Originally Composed 12/31/07
Well, how's everybody? Thank you all so much for your greetings and words of encouragement-they've been much needed and appreciated. I'm still trying to respond to everybody-that's how much email I get (and watch, I'm gonna get back to California and never hear from anyone again!). Though the last 2 ½ months have hands-down been the best experience of my life, they haven't been without challenges, and being me in general can be its own obstacle to happiness at times. But Jehovah is so good, so very, very good in every way; but particularly in that that he loves us. The great thing about being loved by Jehovah is that he can show us that love in so many ways, no matter where we may be in the world, through his Word and his organization, and just the peace of mind that he gives us is incomparable to anything else. You know how sometimes you have a rough moment, and all you need is to know that somebody gets it-that somebody gets you, followed by reassurance that everything is going to be ok? And then you feel like it really will be because whoever's consoling you is not just saying and doing things just to be nice, not even just because they care, but because they know you and understand why things affect you the way you do? Well as we all know, that's the way Jehovah is-he gets all of us, in whatever language we speak (which is great because I can no longer get through my personal prayers in just one language-I start them in English, then they fade into Spanish, and then they just turn into gibberish.)
The thing about being far away from your home, your comfort zone, is that there is always the possibility of things being strange and unfamiliar to us, which means adjustments in how we do things. Everything isn't super-convenient, and it means learning to work a little harder (which I say never hurt anybody-having to walk everywhere no matter the weather or how much stuff I might be carrying has resulted in me being physically stronger and a little slimmer, I'm happy to report). Periods of heavy rain make field service tough sometimes-it can be dangerous to drive out to the rurals when it's like that, so that's out. Dominicans do not like to get wet, and so if you don't have studies in town that are like, literally, right by your house, it can be hard to find service partners. So, that might mean changes in how you do your service in order to meet your goal. And any time you are away from family and friends who already know you well, especially if you are immersed in a culture different from your own, there is the challenge of understanding each other, of recognizing differences in customs and attitudes, of personalities and feelings being lost in translation. Hey, we feel alone and misunderstood at times in our own language and within our own cultures, don't we? It's all been an eye-opener, and I can see that I'm really not the woman I thought I was. To be fair, I guess in some ways I'm stronger than I'd once thought, but I see more weak areas. So, I mean, I know what my goals are, but some days I wake up and say, can I do this? Am I biting off more than I can chew by working toward making this my life? But Jehovah comforts us, and his spirit overcomes all. It becomes so clear that the rewards of expanding one's service make all the adjusting and struggling and making a fool of oneself so worth it. And it's amazing how, even when there are differences in language and culture, the fruitages of that spirit can help us to see others and ourselves the way that Jehovah does. It's a challenge at times, and its an even bigger challenge to be faced with our own frailties-and experiences like this have a way of showing you who you are, for better or for worse. That "worse" side can get a person down, and it's happened to me more than a few times since I've been here. But I tell you; there is no better feeling than being uplifted be Jehovah once you've been down. And I've had more of that than I even know what to do with.
OK, got that off my chest. My psychiatrist would be proud.
Minor road-bumps aside, it's been the best of times over here on the island. Literally, my timing was perfect for coming here. You see, what I didn't know before I came is that, though Cabrera's not what you'd call a tourist-magnet, a lot of brothers and sisters from the U.S. and Canada have been choosing this place to vacation for years. A few of those vacationers loved it so much that they decided to stay, and those who can't live here all year go back and forth, spending part of the year in North America working and saving, and spending the winter and early spring here. There are still others that just pass through for a week or two. Even among the Dominicans, all through town everybody's got family here for the holidays, and the local brothers all have friends and family visiting. Cabrera's such a gorgeous place, and people here are so nice; everybody loves it here. Dorcas and Ramon Garcia, our landlords, are in the congregation with us, and Dorcas is already related to everybody in town (that's not an exaggeration-her maiden name is Pereyra, which is the name on every other business in town, the name of every other household in town, and also the last name of half the congregation. I guess anybody with 14 brothers and sisters and whose mom had 14 brothers and sisters can't really help that). Anyway, between Dorcas' kids and grandkids who visited from the capital, her nephew who lives in Canada with his wife and kids, a family from Nantucket, a group of 12 from Southern California, plus the needgreaters whose half of the year this is, and assorted others, a congregation of about 45 publishers more than tripled last Sunday to a standing-room only attendance of 141.
They say this happens every year. One elder lamented that the congregation has a very different spirit when it isn't winter…and another young sister went on to "warn" me back in November of what was to come. "There'll be parties, lots of parties, thrown by people you barely see come out of their houses," she said. "Girls who don't usually talk will be social, and they'll all start wearing makeup." She spoke these words as if she was reading from Matthew chapter 24, and I had no idea what she meant by any of it, until it happened . But why all fuss?? I wondered. Another young sister explained the hysteria this way: "Everybody here is our cousin. So if somebody doesn't come from somewhere else, there is nobody to marry. And we ALL want to get married." I appreciated her honesty, and I definitely see what she means. For example: an elder from Missouri met a sister from Canada here a few years back and they got married. Her sister married one of Dorcas' nephews, and this nephew's sister went on to marry a brother who is one of 24 siblings in Cabrera. Meanwhile, the brother from Missouri's cousin is here too, a 21-year old pioneer and ministerial servant, and if the girls here had their way, one of them would snag him and turn this crazy family circle into a trapezoid. My book study conductor, who is from Canada, is here with his Dominican-born wife and daughter…but then somehow his ex-stepmother, also from Canada, is in this same congregation. His wife's cousin is married to a Canadian brother who's somebody else's cousin, but at that point they lost me so I couldn't tell you whose cousin he was if you paid me. Got all that? If you do, I'll send you a prize because I'm still confused.
