Two Floods This Week

Now, this week there were two floods. The first one was on Sunday, last night. We were outside and the rain came and started sprinkling and I thought, oh this is great, it’s not too hot outside and the rain feels refreshing. Sundays are the best in my opinion. Families are usually home and will answer their doors. I am promised three hours of church where I don’t have to walk and usually a member will come up to us and say hey what’s your plan for dinner. Yesterday we had dinner with the Elders Quorum President who feed us lunch. We talked and had a good time and the food was really good.  Before we left, he said, “Hey, would you like these Cheetos. I am probably not going to eat them.” So, I said of course.” (I thought: Any food you’re not going to eat we will gladly accept). During the time we were inside the rain got heavier and heavier, which we were able to hear because it is a bit easier to notice these things when you’re under a tin roof. We got on our way and it became less refreshing and I remember why I was told to bring a strong umbrella. As we walked in the streets with our feet completely soaked from the unavoidable puddles, I about died when I kid you not, I saw a person in their garage with a hose washing their car.

The rain was coming down even more and it made me think of elementary school when in the 6th grade, we studied about Greek Mythology. We had decided that when it rained it was because the Gods were crying. So, for some reason, I was humoring myself with the thoughts of one of Greek Gods having experienced something that had gone terribly wrong. 

We finally decided to seek shelter under a Chino tree to see if the bad weather would die down but it continued to be persistent.  We debated about getting a taxi and then just set foot again until someone saw us and invited us over.  We soon heard, “ELDERS.” Now at this point in time, I was soaking wet, a little bit cold, (which wasn’t a problem I’d thought I’d have) my shoes were completely submerged with water and I was a little hungry. I cannot express enough my gratitude for this family. They took us in, gave us towels to dry off and fed us as we waited for the rain to stop. It was so nice talking with them. One of them spoke English and told me don’t worry, I will translate. They were so kind, loving and Christlike. The only way I feel I can express my gratitude for this family is through scripture. In Matthew 25: 35 & 40. This family was given to us in our moment of need and they took in strangers as one of their own. They were not members but just genuinely good people. 

Shortly after, we got a call from the sister whose house flooded last week who was in trouble with her house flooding again. The first time we were able to drive up to the neighbor’s house; however, this time before we got to the neighbor’s house we had walked past houses where furniture was floating away. We actually saw a couch floating by and people sitting on their homes.  We stopped by the houses which looked like they were built on islands and in the center of the street you were already up to your knees in water. While making my way through waist high water, I felt something brush against my legs. I hit it with a stick and it went over to my other foot and then wrapped back around the backside of my leg. I am sure it wasn’t a crocodile, but we did see two later on so….I don’t know.  

The closest neighbor had knocked down his fence so that we didn’t have to cross at the deepest points. We did get into the members home and moved all of her furniture on top of her bed frame. At one point my companion was not thinking when he asked if he could use her bathroom. She then pointed to a toilet that was completely submerged except maybe an inch from the basin. We all had a good laugh. I did come home surprisingly a little bit more soaked than before. 

When we got home I opened my book bag and I expected the worse. I assumed there was going to be something ruined. I had prayed a little bit earlier in the day that my English Book of Mormon and my Spanish dictionary would be saved. I also carried a notebook that I had in my bag with the new words I had just learned, but it was at the bottom of my bag and was ruined. The Cheetos were laid on the top and blocked a significant amount of water. Both my books were untouched by the flood and the rain. I am so grateful.

I’d like to tell you about the second flood. The flood of blessing in my life. I cannot tell you how many times my prayers have been answered. From the simple words of please help me get a taxi home to the blessings of help me communicate with this investigator. Nothing is more frustrating when you put your heart on a platter and are trying to tell a story of how much this gospel has blessed your life and you look at their face and you’re confident that they have no idea what you just said. As I have been praying, I have received so many blessings. To say the least, I have been humbled. Now I always thought that I was humble, but I guess that’s probably the first sign that you definitely can improve. Our Prophet, Seer, and Revelator Thomas S. Monson said, “I am always humbled and grateful when my Heavenly Father communicated with me through his inspiration.  I have learned to recognize it, trust it, and follow it. Time and time again I have been the recipient of such inspiration.”  There is always room to improve, there is always something that we can learn, and there is always someone to help. 

