Sunday, September 30, 2012

9/30/1992 - La Milagrosa

This post is part of a series I'm doing to remember the 20th anniversary of my mission to the Dominican Republic, 1991-1993. I'm using the series as an opportunity to look back, but also to expand my knowledge of Dominican society--to learn things about history, economics, and politics that I wish I had known during my mission. The other posts in the series are listed at the bottom of this one.

Twenty years ago today, I was turning 20 years old. I was also serving in a new mission area. After spending six months in Guaricano, a squatters barrio at the northern outskirts of the capital, I was assigned a rather small neighborhood in the eastern part of the capital--Santo Domingo Este (which Wikipedia tells me has been an independent municipality for a little over ten years now). Officially, the name of my new mission area was Los Minas, but we missionaries most often referred to it as La Milagrosa, I presume because that's what the residents did. La Milagrosa was the name of the Catholic parish in the neighborhood.

As I was walking down the street one day, someone passing me pressed into my hand a little plastic replica of the Miraculous Medal for which the parish was named. (Strangely, I cannot find an online picture of the medal with the inscription in Spanish, although the copy I was given was in Spanish.) It's the only time I can remember when a Catholic tried to do fly-by evangelism to me. Passing evangélicos did it all the time, in the form of telling me that Jesus loved me and/or that I should repent.

So here's a map of the area (click to enlarge). La Milagrosa is the neighborhood tinted pink. The part tinted green is Alma Rosa, which is where I served the final seven months of my mission. (More on that a few months from now.) I attended the same meetinghouse both when I was working in La Milagrosa and later when I was working in Alma Rosa: it's the meetinghouse indicated in the middle of the map.

The red dot is where my companions and I lived while I worked in La Milagrosa. Note that we lived outside our proselyting area--a first for me. That area was called Ozama. It was the most upscale neighborhood I lived in during my mission: note how square and regular the blocks are. By distinction, La Milagrosa represents to my mind an "average" Santo Domingo neighborhood, but I have no idea if Dominicans would agree with that assessment. Alma Rosa struck me because of the way poor families would live immediately adjacent to more affluent ones--cobbled-together shack literally alongside the fancy house behind walls.

The blue dot on the map is where I think the Ozama meetinghouse was located. It was a converted house. According to the oral history missionaries passed down among ourselves, that house was the first building the Church obtained in the DR for holding services; but the sources I have ready to hand as I'm writing this don't confirm that. If the building does have the historic status I was taught, then it pains me that it doesn't show up on the Church's meetinghouse locator. It was still being used the last time I visited the DR, around 2000.

I have fond memories of various church members in La Milagrosa, who I won't name here for privacy reasons (i.e., since what I know are last names). I'll mention, though, by first name, the baptized converts who stand out most in my memory from this area:

Pedro and Marina: Parents of seven children, as I recall, who lived together in a one-room tin shack, sharing a single bed. They had already been scheduled for baptism when I came into the area. It was one of those "relationship with the missionary" things: my first companion was passionate about getting them baptized; they were accommodating but never integrated into the ward; as soon as they were baptized and that companion got transferred out, they shifted to the list of inactive members my new companion and I were trying to reactivate. Classic. At Christmas, my new companion and I received donations from family and ward members back at home, which we used to purchase school supplies, clothes, toys, etc., for the family. In retrospect, I feel deeply ambivalent about that. There's an icky paternalism to it.

Carmen and Mercedes: Sisters, single mothers. We worked with Mercedes first, then Carmen asked to be taught. I grew quite close to Carmen. She's a "rushed to baptism" story that's my fault. She was a smoker; she hadn't really kicked the habit by the time her scheduled baptism came; I pushed, she accommodated; she felt guilty about still smoking after baptism, became inactive. We met at the meetinghouse months later (while I was working in Alma Rosa), when she'd gone to hear her niece give a talk or somesuch. I told her I knew now I shouldn't have pressed her to be baptized. She laughed ruefully. Te lo dije, she said. I told you.

Carmen was trying to keep her kids fed while at the same time finishing a degree--in journalism, I think it was. For a while she had a supervisory position in a clothing factory. I saw her during a return visit to the DR after my mission. She was involved by then with the 700 Club, which makes me grit my teeth--but it seemed to be a community that was working for her, and that's what matters. I'm sad that the LDS Church couldn't be that community for her. I'm tearing up as I write that.

