The Best Two Years

The Best Two Years

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Best Two Years

Bueno, it is a little weird being this close to the end.  I don't think it will truly hit me until I get on that plane on Thursday, but it started to hit a little when I had to start saying goodbye to people. 

These last few days have been good ones.  I had to go to Nargana to be with Elder M because Elder M, who is a counselor in the district presidency, came to our branch to do district business.  I was there from Friday to today, and it was a great experience!  I got to see two baptisms my last week in the mission, which was great, because they were two teenage girls we found and taught when I was there last time on divisions.  Elder M is an awesome Elder, and we really tried to work hard.  I wanted to go out with a bang! haha!

Today, before I came back to my island, Elder M and I got to go fishing in the ocean with a member named J.  We left at five in the morning in a big canoe with a motor, and went out a couple miles from the island to fish.  Here, they don't use poles, they just use the line and they tie a piece of rebar on the end and hook a couple hooks up, and use sardines as bait.  You just toss it in, hold it in your hand, and wait for the fish to bite!  It was really good fishing, we caught about forty! They were all between six to ten inches long, but we did get a BIIIG red fish on a thicker line we threw out!  It was an awesome experience to be able to fish in the Caribbean Sea, a once-in-a-lifetime experience!!!

Well, as time comes to a close, I have done a lot of reflecting on the last two years.  They have been the best two years of my life.  They have also been the hardest two years of my life.  I would have never been able to push through all the challenges and difficulties if I didn't KNOW that this church was true.  I KNOW for a surety that Joseph Smith restored it in its fullness again to the earth.

Perhaps the greatest blessing of my mission is the relationship that I have gained with my Savior.  He is so much more real in my life now than He ever was before.  I know that he lives and loves me, and that He died for each one of us. That is the testimony that has helped me push through the hard times, and find happiness in the last two years.  I feel good about how I have served.  I can always do better and improve, but I know that I accomplished in small measure the plan for God's children here in Panama.  I love these people more than I ever thought I could, and it will be the hardest thing to leave them, maybe even harder than leaving home…but I am excited to start a new adventure and the next phase of my life!!!  I am scared outta my mind without having work or anything ready, but I know that the Lord will bless me for my service.  I am confident that He will lead and guide me in the next steps of life. 

I am so excited to see you all in three days!  I can't wait to sit back and relax with the family for a few days, and play lots of games!  I also have a lot of movies that I need to catch up on!!!   I love you all so much!  I can't thank you enough for the love and support you all have shown me over the last two years. It means more than you will ever know.   I'll see you in three days!

Elder Austin Michael Kipp

P.S.     I get to go see Ciudad Bolivar tomorrow!!!!!
P.S.S.  I will try to make to the Panama Canal on Wednesday!!!

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Last Full Week and Pirate Hammock Raids

Well family, this officially marks the start of my last full week as a full-time missionary. Feelings are mixed, it is a different time and things are different than I expected them to be. But I am doing great!

This last week was kind of tough.  Elder P and I got sick again, and we couldn't leave the house for three days because of sicky stuff.  But we are all better now!  On Friday, we got on a boat and went to Ustupu, it is the farthest island in the zone, the closest to Colombia.  We went to do three baptismal interviews for the sisters there.  It was a super cool island!  The first chapel in Panama was built there, and Elder O's grandpa was one of the missionaries that helped build it.  So it is a pretty special place!   It is always a cool experience to interview candidates for baptism and see how the gospel has changed their lives.  My testimony in the Savior is always strengthened during those interviews. 

We had to spend the night in the chapel there, and get up at 3:30 a.m. to get back on a boat to our island. We got back on Saturday, and crashed for a little bit, sleeping on the cement floor in the church wasn't exactly "restful".  Then, we went to work.  Sometimes weekends here are hard, because there are days where all the men are required to do work in the community or they get fined.  It usually entails clearing paths in the monte, and takes up about six or seven hours of the day.  Well, that happened on Sunday, and it was tough because we had to do church late.  Here, if there is work in the community, they have always just cancelled church in the past, but we tried to invite everyone we could.  We ended up having a tough Sunday, the community was kind of shut down, and we didn't have many people at church.  But we did see some small miracles, and we have some great things planned for this next week!

So, there was a new thing started in the Playon Chico hut this last week called "pirate hammock raids". Elder P's hammock is next to mine, but up a lot higher.  I am next to the wall.  The speaker we have to play music was on my shelf, and it started acting up.  So,  Elder P starts swinging in his hammock, and grabs my hammock and started swinging it at equal speed with his.  I was not in the hammock, mind you. I was watching intently.  He gets to a rather high swinging velocity, then rolls from his hammock down into mine, failing to think that the hammock would then hurl violently toward the wall where my guitar was hanging.  You can guess what happened next.  He slammed into the wall really hard, and cracked my guitar, but it still works the same!  It was pretty darn hilarious!  So now we do pirate hammock raids on each other. 

