Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mission Week 15/Panama Week 6: Assignment 2: Vista Hermosa

Hola Familia!

As predicted, I was transferred on my P-Day on December 28th, which is why I was not able to write that day.  I am now in Vista Hermosa and everything is fine.  It was an eight hour bus ride across almost the entire country.  Vista Hermosa looks to be a little easier to deal with.  There's less risk for being mugged, it's quiet, there aren't as many hills, and I hear that the work is moving along much nicer on this end of the country.  Members will be feeding me even more now, so even though I haven't had anything too odd, yet, now the risk just jumped.  And people here like Iquana.  There's alot of iguanas that just roam around out here, too.  I kinda miss Alacalde Diaz, but I'm excited to be out here.  I even get to have an old MTC buddy in my zone.  My only worry so far is malaria.  I hear there aren't many mosquitos out here, but I kinda want to make sure I get my hands on that vaccine anyway.

You heard correctly.  I am currently in a threesome.  I didn't know that Elder Pavon was so close to going home, or that this was only a temporary assignment.  Are you sure you understood correctly?  All in all, though, I don't mind.  I think a third head could be helpful, at least when people know we don't want to steal their stuff.

Elder Oakley is an English speaker.  He'll probably be the middle man sometimes when there's a failure to communicate between Elder Pavon and me.  He's from a small town outside of Dallas and has been out here for four months.  He seems pretty nice and his head seems to be on straight.  If he's going to be my companion later, I think we'll get along fine, althought, I think it's a little odd that they would have two 'gringos' together as a companionship, especially if neither has more than six months under his belt.

Oh, by the way, yes you can send me classical or church music only.  I would prefer them through CDs.  Trying to do much out here on the computers isn't a good idea.  And my mailing address should stay the same.  As long as my name is on the box, they'll send it through the Assistants until it gets to me.  I'll take a couple more pictures here and then I'll send you guys the data stick.

Not sure if there's much else to write about, really.  I've officially remet all the MTC District members a second time out here in Panama.  It was good to see them again.  I'll try to keep working hard.  I think things will go smoother out here, but we'll see.

You are all in my prayers.

Your Elder, now in La Concepcion, Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Mission Week 15/Panama Week 6: Transfer #1, Assignment 2: Vista Hermosa

We last spoke to Austin on Christmas Day...3 times to be exact.  He had to purchase a calling card to make the call, but it was well worth the cost and was truly the hilight of our Christmas Day.  He said he was anticipating a transfer right after Christmas but did not know to where.  Missionary transfers are always somewhat exciting because you never know where you are going or who your next companion will be until you get there.  But the excitement is always in the opportunity for a change of pace, seeing new places and faces, and learning from a different perspective.

His prediction came true and he was transferred on December 28th to a little town called Vista Hermosa, located just outside the larger town of La Concepcion or Concepcion, Panama, depending on what map you are looking at.  Vista Hermosa is also the location of the Vista Hermosa Zone and is the farthest west mission area in the Panama City Mission and is only a short bus ride to the Costa Rica border.  He is currently in a threesome with Elder Oakley and Elder Pavon, a native speaker who is also the senior companion.  Elder Oakley is from a small town outside of Dallas, Texas and has only been out on his mission for 6 months so it is unclear yet which of the two will be transferred out, or if another missionary will be sent in to complete the pairs(s). 

Click on the picture for a larger view.




















So, in the last 6 weeks that Austin has been in Panama, he has been paired with 4 missionaries.  His first companion was only for a few days, which know nothing about except that he is from Peru.  His second and last companion was Elder Lanza, another native speaking missionary from Honduras.  Now, he is in a threesome companionship with Elder Oakley and Elder Pavon.   That's enough to confuse us in trying to keep up with who is who and where he's at; imagine that in Spanish.  We wish him all the best and we know he will do well.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas With Elder Ascura

Christmas Day is only one of two days that Austin is authorized to call home, the other being Mother's Day.  It was a long awaited call for us to hear his voice again.  And what a surprise that was.  From the moment he spoke, we could tell he was a 'different' man.  His voice was deep and steady; and he was calm and confident in conversation.  His voice sounded as if he spoke with great authority.  We each took turns wishing him a Merry Christmas and spent a few minutes reacquainting and sharing stories from our own little corner.  It was also fun to watch and listen to Braden, Carissa, and Desiree attempt to speak Spanish with him.  They are all Spanish students, Braden having taken 4 years of Spanish and who could maintain a steady conversation.

Austin was issued a prepaid cell phone, which he pays for the minutes and is only used strictly for missionary business, and the two authorized annual calls home.  It was so exciting for us to hear him talk about his mission, which was a recap of all his previous letters combined.  His district recently had a Christmas Party and they each exchanged gifts.  His current companion is from Honduras and we told Austin to ensure that his companion received a Christmas gift of his choice from us. It was easier for him to buy his own presents there rather than us sending him presents and risk having it stolen by the Panamanian customs. 

He expects to be transferred sometime next week as is normal practice, to assign brand new missionaries in training to be trained from multiple missionaries to ensure he gets a wide perspective about the mission and missionary work in Panama.  He is looking forward to the transfer, mainly because of his frustration with working in such a small branch, not having alot of missionary activity, and the complexities of a companion who is difficult to communicate with.  Although having a non English speaking companion is helpful and forces him to learn the language much quicker, he hopes his next companion speaks English for communication purposes.  They do get along and are working well together and that was important.  As for his Christmas Holiday, he had one meeting today at 10am and then they were going to have dinner with one of the members.  He did say that there are only about 50 active members in his tiny little branch.  But every night, they have dinner with a different member family.

Unfortunately, we did not spend alot of time on the phone with him.  We lost communication after about 15 minutes and he was not able to call again.  So the few minutes we spent with him this morning really was the highlight of our Christmas Day celebration.  We miss him dearly and Christmas just wasn't the same without him here with the family.  But, we are comforted by the knowledge that he is where he is by divine Priesthood inspiration and calling to serve the people of Panama in the service of his Heavenly Father.  For that, we are eternally grateful for his sacrifice and desire to serve.  We wish him a blessed and wonderful Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mission Week 14/Panama Week 5: Slow Moving

If you have been reading Austin's letters, you will notice that he jumps from topic to topic, then back to the previous topic...and to think we sent him to college to get organized.   Well, let's hope the mission gets him there.  He has very little computer time so he rushes to get everything in...and at 10 words a minute, it isn't much, but it will have to do.  Just exagerating, of course, but to help him cut thru the chase, we asked him to answer specific questions.

Hola Familia
First, those questions.

1.  Health: So far, so good.  it's a little hard to sleep here because you either freeze with sweat and the fan or you burn.  But I haven't seem to have had anything bad happen to me, yet.  I think I've mostly adjusted to all the food, at least here in the city.  First--changes are coming up and my companion thinks that I'm getting moved.  We'll see.  No strange problems yet, although my skin might be acting up to something.  I think the washing machines aren't the greatest, so, we'll see if it keeps up. (see what I mean about jumping topics, even with questions asked???)