Other posts in this series: 
8/12/1992 - A year after the call
7/1/1992 - FEDOPO
5/6/1992 - Guaricano
4/1/1992 - First day in Guaricano
2/5/1992 - The Zona Franca
12/4/1991 - La Romana
11/6/1991 - My first day in the Dominican Republic
10/9/1991 - Entered the MTC
9/4/1991 - Waiting to serve
8/1/1991 - Mission call

Fasting for Romney

The push to fast for Romney's campaign exemplifies a religious psychology that I don't really understand. Actually, let me restate that right away--I can empathize with the psychology. But the theology implicit in the proposal doesn't make sense to me.

I understand the psychology of fasting to give one's prayers a particular intensity of intention: "I am so committed to mindfulness about this concern, that I'm going to deny myself food. Every time I feel hungry, I will remember the concern." I get that.

I also get the psychology of fasting as an act of penitence: "I want to show you, God, how badly I feel about what I've done by punishing myself with hunger." It's like sending yourself to your room without any supper. I get that. I'm not convinced God actually wants you to do that to yourself, but I can empathize, at least.

But how do Mormons fasting for Romney think that this is supposed to work? What does the proposal reveal about their understanding of the character of God, or of the way God works in the world?

What is the logic of this exchange? "God, if enough of us sacrifice food for 24 hours, will you reciprocate by making sure our candidate wins?"

Do the economics of that transaction make sense? Is going without food for 24 hours enough of a sacrifice to secure a presidential election? If so, it seems like Mormons imagine God sells elections rather cheaply. I mean, Ghandi had to fast a lot longer than that to secure Indian independence. Moses had to fast over a month just to get God to print out a new copy of the Ten Commandments.

Or is it the number of people fasting that God is looking for rather than the length of time spent fasting? If so, what is the minimum threshold that the number of fasting Mormons has to reach before God will grant their wish?

And what exactly do these folks imagine that God is going to do to intervene on behalf of their candidate?

And if this kind of thing works, why isn't there a grassroots Mormon movement afoot to fast for, I dunno, world peace?

To end on a more generous note: If the point of this initiative is to say, "We want people to fast to make themselves mindful of the need to make sacrifices of other kinds--time and money--to support the campaign of the man we believe represents  the best option for governing our country"--I get that. But if the logic is, "If enough of us go without food for 24 hours, God will be moved to intervene in the election"--we have pretty different ideas of who God is and how he operates.

Receive God's Blessing

Some worship resources appropriate for October 7. Scroll down to find:
  • A call to worship, narrative style. Theme: Jesus and the children
  • A call to worship, narrative style. Theme: Communion
  • Repentance readings. Theme: Little children

A CALL TO WORSHIP – Narrative style
Theme: Jesus and the children
Adapted from 3 Nephi 8:12-13, 23-26

1st Reader:
Jesus commanded the multitude
that their little children should be brought.

2nd Reader:
So they brought their little children
and set them down on the ground around him,
with Jesus standing in the middle;
and the multitude gave way
until they had all been brought to him.

3rd Reader:
Then Jesus took their little children,
one by one,
and blessed them
and prayed for them.

2nd Reader:
When he had done this,
he wept.

3rd Reader:
He said to the multitude:
“Behold your little ones.”

1st Reader:
As they looked,
they saw angels descending out of heaven,
as if surrounded by fire.
They came down
and encircled those little ones,
and the angels ministered to them.

Note: For a different effect, the reading could end at “When he had done this, he wept” (recited by 1st Reader), omitting the rest.


A CALL TO WORSHIP – Narrative style
Theme: Communion
Adapted from 3 Nephi 8:28-41

1st Reader:
Jesus commanded his disciples
to bring some bread and wine to him.
He took the bread,
and broke and blessed it.
He gave to the disciples
and commanded that they should give to the multitude.

2nd Reader:
When the multitude had eaten and were filled,
he said:
“This you will always observe to do,
even as I have broken bread, and blessed it,
and given it to you.”

3rd Reader:
“This you will do in remembrance of my body,
which I have shown to you.
It will be a testimony to the Father
that you always remember me.
And if you always remember me,
you will have my Spirit to be with you.”

1st Reader:
When he had said these words,
he commanded his disciples
that they should take the wine and drink of it.
They drank and were filled.
Then they gave to the multitude,
and they drank and were filled.

2nd Reader:
Jesus said:
“Blessed are you for this thing you have done,
for this fulfills my commandments
and witnesses to the Father
that you are willing to do what I have commanded you.”

3rd Reader:
“This you will always do
in remembrance of my blood,
which I have shed for you,
so that you may witness to the Father
that you always remember me.
And if you always remember me,
you will have my Spirit to be with you.”


