I've been feeling especially grateful for you all during this time of year when we get to think about what´s really important as we celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and reflect on our actions of the past year as we prepare for a new one. I´m so lucky to have supportive, loving people like you in my life--thank you for everything!
The past 2 weeks have been nutsy, so much has happened! I´ll start with Christmas stuff: we had a great conference for all the branches in our zone (we've been preparing for it since the beginning of the transfer) and had a fantastic Christmas conference with the whole South of the mission. I got to see a bunch of friends, even an Elder that I graduated with from Viewmont:) In the Dominican Republic, the night of Christmas Eve (La Noche Buena) is more important than Christmas Day: families are all together, and the traditional meal consists of chicken, rice, different types of pasta and vegetable salads (especially with yuca, a starchy veggie), and little sweets (especially marshmallows). Hermana Alas and I ate with Rubi´s family and the District Young Women President, and then we went home to wait for Santa:)
We got up early the next day and took a gua-gua to Bani and met up with the zone at the hospital; we sang Christmas hymns and shared scriptures with the patients there, and it was the best thing I've ever done to celebrate Christ´s birth. I felt His love for those suffering people so strongly; the Spirit was absolutely there as we tried to offer some comfort and cheer in such a dreary place. Some people had family members with them, others didn't; some people listened to us, others didn't. But we were all away from our homes that day, and I just wanted to give them all a huge and say, "It's going to be okay, and I love you!" The best part was when we visited the pediatric ward--those babies and toddlers were so adorable, and there was such a sweet spirit when we sang ¨Away in a Manger.¨ One of the most memorable Christmas experiences of my life:)
Then we went to the Hermanas´ chapel and ate pizza while watching "The Incredibles"--very Christmasy, I know, but our options were limited. And then back in Ocoa, we got to Skype our families!! Oh my goodness everyone looked so old ahhh but I was glad to seem them happy and safe. They said that my English has a bit of an accent, so whoot whoot for immersion in the language!:) It was the strangest Christmas I've ever had; there was no snow, lighted tree, or cinnamon rolls. But there was service, the Spirit, and--thanks to my fabulous mother--we had stockings, goodies, and Christmas storybooks to read:)
I gave a talk in sacrament meeting about centering our lives on Christ, we had 5 investigators in church yesterday, Karla is reading 2 chapters every day in the Book of Mormon, the trio´s doing great...and transfer calls came!! President Nuckols called on Christmas night and asked Hermana Alas to be a trainer! So she´ll be a mommy! On Saturday, we got the call that Hermana Gonzalez is getting her own comp, and I´m leaving Ocoa tomorrow! My companion will be Hermana Black from Utah, and we´re serving in a city called Los Angeles haha no I´m not moving to Cali, but I am moving to the capital. The zone (San Geronimo) is a super rich area, and apparently nearly everything is the opposite of Ocoa. It´s only a 2-man house, which I´m a little nervous about, but I´ll get to have a totally different proselyting experience, which will make me a better missionary. I´m so grateful that I was ¨born¨ in Ocoa into humble circumstances--it gave me a greater appreciation for everything and a better perspective right from the beginning. I´m going to miss the gorgeous view with the mountains and huge sky, the cool air (the temperature has been perfect lately), Rubi, the youth, and my comps, but it´s going to be okay. I feel like I need to be tested and tried in different ways, and I´m actually ready for a change.
I just feel bad leaving the area as its crumbling. The first 3 weeks of the transfer were great, but the last 3 got tough with the work. Only 1 of our investigators has a baptismal date now, people aren't progressing, and super sad stuff happened with Alexander. Before I tell you what happened, let me explain a huge cultural problem of this country: it is perfectly normal and acceptable to start living with a boyfriend or girlfriend like a married couple when you are teenagers and be pregnant immediately afterwards. Like it´s a miracle if a person actually finishes high school. It´s so messed up and wrong. And guess what? No one is married by the law except for the Latter-day Saints, yet people are still considered husbands and wives. So basically this entire country is breaking one of the most sacred, serious commandments. It makes it so hard to get people baptized because we have to get them married first, and that takes time and money. Well let me tell you what happened with Alexander: he went and got ¨married¨ the day after our Law of Chastity talk 2 weeks ago. Are you kidding me?!?! We were at his house last week and met this 13-year-old girl who said she lived there and we were like WHAT. thank goodness Rubi knows this is wrong--she does not need more bad influences in her home trying to tell her that it´s okay: she even said, ¨But now he´s not worthy to serve a mission.¨ He hasn't come to church, is never there to have lessons with us, wouldn't let Rubi come to church yesterday, and is now saying bad things about the Mormons. When we talked to him about it, he fully acknowledged that he was breaking the commandments, and he had no problems with that. In 2 weeks, he went from (supposedly) being ready for baptism on December 26th to discriminating against the Church.
I warned him at the beginning of the month that Satan would tempt him more than ever before, that Alexander would have to fight even harder and do all he could to push away distractions an temptations. He knew of the consequences of not doing so, and he knew of the blessings he could have received. It breaks my heart to see him reject Christ, but if he doesn't re-accept the Gospel in this lifetime, then I´ll go teach him in the Spirit World:) In times like this, we realize just how powerful is Satan´s influence, and we see how easy it is to slip and fall. And after all the trials this transfer with investigators, I can hold onto those few people who made it worth it, like Rubi and Karla. I may have had only 1 baptism in my 4 months in Ocoa, but numbers are not what´s important. As Doctrine and Covenants 18:15 says, ¨And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!¨ I love bringing the joyous message of the Gospel to others and seeing their transformations as they focus more on Christ. I love this work, I love our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, and I love you all!!
Hermana Melissa Randall