2.  Language: Believe it or not, I can actually understand a good amount of it when they speak slower or clearly.  My grammar isn't perfect and a lot of people use weird sentences, though, so if I don't hve a context, sometimes I get lost really easily.  My companion also talks pretty quickly so sometimes, I don't understand him, and I think he gets tired of it real easily.  But I continue to improve everyday.

3.  Exciting things?: Well, I'm not sure there's much I can write about.  Met some interesting people.  If I had to write something I think that it would have to be a Latin couple fighting when we were supposed to teach.  I think I understand most of it, but I'm not sure.  I think something fishy is going on with the fight, but we'll see this next Sunday when we visit.

4.  How many people are we teaching?  Hmmm.  That's a tricky question, because sometimes, we just stop going to visit people.  I think we've got something like 12 people we go to see regularly, but I'm not sure.  I'll have to mark up some numbers this week.

5.  Tracting!  Despite being abut the most ineffective way to work, we have no other options!  We got into a couple homes, but this last week was pretty crummy, too, and we don't do a whole lot at night.  I think it's because basically everyone just shuts their doors up or is partying, but I'm not sure.  (he sure says this alot, doesn't he?)  Met one guy who seems like he might actually be interested in learning and we ran into an inactive member who was hospitalized for over a year because of his leg.  He stopped coming to church when no one came to visit him the entire time he was in the hospital.  We're hoping to work on that. 

6.  Companionship: I think we get along alright, but I don't think we were meant for each other.  And I think that half of it is the language and half of it is that we're probably really similar in a number of ways.  Like (similar) people don't get along well, but we're alright.

7.  What are Panamanians like?  They are usually friendly, especially active house wives.  But many of them really just aren't concerned enough with religion or anything like it to bother questioning.  Many don't go to church so they don't feel the pressure that religion might have on them and they don't question anything.  But everyone claims Catholic so they basically feel that they're saved, anyways.  It's not an easy position, I think.  Most people just wiggle out with, "I respect all relgions" or "Well, our churches are the same" or something like that.  But they're usually friendly.

8.  Have I run into any of my MTC buddies?  Nope, not yet, except just one run in with my MTC companion.  He's doing about as well as me, except he got a parasite.  Mostly the same for him, though.

9.  P-Days: Almost every week, we play soccer or go shopping for whatever we need for the week.  I usually write or draw, though, sometimes because of laundry, but mostly because I'm really bad at soccer.

Well, I'm out of time.  You'll have to wait til I call on Christmas at 9am.  Love you all.  Bye.  And I couldn't get anything printed off or attached.

Your Elder in Panama
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mission Week 13/Panama Week 4: First Baptism

The letter below contain excerpts from Austin's letter.  For various reasons, we felt his entire letter, which contained some personal observations of various aspects of his mission, that we felt should not be posted publicly.  However, if you would like greater insight to his letter, just send us an email to mascura1@msn.com and we would be happy to share that with you. 

Austin is beginning to experience the many challenges associated with a mission (finding people to teach, missionary oriented Branch/members, local support, customs and traditions, etc, not to mention still trying to learn the language), which he is learning to deal with.  We are optimistic that as a result of his experiences, he will grow spiritually and become a powerful instrument in the Lord's hands.

Hola Familia
I like your advice on doing more than just teaching or proselyting when we meet people.  (We were talking about what he could do with the people he teaches.  He was looking for ideas on what he could do beside constantly teaching, especially with students who will not commit to baptism yet.)  I think that could help the mission out here.  This week has hit me a little hard.  It's been kind of unproductive and I've learned a bit about the mission that's a little depressing.  Apparently, we have about 45,000 members in the nation, of which, only 5000 attend church on a regular basis.  I guess alot of people convert and then fall by the wayside (for one reason or another).  There's alot of work to be done here.  A LOT!

I had my first baptism yesterday.  I forgot my camera, but I will try to nab pictures from my companion.  His name is Richard.  He is 8 years old and his grandmother takes care of him and brings him to church. 

As for food, a couple times I felt pretty bad, but I've been adjusting alright so far.  I don't think the pain is even regular anymore.  Just every other week or so. 
(Austin is a very picky eater.  Before his mission, his intake of vegetables was almost NIL and he did not eat any kind of meat that had gristle or that was attached to bones.  But he was determined to try to change all that by indulging in the foods of Panama to, as he said it best, gain the full experience of a missionary in a foreign country.)

What is your advice with dealing with wards? 
(Note: Austin is asking for advice from anyone on dealing with local church members and leaders.  He is looking for ideas on how to inspire members Branch and Auxilliary leadership [Elders, Relief Society, etc) to help them improve membership retention.)

Finding golden people here might be alot harder than I anticipated. I mean, I thought I had found a couple, but it has been extremely difficult just to meet them again.  But, I guess that's where patience and diligence factor into the work.

I'll try to get things pulled together (letters and pictures) and send them.  Keep me in your prayers and the people of Panama, too.

Your Elder in the Fields of Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mission Week 12/Panama Week 3: Hable What???

Hola Familia!
I will dive into this answering all your questions.  Hopefully, I will get them all.

I was surprised that this place wasn't bristling with members, what all with the reputation of the Church's rapid growth here.  The toughest thing to deal with foodwise here is just bad cuts of meat.  Sometimes, the meat crunches, and I'm not much of a gristle guy, Dad.  That's one thing I didn't inherit from you.  But I do my best to choke it down.  And if it doesn't look completely cooked, I don't eat it.

Most of the country, I'm told, is very different from the place I'm in now.  No hills and much more quiet.  Changes (Transfers) are coming up and my companion thinks they'll move me.  Not sure why, though.

As to my earlier note about someone cooking my meals, that was what I was told was going to happen.  That wasn't true.  We cook our own meals.  As for the currency exchange rate here, it is EXACTLY the same as the US.  But you almost never find Balboas (Panamanian currency) here.  Everyone here just uses American currency. 

Shopping: Some food here is super cheap, like home made stuff at little food stands and fast foods.  But most brand name stuff is about the same price as in the states, I think.  And other goods here seem to be about as pricey as the states, too.

Have we been tracting???  Yeah, from day 2 on.  And have I spoken Spanish???  I have no choice; I've only met like four people that speak English, and my companion doesn't speak English.  So we just speak Spanish all the time.  Most of my Spanish learning is just a crash course combined with book studies.  He corrects me sometimes.  I can pick out bits and pieces of the conversation, but it's sometimes really hard because they speak really fast and they don't always use simple words and phrases.  I speak when I can, but honestly, that isn't that much.  See, the problem is just figuring out what people are saying.  If I read Spanish, I can understand without problems usually.  Just hearing them and internally translating, though,...that's the problem.

As for your next assignment, Dad, No California or Washington, huh?  Texas or Okalahoma...well, in all honesty, I intended to visit Oklahoma sometime, and Texas, too.  I think it would be a little funny if Liese (Elise) went to the same school I did at her age.  If any of my old teachers are there, they might have to do a bouble-take.  Arizona?  Hmmm, well, it can't be much hotter than this place.  I've got no problems coming home to any of those places.  But France???? We don't speak French.  I mean, I hear you can learn French from Spanish easy, but...I might have forgotten English by then.  I guess we'll see what happens.  Keep me updated on that.

