Thursday, December 19, 2013

Made it home safely!

Bueno folks, I made it home safely. It was close though - Elder Nielson, Hermana Shumaucher, and I all almost died on our layover in Dallas because of 1) the COLD!!! Snow in Texas? It was weird, and 2) the price of a soda?! A 600 ml bottle of soda for $2.50?! We were astounded.

Anyway, since having arrived home last week, my mother has mostly stuck with me as a companion, taking me to long-overdue medical appointments, shopping, and out to lunch (current favorite kid treatment I suppose)! It's been kinda fun and all, but I'm really just missing Panama. I've been trying my best to keep myself busy and stick to the morning study schedule, but it's just not the same sometimes. I start school in January at BYU, and I'm hoping that all goes well, and I can adjust pretty well. For now, I'll just kinda take it slow, looking around for job possibilities (I already went and applied at the MTC to be a teacher.), and ENJOY CHRISTMAS! It's taken me a few days just to get back into normal life, and I'm now realizing that Christmas is just right around the corner! I'm pretty stoked about it - listening to 100.3 Christmas music every time I get in the car.

Well, I just wanted to make this last entry on the blog before closing it for good. My mission has ended, and I'm SO stoked to face a new stage of life. The things I learned on my mission are things I'll never forget and always cherish. This may be kind of cheesy, but it truly was the time of my life. God has been so merciful with me to prepare me and give me enough blessings to help me get out on a mission - I have only learned how to better serve him and am now committed to a life full of service in His name. I'm so excited to be a missionary for life! I've still got a whole life ahead of me! I know that if I keep myself worthy and am constantly asking and looking, God will continue to give me those missionary and serving opportunities. I love being a member of the true, restored church of Jesus Christ, and will just close bearing my testimony that I know that I am in the truth and that that truth was restored by God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, themselves, and that they appeared to the 14-year-old Joseph Smith and called him as a prophet, and he was a tool in Their hands to bring to pass the perfect restoration of Christ's church. They also gave him power to translate The Book of Mormon, which would and now does serve as physical evidence of that divine restoration. I know that the Plan of Salvation is real, and that at the center of that plan is our Savior, Jesus Christ, that His Atonement is saving and redempting. I know that we're sons and daughters of our loving Heavenly Father, and wants so badly that we return to live again with him someday. For that reason, He let His Son die for us. The Plan is perfect and was executed perfectly. I know that the church is currently directed by a true prophet here on earth, Thomas S. Monson, and that he, along with the apostles and other general authorities direct this church according to how CHRIST wants it run, and they do it through revelation. I also have a strong testimony particularly in taking the sacrament and renewing my baptismal covenant, as well as the law of tithing. I love my Savior, my Father, and my earthly family. So much. Thank you!

-Steve Clarke

Monday, December 9, 2013

Last time...

It is so crazy to me that before I get another chance to write you guys I`ll be talking to you in person. I`m STOKED!!!

This past week was a good one - we had a sick mother`s day celebration here on Wednesday night with the branch (here mother`s day is the 8th of December). We had a menos activa, Idalis, show up that we`d been visiting and she brought all her extended family!! They all told us straight up they wanna get baptized!! Teichert`s gonna have a million baptisms next change! Two of the guys specifically, are so sweet - Chicho y Chaveto, as we call them. We walked home with them that night and just talked to them all about missions the whole way home, seeing as they`re 16 and 17, we were trying to animate them to go after their baptisms. 

We also had to do a lot of traveling again, like going to the city to get Elder Teichert`s carnet so he can be legal. We visited the Marín family in Juan Diaz too! It`s been so fun to go around and see people for the last time. I also spent a day packing my bags - I hope everything is underweight and I can get everything home safe and sound! We left Santiago yesterday for the last time after church. Last night we ate here in Chorrera with Hna. Carmen, and today and tomorrow I`m gonna visit some peeps in San Miguelito y the city before changes on Wednesday. PUMPED!

