World Cup - Panama

It has been a crazy week, we started off the week by taking a road trip to David. I was able to see Elder Franco, Elder Reyna, and Elder Arriaga a few of my past companions which was cool. I also saw Hermana Updike who was in the same district as I was in the MTC and she was my cousin’s first companion here in Panama. She gave me the updates on where everyone is and how they are doing! That was super nice.

In this month of June, Panama as a mission has made it a goal to baptize the most people in church history for the duration of one month. I have been seeing a lot of times during the week when I have been listening to the small promptings and have received big blessings. We have been guided to find some really special people and some old investigators who have re-sparked their interest.

Late last night we got a phone call from Elder Lopez, he asked us what our plans were for Monday.  Well, Umm, not a whole lot, we will be cleaning, writing home and going to the clinic.  Well, he said, you will never guess what, President Current gave the entire mission permission to see the World Cup game tomorrow in which Panama is playing against Russia. It starts at 10:00 and so change your plans. My companion and I were both like Wait, What? Yeah, VAMOS PA'RUSSIA!  

We went over to the nicest members house we knew. One with air conditioning which is like one in a million over here. We watched it on the big screen, and even though we knew they weren't going to win the game.  1. It was on television, in which I have been able to watch for a year.  2. Everyone in that house was Panamanian so it was a lot of crazy fun energy and overall a really great time.

And... then we went to the doctor and they took out my toenail. 

Crazy Situations, Great Blessings

Man, I'm always bummed when I have a companion who we have hobbies in common or have the same likes and they leave.  I've gotten used to that of course over time.  My new companion Elder Amaya is really a strong missionary. I have already seen things I can improve just by his example. He analyzes the problems of the investigators and is direct about what they need to do. We have been having a lot of success. Also, have I mentioned he is from Panama. He was originally serving in Nicaragua, but because of political problems, they sent all of the missionaries out of the country. Now he is serving in the boonies with me. And let me tell you, I think he fighting for the seat of being the most American Latino comp that I have had. 
Elder Amaya 
Well, this week was frustrating and as I have looked I'm just surprised I don't have any white hairs. This week we had five baptisms planned but one by one by one small strange and crazy situations came out of nowhere. 
1.    We have a young woman here who is 16 years old and was planning on getting baptized. It was perfect, she heard the missionaries for a while and was just a little scared. We helped her gain a testimony of the things we were teaching and then we planned a baptism for her about a month ago. Three days before her baptism, she gave birth to her kid and the doctor told her that she couldn't get into the cold water for a month. (In Panama that’s basically saying you can’t shower for a month...) But then we planned another date for this last weekend and everything once again running smoothly. She was pumped, she brought her cousins to church and they were excited for her. After going to church on Sunday, this young woman ran into her ex-boyfriend who abandoned her for like ten months before and she has been just staying at his house. We have passed by every day this week since then and she hasn’t even come back once, not even to get a change of clothes.
2.     Another young boy who had separated parents. The Dad was an active member of our church, and the Mom was converting to the church of her second husband. This young man lost permission when he started behaving poorly and the step-father started saying you can’t get baptized if you’re not obedient. 
3.    An 18 year old has been trying to get baptized, but has an addiction to coffee. Well a lot of people here do, it’s cheap and it’s a hunger quencher, so parents feed it to their babies straight from the bottle. Well he doubled under the pressure and went back to drinking coffee. 
4&5.    Then it came down to a 13-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl. Other missionaries taught them before when one of the other kids was baptized. This family left on ‘vacation’ to go to the finca. It’s super cool right. It’s a home away from home! They live on the top of a great giant hill and it’s like going to the cabin for a weekend, only the entire time you’re working on a farm. So it’s not so much vacation as it is just brute work. They arrived back after a 3-4 month vacation and both the kids were excited to get back and get baptized. The 13-year-old boy has always been indecisive was going back and forth but was still too scared. At the very end, his sister did get baptized which was wonderful.  It has been a weird strange turn of events.