I'm really considering picking up the rice cooker soon (he has been trying to cook rice in a skillet or frying pan, which isn't going too well.  I told him to pick up a rice cooker there, which is cheaper than us buying it and sending it to him.).

The work here might be a little difficult, if I stay in this area.  Alot of the people can't get baptized because there are families here that aren't married.  I guess marriage has a lot of red tape to go through.  Maybe I could suggest the ward's help to help move things along.  But alot of people here are Catholic by tradition.  Even if they don't go to Church, they claim Cathloic as their religion.  Truthfully, I'm not sure why they should bother if they don't actively practice, but I guess that's just me.

The language here becomes easier to understand every day, but I'm still a little concerned that I should know it by now.  Little by little, I guess.  My biggest problem, I think, is just understanding what I should say and what I'm being told.  We teach about twenty different homes.  We talk to some people and then I don't hear about them for awhile, so I'm not sure how many people we actually teach.  Trying to learn all their names, though.

I wouldn't worry too much about written mail.  It takes a long time to get places, anyways.  Thanks for the package, though.  I'll tell you when it gets here and then we can do invetory on it.  I'll probably do my shopping here (for Christmas).  I'm not sure exactly what they do for Christmas here, but I think they do something.

Well, I love you all and hope you all are doing well.  Things are kinda rought out here, but I'm doing alright.  I should at least be able to hold out another week (before transfers, and that's really all i need to do; just keep pushing.  You all are in my prayers and I hope you guys are enjohying winter.

Your Elder in the Field,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, November 30, 2009

Mission Week 11/Panama Week 2: Still Getting Settled

Hola Familia!
I am now officially almost two weeks in, and I'm not sure I know where to start.  So let's start with health, then.  I have been eaten up badly by the bugs, but now, I'm mostly clear.  First few days, they destroyed me.

Food:  Breakfast and lunch is in our house, and dinner is cooked by a member for us each night, which is fairly impressive given that there's only like 7 to 9 families in the Branch here.  Nothing special here for Thanksgiving.  I even had to be reminded by an American here that it was Thanksgiving.  They don't celebrate it, obviously.  The only other holidays I know of that they celebrate that we don't, are their 2 Independence Days.  But I don't think we'll be celebrating those, either.  Mostly drinking holidays; kinda like Sundays.  But the food here is actually really good.  I don't mind having all the rice, beans, and chicken.  Only thing I worry about is beef, just because sometimes, there's bad cuts and that means I have to be ingrateful or I have to choke it down, and I've done both here so far.  But the food here really is quite good.  My body might not agree with me, as my stomach's been feeling a tad strange lately, but I'll be alright, I think.  I've already been drinking the tap water here.  They told me it was safe.  Buying water would get really expensive here. In fact, I'm surprised I haven't collapsed from dehydration, yet.  It's HOT here sometimes.  Oh, and I'm not sure I know how to cook rice in a frying pan, dad, so a little guidance would be nice.

Don't worry about the malaria meds, yet.  They should issue those to me when I head to an area that has it.  Right now, I'm in an area where malaria is virtually nonexistent. 

If you try to send stuff, don't send a package with a lot of food in it.  First try a small package with a little food in it.  I heard that food doesn't get through the mail system here, but my companion says he gets all sorts of candy from his family. He's got a bit of a sweet tooth.  I can get ramen and spam and stuff here, too.  I'm close enough to the city that people are't really impoverished here.  I mean, some of these houses look really run down, but you walk in and BAM....computer, TV, stereo, XBOX...not all of them, mind you, but some of them surprise you.

The Zone, District, and Branch I'm in is called Alcalde Diaz.  It's on the outskirts of Panama City.  It's filled with crazy taxis, hills, houses, and kiosks that sell every day needs.  The area is really big, but the numbers are small.  There's about 14 missionaries that meet together for the district meetings, but I think that we're technically two districts.  Our Branch has about 50 people but I hear there's alot of inactive.  The area is urban enough that we don't need too much equipment.  So I don't get my canoe and machete....yet. 

Spanish?  Is that what they speak here?  Could have fooled me!!!  Two big problems with the Spanish. 
-First: not everyone speaks textbook Spanish; lots of phrases and stuff that I can't catch. 
-Second: Speed.  Panamanians are a bit notorious for their speech speed. So, I'm still pretty clueless. But I catch bits and pieces of the language and understand it here and there.  But there's a long way to go. 

I've already met alot of interesting people to teach, but to be frank, I have no idea how they are going to react to us in the end.  Traditions run deep here and a LOT of people claim CATHOLIC, even if they don't go to church.  I might have to get tough or else I won't be able to get them to do anything.  But first, I need to learn the language. 

I think my favorite investigator is Nico.  He speaks English, but only basic.  He's from Virginia and he's studied really deep into alot of different religions.  He's pretty open and I think he's just shy of golden and he already personally believes in alot of the doctrine.  We'll see how it goes.

Well, I'm not sure what else to write. I'm still healthy, I think, and trying to get a handle on this language.  I'm always tired, but that means that I'm at least working.  You are all in my prayers and I hope you are doing well.

Your 'espeaking' English Missionary,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Panama City Temple



For information on the Panama City Temple, click on the following link:
http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/panamacity/

Mission Week 10/Panama Week 1: Assignment 1: Alcalde Diaz, Panama

Austin's first assignment is in the town of Alcalde Diaz, Panama, just north of Panama City.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mission Week 10/Panama Week 1: ¡HOHOHO!, ¿DONDE DEBO EMPEZAR?‏

Ho man.  Hooooo man.  I'm in Panama, right now.  Ho man. (Does Austin appear excited???)

Hey Familia!  Let's see, where to begin.  I'll start with answering some questions.  It's hard to concentrate here.  There are young'uns playing Counter Striker (It's like Halo) and I want to show 'em how it's done. 

After a bit of confusion making through customs and immigration, we were greeted by President and Sister Madrigal, the APs, and two other missionaries (secretaries, I think).  They took us home and fed us and had us fill out paperwork in their apartment in the city.  As for my first impression (about President Madrigal being gung ho): I could be wrong about this, but I vote no. Pretty firm on that decision, too.  He seems more of the gentle type but maybe that's just because he is using easy words so I can understand. Oh yeah, he doesn't speak English.  Almost none of the missionaries and people here do.  But that means I'll learn the language quicker.

My companion is Elder Lanza.  He's from Honduras and doesn't speak English.  He's usually quiet and straight-forward with me but when we're with the district, he's a real joker.  Probably the language barrier.  He's been out about 13 months here.  I think the first six months will likely be the slowest part, at least, I hope so.

District and zone: There's actually not alot of us.  12, I think in the whole zone.  I'm in the Alcalde Diaz District.  The missionaries are likeable, but I don't know how hard they're working.  Good people, nonetheless.  As for pranks, I've had the X-lax trick pulled on me before and it might be helpful; there's so much protein here and I could use the extra help.  Most of the pranks are just horesplay and it seems to be mostly between people that actually know the language.  Nevertheless, I'm being really careful especially with food.  On a side note, I might come home super-sized.  Just a warning.  I'll keep you updated.

