First Week at the MTC

Well, I'm here at the MTC! I am going to start by getting some of the most important questions out of the way. My Preparation days or P-days are on Wednesday. However, my first day I came in was a Wednesday so my P-day was filled with introductions. Yes, they do speak entirely in Spanish, starting day one. If you're lucky your teacher will explain the complex words to you in English. Needless to say, I am so thankful I took that Spanish class. Because of the class, I knew a handful of verbs, nouns, and numbers. I also learned how to conjugate. These are things that were not even mentioned during my first week. It's that fast. By day three, they had us teach an investigator completely in Spanish. All I can say is that my Spanish capabilities are growing and that I am so thankful to have this opportunity to learn the language before I head out. And yes, our schedules are busy. But nothing I can't manage.

So what can I tell you about my week? Well, to start off I got off the plane and met five other missionaries going to the MTC. Out of those, I found out two others were also being called to Panama. One of which ended up being my companion. But out of roughly 300 missionaries that came in last Wednesday, only six were heading to Panama. Our district and supposedly a district of young women elsewhere is the group heading out to Panama currently. But I love my district, these guys are just really laid back and fun guys that aren't afraid to say what is on their mind. Our zone is a group of districts heading to similar places or speaking the same language. The zone leaders are super cool, the first thing they immediately taught us QUE PASSSSA. Which is the Spanish equivalent of WASSSUP. The first night we got into the apartments they took extra bed sheets and taped them up to the showers. Then turned all the showers on hot and let them run for a while. Literally, they turned the showers into a sauna. Soon after, we all got in and just sang songs that we knew. It was so incredibly hot that the members of my district all looked at each other and realized, as sweat was rolling down our faces, this is what Panama is going to feel like. But instead of being in basketball shorts and T-shirts we will be in white shirts and ties. So we were all were laughing about how unprepared we are for that heat. But also how unprepared Elder Hollander was. He came from the middle of a cruise around Greece so he wasn't too concerned about packing. Just about every day he remembers something he wishes he would have brought. So here is a picture of our companionships when we went on a walk around the temple.

Elders: Tenney, Hollander, Kuhn, Heathcote, Chavez and Irizarry.

Oh, but at day five I felt confident enough to give my prayers solely in Spanish being able to say what I want. Well, I tend to use Spanish and cover up the rest with French and then if I don't know the word in either I change a word like "napkin" to "napkino". But I mean, that doesn't happen very often. But also we realized that by five days being around each other constantly, that we have so many inside jokes already. We all have nicknames. We all give each other a bad time. Just genuinely close guys. 

Teaching wise, things have been great. Our first teacher we found out was a substitute after two days. And since we have four subs and until we finally got our actual teacher. My theory is that the first substitute was supposed to be our teacher and we scared her off. And each teacher after that was supposed to be replacement teachers, but we scared them off as well. Oh, but in reality, it's been great because each teacher has had a different purpose of what they thought was important. So I felt like I've been learning rather well. 

Now the food is great at the MTC. Much more variety and plus I don't have to cook. They have three different courses you can choose from almost every meal. However, they don't want you taking food out of the cafeteria. So we always sneak out an apple or banana or some fruit for later. But the second day we met the teacher, we had all snuck out extra bananas. And in the middle of class, we all pulled out our bananas put them by our ears and started making ringing noises pointing to an extra banana on the table. You have no idea how funny it was to see that teachers face with complete and utter confusion as he picked up that banana phone to answer our call. 

Oh, how the time flies by. The joke is that we feel like every meal is a new day because so much has happened between that time. However, our district is really close and we do everything together. So we were dying because of my companion, Elder Tenney, has a reversible tie. On Sunday, he wore one side and on Monday he wore the other. Elder Hollander, attempted to chew him out for wearing the same tie for three days in a row. However, not only did we give Elder Hollander a bad time at lunch, but also after exercise time when he tried it again confident he had worn that tie three days in a row, and even once more attempt right before we went to bed. 

In our exercise time, we've been told not to get too competitive. We have played sand volleyball just about every chance we get. We go ham and cheese. It's really fun but even better is that we aren't that bad. Even though we were told not to be too 'athletic' Elder Chavez got hit and got a bloody nose and just about every round someone is 'falling with a purpose' (because diving is not allowed). I love it, it took me a day before I felt comfortable, but I'm not terrible. When we don't get the chance to go to the field there is a gym which has been renamed to 'The Iron Chapel'. They have a rowing machine. Let me tell you, I remember being a lot better four years ago. WEIRD, right? But my endurance is lacking, my strength is better. It was filled with some fun memories as I hopped back on.

Today we got to the temple, which I loved. It is nice to be able to be back in the temple. I have already been missing it. We weren't in long, but the time was great

Even though, this first week hasn't been the smoothest of rides. I feel at peace. The devotionals that they have are absolutely incredible. Just so powerful and you can undoubtedly feel the spirit throughout the meeting. 

This is a picture I spotted in the hallway of the MTC, it is of Bishop Hoybjerg as a missionary when he was serving in Spain.
Thank you so much for all the letters, I will try to get to as many as I can.

Elder Irizarry

Mission Farewell

For those of you who missed it or simply just wanted to read it again, here was my farewell talk at church. 

Mid-January, I received my mission call.  I had been waiting for over five weeks since the time I sent in my application, each day running to the mailbox full of hope, but each time leaving with a little-bit of frustration.  Until it finally came.  My anxious family and friends assembled in my house and on Skype to finally hear my big announcement, an announcement I had planned to execute flawlessly and with power, excitement and confidence. 