It may be especially appropriate for the reading to be offered by a priest, as an expression of the priests’ ministry to share God’s gift of unconditional love and to extend the hand of reconciliation to those with broken spirits.

OPTION A. Adapted from Mosiah 2:120
To open the Time for Silent Confession

Traditional language:
Yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit,
and through the atonement of Christ,
become like a child:
submissive . . . ,
meek . . . ,
humble . . . ,
patient . . . ,
full of love . . .

Contemporary language:
Give way to the coaxing of the Holy Spirit,
and through the grace of Christ
become like a child:
accepting . . . ,
mild . . . ,
humble . . . ,
patient . . . ,
filled with love . . .

OPTION B. Adapted from D&C 50:8e
To end the Time for Silent Confession

The Lord says:
Fear not, little children,
for you are mine,
and I have overcome the world.
You are among those
whom my Father has given me;
and no one whom my Father has given me
will be lost.

OPTION C. Adapted from D&C 61:6c
To end the Time for Silent Confession

The Lord says:
What I say to one, I say to all—
be of good cheer, little children,
for I am in your midst,
and I have not forsaken you.
Inasmuch as you have humbled yourselves before me,
the blessings of the kingdom are yours.

OPTION D. Adapted from D&C 77:4a-b
To end the Time for Silent Confession

The Lord says:
You are little children.
You have not yet understood
what great blessings the Father holds in his hands,
prepared for you.

You cannot bear all things now.
Nevertheless, be of good cheer,
for I will lead you along.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pray Faithfully

Two different versions of a call to worship, both appropriate for September 30.


Adapted from the Psalm of Zenos (Alma 16:178-184)

Leader:      You are merciful, O God, for you have heard my prayer
All:            even when I was in the wilderness.

Leader:      You were merciful when I prayed concerning those who were my enemies,
All:            and you turned them to me.

Leader:      You were merciful to me when I cried to you in my field.
All:            I cried to you in my prayer, and you heard me.

Leader:      When I turned to my house, you heard me in my prayer.
All:            When I turned to my closet and prayed to you, you heard me.

Leader:      You are merciful to your children when they cry to you,
                  to be heard of you, and no one else,
All:            and you will hear them.

Leader:      You have been merciful to me and heard my cries
All:            in the midst of your congregations.

Leader:      You have also heard me when I have been cast out.
All:            When I have been despised by my enemies, you heard my cries.

Leader:      You heard me because of my afflictions and my sincerity.
All:            It is because of your Son that you have been merciful to me.

Leader:      Therefore, I will cry to you in all my afflictions. In you is my joy!
All:            For you have turned your judgments away from me, because of your Son.


Based on 2 Nephi 15:4 and D&C 85:38c

Leader:      I cry to my God in faith,
All:            and I know that God will hear my cry.

Different readers could be assigned to read the following instead of the leader:

Leader:      When Abram’s family resettled far from their homeland,
                  he prayed to God for help.
All:            I know that God will also hear me.

Leader:      When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt,
                  they prayed to God for help.
All:            I know that God will also hear me.

Leader:      When his people were suffering because of famine,
                  Elijah prayed to God for help.
All:            I know that God will also hear me.

Leader:      When her people were in danger of being destroyed by their enemies,
                  Esther prayed to God for help.
All:            I know that God will also hear me.

Leader:      When Jesus needed strength to face his suffering,
                  he prayed to God for help.
All:            I know that God will also hear me.

Leader:      When members of their communities were sick,  
                  the first Christians laid hands on them and prayed to God for help.
All:            I know that God will also hear me.

Leader:      When Joseph Smith was searching for the truth,
                  he prayed to God for help.
All:            I know that God will also hear me.

The leader concludes:

Leader:      The Lord says: Pray always, so that you do not faint. 
All:            Lord, I know that you will hear me. 

The middle portion of this call to worship (the litany of sacred stories) could be freely adapted by adding references to other stories, from the scriptures or from church history, about individuals turning to God in prayer. Here are just a few examples:

Leader:      When Rebekah was frightened by a difficult pregnancy,
                  she prayed to God for help.
All:            I know that God will also hear me.

Leader:      When Hannah wanted to conceive a child,
                  she prayed to God for help.
All:            I know that God will also hear me.

Leader:      When Lehi and Sariah’s family were traveling through the desert,
they prayed to God for help.
All:            I know that God will also hear me.

Leader:      When Alma and his people were freed from their oppressors,
                  they prayed to give God thanks.
All:            I know that God will also hear me.

Leader:      When Ammon and his companions wanted to share the gospel,
                  they prayed to God for help.
All:            I know that God will also hear me.