I've Gone To A Town Far Away

I'm gone! I have left El Empalme in the hands of Elder Lopez and you'll never believe where I am. I'm in the same bat time same bat channel, Almirante. It's in the same district meaning still in the good old Changy. I'm now with Elder Cotonón, who is another crazy Chapin ó Guatemalteco. This time I'm close to the ocean and I hope that means I get to eat more seafood. Also, it means the Internet is a little bit faster.
This is the first picture I got when I got off the bus, Almirante is a tourist town and the missionaries were not having much success in this area.  They baptized about one person every six months. President was going to cut it off completely but felt an impression to keep it open.
After sending in leaders from a lot of different areas, they have started baptizing again.
(Elder Reina and Elder Cranney were two among them that came in about three months before I got here.) 
Yeah and guess what? It was the old area of Elder Cranney as well. I'm just following his trail, which means I'll have another three months of people thinking I'm him. He had been searching for a place to eat turtle his entire mission and in the very last week, a member finally took him to a place that serves turtle.  My companion knows where that restaurant is. We tried going today, but we will be there later this week. I'm going to eat a TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLE!!!
Church meetings held in El Empalme
Irizarry Cousins serving with Lopez's.

Our Apartment in El Empalme

Two Options Right Here

Let’s start off with some exciting news. We baptized the niece of Presidente Compa. WOO! That was really cool. And do you remember the Sound of Music family? Yeah, the family of like 11 kids. Well, this week three of the kids got baptized. The parents are working to get married so that they too can be baptized. It is just that it’s not custom here and it’s a pain in the neck to get all that paper process. There is even a blood compatibility test to see if your kids will turn out fine… Yeah, it’s kind of hilarious how difficult it all is. It’s like a six-month process. The oldest son also plans on getting baptized in a little bit, he just wants it to be his decision not because his brothers and sisters are being baptized. But yay! That was a grand miracle.
The father has such a great personality. He works extremely hard on the Banana plantation to support his family and he gets paid a lot less than he should. Right before payday, they ran out of money. And so, they were praying as a family and they found five dollars in one of the kid's textbooks but what he did with the money left a great impression on me. There were some nights where they went to bed without dinner and some days without breakfast. With the little money he had left over, he ended up making dinner for his family and us. When he made us dinner it was quite a bit which would have fed his five children breakfast that morning. He insisted because he said nothing is more important than serving the Lord and he felt that by serving us it was the closest he was going to get to serve the Lord. That was a very very humbling experience.
Also, this week we were teaching a Ngobe family. A grandmother and her two daughters. The grandmother speaks Spanish as a second language as do most her age.  It was a little bit tricky as she was also hard of hearing.  Halfway through the lesson, the grandmother bursts out, “Wait, are you married?” So I’m like “Umm… No...” But before I could say anything else she responds “Oh, Okay, because you know you’ve got two options right here” motioning to her daughters. Oh, my companion was dying, I pulled up my scriptures to cover my mouth. A bit later, the grandmother went on. “Wait wait wait… What is your name again?” I started by saying, “Elder” and I thought the grandmother had something witty to say, but her daughter chimes in “Wow, what a beautiful name, I think I’ll name my next child that…” Oh, help me.

Why Panamá?

I was recently told about a couple who may have the opportunity to serve here in Panama as missionaries. I thought that I would put in my two cents about why you would want to serve here.
  • First, it is not cold.. meaning you don't have to deal with the snow. You will never lose a car battery because it freezes over and you'll never have to deal with washing the salt off of your car.
  • It is tropical, meaning you get to eat a bunch of weird, but delicious fruit. The plants make you feel like you live in a jungle. That and MAN, you look at some of them and they make you marvel just about the creation of the world and its all for our benefit. (Example: Flower of the Holy Ghost)
  • Every day you will wake up to the sounds of tropical birds (like over 900 different species) that make you think you're inside the Tiki Room at Disneyland.
  • You will find so many friendly animals on the street.
  • Its a 1st world country at 3rd world prices. (Especially in the city)
  • A lot of tourist attractions.
  • You will learn a lot more about the history of the Book of Mormon (Alma 50:34).
  • Rice beyond your belief. 
  • There is a part of Panama where you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic.
  • The missionaries and staff here are just so friendly.
  • A lot of people speak English and those who don't normally speak Wali Wali which is really hilarious (it's like the difference between Spanish and Portuguese).
  • With your limited free time, you can fall asleep in a hammock drinking coconut milk.
  • They have some killer looking houses.
  • There are so many different tribes here with fascinating cultures. Some even with a belief that Christ came to Panama at one point.

But forget all of that. Forget that its one of the most beautiful places you've ever seen. Forget that you feel like you're on vacation half the time. Forget that currently, in Panamá the church has had the most progress in its entire history. Forget it.  Let's go and remember the scriptures. 

"Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature, destiny, ... eternal identity, and purpose." (The Family Proclamation to the World).  We are unique and we each have a very different type of personality that we grew beforehand. 

"...For behold, I know my sheep, and they are numbered." (3Nephi 18:31).
God knows us individually. and he knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows us, loves us, and wants the best for us. 

"Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men." (D&C 138:56). Many of us were chosen for our great strengths and weaknesses to be teachers. He called us and preordained us to guide his sheep. As he taught Peter, I don't need you to catch fish, I need you to catch men. 

God could have sent anyone... literally anyone in the world. But he has chosen you for your unique experiences and abilities. He knows that there are people here that your unique abilities could affect. He knows every single person here who is just waiting to hear from you. He could have called anyone, but He Chose You. Don't hesitate to accept your call. I beg you to continue on this divine journey whether it be Panamá or a different part of the world.