Bikes? No.  We walk, take a cab or a bus.  Bikes would be WAY too dangerous because...hills.  We have oodles and oodles of hills.  It's almost disgusting how many hills we have here.  When I get home, if I stay here for a long time, I'm going to have legs like tree trunks.  Also, the houses remind me of Guam. In fact, a lot about this country reminds me of Guam.  The climate, the mosquitoes (count for bites is about 35), the houses, and even some of the people.  The roads here are pretty wacked up and the drivers here are insane.  They're all over the road and they're fast, REALLY fast.  but the driver's here aren't idiots; they drive good, but I think they're the main reason we don't use bikes in this area.

I thought Panama looked interesting when I got here.  It was night time and I was in the city, so my first impression was just curiosity seeing all these tropical trees amongst lights of the city.  The city itself is pretty well developed, but the outskirts, like where I am currently is not so developed.  There are no signs of the U.S. invasion here in the late 80s.  It looks just like a country that's growing and developing. 

The apartment: The apartment was an eye-opener.  We have four rooms: The kitchen, living room, bedroom where we have all our stuff, and another empty room.  We have 2 fans, 2 beds, 2 dressers, 2 tables, fridge, kitchen sink, and a propane stove.  The works. Then our laundry drying room, which we only use to dry big stuff like linens.  the 'other' (empty) room, we don't use because sometimes BATs do.  And then the bathroom: Toilet, sink, and shower, complete with a hole in the wall for a drain.  Sometimes we don't get water at night.  Luckily, we save up for such occasions.  We lucked out on the toilet, I think.  I've already met people who use a hole or a strange system for that kind of stuff.  There's a lot of bugs and stuff.  We even have a not-dangerous relative of the scoprion (vinegaroons, if you'd like to look 'em up) living in our bathroom along with spiders, webs, ants, and mosquitoes.  They're everywhere.  Malaria is supposed to be virtually non-existent out here, though.

One uber-plus, though.  We have fruit trees int he back yard!  We have papaya trees, banana trees, orange-lime trees, and a mango tree.  I didn't know that mango trees were so big. Only the banana and the orange-lime tree have fruit, but the others are getting ready.  They taste good, too.  Plus cilantro grows in our lawn.

Food prices: Food prices are just about the same as the USA, I think...that's one thing that kinda surprised me here. In Peru, Spencer (Elder Spencer Broomhead was Austin's BYU-Idaho roommate serving in Peru) can get all sorts of stuff with a little money.  Here?  No way, Jose!  Not in Panama.  Only certain things are really cheap, I guess.  Everything else is just as expensive as in the states. 

My email will stay the same: austin.ascura@myldsmail.net.  Mission rules here aren't anything too odd, I don't think.  No music outside classical and church related stuff.  I have a suspicion that some missionaries might be a tad liberal with that rule.  I think I can only email family here.

The food here has been good, but there's plenty of room for wierd stuff, especially if I go to San Blas.  If I go there, Dad, you'll love it when I show you (pictures) because there's looooots of seafood.

I'm not getting eaten up as bad by the mosquitoes. The language here is difficult because everyone speaks so fast.  My gosh!  But it's coming along, day by day.  Elder Miller, from Hawaii...my Polynesian 'brotha' in the district, said that the first 6 months are the slowest here because of the language learning.  But after that, he says it goes quick.  He's on month 19. The people here are very polite and usually listen to us.  But apparently the trick is getting them to actually do things. 

Well, time's up and I need to go now.  I love you all and pray for you every night.

Your Elder Who's Learning Spanish in Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Note From Austin's MTC Instructor

Dear Brother Mike Ascura
Thank you so much for sending me the blogsite of Elder Ascura and also for sharing with me your experience with the missionaries at the airport.  It really brought tears and feelings of joy when I was reading how awesome this missionaries are.  I know they are and I am excited for the people in Panama and Honduras because they are receiving the resemblance of the sons of Mosiah.

Thank you for raising an amazing son, and now Elder.  He brought the spirit powerfully to the district.  He is an example of exact obedience and humility.  He was always willing to work, he never murmured or complained.  He was always ready to work.  And he will in Panama, I do not have any doubt that he will be a powerful instrument in God's hands to bring his children unto Christ. 

Thank you for being a great example to everyone around you, and for serving this country, your son does really admire that from you.  He highly respects and loves you and your family.  He told me how awesome and fun you are.  I hope to meet you all some day.

Sincerely,
Sister Berioska Dezzeo

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Final Gathering in Atlanta

Today was a fun day.  Austin called early early this morning to say goodbye from the Salt Lake City Airport.  He knew I would be at the Atlanta Airport and advised us that it was against mission rules to see friends or family, so he did not disclose his flight information.  But much to his surprise, I was at his arrival gate in Atlanta and he was not the least bit surprised when he saw me.  He was traveling with 11 other missionaries: 8 going to Panama and 4 to Honduras.  From all the pictures I sent Austin, his entire district knew who I was and immediately came to me when they exited the plane, Austin being the last to exit.  After some introductions and light teasing with one another, we decided to have lunch together at Blimpies, my treat of course.

I spent the whole afternoon with him talking about his MTC experience.  He was indeed a changed man.  He spoke confidently of the gospel, expressed excitement for the work, and we even spent time talking about some ideas for doing missionary work.  I actually felt 'important' and flattered all of a sudden to hear him ask about some of my experiences.  All the while, the other missionaries were quick to engage in missionary work with passengers waiting for their flight to Panama.  It was great to see them engaged in the work and doing it with eagerness and enthusiasm.  I couldn't help but wonder if that spiritual fire would be the same several months from now.  I was especially impressed with their ability to converse in Spanish, having only completed 8 weeks of training at the MTC.  Their MTC instructors (Sister Dezzeo and Elder Rivera) would have been proud of their pupils to witness them at work, as Sister Dezzeo magnificently described them, as the "Sons of Mosiah" in the service of their Heavenly Father. 

Finally, it was time to say goodbye.  As I reached out to shake their hands individually, they each came forward with a warm embrace as we bid farewell for the next 22 months.  We met at the airport as strangers, realized each other as Brethren of the Priesthood, and parted our separate ways as family.  It was great to visit with Austin for the first time as a newly trained missionary.  I was sad to say goodbye again, although the experience was not as painful this time around.  Austin's eyes and stature displayed a grown man with character and determination, and armed with a mighty testimony and an intense desire to serve his Heavenly Father.  He was determined to serve with all his heart, might, mind, and strength, for as he said, this could possibly be the last time he would ever serve in this capacity, and he wanted to do it right!  It was time to let him go.  Below are some pictures of his MTC experience.  They truly looked like a band of brothers.

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MTC Week 9: The Time Has Come!

My time here in the MTC is finally up. I've just started packing up and am doing laundry before dinner. The room is a wreck as we're trying to make sure to dodge the overweight baggage fees, which would nail us for about 150 bucks or so. Yeah, not so stoked about that.

