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