Dear President Albright,
I had the honor of serving as a sister missionary in the Dominican Republic. In my second area I was asked to be a senior companion and train a new missionary who was just arriving from the MTC. I was so excited and started to think of all the great things I could teach her to help her become a hardworking, loving missionary.
Every missionary has different challenges throughout their mission, some big and some small. Some days will be harder than others, some days more rewarding than others. Part of the mission experience is to learn how to cope with the trials we are given and to put our trust in the Lord. As I did that, I soon realized the blessings that followed and the joy felt by me and so many others.
Transfer day came and I was introduced to my new companion, a Dominican sister. I was still excited but a bit nervous because I didn’t feel very confident with my Spanish. As we headed back to our house, I realized that I was in what they call a 3-D house, with 3 native Dominican missionaries. I knew right then I was going to learn Spanish real fast since I had no other choice but to speak it all the time.
My companion was a little difficult to teach at first. She didn’t want to listen to my advice, or the advice of the other sisters in the house. For example, we went to the store to get her a mosquito net and a few things she needed. She insisted that she spend her money on groceries for the entire week. We tried to explain to her that it was a bad idea because if we lost power she would lose all her food. Losing power is common in most areas of the DR and no one ever knows when or for how long it will be off. Sure enough, the power went out the next day and didn’t come back on for seven days. My companion not only lost all her food, but didn’t have any money to buy more food for the week. I was very patient with her and tried to help her understand why we did or didn’t do certain things in the mission field.
Normally we slept at night with a little table fan at our feet to stay cool; imagine 90 degree weather with 90% humidity and no electricity. No cold drinks to cool down, no fan and long, hot sweaty days and nights. My companion was sick that week without power, so we spent a lot of time sitting in the house. That was hard for me, I felt happiest out talking with people and sharing the gospel.
The living conditions were very different than I was accustomed to back home in the States. In this particular house, we also had no running water. We would store water in a big trash can and use a cup to pour the water on us. This was how we showered. Our landlord would only give us a limited ration of water, so we had to use it wisely.
A few days after the power came back on and my companion was feeling better, we started working again. I was trying to do my best to show my companion what a day in the mission field was like. We came home one particular night, hot and exhausted from a long day of walking. I was just lying down to go to sleep when I heard someone calling “Hermanas!” We opened the front door and our zone leaders were standing there. One of the Elders told me the Mission President gave me permission to call home because my grandma was very sick.
We didn’t have any phones in our house. If someone wanted to reach us, they would call our landlord upstairs and then we would go in her house and use the phone. We knew it was too late to go upstairs and we knew the corner store was closed for the night. So my companion and I walked for forty minutes to the zone leader’s house to use their phone.
I called home, that phone call was bittersweet. What a joy it was to hear my parents on the other end, but how difficult it was to hear the sadness in their voices as they told me my grandma was going to die. I cried, they cried. Right then I thought, I need to go home. I needed to be home so I could sit next to my grandma’s bed. My grandma was not a member of the Church. I wanted to hold her hand and sing hymns to her and tell her everything was going to be ok. I wanted so bad to kiss her and tell her how much I loved her and have the chance to say goodbye. Grandma wrote me every week and even recorded herself talking to me on tapes. She would roll up dollar bills and hide them in a gum wrapper taped inside a card, since she was afraid someone would steal them. Even though she wasn’t a member of the church, she supported my decision to serve a mission and felt happy for me and it showed in her weekly letters to me. I felt like I needed to be there for her; I needed to go home.
The following day I met with my Mission President and we talked a lot. At the end of our conversation he asked me what I wanted to do. I quickly responded, “Go home.” He told me that he would get the missionary department on the phone and get me a ticket home.
The next night the Elders came back to our house, with a cell phone this time. The Mission President was on the phone and told me I needed to call my stake president back home before I could leave. He was not just my stake president, he was, and still is, a very dear family friend whom I admire and love. He knows my family very well and knew my grandparents. I was very happy to hear his voice. My stake president told me how happy he was with the work I was doing in the mission field, what a great example that I was for my family back home and the blessings they were receiving because of my dedicated service. He proceeded to tell me that he had visited my grandma in the hospital, and of her condition. He told me there was really nothing I could do for her by flying home, and that I could do more good by staying in the mission field.
He also told me how happy she would be if I stayed and continued to do the Lord’s work. He helped me to focus on my mission purpose, and said things I needed to hear at that moment. I am indeed grateful for him and his desire to help me and the sweet Spirit he brought to our conversation that night. It was hard to hang up the phone; I cried myself to sleep and knew the next day would be difficult.
The next several days were hard, but I continued to find the strength to go out and teach people the gospel and focus on my mission. I remember praying a lot and asking for the strength I needed to stay in the field.
The Elders returned to the house a few days later, this time with the mission president on the cell phone. He told me that he, his wife and the assistants all knelt in prayer to seek guidance in knowing what would be best for me. He said all four of them stood from that prayer overwhelmed with the spirit and receiving such a strong answer. They had the impression to transfer me to a particular area with a specific companion. I was emergency transferred that very night to a new area with three amazing sister missionaries.
My new companion was incredible; she helped me to get my motivation back, she made me laugh, and she let me cry. She was perfect- just what I needed. After being together for only a week, my companion received a phone call from home that her sweet grandpa had passed away unexpectedly. All of a sudden our roles were reversed and I was trying to help her through a crisis. I knew we had been assigned companions for a reason, not only to support and uplift each other through a difficult time, but also to prepare for one of the most beautiful experiences we could imagine.