I’d like to end this letter with a scripture that I feel summarizes my abundance of blessings this week. It is in Luke 5:4-7.  I know that as we strive to do everything we can do to listen to the words of Christ, he will bless us with a flood of blessings so much so that you won’t be able to hold them all and you can call over your friends to take some of your blessings. Constantly look for the Lords' hand in your life. Have faith that even though times may be hard, the Lord is still helping you. Be humble and ask the Lord for help. 

I'm on TV!
Where is the animal control around here? I already had a dog run at me and bite at my pants and try to rip them.  One kid ran and bit my leg, he was about five years old. I guess I'll take that any day over a crocodile. 

All Creatures Great and Small

I have so much I want to tell you guys, but so little time. So, I will do my best to get the good parts and answer some questions. First, I'd love to say, thank you all for your letters! I know I haven't responded to every one of them, but I printed them all out and read them throughout the week. On hard days those definitely bring me lots of joy. I have also found that vanilla Oreo cookies also help.

As of recently, I have been inspired by the philosopher Arthur A. Vark, and I quote, "Every day when you are walking down the street, everybody that you meet has a different point of let’s get along with each other." Oddly enough I found out my companion is not perfect?! I have been doing my best to help him with his faults and struggles as he helps me with mine. He is patient and mid-sentence will help me with Spanish to understand what he says and what I'm trying to say. He has a great love for people and could talk to anyone for hours. Also, he has a great sense of humor, so when our ideas don't align its hard to be angry at my companion.  

How hot is it down there and what is the weather like?  
Now the weather changes from day to day, but Panama just entered into the rainy season. When it rains, sometimes if you’re lucky, you'll have a thirty-minute warning. Other times and I kid you not, it’s like someone immediately turned on the shower; fast and heavy.  In this type of rain an umbrella will only protect you from the waist up, because the water bounces off the ground and up to about your knees. When it’s not raining, it’s hot and it’s like your in a constant sweat. Just to show you how weird the weather is, these two pictures were only an hour apart. You learn to adapt quickly.

The sunsets around 5:30 which is weird. Actually, last night it was raining pretty hard and I was on splits because Elder Nielson is sick and Elder Valez needed to go to the office. When we got off the bus it was drizzling, but by the time we returned back to their house it was pouring.  I didn't bring an umbrella or anything and neither did Elder Valez and we looked like we were just thrown in a pool.  When we got home we dried up and had some soup and the bishop pulled up around 6:45 and said get changed, we just got word that a member’s house got flooded. Now, her house was actually an average house for Panama. That being said, the average house does not live up to the normal Panamanian standards of living or safety. They literally pass out books at the elementary school saying you can't build your house to close to the ledges, or on stilts, watch out for cracks, make sure your foundations are level and your walls aren't leaning inwards. 

The fifty foot trail leading to the women's house was flooded, so we all went to the neighbors fence and hugged it as we tried to scale the crumbly gravel road that had a few small sinkholes. At different points we were up to our waist with this dark brown muddy water and it was at night so we could only see the light of the Bishops car and her house. Well, after treading for a few minutes we reached her house which was surprisingly alright. The water stopped about an inch before reaching her patio. We of course asked what could we do to help. She said, "Oh, I'm fine, thank you so much for coming." Elder Garcia said, "Oh, no! I went through this to serve you." So, he grabbed the broom and started sweeping her steps, the ones completely under water. She eventually got to explaining that she really just needed an escort for her to get out and spend the night at another member’s house. She said that she was too scared to go alone, because there is a family of crocodiles that live on her property. Yeah.... A family!