As video players were turned on, and with all eyes on me, my plan failed as excitement and nervousness took over and I boldly announced, “You are assigned to labor in the Pah-nom-men-a, Pah-nom-men-a City mission.”  After realizing what I said, feeling a little embarrassed, I reread my mission call correctly; Panama, Panama City Mission. 

In life, sometimes the most thought-out and perfect plans don’t work out quite the way we planned them and we fall short of our expectations as well as the expectations of others.  At times our plans fail miserably or are temporarily ignored and we even fail to live up to the expectations of our Heavenly Father.   However through His mercy, we can learn of Christ and draw on Christ’s Atonement to make the necessary adjustments to receive the wonderful blessings of our Heavenly Father. 
In our last General Conference Russell M. Nelson gave a talk entitled, “Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ in Our Lives”. During his talk he told how he challenged the young adults to study everything Jesus Christ said and did in the scriptures. After he completed the challenge himself he reports back with these key words and I quote, “I am a different man!” According to our Father’s plan, it was Jesus Christ, our Savior, who suffered. It was the Savior who paid the price for our sins and transgressions. It is through the Savior that we are able to repent and live again as he did. “As Latter-day Saints, we refer to His mission as the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which made resurrection a reality for all and made eternal life possible for those who repent of their sins and receive and keep essential ordinances and covenants.”
The scriptures are full of examples where individuals were able to enhance their lives through their belief in Jesus Christ and through His Atonement establish a new or better plan.  Some that come to mind include the following:

1)    Firstly, there was Alma. Alma who came to the realization that he was endorsing and following the wicked King Noah.  Alma….repented of his sins and iniquities, and went about privately among the people, and began to teach the words of Abinadi.
2)    There was Alma the Younger who was visited by an angel and told to cease his efforts in destroying God’s church or he would be destroyed.  After repenting and being forgiven of his sins. Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah completely changed their lives. Traveling throughout the land to correct the wrongs they had done.
3)    King Lamoni who after learning about the goodness of God cried, unto the Lord saying: O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou has had upon the people of  Nephi, have upon me, and my people.
4)    King Lamoni’s Father who also upon learning about God exclaimed, “O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a god; and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee….

I know that I have personally been changed through the goodness of God and Christ’s Atonement. As a temple worker, I have had the privilege to see Christ’s Atonement in action directly through temple ordinances.  Each and every sacred ordinance in the temple is deeply rooted back to Christ’s Atonement. I know that I wouldn’t be nearly as ready to serve a mission today without such a strong testimony in the Atonement. I know the biggest and most important part of the Atonement is that through Christ that we are able to gain any and all of the beautiful blessings God has promised his followers. Most importantly the blessing of forgiveness through the gift of repentance.

In my personal studies I have learned that the Greek term for repentance is “metanoeó” [meh-te-no-ehh-‘o’] meaning to change one's mind or purpose. And I know that when I think of repentance I think of the verse in 3 Nephi 9:20 “Ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit”. But I love the reminder of a change of one’s purpose. Not only should we repent for what we have done and to try our best to avoid those same shortcomings. But additionally, we need to repent by changing our purpose to be more like Christ and aligned with His teachings. On a mission I will continue to be repenting (as in the Greek sense of changing my mind and purpose little by little) towards being more and more Christ-like daily.  

In Mark 5:25-34, we read about a women who has retained an incurable blood disease for the past 12 years. By exercising an incredible amount of faith in our Savior she said: “If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.” This woman stretched as far as she could to reach our Heavenly Fathers power. When we reach up for that power with that life or death intensity it will be given unto us. Through repentance, we may gain this great intensity. Not just by repenting from our mistakes, but by additionally repenting for our purpose and our desires.

With a greater appreciation for the Atonement then from before I turned in my mission papers, I’m excited to be able to teach about this beautiful gift to others. I can’t wait to see and report back to all of you in two years. I’d like to end my talk with my testimony, but before I do I’d like to talk a little bit about me. 

[I'm sorry I don't remember exactly what I said when I started to give my thanks to everyone, but I know this was pretty close]

I’d like to thank my mother for her loving lectures. I’d like to thank her for consistent pushing and encouraging me to reach my potential. I’d like to thank her for her organization which has been incredibly helpful with my preparation. Without any of these I wouldn’t be ready for a mission.
I’d like to thank my father. Once I got my call and found out that it was Spanish speaking, I realized that my 4 years of French wasn’t going to be helpful. I probably should have listened more to my parents when they said Spanish was more practical. Anyways, what happened is we looked for a Spanish night class and we both joined it. It was such an incredible experience to be in class with my father. And I know that he was really excited when it ended, because he thought he was getting back those 6 hours a week. But I know he will make good use of that time with his new calling. I’d also like to thank him for being a worthy priesthood holder, for being role model, and for his unwavering faithfulness.
I’d like to thank my leaders for their dedication and always going that extra mile. I’d like to thank my siblings and grandparents, and well really everyone for their support. You have all allowed me to be where I am today. Now let me tell you a little of what I know.

[My Testimony]

1.    Dios es nuestro Padre Celestial.
2.    Nosotros somos Sus hijos.
3.    Dios nos envió a la tierra para aprender y progresar.
4.    Dios preparó un plan para ayudarnos a regresar con Él.
5.    Podemos regresar a Dios manteniédonos limpios.
6.    La Expiación de Jesucristo es central en el plan de Dios.
7.    A través de la Expiación, podemos ser liberados del pecado.