As for MTC stuff this last week has been extremely awesome as we've all prepared to head out and we've received all the leaving advice and instructions from our leaders. It's really quite weird when everyone keeps telling me how much I've changed and how much they've watched me grow in the last nine weeks. I hardly feel any different in a number of respects! But I guess that's part of growing; you never really see how much you've done until you really look back. But I don't have time for that. I'll look back after I've worked my tail off in Panama. Dilligently working has always been a weakspot of mine, but with all the high expectations and with the promise of bringing the gospel to as many people as I could, I can't afford to blow this.

When I get home, you'll have to ask about my MTC Branch President, President Studdert. Heck, the whole presidency, Brother Worthington and Brother Johnston. They've been really helpful out here and I don't intend to forget about them for awhile. President Studdert even knows where Picatinny is.

As for teachers, I'll make sure to write a bit about them both when I send pictures home. I kind of regret not taking more, but I think they would've gotten a little repetitive out here. They've really been a great help as well, though. As for the tooth deal, nothing's wrong. Maybe a piece of beef jerky is stuck down in my gum, but he couldn't see anything and the X-Ray shows that that half of my mouth is still hole-less. Sorry for the worries.

As for other news, I don't know if there's really much for me to say other than how eager I am to get to Panama and work. I've been picking up a couple last minute purchases, such as a high tech little water bottle filter thingy. Thirty bucks for a water bottle that basically filters and cleans about anything you put into it as long as it's water. I mean, worst comes to worst, it should be able to filter urine out completely, too. Not that I'm going to be the first to try it, though.

One thing that I do feel a little sheepish for is how eager I am to get through the mission as quickly as possible. With how much I've heard people telly me how much they cried when they left or how much they never wanted to leave or how they would return in a heartbeat . . . I feel a little selfish for just wanting to get through this as quickly as possible. Maybe that kind of an appreciation and love for the people will come as I serve, but I really do want to work hard and bring the gospel to as many people as humanly possible. I just sometimes feel sheepish over how much I'd like to be home. But, all the more reason to work hard.

The three Honduras-bound missionaries left this morning and the district accompanied them out at 4 AM. Tomorrow, it will be our turn. I'll try to share the gospel with someone in the airport, I guess. And I'll be dropping in a call on you guys from the airport in the morning. If it doesn't work out so well in the morning I might try later on in the day when I land in Georgia. I'd give you the flight plans, Dad, but we're not supposed to meet up with family or friends. And given you get around pretty easily in airports, I'd hardly call it fair that I get to hang out with my old man for lunch. Have to set the example with obedience, Dad.

Hmmmm. I'm not sure if there's much else to say. I'll try to figure out the mail system as quickly as possible and determine how we'll send anything else once I hit the ground in Panama. Sister Broomhead e-mailed me to forward an e-mail to me, but I don't think I can reply. I'm also not sure if that's technically allowed since she's not family, even if she basically could be considered it. I think she might be able to forward it through you to me, though. I'd have to ask my mission president on the specifics for the rules of the mission. I heard that President Madrigal was pretty gung ho, but I don't know if that's just rumors or not.

I'm curious to find out what kind of mission Panama is, but I suppose it won't be long until I find out for myself. I love you all and thank you for your support and hope you continue to write me while I'm out in Panama. You all are in my prayers every night and I hope things are working out for you.

Your Elder Who's Gonna Get a Plane Ticket in the Morning,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Friday, November 13, 2009

Panama Panama City Mission President


President and Sister Manuel and Esperanza Madrigal

Name: Manuel Madrigal from the Coacalco Ward, Mexico City Ecatepec Stake. 

Former Bishop, Stake President and Counselor, Stake Executive Secretary and Temple Ordinance Worker.

Profession: Research Professor, Instituto Politecnico National.


Esperanza L. and Manuel Madrigal

Born in Minatitlan, Veracruz, Mexico, to Manuel Antonio and Maria Presentacion Romero Alejandro de Madrigal Cancino. 

Married Esperanza Launa Mancilla, Three Children.

Wife: Sister Esperanza Laguna Mancilla Madrigal.

Former counselor in the Ward Relief Society Presidency, Sunday School Teacher, Stake Young Women President, Ward Primary President, Counselor in the Ward relief Society and Young Women Presidencies and Seminary Teacher.

Born in Arriaga, Chiapas, Mexico, to Anibal and Crispina Mancilla Sanchez de Laguna Perez.

Letter From Austin's District President at the MTC

Brother Ascura,
Just a note to update you on how your son is doing. I just called his Branch President to check on him and the Branch President said that you should be a very proud father with where your missionary son is right now – that he is doing very well and he had no hesitation at all about him going to Panama next week as scheduled. I think you are aware that for awhile he was struggling with whether his testimony was up to a mission but the Branch President indicated that just a few days ago he bore his testimony and shared a very spiritual, sincere testimony and when he went up to him afterwards he asked him whose testimony he had shared, and Elder Ascura responded, “Mine!”

The Branch President said he has really grown and that his companion finds it a real delight to be with him. They apparently get along very well. The report is that he has done well with the Spanish language also. Thanks for sharing this great son with us – the reports are really good and I thought you would be very happy with the news.

A personal side note – thanks for what you and others in the military are doing to make the world a better place. I grew up in the middle east and I would love to see peace come to that region. The common people of Pakistan and Afghanistan have suffered long and the world hopes that men like you making a huge sacrifice can help bring them peace and a better life.

President C.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

MTC Week 8: Last Full Week

Hola, Familia!

It's the last full week before I head out. This week will be filled with classes, packing, and goodbyes. I head out next Tuesday, the 17th.  I'll be up around 4 AM and head out to Atlanta, Georgia and then on to Panama. I'll be the travel leader so that means I get to be the one to sweat bullets when I count up the missionaries one short. But it's all good.  Oh! Almost forgot, I get to give you guys a not-long phonecall from the airport. So make sure that someone is at home Tuesday morning, if you want to hear my voice before Christmas, that is. 

Anywho, I have not yet received the package with the oakleys, Dad, but I got the package with the longsleeve shirt (which I love), Mom, and the Halloween candy. I'll slice up the card for you because, frankly, I have no idea how this is all is supposed to work, what with the mission having it's own system and me needing to talk to leaders for permission to use the phone.

For Halloween, a couple missionaries dressed up minimally so they weren't destroying the dress code, but there wasn't a whole lot of festivity here. There's Christmas lights in the trees, but not much else. Teachers aren't aloud to bring anything and I mean ANYTHING from off-campus. They can buy candy from the bookstore, but I could do that myself.

Dad: Make some money with the engineers (playing against them on video games)? I'd be up for that when I get home. Tell 'em I'll play with only one hand, too.

I'm going to try and get pictures in the mail this week, although, I didn't really take too many. Most of them probably would've looked fairly similar, though. As for my bright companion, he's quite the hard worker. Normally, when they call one person for one of the zone leaders, his companion is also called as the second. So when they called one from two different companionships, we all thought it was odd. They had the opportunity to switch companionships. I'm flattered that my companion chose to keep me, as he always seems to have extremely high opinions of me, if he hadn't chose to keep me as his companion, things wouldn't be too much different than now. I am almost always on companion exchanges with the other zone leader's companion, anyways.