There is a talk by Jeffrey R. Holland called "Missionary work and the Atonement.” He says some powerful things, but for me, among the most prominent things he says, he states: "Anyone who does any kind of missionary work will have occasion to ask, 'Why is this work so hard? Why doesn't it go better? Why can't our success be more rapid? Why aren't there more people joining the church? It is the truth. We believe in angels. We trust in and have seen miracles. Why don't people just flock to the font? Why isn't the only risk in the mission field that of pneumonia from being soaking wet all day and all night in the baptismal font?' You will have occasion to ask those questions. I have thought about this a great deal.  I offer this as my personal feeling.  I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience.  Salvation was NEVER easy."

That is pretty powerful!  There were many talks in conference that talked about "causal obedience" to the commandments and wasting time doing unimportant things. When I get back, it will be nice to have a couple of days to rest and spend with the family.  But after that, I don't want to waste any time in getting to the most important things that will help me start my future life and to progress more.  I am excited to be able to apply everything I have learned in my life in a different setting, and to have new trials that will help me progress.  I know it will be hard coming back, mostly leaving Panama, but I know that the Savior was able to accomplish the most when he had the greatest trial in His life.  When he felt the greatest pain was when he earned his greatest victory.  If we look at our trials as a learning opportunity, we will have the strength to endure faithfully. It is hard to put on paper the things I am feeling right now.

This last week is going to be great! We are hoping to baptize one of our converts that got baptized but never showed up to get confirmed.  He fell away for a bit and now he realized that the gospel makes him happy!  We are also going to go to an Island called San Ignacio, where supposedly there were missionaries and a branch, but not anymore.  We are going to go see what's up!  I can't wait to see what this week has to hold!  I know it will be a super great one!

As for when I get home, I really just want to spend time with the family, play some good old card games, watch movies, play a little baseball with dad, and maybe some golf.  I really just want to relax for a few days and be with family.  As for the food situation, I really do want to grill, and maybe go get some sushi with Dad and Lionel, but other than that, I kind of want to eat healthy.  I know mom and dad eat really healthy, and in Panama they eat SOOOO many fried things that I am ready for a health/exercise kick!  I really am so excited to see all the family again! It is going to be so fun!   I love you all so much! Remember that God hears our prayers. The power of our prayers depends on us!


Elder Austin Michael Kipp

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Baptism and a Half

Hello family!

It was so awesome to be able to Skype with you on Monday!  Best birthday present I could have gotten.

This last week was a great one!  We were able to do our Zone Conference in Nargana with all the missionaries, and having just come out of Easter, we decided to focus on each part of the atonement. The Sister Leaders talked about the Garden of Gethsemane, Elder T on the suffering leading up to and on the cross, and Elder M talked about the resurrection. Then, my companions and I talked on how we can apply the atonement in our lives, and help our investigators apply it as well.

My focus was on love.  I learned that Christ suffered EVERY bad thing EVER that Satan could throw at Him. The thing that made it possible for Him to come out victorious was that He was focused on us.  He never once thought of himself, during all the suffering and pain.  His mind was focused on helping us.  We talked about how missionaries have an incredible opportunity to learn more about the atonement, because they have such an incredible opportunity to show love for people for two years.  The spirit was so strong in the meeting. 

We came back with Elder T on Friday so he could do our baptism interview for M. I am pretty sure I explained who Mmis already, but I will explain again.  He is one of the most Kuna men on the island.  He is eighteen and speaks almost no Spanish.  We found him when we were teaching his brother A, and we started teaching him and his other brother R as well.  They LOVED everything we taught them, and they get so excited to learn about the gospel! There is part of the Book of Mormon translated in Kuna, and they love hearing us read it to them.  Well, this last Saturday they both got baptized! (M and R) It was super spiritual!

Then, a funny story.  As we were putting the baptismal records into the system, we come to find out that R is already a member, didn't tell us, and we baptized him AGAIN!!! Funny story... Don't know how that one got overlooked, but we will definitely be a lot more careful in the future. Well, he is reactivated and super excited now, so that is the good thing!!!

I have two weeks left in my area before I go back to Panama City for changes.  We have work to keep us busy.  I love our investigators, and I love the feeling I get when I help other people.  I am definitely trying to make these last two weeks count!  I feel that the Lord is pleased with our efforts.  Never satisfied, but pleased.  We can ALWAYS do better, and we owe that to our loving Savior.  Without a belief in progression and improvement, this life would have no point to it.

