We're All In This Together

Well, we did not get to go to the conference with Quinten L.Cook. As much as I would have loved to have been there, wooo we didn't have to take that long 26 hour bus ride there and back.

I went to the clinic this week and I was in for about a 5-minute interview. I told him that I had this, this and that. Then he was like, dude look at your face... you obviously have parasites. He had me take a blood test, wait three hours and confirm that it was true. Rest assured, I was given medicine. To say the least, when I showed the medicine to the nurse in our ward, she went, oh man they gave you the heavy stuff. When I was headed out the door a last-minute question came to my mind. My companion has been eating exactly the same things, does he need to take the medicine too? And as a wise Troy Bolton once said, "We're all in this together."
It was a busy week for us, a few days we felt like we were zombies, but we worked hard. I got a lot of strange looks from people saying I looked dead, but it will never change the fact that I worked my butt off.
One day in a taxi, the radio started playing Country music and I was pumped. Literally, it was the first time I have heard Country in all of my mission. Anywho, Elder Reyna was like what is this? I said "Only some of the best music: Country," and he was like "nah no way, here in Bocus... Nahh". And I was like, "I know country, this is definitely country." Then on cue, we got to the lyrics, and I kid you not, I could hardly hold in my laugh. Elder Reyna sheepishly turned to me with a cheesy frown when the song started, "Awwww Yeaaa, I'm a Country Boy with my four-wheel drive..."
The one and only Elder Reyna has now left Changuinola. What a man. I have never seen a missionary who knows the Bible more than this guy. Honestly, he's been an amazing companion and genuinely a really good friend. I will not forget the countless jokes nor the times we tried to teach the YMCA to investigators. I'm genuinely torn quite a bit that's he's leaving, but I know we'll keep in contact. Love you man and best luck in the city.
I don't know who my new companion is yet, I have to leave early so that I can go pick him up. Love you all!.

My Brothers, Come In!

What a busy week, we are running as always.  I’d like to share some of my experiences.  We have been teaching a family of nine here, well more like eleven with the parents and of course twelve including the dog.  We still have no idea how they all cram into that house.  This week we went over there with Brother Montenegro and he explained the law of chastity, and the importance of marriage. He killed it and the testimony that he and his wife shared was just the topping on the cake. It was so inspired, the father said, “I need to get married.” (Which is the third time I have heard this on my mission.) This is incredible because Panamanians do not like getting married here.

The children have so much respect for their father. When we came, all the kids were sitting in a line from oldest to youngest (1 years old). I looked at them and for a brief moment, I thought, wow, the hills are alive! It was like a scene out of the Sound of Music but the biggest difference was we can’t sing.

We normally find about twenty-five contacts a week. My favorite this week was a man that once heard the missionaries and remembered all the Plan of Salvation. Another was a family in which they found out that the father was once a member but had become inactive at the age of sixteen.  We have another 81-year-old woman who has been a member of the church for the last fifty years, but always wanted to hear from the Mormons (who knows)…
Another man we’ve been teaching is just the best. He is around 70 years old and he told us when we met that he had been trying to learn English. Apparently, he had a great friend from Jamaica that had been trying to teach him English. When we were arriving, he yelled “My Brothers, My Brothers, come in!” in the best Jamaican accent. He has told us that he has lived a very interesting life and had never been interested in any religion until the last few years when he took up studying the Bible. He now is saying that he feels like a blank page compared to what we know. We have been answering many of his questions. He has told us about a dream and now is seeking an interpretation. Again, this is normal here, many people believe strongly in revelation through dreams and many have experiences like this. In his dream, he described how he was shown the Book of Mormon. After listening to his dream about what he described and before we could show him what he was speaking of, he read the title and the subtitle to us and begged to know how much this book cost. I have never seen someone more memorized over a book before in my life. He was so happy when we told him it was a gift especially after we had told him what it was and what it contained. 
Luis, the kid we baptized a while back, is now talking about going on a mission. He wants to be like us so much that he ended drawing a name tag on his shirt. If you look on the left side of his shirt you will see Elder Vera.

