Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"First Dominican Baptism"

"First Dominican Baptism"
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

Not long ago, we attended our first baptism in the Dominican Republic. Elder Lynn and Sister Janet Snow have the opportunity to serve in a little branch, just past Boca Chica, called the Quisgueya Branch. You drive down the Autopista (freeway), past Boca Chica, and then turn left off the Autopista onto a little narrow country road full of potholes. The Snows invited us to go with them to the Quisgueya Branch to a baptism. Of course, we accepted.

On the way, we stopped in Boca Chica and had a late lunch at El Mesón, a restaurant without walls. Joanne ordered a chicken dish with mushrooms, and I ordered pork chops (chuletas). We waited forever for our food, and there weren’t that many people there. The plan was to eat our food and head to the beach, which was just across the street from the restaurant, for a look see before we headed to Quisqueya. They took so long that we didn’t get to do it. Nonetheless, it was all very, very delicious. I just wished we had had more time to savor the food, but we chomped it down like there was no tomorrow because we thought we were going to be late to the baptism. 
The water truck filling the baptismal font.

The Quisgueya Branch is way out in the campo (in the countryside). We drove quite a ways to get there. The town was very poor, and, of course, the streets were not paved. When we drove up to the little house on the corner that was the church house, nothing had been done about the baptism. We thought for sure that we were going to be late. Not to be. The missionaries arrived, and the font hadn’t been filled yet. The truck that supposed to bring the water hadn’t come although the filling of the font had been previously arranged. So, Elder Snow and the Branch President jumped into the car and headed to the water place. Soon, the truck came with one big barrel of water and filled the piscina (font). Then, it had to go back and get another one. In the meantime, we talked to the kids, took pictures, let them take pictures with our cameras. They were crazy when it came to taking pictures.They must have never done this before, but they had a wonderful time taking pictures.

Elder Clayton, Marcos, and Elder Green
The young man getting baptized was named Marcos. Marcos was 24-years-old and was fellowshipped by a young 17-year-old young woman. He was a very handsome young man. As we were chatting, he showed me some of the artwork that he does. It was beautiful. Much of his stuff is murals on walls. I wish I could see some of it in real life. If the murals are as good as the pictures, then he is really good. 

It was a wonderful baptism. We had a wonderful talk beforehand by a young woman. We all went to the font where the baptism was performed. There wasn't much water. He had to be baptized twice because his white clothing ballooned up and out of the water. After the first try, the clothes became wet and clingy, thus allowing the second try to succeed. We believe in baptism by immersion, thus the importance of having the person completely submerged. The spirit was strong.
Two young sisters at the baptism.
These two are very vivacious!

One of the positives at the baptism was the attendance of a young man who told me he was planning on going on a mission. The Snows said this young man has been inactive and is coming back. Having a young man from a branch like this go on a mission is an incredible thing. He would be one of the strongest leaders in his branch, even in his area.

Marcos and the young woman who was
instrumental in bringing him to the church.
We enjoyed ourselves at the baptism. It is nice to see a strong young man decide to become a member of the church. And thanks to the young women who strongly encourage these young men to do what they need to do.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Banao Encampment: The Church's Gift to the Dominican Republic Saints

The Banao Encampment: The Church's Gift to the Dominican Republic Saints"
 Darrel L. Hammon

