talked with President. He says you can stay until Tuesday. It's not perfect. But. You'll be able to say goodbye." He waited a second and then said, "And also. You should know that it was Elder Lora who made the call."

When Elder Lora left that Thursday, he left while I was in the shower. He did not say goodbye. He didn't take a picture. Didn't write in my journal. And as far as I know, he and I will never meet again and he probably doesn't care. But I will never forget that moment.

Sister & President Corbitt, Elders Leiter and Johnson
Fast forward to the next training, only this time, it's me in the trainer's shoes. My son, Elder Leiter (said like Lighter), is incredible. I love this kid to death. However, being a trainer can be stressful. Especially since I am also a very involved district leader, my nights are crazy. I sometimes stress a lot because I'm so busy trying to take calls, motivate six women who I can't directly interact with, making plans, and trying to assure the zone leaders that yes, we are doing fine and yes, everything is getting better.

Last Wednesday, it was our first full night in Consuelo. My shoes were filthy and I had to get them cleaned because Thursday was district meeting but there was just no time. I was trying to get everything pulled together and there were just so many problems and I was pacing furiously on the back porch trying to figure out how on earth to say "shotput" in Spanish to the zone leaders (one of the sisters' investigators with a baptismal date fell because he had to go train for the Olympics. Seriously.) and by the time I finally finished, it was past lights out, my shoes were still filthy, I was nearly in tears, and I was sick of being a district leader. 

Exhausted, I shuffled slowly toward the room, ready to collapse, when I noticed my shoes. They had been scrubbed clean of all dust and scuff marks, brightly polished, and were sitting next to the door, ready for district meeting. I peeked into our room and there was Elder Leiter, lying on his side, sound asleep.

Especially in this time of Thanksgiving, there are things about home that we might be tempted to miss. All the food will be missionary-cooked. There will be no football. There will be no board games. There will be no family for any of the missionaries of the Dominican Republic. But there will always be little moments of charity.

And I will always be grateful for that.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pic-y, Pic-y..... -- November 16, 2015

Sister Perez standing on a chair, trying to be
as tall as me.
Hello! It's gonna be a short one because today is transfer day. Speaking of which........

The September Macorisanos
I'M GONNA BE A PAPPY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Elder Polanco, sadly, is being transferred. But I'm going to be a trainer!!! When you're in the mission, your trainer is your dad and your trainee is your son. I don't know who my child is or where he's from, but I know that he's gonna be born tomorrow sometime around 9 AM. WWWHHHHHOOOOOO!!!!!!!

That's one dang big plantain!
But! Since my nonfacetiously-stated beloved companion needs to pack and say goodbye and it's a rough day for him because it's always hard to leave your first area, I have little time.

So I'd just like to tell the story of the two baptisms we had on Saturday. 
Their names are Angela and Miledis. They were so prepared, always in church and seminary and doing good things. They are the elect of God and the whole branch loves them so much. They're the daughters of Haitian immigrants and they live under such humble circumstances. It was a testimony to me every Sunday when they arrived at church after the more than thirty minute walk. 

They love the gospel and they were simply ready. It was a wonderful service and everyone just felt so much love.

Anyway, I love you all. Have the grandest of weeks.

Con cariño y mucho ánimo,
In the ZONE!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fanny Fracas -- November 9, 2015

Happy Monday, errahbody! It's been a pretty good week. We preached the gospel. It rained a smidge. And I also learned the important difference between a "barita magia" (magic wand) and a "batida magia" (magic milkshake). If that's not success, I don't know what is. 

I love my area. I really do. It's reminded me a bit of home. It's full of nice people. It's also confirmed to me just how well the gospel of Harry Potter has been preached throughout the world. We were teaching a less-active guy out in the boonies of the boonies where there aren't even roads, just trails. Nor are there cows. Just pigs that look like cows.

And somehow, we got on the subject of childhood disappointments and I mentioned that perhaps the saddest moment of my life was my 11th birthday, when I ran to the mailbox to find I hadn't gotten a letter from Hogwarts. My muggleness was confirmed when Dumbledore didn't reply to the letter I sent to him (although in hindsight, that kind of makes sense. I turned 11 in 2006 and since Harry started school in the late 90s, he would've been a sixth year in 2004 or 2005 at the latest, which means that chronologically speaking, Dumbledore would've been too dead to respond..... Holy hippogriffs!!!!) Before long, we were deeply engaged in a conversation about whether it's possible to Apparate to safety if you fall off your broom and if so, why don't people do that from the ground? Why isn't high-altitude Apparition sky-diving a thing?

And then the ridiculosity of the situation hit me. 
We were sitting under a guava tree in front of a corrugated tin shack in a rural suburb of a rural suburb that would have to at least triple its average daily income to be classified as "poor". Talking about the feasibility of Aparition skydiving and lamenting in turn, "I never liked Malfoy," and "Severus didn't have to die like that." Haha so that's Consuelo for you.

Oh, it's also the area where my mission dad died. (went home) Yup.