I live in walking distance to a stadium they are building for baseball. This sport is huge here and I live right next to what will soon become the home for the Bocas Turtles. Apparently, they are the best in Panama.
This week has finally become hot here.  I am getting a little burnt, but that only makes my tan lines that much funnier. I have been a little bit sick as well.  Because we are in a farming town surrounded by bananas the locals told me that I probably had parasites or dengue.  I am actually not feeling sick anymore, and at times I have a decent amount of energy.  I have seen my blessings take action as I am shouldering all the work that I need to get done.  I just feel a little tired is all and on P-Day when I finally have a chance to sleep, I just want to study.
We are all very happy to hear that Elder Quinten L.Cook an apostle will be visiting Panama. All the missionaries will gather together for this and it will be the first time that we will all be together. 

There are four missionaries serving in my area and one of them, Elder Hancock is finishing his mission here. Transfers happened to be in seven days which means that Wednesday night we drive down on a bus for 13 hours to Panama City and have the conference that Thursday. Later that afternoon we head back home, another 13 hours and will get back to work. This poor Elder will have to head back to Panama City to finish his mission on Monday, another 13 hours! 

It's Cold in Changuinola

The river where we baptized Luis (see last week's post) is really rather close to us. We can walk to it from our house in about fifteen minutes.  What kills me is that we see people playing beach volleyball, fishing and bridge jumping all the time; however, this is the coldest place for missionaries in this mission.  The water is freezing just in our shower (we have no hot water) and I felt the water during baptism in the river, which even seemed colder.  I am happy to stay out of the water and out of trouble.

Where we meet to attend church is also about a fifteen to twenty-minute walk from our house.  The house we meet at is owned by an elderly man who lets us use his patio for our meeting.  He is usually cooking or watching tv and you can hear him in the background.  We play church hymns softly from a CD player to drown out all the other noises.  After Sacrament meeting, we hang up a cloth or bed sheet on a wire to create separate classrooms. There is also another classroom underneath a big guanabana tree.

There are many other different churches here in Changuinola and it seems like new ones are popping up every week.  It is beautiful to see the people share their joy of religious freedom.  In Panama they teach from the bible in school and even with all the many different church activities going on, it is hard to find someone who doesn’t believe in God. The amount of people we teach here is a lot smaller than when we were in Arrajian, but here we are finding many with questions about different views and opinions they hear.  I often get to share my testimony of what I have found has helped me become closer to God. This is common to most areas, but I heard that in the area of San Blas they walk door to door each day, many times (sometimes making two rounds) on the same day. They are still finding people to teach and are still baptizing like maniacs. So as an example, to me of those missionaries on that island, I am applying that same faith and as I turn to the Lord in faith for strength in abundance he blesses us with people to teach. 

For example, yesterday as we were doing cochechas, we felt impressed to look for a fifteen-year-old girl who had a family member with a taxi which seemed rather specific but okay, let's go! We had been walking about a half an hour when out of the corner of my eye one house caught my attention. We ended up talking to a girl who happened to be fifteen and in the middle of our conversation, the father left the house crossed the road and entered into a taxi as he was heading off to work.  We have found that there are many around us that are ready to hear this message that the gospel has been restored to its fullness.  If we pray for these experiences or opportunities you will see these miracles happen in your life.
At a conference in David where I ran into my cousin Megan's last companion.
This week we went to the city of David for a conference, which has a huge difference in weather perhaps comparable to the difference between San Francisco and San Diego.  It was a five-hour bus drive there and five hours back.  When we got there, we slept on the floor, had a wonderful conference and then headed back home.  It was two days of not really moving like we do and man I was feeling a bit stir crazy. Before my mission, I would have been happy to have relaxed, sit down and do nothing, but now I am so much happier to be working hard. Our bus driver decided not to stop and take a break and so my legs were cramped and I was so happy to be off the bus. We have been so tired this week that we crashed hard when we returned home.  

