Colón, Panama

This week, I have been working hard but have very little time to write. I did get a haircut and Christmas package which was great. Here a few pictures of Colon, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Colón (Spanish pronunciation: [koˈlon]) is a Panamanian city and seaport beside the Caribbean Sea, lying near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. It is the capital of Panama's Colón Province and has traditionally been known as Panama's second city.
Like most of the Caribbean coast of Central America, Colón possesses an extremely wet tropical climate owing to the powerful, wet trade winds flowing onto high mountains throughout the year. Unlike most parts of this coast, however, February and March are sufficiently dry that Colón fits into the tropical monsoon climate category rather than a tropical rainforest climate as found in most Caribbean coastal areas. Nonetheless, the June to December period, with an average monthly rainfall of around 16.3 inches, is so wet that Colón rivals Honduras’ La Ceiba as the wettest sizable city in Central America.

Irizarry Missionaries

My cousin left the MTC to Panama last week and meet up with some other missionaries heading to Panama.  She mentioned that they all had time to bond and she met an Elder Hanks whose middle name was Irizarry. This is his mothers maiden name, whose family is from Puerto Rico which probably means that we are cousins.  

What a week! Elder Arriaga is my new companion, he is from Mexico and we are working hard. When he saw our house he about died, so we went through a deep clean of everything this morning and what a relief that was.

We had a meeting with the Bishop this week and made a bigger effort to meet the members. It has been a good week. I took Elder Arriaga to Aldea. The water was crazy high and we had to take a panga or a canoe across and of course I got cocky so I rode it standing up. I thought to myself, hey, I've skateboarded, wake boarded, and practiced rowing for a little time and it should be no problem.

The guy paddling us across and I were having a conversation and I asked him where he lived. He pointed over there and for whatever reason, I turned my foot to look and lost my balance and I fell into the river. Yeah, it had a current and was no longer knee deep, so I actually was swimming to get to the other side. We thanked the man and made it safely. Luckily my scriptures are fine. It's only my hymn book that was totally soaked.  We couldn't find anyone to cross to get home and so we walked across and it was about up to our plaques. Elder Arriaga is in love with the area and now wants to baptize everyone there. I feel good things are going to happen there. 
Wednesday we dedicated a day just to find people. We literally were walking for ten hours and we found many. I now think I know just about every part of my area. Its kind of big, but that's a good thing!!!  There is one part we have that I did not know what was at the end of the street. I always just thought its because we were on a hill and we never really wanted to walk up much more of that hill. Well, we were motivated to find the end. So we were hiking and hiking and about halfway through we remembered that we needed to call the bishop. Due to the canoe incident on Tuesday our phone has had some problems... and of course about 2 weeks ago is when they decided to replace our 2-year-old phone with a new one. Now we couldn't call bishop and due to the slight inconvenience, we were a little more frustrated than we should have been. We went back to work and went looking for people,  but were not feeling anything. Normally it means one of two things. One, there isn't anyone here at this moment, or we don't have the spirit with us. After taking a pause and reconsider everything we took a deep breath. We then turned for guidance once again from the Lord. After the reminder of why we were here as missionaries and a little repentance, the spirit was back. We were directed to a family of eight that lived in the middle of nowhere. We would not have been able to find this little shack of a house without the guidance of the spirit. It was just such a great experience. 
When the Spirit is guiding you sometimes you don't always recognize it. Even as a missionary we sometimes do not recognize the influence fully of the spirit in our life. You can always tell the difference between when you have it or when you don't. As you take a step back in this life and remember why you are here and what your purpose or goal is, all your decisions are easier. And as you turn to the Lord for guidance he always gives you what is sufficient for what you need to overcome your trials. Joseph Smith taught that its necessary for man to look forward to something bigger to come in order to persevere your trials. Whether that means just waiting to pick up a nice cold soda at the end of a long day, surviving finals to be rewarded with till Christmas break, or waiting for the blessing in the life to come, its what keeps us sane.