Long story short, we got out safely, and although I know that they tell you not to swim on your mission, I felt like I already did twice yesterday and I'm sure there will be more to come. Panama is really just perfect, and our Bishop is so cool and loving. He took us back to his house and made us fish fillets. I mean really, I will never forget this day.

What is the food like?
Well, I haven't had a lot of food from restaurants or on the streets. I make a lot of my food, which works fine, but when we are feed by the members it is always really good. A lot of rice, beans, and a type of deep fried or cooked meat and they usually have some sort of vegetable. Now I have no idea what they do to their rice, but it is really good and I could just eat it by itself.  

Are bugs a problem?
In case you don't know there are more bugs in Panama then in the U.S. Not bigger usually, but just more. I think I always have around eight mosquito bites. I can't complain, there was a Sister missionary we ran into when we had migrations who had an allergic reaction to one of her mosquito bites. There is no better way to describe it than a bruise from a tennis ball. It was huge and probably the worse bite I've ever seen and it was right above her ankle. It swelled up to the size of a cutie orange.

We have been finding ants everywhere. People are pretty chill about it, but I'm still getting used to it. They were crawling around the walls, doorways and cupboards.  I broke into a slight cleaning panic a few times since I've gotten here. Once, after my first box of cereal was raided and I had to throw it out. We have found that you just need to keep everything in Ziplock freezer bags or in the fridge. 

One morning I couldn't take how filthy our shower was and so I spent a little extra time cleaning it. I don't know, I just feel like with what we have been given, we should keep it at its pristine quality and make it as nice as possible. I mean, our house is the same size as the first councilors, his wife and three kids and their house is cleaner than ours. I used the bathroom and noticed a lot of ants coming from the window going to the shower head. (I have learned to deal with ants, but I have a limit; touch my food, my bed or my shower and this means war.) Well, I noticed that they were moving in and out of the shower head. I ran to find my generic bug spray for mosquitoes, within the first few spray they got the message. Now, I never thought I would ever see anything like this in my life besides in the movie Indiana Jones or if you ever saw the Mummy when the bugs start crawling out of the walls as fast as they can in a wave of bodies. Yeah.....the shower head.  I have no idea how many I have killed but I will tell you that for a brief while I thought my room was going to fill up. That was just a rough day!

This week we had another funny experience. The church building always keep the windows open because it is so hot. It happened to be that there was a bat that flew into the church. Elder Garcia tried to get it out and didn't know how. I have an eight minute video of one of the ward members trying to hit it out of the air with a tiki torch while Elder Garcia was trying to catch it in a box. 

One of my many blessings on my mission was finding the Old Liahona magazines from the Church building in English. I swear this magazine was meant for me. Even more so the articles in it have been such a blessing. The one that impacted me the most was entitled, "Recognize, Remember, and Give Thanks." by Pres. Henry B. Eyring. It talked about the importance of not always asking our Heavenly Father in our prayers for; I need this..... Or help me with this....., but instead saying prayers often focused on gratitude of how he has already blessed your life.  In Doctrine and Covenants 59:7 it reads, "Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things." The Prophet Joseph Smith said, "One of the greatest sins of which the Latter-Day Saints would be guilty of, is the sin of ingratitude." The Lord is blessing you every day as you live righteously and are being obedient. Until recently, I was thanking him occasionally for the big blessings that are hard to miss. I have now been thanking him for everything that he has helped me with in my duration of being here in Panama. And let me tell you, I have found a lot of my prayers have been answered. He has had a rather large impact in my life in just this short amount of time. I feel happier and I promise that if you take the time to pray for all the blessings he has given you that you will start to see his hand in your life. You will start to realize a little bit more of how much he cares about each and every one of his children individually and very personally. As I have gone to pray, I remember and start to recognize small things that have been blessings that I normally wouldn't recognize. He blesses you that you will understand. He is there with his arms open doing what he can to help you. I have found so much joy in this that I have started writing them in a notebook. I encourage you all to do the same. In the words of Bing Crosby, in the movie White Christmas, "When you are tired, but cannot sleep. Just count your blessings instead of sheep. And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings." I know that my Heavenly Father lives and that we are his children. That he hears and answers our prayers and blesses us daily.