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is doing some incredible things around the world, trying to create opportunities for those who don’t have anything. Just like young people in Utah and Idaho, young men and women and their parents in other countries can engage in similar experiences, perhaps a bit different, than their counterparts. Such is the case with young people living in the Dominican Republic (DR).
A bit north of Santo Domingo, the capital of the DR, sits an encampment on 220 acres of lush Dominican countryside, full of green trees, rolling hills, and richly green undergrowth. We traveled as senior missionaries in a very nice, air-conditioned guagua (a bus) on Monday as Hurricane Irene threatened the Caribbean.
We jostled our way through traffic to the countryside called the campo here. The Dominican freeway passed through several towns before we rolled off to the left and onto a country road that split up several fields of rice. One of the DR couples who is serving a temple mission told us the fields were experimental fields, own and operated by the government. They grow several varieties and did testing to develop different types of rice. Plus, they pointed out orange groves and other groves of fruits along the way.
 Soon, we entered a small village and turned left at a little building that had the sign: “Banca Gringo.” This banca sells lottery tickets. We cautiously crossed a gently flowing creek and struggled our way down a narrow road. On each side of the road was a living fence. Tall, thick poles had been planted as fences with wire strung between them. The poles were truly saplings, and small, green limbs spouted out of them—thus a living fence.
Soon, we turned off the road and rolled through a magnificent rock entryway with an iron fence. We had arrived at the Banao Encampment the Church owns near Banao. Elder and Sister Riggs, two senior missionaries from Arizona, greeted us. He didn’t dress like typical missionaries. Rather, a cowboy hat hung just slightly to right of his head. He wore an open checked shirt, Levis, and comfortable work shoes. His mission was not to preach and teach, per se, although he did a lot of that with the volunteers and the youth. Rather, his mission was to convert 220 acres into an encampment for the Church in the heart of the campo, all with volunteers and a few hired locals.  
On the property was an old hacienda, formerly owned by a government attorney who also raised prized, registered sheep. He had previously built beautiful sheds for them. Elder and Sister Riggs had converted these sheds into dormitories for those who came to the property to enjoy and participate in Church activities.
While most were preparing the meal of hotdogs and hamburgers, some of us trundled off to an enclosed “Hurl a Whirl,” a very unique Maypole-looking thing that Elder Riggs had designed and built. It had four extended seats, equally spaced around a pole. Someone pushes the seats in a counter-clock-wise position, basically “winding you up.” Then, they let go, and the “Hurly Whirly” begins to unwind at an alarmingly rapid rate. Now, the dangerous part of the whole process happens to the person who does the pushing. He or she needs to get out of the enclosed arena as fast as they can so he or she won’t get hit. In this case, there isn’t much room between the seats and the enclosed fence. Fortunately, our pushers cleared uneventfully. It unwinds and then begins rewinding by itself. It continues this wind and unwind process until it has run out of winding. Elder Riggs said that the young people can play for hours on this contraption. He had to build a small fence around it to protect the cheering crowds.
We had lunch in one of the small pavilions on the property. Over 27 of us fit nicely on newly-built sturdy picnic tables. Lunch was great! We had hot dogs and hamburgers.
Then Elder Riggs began talking about their last 18 months at the Encampment and all the work that had gone into it. It was a great talk. They have worked extremely hard in accomplishing their many tasks. They had built two pavilions, one of them where we ate and another one just down the path. When we all walked down there after lunch and between rain showers, I was aghast at the size of the second pavilion. It was monstrous. As my dad would have said had he seen it, “You could park a lot of hay here.” Elder Snow, another senior missionary, said the same thing. It had a room full of chairs and tables and its own kitchen. Just before you arrived at the pavilion, there was set of several bathrooms and showers.
We also walked with Elder Riggs over to where they had converted the sheep pens into adequate living quarters. Most of them had two bunk beds, each sporting a foam mattress. At the end of one of the living quarters were bathrooms and showers that the local contractors had built. They had tile floors and sinks. Elder Riggs said that recently they had had over 500 youth there on an outing, plus another 120 Relief Society sisters who just showed up to participate in training.
Soon, it was time to leave. It was actually quite sad to leave the gorgeous countryside with its rolling and foliage-covered hills and enter the big city with its rolling waves of people, cars, guaguas, and pollution. The Church made a wise decision by purchasing those 220 acres outside Banao for an encampment so the members of the Church can escape the hustle and bustle, much like we do in Utah and Idaho and other states where the Church has built camps.
The Banao Encampment is truly a place where people can provide service, become intertwined with nature and God’s green earth, feeling secure on dedicated property, with a wonderfully built hacienda on one of the rolling hills, surround by lush greenery, hearing the early morning crows from nearby roosters and the braying of the Brahma-like cattle that roam the countryside, and feeling the spirit the Lord envelop them like the beauty that resides there.

For pictures, please see http://hammondrmission.blogspot.com/2011/08/banao-encampment-churchs-gift-to.html.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

“The Santo Domingo Temple: A Divine Place with a Divine Garden”

“The Santo Domingo Temple: A Divine Place with a Divine Garden”
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

We just arrived home from attending the Santo Domingo Temple. We went last Thursday for the first time, and tonight makes twice. Each time the session has been small but wonderful. In both sessions are people who speak Spanish and English. A young couple from Antigua has been in both sessions. They speak English only. They have been going every day since we saw them last week. They are doing family names.

Dedicated in September 2000, the Santo Domingo Temple sits stoically on a little hill off Avenida Bolivar, a very busy street, running one-way, east to west and next to a beautiful little park that used to be the zoo. Joanne and I drove to the park the other morning and walked around. It has become a walking ground for lots of people who live close, including senior missionaries who live on the temple grounds in housing called “La Casa.” This bank of buildings also houses the Area Presidency; a small store where you can buy garments, temple clothes, and church publications; and the missionary training center.