Hmmm. I don't think there's much left I could ask for. Don't send any more bags of candy, though. I keep feeling like I'm going to get diabetes from all the candy I've gone through. And I don't even buy any.

Well, I think that's the majority of the news here. Yesterday, we listened to a Richard Heaton speak. I don't remember what his actual calling is, but he basically makes sure we get fed and have a roof above our heads. His talk was absolutely mindblowing. I've heard from two apostles here and I'm pretty sure we'll get another one tomorrow, but this talk hit home.

Looking forward to heading out to Panama, the Spanish is coming along well, and I have successfully evaded the H1N1 flu. You all are in my prayers and I'm trying to work hard out here, even though I'm not in the field. Try to have the phone working and monitored on Tuesday morning for my call!

Your Elder Who's About To Go In To The Field,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

PS One of my teachers here is working desperately hard to get her green card through because she's immigrating from Venezuela. You wouldn't happen to have connections that could speed up the process, would you, Dad?

Monday, October 26, 2009

MTC Week 7: False Alarm: Three Weeks Now!

Hello, Family!
Oddly, Dad, I got your letter with all the pictures of you, which the district really liked, after the one immediately preceding it. Gotta love the postal services sometimes, eh? By the way, Elder Morris is pretty sure you could rip his head off. With the occasional Mom jokes here, it's no wonder no one's bothered me about my Mom.

I got the ATM card, Mom, but I think the Mission intends to arrange for its own special debit card when I get there. But I have both the Credit Card and the ATM card which is still unactivated. If you'd like me to do something, please send me instructions. A side note, if you'd like to get information and letters and such to me quickly, check out dearelder.com and mtcdelivery.com.  It's like e-mail but they print it out for me and I get it as soon as it gets sent instead of waiting for postal services to deliver it all.  I also got the package with the beef jerky you all sent me. I'm the envy of the district with all the boxes I get!  Thanks for everything.

Aside from it being a tad chilly here, there isn't much I could ask for. Something cheap for the mornings.  I have to stand outside in only pajamas for breakfast would be nice.  Disease is rampant! here! Well, a little bit, at least. Flu and Swine Flu and Colds are everywhere here. Lots of people getting quarantined. I've gone in multiple times thinking I had the flu, but my sinus infection's just been throwing wrenches into my system and giving me colds every couple of weeks. Probably won't be a problem in Panama.

The Spanish is coming along pretty well. I can actually speak it fairly alright. Understanding it at native speed is difficult sometimes, but I can almost understand my teachers when they're praying. I'm confident that after a couple of weeks out in Panama, I'll be alright with speaking in Spanish. As for teaching, it's just making sure I talk a bit more. I understand most of the doctrine just fine and anything like that and most of our lessons, with a couple of exceptions, go really well. We'll hope that continues in Panama. I've just got to remember to keep working hard and to keep my nose to the grind.

As for matters of testimony, I'm doing alright. Sometimes, discerning the influence of the Spirit is really hard for me. I'm not sure if it's because I don't know what I'm looking for or what, but I'm alright. I've had some pretty amazing meetings here. And, like your Filipino companion at the MTC, mine cries a lot, too. Sometimes, I worry that I'm messed up or something because of all the tears I see here, sometimes. As for our district, we had 12. Now we have 9. 2 left a couple weeks back for the Guatemala MTC and one went home on week 2. No sisters, just guys. So we're quite the bunch.

We go to the temple every Monday morning for a session before the rest of the day.   I'm actually really excited to get moving out to Panama and I'm not alone. Part of it is the State side elders here. Some of them are pretty neat, but some of them really make me wonder what happens in the States. I don't know if many of them REALLY understand what they're in for. I mean, I lucked out, in terms of a focused district and we're still working hard on it. But I'm also just REALLY curious to see what Panama is like, city or jungle, I'm quite curious. I hear President Madrigal (Unsure of the spelling), the Mission President for Panama is quite gung ho. Heard he cleaned out the whole mission when he came in. Which reminds me. I'm not sure you guys can visit me after the mission. I hear the policy is to ship me out of Panama ASAP after I finish just so they can get me released. So if you'd really like to come to Panama and have me tour you about a bit, odds are you're going to have to wait 'til I come home. And your Spanish will have to be impeccable, Dad. So I'm looking forward to "espeaking da langwich" with you, Dad.

Well, I'm about out of time. Everyone here was impressed by you, Dad. I miss you all, though I'm not feeling wrenched over it, and I pray for you all every night. I hope things are going well for you and wish you the best of luck in all your exploits and undertakings.

Your Missionary in the Field,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

MTC Week 6: Over the Hump

¡Hola, Familia!

This week has been a great deal better than the last. The days here sometimes drag on and take far far longer than you could ever anticipate, but the weeks are always blindingly quick in hindsight. I think the mission only goes fast when you look back on it, but they say things will speed up once I get to Panama. We´ll see about that.

Anyway, my understanding of Spanish grammar is well enough that I think I can understand how sentences are assembled, but my vocab is lacking so I guess I´ll be doing vocab memorization drills this week. I hope I don´t burn myself out on it.

As for growing as a teacher, I seem to be getting positive reviews from most of the teaching activities, but I think I can do better than this. I´m going to start really marking up my Spanish scriptures so I´ll be ready to teach in Spanish. I forgot that we start doing that now.

Flu season is in and everyone is in panic mode. I might have a few symptoms, but I think I am alright. People here are pretty quick to send you to a doctor, though. Who knows? Getting a good night´s sleep, even this far in is really difficult for me. I just can´t seem to feel not tired for certain parts of the day. We´ll see if that changes.

All in all, things are good, I´ve got way more sweets than I know what to do with, I´m fairly healthy, and still growing. I wish you all the best of luck and hope that you remember that you´re all in my prayers. I hope that my mission doesn´t take me too long to get back to you, but I do want to enjoy the experience I got to personally hear an apostle plead the importance of.

Your Missionary in the Field,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, October 19, 2009

MTC Week 5: Panama Countdown: One Month

¡Hola, Familia!

This week has been a great deal better than the last. The days here sometimes drag on and take far far longer than you could ever anticipate, but the weeks are always blindingly quick in hindsight. I think the mission only goes fast when you look back on it, but they say things´ll speed up once I get to Panama. We´ll see about that. Anyway, my understanding of Spanish grammar is well enough that I think that I can understand how sentences are assembled, but my vocab is lacking so I guess I´ll be doing vocab memorization drills this week. I hope I don´t burn myself out on it.

As for growing as a teacher, I seem to be getting positive reviews from most of the teaching activities, but I think I can do better than this. I´m going to start really marking up my Spanish scriptures so I´ll be ready to teach in Spanish. I forgot that we start doing that now.

Flu season is in and everyone´s in panic. I might have a few symptoms, but I think I´m alright, though. People here are pretty quick to send you to a doctor, though. Who knows? Getting a good night´s sleep, even this far in is really difficult for me. I just can´t seem to feel not tired for certain parts of the day. We´ll see if that changes. All in all, things are good, I´ve got way more sweets than I know what to do with, I´m fairly healthy, and still growing. I wish you all the best of luck and hope that you all remember that you´re in my prayers. I hope that my mission doesn´t take me too long to get back to you, but I do want to enjoy the experience that I got to personally hear an apostle plead the importance of.