Please enjoy your time and look for happiness in all things. By all means, stop and smell the roses. But when it gets hard, just remember, "...that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.(D&C 122:7)" The Lord promises us that he will never give us anything we can't endure. Just keep working at it. It will get better with work and patience.
Oh and also concerning the hill, we made it up to the top. That took forever..., but it was well worth it. We found an abandoned resort called "The Crowsnest". And so without trespassing, we walked around the fence line until we hit the front of the motel. There was an elevated platform with a bunch of seats. What a view it had of the Canal. You could see both sides of the canal and about all of our area. I can only imagine the sunset. But wow!

Con Amor,
Elder Irizarry

Family & Mola Ties

We just had transfers, I am happily serving in the same area and now with Elder Arriaga. Elder Franco got sent off to be a Zone Leader in Arriajan in my old area. I have no doubt he will do great things there. He's an excellent missionary and I really enjoyed the time I had with him it was always upbeat and fun. He is the most American Latino you will ever meet and I hope I will get another cambio with him. 

This week was really great, we baptized a young Kuna boy named Brian. It was so cool, these kids are so serious at times it feels like I am I'm talking to an adult and then they say something that reminds you they are only kids. This family is genuinely really amazing, and Brian was really excited to be baptized. His family all knew me by Igi Sugi and the younger brothers all crowded around our feet and our legs like I was telling a Christmas or Bedtime story, anytime we gave a lesson. I don't think I can forget that family and the joy it brought me teaching them. On hard days they always turned it around. His mother made me a mola tie to say thank you. (White with the Bird) I love it, and my new companion Elder Arriaga brought the tie I specifically asked for in Arriajan with Elder Vela. (Blue with the Turtles)

We have been working harder and harder and instead of focusing on our most important investigators everyday ping-ponging throughout our area we focus on everyone in one part each day. Then the next day we go to a different area which has been successful. One night this week we felt like we should go to this family and visit them. Right as we got there they were preparing for Family Home Evening, which was great because it was my first Family Home Evening in Panama. (For those of you who don't know, Family Home Evening is one night a week where the family sets apart time to be together, play games, and teach about the Gospel.) Now that was really really fun. I miss having Family Home Evenings. They had popcorn and ice cream and they set the kids in charge of the lesson. We played hot potato to decide who would answer the questions which reminded me of home.

Sadly they don't celebrate Halloween here in Panama, but I decided to bring it here by sporting my orange tie to show some Halloween spirit. We had divisions that day and I was with Elder Banister. We went to the supermarket and bought M&Ms but that wasn't a very successful day. The only thing that seemed like Halloween was when we ran into a real deal Jamaican witch doctor during the week. That was about as eerie of a Halloween as I will ever need. I am excited to see what Panama has in store for me on the following Holidays.

The great news is that my cousin arrives today in Panama to serve for the next year and a half. How cool it is to have another Irizarry serving in Panama!  What are the odds?

Zona Colon

This week just flew by so quickly.  We had a conference with Elder Ochoa of the Area 70. As well, we ended up having divisions with the Assistants. It was a very motivating week and we as a companionship have been working harder than ever, which I didn't think was even possible.
Bottom Row left to right- Sister & Elder Ochoa, and President and Sister Current
Currently, we are working on getting a few people in Aldea to get to church and that's where I find my most joy. They are usually very busy on Sundays so it will be a struggle but, they genuinely want to get baptized. 

It has been a nonstop run, but we are working more effectively, more efficiently, and having more fun. 

I love it here. I don't know what to say. I feel blessed.

One more experience that I had previously mentioned I would share with you that was sent out by our Mission President on June 26, 2017, in a newsletter. Here is the butterfly story:

Last week, I sent Elder Hillyard and Elder Romero to visit an island in San Blas to ask for permission of the island leaders to place missionaries among their people. When they arrived, the Silahs were away fishing. The missionaries were told to wait at the house of the chief Silah. While waiting in his house they began teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to his family.

Meanwhile, the Silah was in the middle of the ocean fishing when a butterfly flew up to him and landed on his hand. According to Kuna tradition, when a butterfly comes to you it means that God will be sending messengers to teach you something that will change your life. Realizing this, the Silah stopped fishing and hurried home. When he entered his house he found Elder Hillyard and Elder Romero teaching his family the gospel. He told them of his experience with the butterfly and said he knew they were true messengers sent from God. He said he would believe all their words and that he would make it possible for them to teach his people. 