Do you remember the first time you watched Mary Poppins? Not that old one. I mean the good one with the killer music and Dick Vandyke. It was magical. People were flying because they were laughing too hard. One guy had a house which was part of an active ship. The songs were so beautiful and catchy. And at one point they jumped right into the pictures. Panamá feels the same way. It's magical! I got here at a time where it rains. Every corner I turn feels like it could be a framed picture. The people here are so nice and friendly. Every person you pass will say hello to you, even if you're in the middle of a deep conversation. And on top of it, the work is great. But, do you remember the first time you heard the song ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’? You were probably like what in the world is that word? I want to learn it so I can sing-a-long with these people. But of course, it wasn't till the seventh time you rewind the tape till you finally felt comfortable saying it. That's how I felt about my Spanish as soon as I got off the plane. All the people speak that fast too. However, I know I'm getting one letter at a time, but I still can't quite sing-a-long yet. But that's okay because I can rewind that song over and over until I get it down.
My companion Elder Garcia and I
             So I'd like to tell you a little about my companion, Elder Garcia. He is a great young man from Peru. His first language is Spanish, but about three days in I found out he actually knows some English and since then translating has gotten so much more efficient. He has been in Panamá for three months, which means he just finished his training and now he is training me. What a wonderful time to serve in Panamá where they need so many missionaries. The first time we met he literally ran up to me and gave me a hug. Now for those of you who don't know, my biggest concern of Panamá is the language. So of course, the first thing I tell him before we took our picture was, “Hey I don't know much Spanish.” And he puts his arm around me. And he comforts me. And he says, “It's okay, Don't worry… I'll teach you” I have rarely felt so welcomed and looked out for. I don't know if I could have asked for anything else. He has just taken on a very brotherly role. He is great with children. He is incredibly patient, especially with my Spanish. He is always checking up on me and helping me with words and pronunciation.  He is everything I wanted and asked for in a companion. I couldn't be happier.

            What can I tell you about Panamá? –well, we live in Arraijan, more specifically Alameda. It's on the other side of the Panamá Canal. We have eleven zones in Panamá. Seven of those were by the city (including ours, but I don't know how big our district or zone is).  In our district, there are two other sisters and two other Elders. Elder Neilson and Elder Valez. There is an elementary school to like middle school close by in our area. Now I've been told they aren't officially religious, but on the secretaries desk there was a stack of Mormon magazines (the Liahona) for anyone to take. So I mean I'd consider it to be a religious school. Oh, but on Monday through Friday we go over and they give us food. So we often get to see the other Elders roughly five times a week at least, and they are just funny guys. But the third day was by far the hottest day yet in Panamá. I mean I was just sweating up a storm. So I was happy to sit down for lunch in the school. They gave us soup. Like hot soup. I don't think I've ever been hotter in my life. But actually that was really good soup. It was red bananas and chicken and it just tasted spot on. I just never thought I would eat anything hot in Panamá, but to be fair it is their winter. Oh and I guess a trend here recently has been adding onto your house. For example if you have a driveway, and you lived in Panamá, you would probably go out and get cinder bricks. Apparently, people just expand their house with cinder bricks to touch the edge of the driveway, and it doubles as a patio. I don't know. It's just different. Oh, and there are also so many wild dogs. Even the ones with collars just roam the streets. Some are chill, but some just want to eat your legs. However, chicken and roosters are even more common. You can find them just walking the dirt trails. Speaking of trails, Some people have roads, which are like paved, but feel like gravel. Others just have dirt trails. But no matter where you're going a taxi will get you there. Oh and if you don't want to take a taxi, you can take a Diablo Rojo. These are old School Buses that are spray painted with graffiti, sometimes lights, and sometimes a crazy sound system. I'm just surprised there aren't more accidents.