A few days ago, we were walking down the street, and Elder Teichert asked me how I felt to be ending, and what I was thinking about. And ya know, I told him that I feel content. Honestly, I feel good and happy, and pretty much feel like I completed with everything I was sent here to do. I`m really sad sometimes, but I realize the time has come and it`s time for a new stage of life! I`m way excited for it - let me tell you why!

So last week one day as we traveled to Chitré to do a baptismal interview (like a 1 1/2 hour bus ride), some peace core workers came and sat down next to Elder Teichert and I. Well, taking advantage of the opportunity as we don`t see other gringos around here too often, we started just conversing with them, speaking english and what not, asking them about what they do (by the way I`m now a big fan of the peace core - cool organization). Anyway, they had tons of questions for us! It`s not often that we teach other north-americans, and I was suprised to see how much they knew about our church - they knew about Joseph Smith and everything. But anyway, the great part was as they gave us opportunity to answer questions and explain to them our beliefs, it was just so different but satisfying to be able to bear testimony to them! It was super weird for me at first cuz I never just bear my testimony like that in english, but as we taught and answered questions, it came out naturally, and it felt so good! More than anything, it got me so excited to be able to come home and do the same thing. You don`t need to be on a mission to bear your testimony! As part of our baptismal covenant, we promise to take upon ourselves and stand as a witness of Christ in ALL TIMES. Thankfully, that means I'll always be able to share my testimony. I believe God put those troops in our path for a reason, and that God wanted me to know that teaching the gospel/bearing testimony is just as great AFTER the mission as it is DURING. 

Last week Mom had me read a Thanksgiving assignment that had to do with gratitude. As I read the scriptures and pondered them, I came to the simple conclusion that God would have NEVER blessed me with all the things He`s given me if He didn`t expect me to share them. Most importantly, I have the restored gospel! But on top of all that, I have a functioning family! I am (for the moment) financially secure! I get to go to college! I have a body and brain without limitations! God has literally given me every tool I need to live a comfortable life so that I can.... what? Just live a comfortable life? No! He wants me to SHARE what I have! That`s the point! If I don`t share the restored gospel, it`s very possible that God won`t have any need for me to have everything I have. What motivation! Even as we taught one of the peace core dudes - Tyler, was his name - I asked myself - what`s the difference between me and him? Really not much! He seems to be pretty well off, have a good family, he`s smart. But.... he doesn`t have the restored gospel. Ok, so why did God let me be born into this and not Tyler? The only logical conclusion I can think of is because God knew and trusted in me that I would SHARE what I have. If this is not motive enough, I don`t know what is. I`m SO grateful for all that I have, and especially grateful that I have a whole life to live in the service of God and share His gospel until the day that this life ends! I feel that it`s my duty to God, and I can`t let him down. 

Bueno, that`s all I have time for today. I`m SO DANG excited to see you all! Until Thursday!