So I was pretty tired last Thursday. We'd been out in the pouring rain all day and I was cold and ready for bed. I flew through the calls with the sisters and zone leaders and peaced out of consciousness a half hour early. Well, I'd been frolicking through raspberry fields in Dallin Happy Dreamland for only an hour or two when when all of a sudden, I was jerked awake by a noise in the kitchen. First it was just a quiet tapping. A gentle noise. Like little celestial teardrops. And then I could hear the sound of ripping. And then something that sounded like a sort of choked screaming. Welp. I wasn't sure what the Freddy Krueger was out there, but I was sure that I was gonna stay right the heck under my sheet and calmly figure out what to do about my urine-drenched trousers.

Well, I'd only been there for a couple of minutes, right about the time when the pleasant part of having wet yourself wears off and you're just cold, when I heard the voice of Capt. Henry Pearson Crowe echoing in my ears, "You'll never get the purple heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!" Goshdangit inspirational World War Two quotes. Fine. FINE! I didn't know what was interrupting my field frolicking with the sounds of the folks in Tartarus, but I was gonna find out. Or it was gonna kill me. Whatever. I threw the sheet off and dragged my sleep-drunk derreire into the entryway of the kitchen. I stared intently into the darkness for a second. The ripping and yowling stopped. And then a sleek black shape shot out of the shadows and darted toward me.

Okay. So. I have to clarify. I wasn't exactly sure what to do in such a situation. My constitution when it comes to dark spirits and hellhounds and other ethereal thingies that want to kill me isn't really. Um. Bulletproof. So I contemplated my options. I could cry for help. Maybe try to beat the snot out of the thing. I briefly considered vomiting. Finally, I made a split-second judgment call and decided on staggering backward and inhaling sharply, sucking what felt like a liter of spit into my windpipe and nearly choking to death. If this sounds like a stupid reaction to you, well, stuff it. It was unconventional, but darn if it didn't work. That sucker ran right past me and jumped out the window. And that was when I realized, heart pumping and red-faced, that it was a cat. . . A FREAKING CAT!!!!! It had come in through the window and choked on a chicken bone it scrounged out of our trash. GAAAAHHH!!!!!

Apart from that, it was sort of a good week. It was a good lesson on perspective. It rained and rained and rained and was a very large pain in the buttocks. I got sick and we spent one day in the house where I spent all of my free time in bed and the other half in the bathroom. There were a couple of fights with people. One guy who looked like the goldenest of golden contacts stopped us in the middle of our first lesson and was like, "Would you doubt that I'm one of the gods of the Apocalypse?" And I was like, "Uh, yes?" and he kicked us out of his house into the aforementioned rain. We got rained into the branch president's house with a chorus of children who were either impersonating drunk walruses or singing Christmas carols FOR FOUR HOURS!!!!! This week very well could have sucked. 

Elder Walters kissing a "fanny"
But then, we were able to share the gospel with many wet and muddy people who needed a pick-me-up, we learned an important lesson about how to let down people who think they're deities, I got yet another dose of appreciation for good health, and we got some quality bonding time with the friends of our branch president's family. Oh, and we had two investigators pass baptismal interviews which means that I'm baptizing for the first time in four months and more importantly, two children of God are going to make the first covenants with their Heavenly Father. Huzzah!!!!!

Yeah, it was a good week.

Hoping y'all have one of your own,

Monday, November 2, 2015

Legal Victory and Broken Cocces. Cocci. Coccyxes. Whatever. -- November 2, 2015

Hello, all! Time is short and we have souls to save

! Allow me to tell the tale of how I got my green card!

So this last week, Elder Walters and I had to do an intercambio (companionship exchange) because as of September 24, we were both illegal immigrants. Now, it's not really because we're afraid of getting deported or anything (one of Elder Polanco and my's investigators who's a cop was like, "Yeah, you guys are missionaries. The police force couldn't care less about you.") but the mission's very into "following laws" and "not incurring criminal charges" so we did it. Elder Walters and I had some extremely important business to talk about, such as the best flavor of Mountain Dew and the preferred hour for an after-midnight Beto's run, and we ended up staying up a wee bit late. By the time we'd slept through our alarm, we had only twenty minutes to get up, get ready, get dressed, and get on the bus. We threw everything on and sprinted to the bus stop. The bus was nearly full, so without really being too choosy, I just went up to the front where the fellow directed me and Elder Walters was seated near the door. The bus set out and off we went. 

Well, about five minutes in, I started to hear regular grunts that coincided with every bump in the road. Well that's odd. So I looked back, and there's Elder Walters, his elbows crammed into his right armpit, a look of pure squashed anguish on his face, sitting next to the largest woman I had ever seen in my life. I say with total impartiality and love that if this woman fell into the ocean, a passing pod of sperm whales would be like, "Dorothy! We thought you were dead!" And it just so happened that in the process of having his pelvis compacted into a quantum existentiality, a rigid steel bar in the seat was jammed right into his. Er. Coccyx. Suffice it to say that for the rest of the day, Elder Walters was the butt of many jokes.

But we are once again legal law-abiding citizens! Sorry for the ever short epistles! Life's rugged in the campo. Hit it hard and keep moving forward.


P.S. The word "coccyx" is GOLD when you're playing hangman.

P.P.S. Yes. That is a photo of me ripping pantyhose in half with my teeth. The crap I do for this zone.....
District leader bites stocking