Bird of Paradise
What can I tell you about the work? Well, tracking door to door has been outlawed by our mission president. We have these things called cosechas. Our mission president told us we can save time by instead of knocking 1,000 doors to find one investigator, we should just pray to know which house has that one investigator that is ready. We then share with them a quick prayer and invite the spirit, and if they accept we set up an appointment. My testimony has already grown. God blesses us with miracles every day. I've never felt so strong about going to a specific house or a certain direction. It's absolutely incredible. In Panamá, even when we have lessons they are on porches. Everyone just sits on their porches unless they are inside watching TV, eating, working, or sleeping. We have already had a baptism from an investigator. I didn't teach them, but it still was a cool experience. My companion accidently filled up the font too high and had to drain a little bit. But we have another who is committed to a date. They are my favorite investigators. Jose is 11 and his cousin Yurchie is 10. They come to church with us, because nobody else in their families are interested. They own a pet monkey and a mango tree which they already gave us mangos from. They are incredible young kids.

This monkey lives on their mango tree.
My scripture study on Sunday was the most intense yet. And it all started with a question. I know that if you search the scriptures with questions you will find answers. But a good part of scripture study is having questions. I feel like I find so much more meaningful study when I ask oh, what did they mean by that? Instead of oh it's probably something that'll make more sense as I continue going on. I'd like to share a quote from 1 Nephi 11:1
For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things my father have seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known to me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord…” If we have this great desire we can find the answers to any of our questions. In D&C 76:5-10 we read, “For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory. And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom. Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations. And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught. For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.”
He wants us to find these things. He wants us to draw closer to him. In Moroni 8, I jump around a little, but it's one of my favorite scriptures. “I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end… And now, my son, I desire that ye should labor diligently…”
Please don't take you scripture study time lightly. Set aside study time in the morning or at some specific time where you can actually study the scriptures. 

Elder Irizarry
Rain, Rain, Don't Go Away.  Please come back everyday!

Irizarry's Called to Serve

This July 4th as I was heading to Panama from the MTC.  I had a three-hour layover in the Atlanta Airport where I was able to contact my parents for a few short minutes to say hello and send my love.  They in return added the most amazing news I heard that day which was that my cousin from Texas, Megan Irizarry will be serving in the same mission as I am.  Is that even possible!  She heads out September 27th to the MTC.  It will be great to have an Elder and Sister Irizarry in Panama.
Tiffany, Brittany, Megan (Cousins), Jake and Lauren (Sister).

Where to start, I have so much I want to say and so little time to write. First, I have no doubt that I was called by God to serve in Panama. I have already met people and have already changed lives. I have a testimony that we were all predetermined to be in certain places at certain times for certain people. That understanding has grown at the MTC and even more so in Panama. If you are still feeling nervous let me tell you that before now, every mission president was good. However, if you recall the Dallin H. Oaks talk about Good, Better, and Best, we have quite literally been given the best mission president. He is strict, but since he came and switched everything around starting a year ago, the baptisms per week jumped up from an average of 3-4 a week for the entire mission to now 60-80 every week.  We have so much work its incredible.

You were called at this time with these missionaries, with this mission president, with these people. Megan! These people are ready for you, your testimony, and even more your beautiful personality. They are just waiting to hear from you, you individually. Megan I know that you have been called to serve in Panama from God. The Spirit testifies to me that I have been called, but more importantly, that you are.

The language is rough, but always turn to the Lord for guidance. He will help you. Do your best to practice the language as much as you can at the MTC; it is such a cool place. Their priority there is you and they just opened the new buildings. Please use them and don't take them for granted. Also enjoy the food and the many people you will meet there. You are so lucky, you got called to the best mission in the world. You will see blessings everyday, especially with Cosecha's. They are so much cooler than tracking, so much more effective, and even a testimony builder. I'm so excited for you.

Jacob Irizarry