This Silah turned out to be the chief Kasique of the entire comarca of Guna Yala or, in other words, all of islands and villages of San Blas. How is it that a butterfly found him in the middle of the ocean fishing at precisely the moment when two Mormon missionaries were in his house teaching his family about Jesus Christ? It is because our Father in Heaven is a God of miracles. This is His work. This is His mission. Our vision of baptizing tens of thousands comes from Him.

Big Man In A Little Bus

I have found it funny that at 5’10 I am actually considered tall here.  This has thrown me because I don’t’ feel any different in most situations. Normally, I’m sitting down when teaching, but there have been quite a few times when people have said, like wow you’re a giant. The only time I am really aware that I am taller is when we take public transportation. On the Diablo Rojos (local buses) usually, I see above everyone’s heads. If I’m standing, which is very rare that I’m not, I can see out the window of where we are.  The worst are the small speed coasters. Standing up in one of these buses I literally have to put my chin to my chest and the back of my head is touching the ceiling. I have wondered what some of the other taller elders do; I know of a few that are about 6’5. 

My companion, Elder Franco is from Guatemala and just turned 20 this last week. He genuinely is a dream companion. He is really good at keeping the lessons light-hearted and applicable to those we teach. He always invites everyone to listen to our lessons and never is afraid to push baptismal commitments. He is always ready to crack a joke or tell you a story. Even though he doesn’t speak English, he loves many English musicians and has a good taste in music. He is very kind, very motivating, and direct with me and the investigators. He is a hard worker and a great missionary. When I had my interview with President Current he said, “Your last companion was Elder Vela, and now your now with Elder Franco who are two really outstanding missionaries. The Lord has something for you in the future.” I don’t know if that was a good thing or this is preparatory. Either way, I am just enjoying this time!  I have laughed when Elder Franco talks with the zone leaders from Guatemala because he was a skater from the city and so he has just this personality that brings me back to the U.S. I hope that I don’t get transferred somewhere else because we have work to get done!
This week we had another set of divisions con Puerto Pillon and later went out with the Zone Leaders. With being in all the different areas and baptismal interviews taking place, I gained a new-found respect for Zone Leaders. They have no time at all and are running around everywhere, especially in areas where they baptize a lot. This week was just running around to different areas with my stomach sloshing along with me. It was feeling a little upset this week, but it's better now.

The weirdest thing happened this week. We were walking down the street when a guy in a taxi hauled to a stop and pulled over towards us. We realized he was coming from Puerto Beulo, a national park or tourist site. So of course, we were a little hesitant. They had their celebration of Black Jesus that day when people walked miles with crosses and models of Black Jesus. I don't know what went on there, but I'm sure it was something of a party. However, the man rolled down the window and stuck out his arm yelling, “Hey I'm from Utah! Where are you from and how is the work going here Brothers.” It was all in English and my mind froze. What did he say? I didn't recognize what he said. It took me a minute to flip the switch that he wasn't speaking Spanish. But my mind was so frazzled. I said, “Oh, I'm from California, my Comp is from Guatemala and the work is fantastic.” and then he took off. 

I wish I could have told him everything. Yeah, we were just walking back from a baptismal service. This mission less than a year ago wasn't making as much progress and now we are baptizing hundreds each month. We are working hard and here in the mission have converted many different cultures, statuses, and races. We are relying on the spirit to lead us, and as we listen to his voice we are finding people who have been prepared to be baptized. We have a strong missionary force and an excellent mission president. As missionaries, we are striving to be obedient in all things and at all times to prepare the way for the Spirit. We are breaking records here in Panama. More importantly, we are bringing people unto Christ. There are so many people who have converted and changed their lives for the better here and nothing brings me more joy than when you get the opportunity to see someone who has changed their life and genuinely wants to make the covenant with their Eternal Father in the waters of baptism. 

So yeah, while I only muttered a few words, I hope that at the very least he will look up what the work is like to know that the work here is incredible. It doesn't just have to be in Panama, success comes when we are obedient to the Laws and Commandments of God, the Prophets, and Apostles. But how grateful I am to be in Panama in this moment as a missionary. It is truly a blessing.

Elder Irizarry