Elder Clarke

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dang. Fam, I don't know. The mission life is pretty DANG good. I think I just came off one of the best weeks of my mission. Such a CRAZY week. But so many incredible things. In one week, I was in Santiago, Penonomé, Chitré, Chorrera, and the city. Holy cow. So many unbelieveable blessings. Just a tiny example of this - last Monday (I wasn't able to write it last week), I went to visit Monica in Penonomé I don't know if you remember her but I taught her for like 5 months and she never got baptized)? Anyway I was estatic to find out that she's now preparing for a mission and her entire family is attending church and her parents are getting married soon to get baptized. WOW! The branch too just in general out there is growing so much! The weekly attendance is now like 110-120.... when Elder Aguirre were there it was like 60! So incredible to see the church grow. They'll be getting that long-awaited new building before they know it.
Another fun thing I was able to do on Wednesday was go to Chorrera for a leadership conference, and I visited Hna. Carmen, la flia. Lou and Bonilla and the rest. So dang fun. 
Thursday: Thanksgiving!! Great day for me. We had two baptismal interviews with some buddies from Aguadulce - Elderes Fisher and Peterson. I also sent home a pic of our Thanksgiving lunch - idea courtsy of Hermana Lesher! We had it with the hermanas. To finish the night after the interviews, we all went and ate our Thanksgiving dinner at KFC to celebrate!!! Whoooo. Hahah. 
Friday was perhaps the weirdest day of all. We did two service projects - one in the morning cleaning up trash and stuff and the other cutting down a HUGE tree with an AXE. Yes. Elder Teichert and I switched off, made a great team, and took out that tree. TIMBER......boom! Then, we headed off to Chitré to do an interview for a SICK man - Davis. 23 years old. I loved interviewing him. What a guy. Then we came home, and Elder Teichert and I were able to go on a youth sleep-over activity!! Got special permission from Pte. Carmack and everything with our mission leader. It was so sweet - we slept in the back of a storage truck.
Then, Saturday, you know what´s coming...... pool party!!!! (Aka Miguel's and Artemio's baptisms) It was so dang sweet. I think we might possibly baptize Miguel's bro, Galileo, this weekend. Pray for us! It felt so good to get some baptisms like this, opening an area. I love Santiago and Elder Teichert and I'm gonna miss them both. I kind of don't want to come home! But I do at the same time. It's a win-lose kind of thing. Those two young men were confirmed yesterday and also received the Aaronic priesthood! And the leaders already showed them how to pass the sacrament for next week. So stoked. Seriously, pray for Galileo for us for this weekend.
Elder Clarke with Emilvia at the Panama City Temple
So yesterday, I left after church to come to the city. The reason? Hna. Emilvia Castillo de Binns, from Juan Diaz, that I baptized last year with Elder Whitcomb, received her endowment this morning, and I had the privilage to accompany her in the session. It was also my first time to see first-hand the changes that have gone on in the temple. WOW. Wow wow wow. I couldn't contain myself this morning. I can't express the joy I felt as I watched Emilvia there in the temple, and talked to her in the celestial room. DyC 18:14-16. Temple ordinances are the greatest salvation attainable. I am so grateful The Lord let me be part of her life. I was simply a tool in His hands. She even has a niece attending BYU! I'm anxious to meet her and talk with the rest of Emilvia's family over the phone that live in Ohio. After we left the session, Emilvia just bore the sweetest testimony as we talked there outside. I love her so much, and admire her. She talked to me about how the gospel has given her an identity and purpose in life - a compass. She also said something after leaving the temple that I want to quote her on - something like "la pobreza mas grande en el mundo no es la de dinero ni niguna otra cosa, sino la de conocimiento." Translated: The greatest poverty in the world is not that of money or any other thing. The greatest poverty found in the world is the poverty of knowledge among us. Really think about that. Even for those that have gone through the temple, there is SOO much we don't know. The new changes in the temple really opened my eyes and helped me see many new things in a different light. I love life. 
I also had a super spiritual experience on Friday as we rode to Chitré, and Mom, it has everything to do with the scriptures you left me to read for Thanksgiving. I bore my testimony about this yesterday in fast and testimony meeting, and I cried like a baby! Last time bearing it in Spanish like that made me SO SAD!! You don't have any idea. I don't wanna leave this! I must come back to Panama again. 
Anyway, I did the activity though, Mom, thank you so much. I'll tell you all about the experience next week. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. I love you all so much!!! So dang much. Have a good week and see you in TEN DAYS!

Elder Clarke

P.S... last awesome blessing was last night I met a mini-missionary who has been working in Marcasa lately, where Elder Whitcomb and I worked to baptize Ruth and her daughter, Sofia. Well, they (and her comp.) have been visiting them for a time now. I guess they had gone a little inactive, but she told me that yesterday they went to church and bore testimony and everything! So dang awesome. 

P.S.S... I wish I had heard Dad bear his testimony yesterday.... I´m so stoked to spend time with him. Love you Dad!