I think what's great about all the visitors from North America coming is that it gives these kids a chance to see both sides of the story. While they want to get out of the country, we're all flocking in, some working long hours for part of the year to be able to live here the other part. All of us that have in a material sense (and trust me, I don't have very much, but compared to what some people here have, I'm Oprah) are trying to get rid of the complications that come with living in an affluent country. That family from Nantucket I mentioned consists of a brother, his wife, and their two little boys ages 9 and 5. They've been serving in a Spanish group since their oldest son was about 2, are selling their house and are moving here next year. The sister was telling me that there are a lot of Dominicans that come to Nantucket to work, and how quickly they become Americanized by their 60-hours-per-week jobs. Many a good bible study gets lost to the rat race. They send money to their families here-thus the Escalades and Hummers and Range Rovers you see in the middle of the barrio-but no amount of money can undo the damage done to a family when the father (or mother) is gone for most of the year. Sadly, that has even happened within some congregations. It is interesting to see how, whether the country is rich or poor, materialism can be a snare wherever you go.
My attitude towards my stuff has definitely changed since I've been here. Within the first week I was here, my phone broke, and I was so upset, but when after seeing how little some brothers live with and are still happy, your attitude changes. You start feeling real dumb about whining over a cell phone. So when my beloved iPod was mortally damaged in last month's tropical storm (you remember, that whole debacle with me coming back from Cabarete on a motorcycle in the rain), I groaned, but was over it pretty quickly. Too busy being happy I got back alive that night. I never want to find myself that attached to any material possession of mine again. I've given away quite a few things since I've been here without even blinking. I hope the brothers don't take that as lack of appreciation for what I have-it isn't that at all. It's just that when you weigh it all out it doesn't matter. Its just stuff. And whatever you have in the way of such "stuff" can be gone in an instant. I don't feel like I've given anything to these brothers and sisters in comparison to what they've given me since I've been here, and I hope I can let them know that.
I say I'm glad I got here when I did because I got here a good month before most of the other visitors, so I feel like I got a chance to get to know more of the locals personally. And if I hope to come back here I'll need friends. But all life-lessons aside, every day has been like one big party over the last few weeks, and it has been so nice to meet so many from so many different places. I have a new "must-visit" list that includes Missouri, Nantucket, Alaska, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland…and a bunch of cities in So-Cal that I've never even heard of but where I know I'll have friends. Some of the visitors we've had don't even know Spanish, but their efforts to participate at meetings when they visit are really impressive simply in the love it shows for the brothers. And the locals reciprocate, because we have had some great pasaratos (gatherings) lately. But the most fun continues to be in the ministry…riding in the backs of trucks to do campo territory, stopping in a pretty meadow for lunch, enjoying the awe of the brothers and sisters of the natural beauty here, and how excited they are about service, because they've never preached like this; where you get invited into every home, and can talk to anybody you meet. Just like I felt when I first got here. I may be used to it now, even a little spoiled, but it never gets old.
Crazy experience: One morning before service, I was debating over whether to wear a cute pair of sandals or some comfortable and practical (read: not-so-cute) closed-toe shoes that day. Boy, by the end of the day I was audibly thanking Jehovah for those ugly shoes. After walking up one big dusty hill (actually, they wouldn't let me walk, I rode on the back of a brother's motoconcho), we got to another hill, Alta Loma; they call it, which just looked like jungle to me. Where I come from, that would have been landscape, a photo-op, if you will; but nooooo, somewhere in there was a path leading to the other half of the territory. The only other way to it was to get in the car and go around a couple of towns to get to that back-road. It would have taken too long and used too much gas. So the elder leading the group, Juan Carlos (who, on a side-note, is Dorcas' son-in-law), gave me the option of going back to town with another brother and sister, but this little old man overheard and said, "It's not that bad, she can handle it, there's only a little bit of that walk that's rough." Juan Carlos himself hadn't worked that territory in a while, so he couldn't corroborate or refute what the old man said, and I knew I'd be bored back in town if everyone else was here, so I said, "Aw, I'll make it, if it gets rough, I can use my umbrella as a walking stick." So we started up the ravine, which twisted and turned on a steep incline for a good 25 minutes. We went through rock, mud, bushes and brambles, roots growing above ground and vines-I felt like Indiana Jones. And to tell you the truth, I didn't do too badly. I was glad I brought that umbrella for support because my leg did start to act up, but it was such a beautiful view from up there that it was worth it. I have to give some credit to Juan Carlos and Junior for carrying some of my stuff and offering me their arms every now and then, too. Once we got to the top, we had to head down a ways through a muddy bit of forest, go up over some rock and brush, and then we were there at the road. It was such a relief, because on the way up, every five minutes, Juan Carlos would say, "We're almost there," "Just a little bit more," "Don't pass out yet," and then we'd have to walk more and be nowhere near the end. Where we came out to the road was right next to somebody's house where a bunch of people were sitting on the porch, they couldn't hide their surprise at seeing all these random gringos and Dominicans, in dresses and skirts or slacks and ties, popping out of the bushes one by one. They offered us water and let us rest for a while, and of course, we placed some magazines there. I don't think I've ever sweated so much-yet I've never felt more gorgeous in all my life.
I'll probably get to send y'all one more transmission from here after this one…and then I come home. 'Till then…
Love you all,
P.S.: Remember Pedro, from the last email, who didn't want to talk to us at first? We had our first study with him last week. I wonder if he's related to Dorcas? J