Fun fact: when my companion is really tired, he talks in his sleep. It has been a very entertaining week, to say the least.  I loved that night that he yelled out, “No, this is my soup.” And then he furiously slurped up this soup for about thirty seconds. Since then, we have not been able to eat soup without laughing.

I hope you guys had a good week and that Lauren's birthday was fun, it looked like a blast in San Francisco! Congrats Nathan on becoming an Eagle Scout and the cookies for the Court of Honor you made looked amazing. I think that Grandma had been watching too much Parks and Rec to be an FBI agent, but I love that you all had a Treat Yo Self day in the city. Oh, and yes mom, I am trying to learn Ngobe...but we are more focused on my Spanish. I love you all!

You definitely need boots here, my other boots had holes in them and my dress shoes were getting trashed.
 I just bought my second pair of boots here in Panama.

The Curse of Chino on 13th Street

This week we have run into a few troubles, one of the most pressing is that I have now acquired an addiction. I was recommended by a sister missionary to buy a type of milk, which is vanilla flavored and called Maria milk. It is like someone milked a golden cow and put it straight into the bottle. I can now say that milk is not the same and never will be. Nothing can replace this vanilla milk, and this past week we've been running around town looking in all the supermarkets and Chinos. Only one Chino in all of our area sells them. We now have on multiple occasions gone out of our way, or taken a long way home just to buy one of those 50 cent kid milk boxes. Why did you bring this to my attention, Megan? 

The second and most important problem is that we found out through first-hand experience something dreadful: 'The Curse of the Chino on 13th Street'. Yes, the Chino is on 13th street, well territory. But its real!! Every time we have bought a Duro or ice cream on a boiling hot day, one of us has dropped our ice cream on the ground. I'm warning you people, it is not worth it!! They sell their ice cream for less than the other Chinos, but that is probably because they know about the curse!!!

I don't know how I haven't brought this up, but I feel like I'm in the Bible Belt of Panama. Since Panama is the Belt of North and South America, I guess that makes us the Bible Belt Buckle. Never have I seen so many people with a firm testimony of God. It's genuinely beautiful. Of course, there are many different pastors who have a desire to throw everyone else under a bus and explain why they're right and everyone else is wrong. Others who realize that we are all on the same team. Let's just say I have learned a lot about many different sects of religion and their beliefs. For the first time in my life, I have actually had to defend my faith. I felt very blessed to have this student of the scriptures as my companion, Elder Reyna. I am learning a lot and my testimony is deepening and building in many ways.  It has been really interesting to see how much we all have in common, but see what little details people fight over. I have also learned how to hold my tongue.

Who is more scared?
We had a conference at the stake center, in which we needed to take a ten-minute taxi to get there. We have a lot of investigators that want to go to church. However, for a family of eleven, that would cost twenty big ones just to go to church. However, this family is golden and have genuinely been a miracle. When we explained about Joseph Smiths first vision, the father exclaimed, "Wow, how blessed is this young man." Normally we get a lot of strange and skeptical faces. Then we explain that every single prophet that we read about in the Bible are known for their 'fruits' (Matthew 7: 15-20). Then we invite them to pray because God will not lie to us and he wants the best for us. Prayer is very powerful, and when we turn to him with questions he will always answer them.  Getting back to this family, as we left this meeting the kids in the car were just so excited. Hey when is the next session? When is the next time we can come back? 

To respond to your emails, apparently, the Winter Olympics don't exist here. It's ignored so much that I haven't heard one person talk about them, it has not even been in the news, which is probably because the news is still focused on Carnival. I don't know if its because they are just too busy thinking about the world cup, or that they don't have snow to practice anything....but I mean the Jamaicans have a bobsled team soo...I actually forgot that they were going on until it was mentioned in an email. 