One Year

"It's been One year since you looked at me. Threw your arms in the air and said I'm crazy. About five months since you talked me, I can't wait to call back, I hope soon, please. Three days since the Interview, I've realized it's not been too long, nor a moment too soon. Yesterday you forgotten me, But I've still got one year to finish, Oh Golly."
Yup, Peace, Chao. I've hit one year and as a present, I'm taking the week off a writing. See you in a week. Nah, Bromas. Did I just throw in a Barenaked Ladies reference? Absolutely! I am proud of that? Yup! Do I have regrets? Only that I didn't go out and eat Chinese chicken.
So what happened this week? Well firstly, I don't know if you remember, but every 45 days we have an interview with President Current. Normally because we are out in the boonies we have to travel five hours on a bus to David. Well, normally he just puts the conference and the interviews together, but something fell through the last time. So, for the second time this month we got to go down to David! That’s like 10 hours in a bus, without traffic. But I always love interviews with President Current! I always end up learning so much. This time we talked a little bit and I learned what I needed to do to as he says, not just finish your mission, but get your Master’s degree. So, I'm excited to make this next year even better than the first.

We had divisions and I went off with Elder Daffer in our area. I actually learned quite a lot from him. He teaches with a lot of energy and so that has recently rubbed off on me and I'm loving it.

I finally met Elder and Sister Johnson the Senor couple. They are amazing! But they are in charge of finances and housing. And well, they gave us the award for the hottest house they've been too. Woo!! 

As a tradition here in the mission, I burnt my completed one year mark shirt!! However, it was the same night we were traveling to David. My companion and I slept the night at Elder Daffer and Elder Hernandez house. We beat them home and we knew how to get in so we are anxiously waiting for them to get home for around ten minutes. I felt like a kid on Christmas night man. We surprised them and then we set everything up. I lite up my shirt on fire while spinning my shirt in the air and dancing around like it was a party. Out of nowhere my shirt gets caught. Surprised, I look up and well... I accidentally set their clothesline on fire. We all just sit there as it lite up like the introduction to a James Bond movie and then caught a part of their ceiling on fire. (Luckily, there was no explosion). We ran frantically to put it all out. I'm beating it with a plank my comp runs in for water, but we're in Bocas where there isn't good water pressure so it takes a while for the water to fill up. We did get it all taken care of, thankfully. Phew nothing bad happened. The house is still good, nobody died and we were able to go to sleep peacefully. Then the next morning we woke up at two in the morning to leave in this bus and I went to go looking in my bag for a shirt. Not just a shirt for your normal day. No, a shirt for my interview with the President of the Mission... And yeah, I left it on the desk. I burnt the only shirt I brought to have interviews with President. Luckily they had a spare one. am I doing after one year?  Well, I don't have time to write all that but I will give you a brief overview. 

Physically- My legs are whiter and my arms and face are significantly tanner. I have lost all of the callouses on my hands and now have them on my feet. I have a weird addiction to rice and don't feel full unless I eat a little bit. 

Socially- I have recently gotten to be rather social. Before I had a side of me that was a little more reserved. I use to hold back my thoughts and only said them when I needed to. I was only open when I felt comfortable. But being put in a foreign country when you have to learn a new language kind of opens you up. Also being a missionary makes you talk. As my confidence grew I became more open with strangers and in Spanish. As of only the past few months I have been able to open up a really exciting and new side of me.

Emotionally- I have been torn emotionally quite a few times. It is rough when you are doing everything you should be and are going the extra mile and things still don't go your way.  I have had my share of people who want to get baptized, but at the last minute their parents change their minds, or they get afraid of commitment, or just remember they don't like water. I have learned how to make sacrifices and how to turn to the Lord for comfort.

Intellectually- Well, my Spanish has improved drastically since day one, but there is always room for improvement. I have found that as I put confidence in my Spanish people seem to listen more. I have as of this month been taking my scripture study to a new level. I have never enjoyed reading the scriptures more as I study them, treasure up their meaning, and see how their message applies to my life and the life of my investigators. I know I have like the worst memory in all the world. But as I pray and study the scriptures I am finding that I remember them in times of need.

Spiritually- I have learned how to act on the promptings of the spirit, aun mas then before. I have never felt more of a need to be closer to the Lord or receive his revelation. Beforehand I relied on him, but almost in an obligatory way. Like I was only turning to pray and receive answers when I needed them and then less so looking for direction when my life was fine. It was almost as if I was praying, because my parents taught me or because the scriptures tell us so. I am learning currently how to receive personal revelation. Not just for my problems, but for also the smaller aspects of my life and as I am obedient and seek diligently, I receive what I need.

I mean as a missionary I have improved tenfold, but I still have a lot left to learn and not nearly enough time as I want. I'm very grateful for this time I have had in the mission. I honestly, don't know what type of person I would have become without these life-changing experiences. This is something I will treasure for the rest of my life. And something I will never take back.

What Luck!

