Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

Nephi cried to his God
on behalf of his people.
And the voice of the Lord
came to him, saying:

Lift up your head
and be of good cheer.
See--the time is at hand!
On this night, the sign will be given,
and tomorrow I come into the world,
to show the world that I will fulfill
everything that I have caused to be spoken
by the mouths of my prophets.

(3 Nephi 1:11-13)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent 4

Keep the commandments
and the covenants to which you have bound yourself,
and I will cause the heavens to shake for your good.
The Evil One will tremble,
but Zion will rejoice on the hills
and flourish.

Then will come the time
when my people will be redeemed.
They will be led by my power,
and nothing will stand in their way.

Lift up your hearts! Be glad!
Your redemption is close at hand.

Do not be afraid, little flock.
The kingdom is yours until I come.
And I am coming quickly.

(D&C 35:24-27)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent 3

In former times,
we were slaves to the powers of this world.

But when the time had waxed full,
God sent the Begotten One,
born of a human mother—
born, like us, in subjection to the law,
yet with power to set us free.

Through him, we have been emancipated!
We have been adopted into God’s family!
God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of the Begotten One,
so that we, like him, may call God, “Abba! Father!”

Once you were slaves;
now you have become God’s children.
And because you are God’s children,
you are also God’s heirs.

(Gal. 4:3-7)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent 2

A voice calls out:
Prepare a path for the Holy One through the wilderness!
Pave a road for our God through the desert!
Fill in the gullies; level the hills;
smooth out the rugged ground and the rough places.
Then the Holy One will appear in glory.
All who live with see it!
So God has decreed.

O Zion, herald of glad tidings—
climb to the highest peak!
O Jerusalem, herald of glad tidings—
shout with all your might!
Do not be shy, do not hold back.
Let everyone for miles around hear you proclaim:
Here is your God!

(Isaiah 40:3-5, 9)

12/4/91 - La Romana

On this day 20 years ago I was serving as a missionary in the town of La Romana, out on the eastern end of the Dominican Republic. The red dot on the map below.

Wikipedia informs me that La Romana is the third largest city in the Dominican Republic, after Santo Domingo and Santiago (which is the headquarters of the LDS mission that covers the north of the country). I find that claim fishy, though, since according to the 2002 census, the population of La Romana was 191,000, which put it 9th on the list of cities ranked by size, after various cities in the Santo Domingo metropolitan area, Puerto Plata, and San Pedro de Macoris. I suspect someone's trying to inflate La Romana's importance for the sake of attracting business to the Zona Franca (which I'll be talking about in next month's post).

Anyway, let's go with an estimate of 200,000 for the population, though it could conceivably be closer to 250,000 now (which is the estimate Wikipedia gives). To put that in perspective, it's twice, or more, the size of Provo, which has a population of about 110,000. That surprises me because La Romana wasn't as crowded as I'd expect a city of that size to be. Of course, it's bigger now than it was 20 years ago, but when I look at YouTube videos of people driving through the streets, it still has the look of a town, not a big city. Low buildings. The streets not too crowded. And clean.

I wonder if that has to do with the fact that La Romana is a company town, owned mostly, as I understand it, by the Central Romana Corporation. They own the gigantic sugar factory at the south end of town, at the bottom of the hill the city is built on. During the months of peak production, the lower part of the city fills with this sugary smoke which as missionaries we tried to avoid; people who actually live in that part of town don't have that luxury, of course.

I'm going to poke into the economics of La Romana more in next month's post. For now, let me just try to give you a more concrete picture of the city, as I experienced it.

First, a map with places that loomed large in my experience of the city.

1. The stake center.
2. My apartment, near the downtown city park.
3. The meetinghouse where my branch met. It's now located next to a jumbo supermarket, which wasn't there 20 years ago.
4. The sugar factory.
5. The Zona Franca—the Duty Free Zone. Apparently there's a newer one operating as well just north of the city (a little beyond the upper border of my map).
6. Casa de Campo, the major tourist resort. A common P-Day destination for missionaries.

The outlined area was my assigned mission area. The easternmost part, the neighborhood across the river, was so affluent, we never worked there—too intimidating. There was a very poor neighborhood hugging the western bank of the river—we also didn't work there. The area around the city park represented a typically developed area. The westernmost part of our area was the least developed. Twenty years ago, its streets hadn't been paved, though satellite images suggest they may be now. I would certainly hope so.

Here are a couple YouTube videos of people driving around the streets. I can see signs of development—e.g., new businesses—but otherwise it looks not too different from my memories. In the first video, the camera operator is riding a motoconcho (motorcycle taxi) downhill from the part of the town where the stake center's located in the direction of my apartment. In fact, the video ends about a block from my apartment. In the second video, they start not far from my meetinghouse, near the sugar factory, and drive uphill toward and around the city park where we missionaries used to go to buy breakfast from Freddyburgers, an egg sandwich vendor. (Oh, how I want one right now.)

To finish today's post, let me list the first names of a few people who stand out in my mind from my time in La Romana.

Isabel. A convert. A young mother of two children. She lived with her brother, who repaired TVs out of their home though he never seemed to have much work. A former Pentecostal. Later in my mission, I met her at a regional conference, where I learned she was in the Primary presidency. Then she disappeared. I asked a missionary friend to look her up, and he reported back that she had dropped out of church because she became pregnant. I assume her relationship with the man was driven by economic necessity; I was—and am—sad about the situation, not that I think she made the wrong choice, but sad that she had to make that choice.

Of the people I knew in La Romana, Isabel is the only one I've seen since my mission. That was during a trip in 1998. She had moved from a hut in the back patio to a narrow apartment looking out on the sidewalk—an economic step up, I presume.

Irma. My maid. A middle-aged woman with children who were young adults. She cried when I left and quit the next day, which I take to mean that there was a mothering thing going on. One of her sons was getting ready to try to sail to Puerto Rico by yola, a small boat. Quite dangerous, though I can think of two people I know off the top of my head who succeeded, then got caught and deported back to the DR.

A great story about Irma: When she was a young mother, she worked as a maid at Casa de Campo. One day she took her children with her. The security guard didn't want to let the kids in, but Irma said, "These are my children, and this is their country, and I want them to see how beautiful it is." The guard backed down.

Luisa. One of those investigators who likes having the missionaries over though she isn't interested in converting. She ran an illegal lottery: I never understood how that worked (I thought it better not to ask), but it had something to do with a lottery in Venezuela.

Rando. A friend, though never an investigator. He was of South Asian descent. I don't know what he did for a living, but he had what I would consider a comfortable middle-class life. (I don't know how he himself would describe his socioeconomic situation.) He was Hindu, a devotee of Krishna.