When I was transferred to that particular area, my companion told me about a wonderful family they had met just before I got there- the Reyes family. My companion and I were blessed to teach them the first discussion together. On our way to that discussion, we got lost. We walked around desperate to find their house. Most places in that area did not have street signs, most roads were dirt. The houses were randomly located all over the place, a lot of them made of just particle board and tin roofs, with dirt floors.
My companion hadn’t been in the area very long before I got there so she couldn’t remember where their house was. We stopped on a quiet street and prayed together and asked for the spirit to help us find the family. We walked around for a long time trying to find things that seemed familiar to her. As we did, it started to pour rain, waterfall style. We were soaked from head to toe and our shoes weighed a ton because of all the sticky mud on the soles. All we could do was laugh. We went to a corner store and decided we’d go inside to ask if they knew of the Reyes family. As we walked in, my companion recognized two little boys; they were the youngest members of the family we were searching for. We followed them to their humble, little home.
Every member of the family was amazing; they were so loving and so very humble. After teaching them and talking with them we set an appointment to come back. Our second discussion with them was incredible. There wasn’t any electricity, so we taught them by candlelight. The Spirit was so strong and they had such a sincere desire to learn. The experience was humbling as all eight of us knelt on their dirt floor listening to Rafael pray for the first time. We invited them to be baptized that night; all six members of the sweet family accepted the invitation.
We had a few obstacles as we worked towards their baptism. One of the trials being that they weren’t legally married, which is common in the DR. The process of getting a couple married isn’t easy. Most couples can’t afford to get married legally, so they don’t.
We planned a day with Rafael and Reyita to travel with us by bus to a crowded, unorganized government building. We had to wait patiently as the employees searched for their paperwork, praying they would find it. After a long wait we were able to continue the process with a judge who legally married them; my companion and I served as their witnesses. We paid for Rafael and Reyita to be civilly married. They were so happy to finally be living according to the teachings of the gospel.
The following Saturday was General Conference and the only place to see it was at the local stake center. After the morning session my companion and I got in a cab to go get the Reyes Family so they could attend the second session of Conference and be baptized right afterwards.
In order to get a cab, we had to stand at the street and wave our hand until one stopped. For some reason that Saturday was very busy and a lot of cabs passed us because they were full. We were nervous about the time and how long it was taking. After a while, a cab finally stopped to pick us up. There were exactly two seats left, one up front for me and one in back for my companion. The cabs are very old, and completely falling apart inside. My companion couldn’t get the door to shut; she kept scooting over and trying over and over again. Finally she just held it shut, as the driver started down the road. The lady sitting next to me kept telling me she was squished and wanted me to move or lean forward so she could put her arm around me.
After driving a few miles up the road, the cab driver stopped the car and told my companion and me to get out because we didn’t fit. I questioned his demand, but he insisted we get out immediately. As we stepped out of the car, they took off very fast. My companion and I looked at each other wondering what had just happened. We weren’t at a place to catch another car, so our chances of getting one were slim to none.
As we stood there I questioned why the driver did what he did.
A thought came to mind- we had just been robbed! We quickly went through our bags, my companion and I had lost all our money. We were shocked, broke and didn’t know what to do next. We quickly said a prayer to ask for help. As soon as we finished praying, my companion remembered she had an emergency debit card hidden in her bag. We walked to a bank and took out what money she had, which was just enough to go get the Reyes family and get them back to the church. We ran back to the road and waved the next cab down, a miracle it stopped where we were.
We got to Rafael and Reyita’s house and found them outside, dressed in their best clothes, waiting for our arrival. They looked beautiful and all of them were grinning from ear to ear with excitement.
The Reyes family loved conference. They told us all the things they had learned and all the gospel principles they wanted to apply to their lives and in their family. They were truly a golden family. Helping them prepare for their baptism was a beautiful experience. I had the honor of standing at the baptismal font steps helping them into and out of the water. Seeing all six of them dressed in white was heavenly. Their faces were lit up with the spirit and they felt a true happiness they had never felt before. That moment made all the heart ache and sadness back home completely disappear. It made all the trials and setbacks well worth it. The entire experience was about them, the Reyes family taking upon them the name of Christ and beginning a new life with a whole new direction. It was not about me and my personal concerns. How grateful I am that I was there to witness this miracle and see an entire family receive the light of the gospel.
Later on in my mission, in my last area, my companion and I were heading home. As we passed a member’s house, she came running outside calling us. We stopped and asked if everything was ok. She explained how her mother was very sick and she wanted us to come inside and see her. Her mother was not a member of the church and hadn’t been very supportive of her daughter’s church activity. We walked into the back room and there she was lying on a tiny bed.
She resembled my grandmother so much that I had to do everything to not cry. She was very petite, frail and very peaceful just lying there with her eyes closed. Her daughter told us she hadn’t responded to anyone in days and they didn’t know how much longer she would live. We sat down next to her bed and I held her hand. We started to sing hymns to her and the spirit soon filled the room. As we continued to sing, tears streamed down her face. We knew at that moment that she could feel the same sweet spirit we felt. Before we left, I kissed her forehead and as I did she squeezed my hand and slightly opened her eyes, looking at me as if to say thank you. I may not have had the opportunity to be there with my grandmother as she slipped away from her earthly life, but I was there to comfort that sweet lady and help her feel the spirit that she may have never felt.
How grateful I am for those who helped me realize that my work in the mission field was not yet finished. How grateful I am for the companionships I had that lifted me up and helped me work hard. Most importantly, how grateful I am for the blessings the Lord gave me by allowing me to witness so many wonderful experiences with so many amazing people. We all have hardships in our lives, some bigger than others, but we are given those challenges to strengthen us and if we push through them, the Lord will bless us and give us the opportunity to bless so many others.
Gina Gurlides Baxter