We get one day every transfer where all the Elders can go out and hang on Monday. It happened to be last week and we went out this time to play soccer. I was able to do something incredibly fun, I twisted my ankle. I went to the clinic and they told me I couldn't walk on it for five days. (Umm, that’s not going to happen. First of all I would just be stir crazy and let alone there are a lot of people who we need to visit). The rest of Monday my ankle was swollen and I couldn't walk. On Tuesday, I was out of commission for about half of the day. It is great that we have really fun and motivating Elders in the district and they all were very positive and motivated me to leave the house and work for as long as I could and that if I would make sacrifices God would bless me. 

We came up with some plans where I could work where I wouldn't have to walk a whole lot and do you know what happened? Yeah, we were blessed. A very positive family we were teaching committed to go to church as a family. It happened, maybe it was just pity points as I was limping, but I believe full-heartedly it was God's work. Then we saw a handful of blessings that day with the biggest being at the end of the day. My foot healed surprisingly faster than the doctor said it should have, and I ended up being able to walk on it Wednesday without limping. 
At one of the Mini Super's there ended up being a live band. I taught my companion what the words meant and then shot a video.
I was able to play Donkey Kong for a service project. We helped a ward member roll barrels of oil from a friend’s house down the middle of the street to his house.

This week we've been looking at the people we've been interacting with and well I've been a little frustrated why we haven't had the success that we've wanted. However, I realize as missionaries, at times we are planting seeds of faith in people for other missionaries and members to harvest. We have to remember at the same time, there have been individuals before us that planted seeds for the harvest that we have experienced. I know that when we put our trust in the Lord, His plan is there to bless every single one of us. It may mean that we have to plant seeds and wait and later on this person and maybe their family, maybe a friend, or maybe their kids will be blessed with faith in Christ. I am happy I have the opportunity to teach people of Christ. 

One Love - Panama!

My companion and I had an interesting week as we have been trying to work more with the members. The young men are really motivated to help us out which has been helpful. We are finding better methods to bring investigators to the church.  

As we were taking a bus to district meeting, which is a 45-minute ride without traffic, about 30 minutes into the trip a big dump truck blocked the road. The bus driver decided that he didn’t want to move and he just drop us off early. Luckily I knew where we got off, just at the borders of El Empalme, and so we just started to get walking. We felt like Pioneers as we walked and walked and walked and walked.  It took us around two hours, in which we passed around five different roadblocks, but we did make it to the District meeting. When the meeting was over, we headed back. 
After walking in the blazing sun for hours I heard a man call out to us, “Hey, what’s going on?” We explained everything, as I stared at the passenger in the side seat. Wow, he looks a lot like my 1st bishop, Obispo Bravo, I thought. Just then he calls out, “Elder Irizarry, how you doing?!” It was really cool to run into him and talk for a little bit. I am not sure how it was that we crossed paths, but I can tell you that I felt as though it was meant to be. After pondering it more, and recounted how many things had to fall in place so I could run into him that day, I could not help but know that it was divinely planned for me to run into him. The day he had to travel there, the time he had to leave, the day we had district meeting, the time we got out, and the day they planned to work on the roads. The list goes on and on.  During that moment I did not know exactly why I was out there, but I do know how I felt. At the end it was like, heck I'd walk in the sun for four hours every day just to feel like I'm accomplishing God's errands. It was super cool.

I believe they were working on the roads because of protests about road conditions. I am just glad it wasn’t anything as bad as the protest that had happened before I was ever here.  Apparently, since this town is the farthest town away from the Panama City it is often times forgotten about every now and then by the government. Years ago there were riots where they filled up balloons with gas and started throwing fire (literalmente #EchandoFuego). The streets were in terrible condition, broken up and ruined. This was a day in which they were protesting but it was a lot tamer this time. We just had to walk a little bit more than usual.

For Mother's Day, I was able to travel to the zone leaders (45-minute bus ride) and we were able to Skype (call) home and talk with family which was great.  I had my last companion Elder Lopez talk in English with a blonde wig on for the family saying, "Hello, my name is Elder Irizarry, I got turned into a Latino." We all had a riot with six missionaries crammed into a small computer closest to call our families.   The next day happened to be our P-day de Eldere and we ended up staying the night with the zone leaders and playing soccer today and eating at a Bob Marley restaurant which was super good. The owner had dreadlocks that went down to his knees.

All in all, I loved seeing my family this week and I truly enjoy serving here in Almirante.  I am so blessed!