I love you all so much!

Elder Austin Michael Kipp

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Operation Birthday: Sector Nargana

Hello family!

So I am now officially 21. It feels a WHOLE lot different than being just a mere 20 year old, let me tell you...

Today has been a rather good birthday. I woke up at four in the morning with a splitting ear ache, and got a blessing from Elder M, and it went right away. When I woke up again, we bought some scones and I proceeded to pretend that they were an ever-so-delicious box of Pillsbury toaster strudel, an Austin birthday tradition. We then proceeded to go to the river to fetch water in a boat by a Panamanian-turned-Kuna crazy teenager who almost managed to crash us into some abnormally large sticks jutting out of the water at the entrance to the river. After making a half hour pit stop to his secret mango spot, and returning to the boat with no mangos, we proceeded forward. We filled up all the tanks, then went back to the house, where we ate a hearty lunch consisting of Spam, patacones, and Frank's hot sauce. After finishing lunch, we proceeded to clean the house, shower, get dressed, and that brings us to now!  Let's just say that Operation Birthday: Sector Nargana will never be forgotten! So that's that.

Wasn't conference just great? I came in with a couple questions. I have always heard that we can receive happiness and strength through the Atonement, but I had always been searching for a clear answer on HOW can we receive those blessings? I knew that they were reachable, but how could I attain them? Well, I sure got my answer! There were so many talks that I really liked. We watched conference in Spanish on Saturday because the internet here was really slow to watch it in English. I can't wait to go back and read it in my native language. On Sunday, we were able to watch in english! I loved the talks by Gerald Causse, Elder Holland, and President Uchtdorf. This conference, I noticed two themes: A Christ-centered family, and coming to Christ. I enjoyed the focus on Christ's divine attributes, because without a knowledge of the attributes of God, we cannot exercise faith in Him unto salvation. 

I am on divisions here in Nargana right now with Elder M!  They had two baptisms on Saturday, and it was great to be able to interview the two candidates, and watch the ordinances. The spirit was strong. These divisions have been very effective, and both of us have learned so much!  Well, I am going to send this and hop on Skype so I can talk with you guys face to face!  I love you all!

Elder Austin Michael Kipp

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Camping in the Monte

Hey everyone!

It is always good to hear that everything back home is going well, and that grandpa is recovering and progressing. There have been a lot of prayers on his behalf.

This last week was a good, but tiring one!  Elder P and I caught some nasty colds a few days ago, so we have been trying to rest up and get better so we aren't out for a longer time.  We are doing pretty well now.  We have been doing a TON of service in the monte the past week, taking advantage of all three elders here to do divisions where one of us goes with a member, and the other two go with a less active or an investigator to help in the monte.  The services are usually just chopping all the grass/weeds around the coconut/banana/plantain/cocoa trees, and then hauling some coconuts back on a stick so the people can sell them to the Colombians.  That is how they earn their living here. 

This last week, our recent convert, V asked us to go to the monte with him and camp overnight to help him cut down a BUNCH of big trees on his land that is pretty far back in the monte.  We called president and he gave us permission.  Elder P and Elder O had to go to Ukupa to do six baptismal interviews for the Elders there. (They baptized six people from that new island they found that is an hour and a half walk from Ukupa.)  So I got picked to go camp in the monte and help V for the day! So, we packed up, and left at four in the morning on Friday.  We hiked for two and a half hours, mostly in the dark, and we started right to work!  We worked the entire day, just chopping away with axes and machetes at huge trees!  It was SUPER tiring!  We just caught some fish from the river and made a fire to fry them up, then sacked out until six the next morning, worked for four more hours, then made the big trek back.  I got back completely EXHAUSTED!!!  But it was great to give service to someone who really needed it!  V said we can go back and visit his land if we come to Panama.  He is going to build a house so we can put up some hammocks and camp a night out there! 

We were able to find more investigators this last week!  We are trying to contact everyone and it actually surprises me how many people on an island haven't met the missionaries, who have been here for thirty plus years.  It is true that there are always people prepared for the gospel, wherever there are missionaries.  We just need to make sure we are prepared to feel the spirit and recognize those people.   Missionaries are always blasted with ways on "how" to work/study/teach effectively, but this week I decided to study "Why" we work/study/teach effectively.  It is all so that others can feel the love of their Lord and Savior, and come to a true knowledge of Him so they can exercise faith in Him unto Salvation.

Well family, that is about all for now.  Utah is one hour ahead of Panama right now, correct? So that means I will call you at six o'clock Utah time, seven my time.  Sweet.  I'll see you next week!

I love you all!

Elder Austin Michael Kipp