Your Missionary in the Field
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

MTC Week 4: Spanish, Teaching, and More Spanish

Dear Family

First off, I'd like to say that I hate Colombus Day. No mail on my P-Day. That means I don't get to write anyone for two weeks! GAH. No bueno. No me gusta.

Anywho, rumors were right, my companion is the district leader. So now I'm the senior companion. Fun stuff so far, being the leader and the whatnot. He's generally so genuine and eager and filled with ideas, though, that he practically does the work for me. Let me say that these elders are freaking nuts. I mean, really, these guys are all at opposite ends of the scales and they've all already resolved to meet up and hang out immediately after we get home.

The routine here is really quite mind numbing at times. I mean, we've all jokingly compared it to prison. Unfortunately, the similarities are striking! You know, every minute of the day planned, no entertainment, an hour of gym time a day . . . you know, the works. But seriously, I'm completely convinced I'll love being in Panama more than the MTC. Yeah, I'll lose weight. Yeah, it'll be hot and humid. The rumor is we get machetes and we canoe a lot from house to house. And heck, I've heard the percentage of people that return home from illness is huge. But at least I won't go stir-crazy being on a single block for all my time

Teaching is becoming less mind-wrecking, even if we are only teaching volunteer investigators most of the time. Spanish is going well. My vocab is limited, but my understanding of the grammar is well. Forgot to mention that the Branch President happens to know where Picatinny is. I guess he's been there on business before. President Studdard, if you'd like to look into it, Dad.

Well, the only thing that keeps my head from exploding at times is singing here. We sing anywhere from 6 to 12 hymns a day, I think. Apparently, I'm getting pretty good. Although, technically I should only be singing hymns. I mean, a little Boston or Guns n Roses slips out every so often, but now it usually only happens on P Day. I can usually sing hymns without feeling weird about it now. Although I usually only hum a couple. Currently, my favorite is "Have I Done Any Good", number 223 in English.

My testimony's developed a great deal and I think I understand why you expected such a large change during the mission. I even intend to write my friends to help them understand why I'm doing something so bizarre to them and hopefully get them to at least read the book I'm potentially risking my life over. Don't get me wrong, Dad, I don't think this will snuff out my love for video games. :D

Pero mi español esta desarollando mucho. Recordó mucho que aprendió en escuela segundaria, pero estoy aprendiendo mucho aqui, tambien. Tres elderes aqui hablan español muy bien y soy un de tres. Mi el hablar es despacio y mi vocabulario es limitido pero con tiempo puedo decir qué quiero. Which is to say I'm learning Spanish and remembering a lot of what I learned in high school. Three elders here seem to have a real good understanding of Spanish and I'm one.

Well, my time' almost up. Things are rough and strict, but I'm doing alright. There isn't a day that goes by where I don't think about you all and I hope you guys are doing at least three times better than me. I love you and await to hear from you again.

Your Missionary In the Field,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

MTC Week 3: Carta Numero Tres

Tambien, Hola, Mi Familia!

Because of the sheer amount I had to read, this e-mail will be a tad short as we are limited to thirty minutes of usage a week. I'll have to investigate a special way of reading the e-mails after being printed off so I don't waste time.

My clothes weren't ruined! They weren't perfect, so I'll give it one more go and leave it at that. I'll make sure to replace or order from you guys anything that I start needing.

Of all my concerns here, I only grow more eager to get into Panama.  Not to brag, but our district is kicking butt and taking names. We are learning the Spanish and have already begun talking about future and conditional tenses, most of us having minimal Spanish experience. According to the teachers, we're powerhouses and steam rollers. Also, I think my companion and I are teacher favorites. Shh! Don't tell anyone!

We are in building 3M or the Harriet Nye building. My companion's name is Elder Burke Albert Louis Laidler. Our roomies are Elder Jon Warburton and Elder Cory Stewart. We are a happy and weird bunch. We are part of district 17D.

Teachers:  Hermano Rivera who served a Spanish speaking mission in Washington. He's half Puerto Rican but has a British accent when he speaks English. So weird. And then there's Hermana Desseo. She's a Venezuelan missionary who served in the States. She's fluent, he's real close. Both of them aren't much older than me.

Our district has 12 elders. No sisters. Unfortunately we had one go home. Tomorrow two more are leaving us, but they are heading for the MTC in Guatemala. There are three missions in our district.
Panama
-Elder Ascura
-Elder Laidler
-Elder Stewart
-Elder Warburton
-Elder Grestch
-Elder Morris

Guatemala
-Elder Page
-Elder Roske (district leader)

Honduras
-Elder Tenney
-Elder Lawrence
-Elder Elison

Since our district leader is leaving, we'll be getting a new one. Rumor has it that my companion's it, which means that I'm the new brains of the operation. Aw yeah!

Well, my time is almost up, so I'll finish everything else I couldn't write in a handwritten letter. I love you all so much and hope that the Lord is taking care of you while I serve. Things are improving, even if they are getting harder. Promise!

Your Elder in the Field,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

PS My district loves your cookies, Mom

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

MTC Week 2: "Adjustment to the Lifestyle Continues"

Hey everyone!
Doing laundry again. REALLY hoping that my whites get white again. Cream colored shirts and garments are no bueno. Nearly all my white clothes were essentially ruined. Bleached 'em today, hoping for good results. Adjustment to the lifestyle continues.

The dorms here are still four to a room. I got three jokers here, too. All of them had girlfriends when they went out.
- Elder Stewart just got his Dear John and now he's trying to reverse it with a "You're a distraction" letter.
-Elder Warburton just had a casual girlfriend.
-Elder Laidler, my companion, has a hardcore girlfriend he's been dating for years. She's out on her mission, too, though, so the down time will only be about seven months between them in two years. They seem really close, really, but I am curious to see what happens when she's off and he's not.

I understand most of what they do here and why they do it that way and only have minor problems with it. I'm still a bit of a loner out here, but I'm not too worried about it. Apparently, I already command a great deal of respect. Everyone seems to be very fond of me and my tactful reserve and occasional witty outburst, including my teachers...

Just so you guys know, I only get to check and write e-mail on Mondays, my P-days. I'm adjusting my diet as best I can. Lots of fruit. Trying to institute vegetables more. Actually ate a whole salad; even more, a spinach one. I think I might actually like spinach. I don't like feta cheese, though, I learned that. That aside, I think my diet is fairly balanced and I'm trying to avoid fatty foods and desserts for the most part. I did finish off all the cookies, much to the happiness of my carb-cutting companions.  Every day for gym, I've been running 2 miles. I don't know if I'll do any weight training here, unlike my roommates who are determined to be ripped when they come home.

... I press forward (as a missionary), for the Lord has made a promise. Things are getting MUCH easier for me, though. I've been writing in my journal every day. Spanish is coming along fairly alright. I've relearned 80% of what I learned in High school, minus some of the vocabulary. With time, though, I think I'll be alright. Some of the other missionaries are getting really stressed over the Spanish. I think I'll have to sit down with them one-on-one at some point to help.