We Gotta No Banana's

To answer a few general questions about Changuinola, yes we are completely surrounded by Banana Plantations. I will have to send you a picture of a map we have here, just to give you an idea. It has been amazing, you see people driving around tractors pulling trailers of people to work on the farm; all carrying machetes and sporting rubber work boots. Just about everyone has a bike and it's a big thing here to customize your bike. I have seen bikes extended, lowered, or with tanks of pressurized air on the side so they can have fog horns. 

There isn't a day that goes by where you don't see a pickup truck piled with bananas.  We are so close to the Chiquita Banana production line we get them for dirt cheap. It is like 10 cents a banana if you buy them one by one, but you can get them for less if you buy them by the branch. Yes, that's very common and we had a member cut off a part of her branch and gave it to us and we are now waiting for our 30 bananas to ripen. But that's Bananos, Bananas. There are so many different types of bananas, the most popular being Mal'duro. That's what they use to make Patacones and there is no way to eat Patacones other than with Fried Chicken. Oh, I'm living the dream and I finally understand why they say Panamanians only eat deep-fried food. Here in Changy I don't doubt it; I could live off of Patacones as they are cheap and delicious. 
Banana Plantation
This week we decided to open up Finca 4. We started with Cosechas (or proselyting) and felt strongly to go down into a specific area. We started walking down this gravel road and after a little bit, it led to an endless trail. I mean I felt like Dorthy when she was first told to follow the yellow brick road; it'll get you there. There was nothing more than the eyes could see but the endless banana fields and no houses. It was at that moment where we both were like, I don't feel anything...  The spirit just dropped. Strange! 

We turned back around and headed for the entrance of the trail. As we made our route back, I just kept thinking, why were we here. I felt strongly to be here and as I was in my thoughts it ended up being that a teacher was leaving the school. She left just as soon as we passed.  We walked and talked and she was very interested. She was an English teacher here in Panama from New York. Apparently, she had a lot of families who were members but on the side of her sister in law. The work of the Lord was beautifully planned that we were in the right spot at the right time. That's one of the many blessings I have seen during this past week.
Where we attend church.
We had a baptism of Luis this week.  We live close to a river, and well we don't have a church building or baptismal font. (The closest building is about 40 minutes away.) We have special permission to hold church at the side of a house. We have our church outdoors sun or rain and the spirit is just very strong, no matter where you are. The blessings you have at church are so strong and so irreplaceable, but I have to admit its so much better outdoors.

It rained the night before and so the river was very full, so this young man was being pulled downstream with the current. My companion was literally holding him in place. It was a beautiful ceremony and he is one brave little man. Shivering and Freezing, he refused to leave the water until he was baptized without being torn away by the raging tempest current.
Now my companion is a convert with a powerful testimony. He has a photographic memory, which combined with his passion for reading makes his scripture knowledge astounding. I learn something every day. It also comes in handy because we have been teaching lessons and in my two weeks here we have had to Machete quite a few people. Meaning that we show them scripture evidence where it proves this belief over that. Of course, it depends on the person and the situation.You have to take a good gage at that, but my companion plays one of the strongest defense I have ever seen. Which makes me feel more at peace with the many many different sects of religions here. 

My companion happens to know a little bit of street magic. He has been able to fascinate kids and gain more attentive listening by offering to do a magic trick after our lesson.  However, one Grandmother called him out saying he was a magician who practiced dark arts and had beasts. Without hesitation or fear, he told her, oh maybe I do have a beast, who knows. But is that all... I mean I have heard so much worse, let alone the doors slammed in my face, or the water being thrown at me. 

We were able to finish teaching and by the end of that lesson, she was attentively listening. When we were leaving the Grandmother said to me, I want to get married. Now I don't know what that means. If 1) She was referencing before when she said she didn't want to get baptized because that meant she had to be married or 2) I now have someone waiting for me to return home. Either way, WOOO!

Elder Irizarry