The Lord wants you to be there. Of this, I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Elder Irizarry

Elder Cranney and I on divisions.
I finally got a picture in front of the "Church Party Tabernacle!"

We Preach of Christ

Yes, the parasites are gone and I no longer feel dizzy and my appetite is back. I could actually feel these tiny creatures moving in my body.   

Woo, General Conference was this week. I'm always pumped every year to hear from the leaders of the church and their insight and revelation. This year was absolutely filled with new changes and new revelation and I am very excited to be a missionary during this time. 

This week there was a Solemn Assembly which is the reorganization of the church leader. That was really powerful. It hit me like a rock and you could feel the spirit throughout the whole process. If you haven't had the chance to see it I highly recommend it. 

We heard a lot about personal revelation and keeping the Holy Ghost with us as a constant companion. While here in Changy we didn't have the best reception, I got to see a part of the conference in Spanish. This reminded me of an experience that happened earlier during the week. I offered a prayer for a family in Spanish and when they finished, they wanted to know what it would feel like in English, so I offered a prayer in English and we left them with a big smile. 

While I didn't understand word for word what happened during the conference I did understand the feelings that I felt and the guidance that I needed. That is what’s most important. As a missionary, I, too, testify of these things. I cannot live my life without its constant companionship. I encourage all of you to search for it as well.

There were many highlights this week including conference.  It was great when we met a return missionary who served here and gave us some killer references.

During Conference, we didn't think to bring a snack lunch with us because we were so focused on inviting people in the morning to attend. As well, we were just so excited to see the people.  Thanks to Hermana Bruchez for saving us because we got a little wiped out that day and luckily, she gave us a can of tuna and crackers. 

Lastly, I got kissed by the sun this week, and by kissed, I mean exactly as directed from the recipe of a "Cookbook for Missionaries" we found in the house, "Thrown into your slow cooker until the meat is well-done." 
For those of you who don't know, here Easter is celebrated throughout the week and called the Holy Week. Well, they have been showing back to back episodes of the TV Program "The Bible."  While teaching at many different houses almost everyone had this program on their television in the background. My personal favorite that I saw at a lunch appointment was where Moses crossed the Red Sea. The translation is not perfect and made it just a little more entertaining. In the movie, Moses yelled with both his hands in the air, "SEÑOR!"  Everyone once in a while, when we are about to pray,  I throw both my hands up in the air and look up, just to give my companion a bad time. After they cross the Red Sea, everyone at the end is just soaked and fist-pumping. We are now convinced that at the end of every baptism, it would be something to start fist-pumping as well. 
Elder Lopez
While we were helping out with another missionary’s baptism, Elder Lopez gave me the "I will kill you if you start fist-pumping look."  Something that I've learned about companions is you have to find some little things, from your experiences, that bother them. Joke around every once in a while and have a good laugh together. Oh, how much fun I'm going to have with this one, it is endless!

Questions And Answers

Last Monday at 4:00 in the morning Elder Reyna left for Chitre. Elder Cranney and I got to work here in El Empalme until our new companions came. Since we look rather similar, many people, when we were teaching side by side, gave us some of the funniest reactions. A lot of double takes... Wait your not…so…uh…Eghh…When?...How?... It was hilarious. 

My new companion Elder Lopez, barely made it here arriving at 9:00 at night.  In his last area, he lost his wallet, which included his identification and everything that proves he is a missionary.  On the way here, you have two points where they randomly check people for the ID and passports before you get to the town of David. I don’t know how he was able to continue on after being picked at the first stop.
By the second stop, he starting to be questioned as to who he was, why he was here and where his papers were. He was able to pull out a crumpled-up photocopy of his passport and at that point they pulled him aside and asked him why he didn’t have a passport. They questioned why his name didn’t match the name on his plaque (name tag). He was then able to explain that he had lost his wallet and that ‘Elder’ was only a title, but they would not accept that. They started to ask for anything else he had that could prove who he was and he at that point remembered that in his bag he had one document from the Church with his name on it, which happened to be his Patriarchal Blessing.

He ended up with a second very angry warning, but with a strong testimony that his Patriarchal Blessing will bless him throughout all his life. In ways, he probably never understood beforehand.
My new companion is from Guatemala. He lived by the border of Mexico and so he has a very strong Mexican accent. He is 5 feet tall and has been telling me that I am old because I will be coming up on my year mark. He isn’t a man of many words, but his words are very direct. I am learning how to talk a lot more. It has genuinely made an interesting balance with two different personalities working together. I think that this balance is exactly what will lead to success. We both have adapted and made small changes to be better.

This Sunday we had Gospel Principles class. It was the first time I ever had to teach solo. It was interesting how much I really knew, and how much involvement of the class guided the lesson. It was not where I had planned but ended up being led by the spirit and it led to what was needed to be heard and discussed.
Recently, I have received many rather strange questions from investigators. In the past, it was great to have Elder Reyna as my walking bible dictionary. I have now been spending a lot of my time studying to find answers to these questions.  It has been great to grow in knowledge as I have been focusing more on specific studies. I have been praying to find the answers to questions and I have been guided to these answers. I can see how I have been reminded of things through my studies through being led to footnotes or having a curious thought to read a passage.

This weeks letter from my Grandma had a great message that she shared with me. In her ward, during Relief Society, they shared a message given by President Monson:

When the Spirit speaks, write it down immediately. At the end of the day, make sure you do God's list first before you check off your own list of “To Do’s.” He explained that the Spirit never hounds or pounds at us, but rather, comes as a prompting, a brush or a feeling—that’s why we need to write these impressions down so as not to forget.

I absolutely loved this and I am going write my promptings down!! Thank you Gram for this thought. I am always thankful for the messages and letters from family and friends.