The Santo Domingo Temple is, according to Joanne, a “pinkish, creamish brown,” with pillars marking the walkway to the front door of the temple. The temple is tall and sits majestically on high ground, truly sacred ground. On Sunday after church, we walked around the temple and just took in the awesome spirit that surrounds it. The sun hid behind clouds on Sunday, and the temple took on even a warmer hue than before. A few drops of rain pinged the ground and disappeared instantly. The walkway around the temple allows visitors to take in the entire, incredible structure as they stroll through various types of green trees and other foliage. From the temple grounds, you can see the ocean, just a few blocks to the south.

One of the most impressive elements of the Santo Domingo Temple is the temple gardens. They are incredibly beautiful! One of the Dominicans who is not a member and whom we met while waiting for the plane in Miami said, “Your temple grounds are beautiful!” She was very impressed. Strategically placed throughout the temple gardens are various types of palm trees—some large, some small, some that fan way out with berries, and others that are regular-looking palm trees—and a medley of other bushes, trees, and ornamental flowers that emanate fragrant whiffs of wonderful smells. The grass is trimmed extremely short and appears as if you could hit a golf ball from anywhere.

In a Facebook note, Daniel, my nephew who spent time at the CCM (a.k.a. “MTC”), asked about the green parrots on the temple grounds. We saw the parrots last week, winging their way somewhere and listened to them squawk their way across the grounds and then behind the CCM. Someday, I am sure, we will be able to see them up close.

Overall, Santo Domingo Temple in the Dominican Republic is one of those rare buildings of beauty and pureness, a building that rises from the clanking sounds of cars, honking horns, a cacophony of big city noises and depresses those sounds with its soft, lilting spiritual cadences that hover over the entire temple complex. Truly, if you want to get away from the city noises, drive onto the grounds, park near one of the palm trees, climb out of your car, and just saunter through the gardens, taking in the majestic beauty of this Caribbean temple call the Santo Domingo Temple, a divine place with a divine garden.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Firsts in the Dominican Republic

"Firsts in the Dominican Republic"
Elder Darrel L Hammon

Here are a few of the firsts in the Dominican Republic:
  • First time driving—This has been an experience.
  • First time going to the Santo Domingo Temple—What an experience this was! We were the witness couple. Mom went through in English, and I went through in Spanish. Whew! Lots to learn.
  • First time walking the streets—Joanne and I went down to the ocean front and walked on Saturday morning. Gorgeous views.
  • First time witnessing a DR baptism—We went to a baptism out in the campo on Saturday. We were humbled by the surroundings but enlightened by the spirit of these pioneering people.
  • First time going to a DR branch—President Glazier, the MTC (CCM) President here, gave a pioneer presentation to a branch way out in the campo. Again, these are humble people with huge, huge hearts. They were very welcoming to us. Just an incredible experience.
  • First time eating at a McDonald’s—It cost us about $18.00 for a Big Mac/Chicken Sandwich combos and one apple pie. I guess we had a fruit juice as well.
  • First time eating at a true DR restaurant—The food was good. We ate at a second on Saturday out by a beach. It was called El Mesón. Delicious and plentiful.
  • First time teaching a lesson in Spanish—Yes, I have taught a lesson already. President Glazier from the MTC asked me to teach the Priesthood lesson in Spanish.
  • First time visiting with Elder Viñas, the Area President—He is such a nice man. His wife is wonderful.
  • First time visiting with Presidente Hernandez and his wife—He is the Mission President of the Santo Domingo East Mission. We have been assigned to his mission.
  • First time collecting water in a blue jug—Yes, we have to go for our water in big 5-gallon jugs. Fortunately, the water store is about two blocks away and costs about 20 pesos (about 50 cents) to fill it. Actually, it is a very cool process. You place your blue jug on a conveyor belt. It goes to a scalding/washing center. Then, it moves to a filling station. After it is full, it goes to another station where the attendant places a cap on the bottle and sends it through to be sealed.
  • First time drinking a mango smoothie—Joanne has got this down: mangos, pineapple, and orange juice mixed together. It is absolutely delicious.
  • First time using a water purifying on our faucet—Yes, we have to filter every penny’s worth of water.
  • First time attending FHE with senior couples—They have this every Monday night. We will be going and becoming acquainted with the couples. They are all very, very sharp and have led incredible lives. We talking to you about some of them later.
  • First time going to a DR Bank—The people there were very nice and accommodated our check-cashing needs.
  • First time going to a DR grocery store—Actually, we have now gone to three or four. One is like a giant Costco (Price Mart). Another is like Walmart (La Serena). One is a Supermercado Nacional, much like any giant grocery store. We like the Jumbo. We went to one in Talca, Chile, too. Very nice and very clean.

We are sure there will many more firsts....