I'm glad to hear that my pride and joy machine (computer) is now neatly tucked away, although I wasn't too worried about it. And despite what Dad thinks, I better still have my colored shirts tucked away, too! My companion had an ingrown toe nail. I got to accompany him to a foot doctor and watched him kill some of the root. Took pictures for him too. I'm not sure how to send you all pictures nor can I open the pictures Riss sent me on their computers. You'll have to send actual pictures. The only way I can send you guys pictures is if I have them printed.  Speaking of which, I'd appreciate it if I got a picture of you guys.  My bulletin board is empty and I think my roomies need to see how brown my Dad is.

Well, I think that covers most of the week. Hoping my clothes are white again.

Your Missionary in Training,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

MTC Week 1: The Making of a Missionary

Austin's second letter was full of promise. He is a bit overwhelmed with the transition to missionary life but is courageously attacking challenges head on. He is still charming and humorous, even amid challenging circumstances, and it will be exciting to compare his letters months from now.

With Mike currently in Afghanistan and Austin on a mission for two years, our family is filled with joy and pride from their service to God and Country, but empty as a result of our separation. However, with four kids still at home, life is still abundantly filled with excitement and anticipation as we balance activities between home, work, school, church, and oh yes,...teen social life. Again, we express our love and appreciation for your thoughts and prayers for our family, and especially for our two men away from home. An excerpt from Austin's letter is posted below.
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...So far, being in the MTC has proven to be quite the roller coaster emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, I've got a batch of missionaries who are determined to get fit in the MTC. Exercise is almost daily, paired with being unaccustomed to waking up before 11 AM, it's been a little rough. The food here, while good, is also throwing a wrench into my system. I'm currently sick after getting a flu shot. I think I'll check on whether chills are supposed to be a side effect. I'm holding up, though.

Mentally, this has been especially trying as well. They have REALLY piled on a ton of things to remember. Rules, planning, Spanish, gospel lessons, schedules..., it's a lot to take in. I expect by the end of this week that I'll have this stuff down, minus the language. That might take a tidge longer, but I seem to be doing very well with the Spanish. I should be at the same level I used to be at in high school by the end of the week. Gospel lessons shouldn't be too hard to get down once I learn the words in Spanish.

Emotionally, I've had a lot of conflicting feelings. Being homesick, missing family and friends, actually having free time, and such things are all part of the tough things in being a missionary. I think the pressure will go down with time, especially once I'm in the field. The longer I'm out here, the easier the mission itself seems to become. Not to say that this will be a breeze. There will still be a language barrier and the challenge of living in Panama, which I hear is 80% jungle. (I heard we get machetes. Crossing my fingers.) But I'm feeling confident in my abilities to be a missionary.Having a trio of zany missionaries as roommates is helping this experience to remain a little less stressful, given the extreme change of living conditions.I will try to write my next letter in both Spanish and English. My love and the best of luck to you all out there waiting and watching for me.

Elder Austin M. Ascura

MTC Week 1: Day One: Confusion, Mistakes, and Surprises

We received Austin's first letter from the MTC yesterday afternoon and it sounds like he is off to a great start. We were considerably worried, as any parent is about their missionary being in a new environment and chained to a missionary shadow 24-7, but Austin's letter put our hearts at ease. Parts of his letter are listed below:

I'm settled in after some housing mistakes and a bunch of confusion. I have to go get the correct room key still! Everything's alright, though. Oddly enough, I already have to do maintenance work on my blue suit. The top button popped off when my collar got caught on a stair rail.

Guess who was the devotional speaker for day numero uno? Elder Holland! It was funny because the Canadian guy I was paired with for the day, Elder Alexandre Morin, and I knew the entire day who it was while everyone else was circulating rumors about it being President Monson, who I guess was at BYU yesterday.

The food here looks to be pretty edible and I've already tried to adopt a healthier diet. Excercise will start up soon enough and hopefully my blue suit will fit a little better again. I think that sums up about everything for now: Confusion, recording mistakes, and surprises.

The MTC seems to be filled with young, motivated, and enthusiastic youths; I can't help but feel that some of the enthusiasm is a little contagious. But I intend to stay focused on my goals out here and I intend to outwork any other missionary I come into contact with. I hope you guys at home are hanging in alright and that school and work aren't seeping away your sanity while I'm here in Provo. I look forward to the coming weeks and seeing who my companion here will be and hope to write as much as possible in terms of letters and journal entries.

I love you.

Your Elder in the Field,
Elder Austin M. Ascura

PS: please post on the blog that e-mails are restricted for family only so that my friends aren't too disappointed for not receiving e-mails already. I'd appreciate it if any mailing instructions for Provo are posted as well so that they can have their consolation prize.

Elder Ascura's Journey Begins...

Last night (September 14, 2009), Austin was set apart as a missionary by the Stake President, President Tim Pettitt. It was a wonderful blessing with lots of promises and revelation as to what to expect and how best to succeed on his mission. Afterward, we had a late dinner at the Olive Garden, which was Austin's choice, and had a great time. We gave him his missionary journal and a missionary study guide as going away presents, especially since he really couldn't have anything else. He was thrilled.

Carissa, who has the best penmanship of any of us, prepared the journal by filling out the administrative portion; no one can read Austin's extraordinary scribbling skills.





Before bed time, Austin performed his first priesthood ordinance as an Elder and missionary by giving Carissa a blessing at her request, to help her stay focused in school and church. Austin did a fabulous job and from the blessing he pronounced, left no doubt in our minds his blessing was truly by inspiration.

This morning, Austin finally left home for the mission field at 5am, in a limousine that he and Mike chartered to the airport, courtesy of the government since Mike was departing on his military assignment. It was much harder the night before thinking about him leaving us for two years than actually saying goodbye.


This morning was more of a blissful and happy send off knowing he was off to serve his Heavenly Father with all his heart, might, mind, and strength, and that we were placing his life in the hands of the Lord. He arrived at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah around 5pm and was immediately off and running trying to get settled. We did not get to speak to him, but spoke to the main office who confirmed Austin's arrival, and that he would be in touch with us by email as soon as he gets settled in. He has only been gone several hours today, but we miss him dearly as if he has been gone for months.

Austin's Parting Thoughts

Dear Family and Friends,

My missionary service officially begins tonight at 7pm when I am set apart as a missionary by my Stake President and for the next 15 hours or so, I will have the coolest missionary companion in the world, my Dad. We leave tomorrow morning at 5am and will be traveling together to Dallas, Texas and then we will split up. He will be on military assignment and I will head to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah for about 8 weeks. Since I received my mission call I have had a lot of people ask me what my thoughts are about serving this mission so I hope my parting remarks will answer everyone’s questions.

To begin, I wasn't too sure what to think of the whole process of a mission call. I'm not really too sure why, either. Regardless, the entire task of completing the process and everything was so drawn out that had I been as eager as I often was as a kid, it wouldn't have lasted for too long. But once the actual paperwork was sent in and all the prerequisites were finally taken care of, there was a unanimous feeling of relief knowing that the process was completed and all I had to do was wait for the call to tell me where I was going to serve. The possibilities were baffling. It could have been anywhere as local as Pennsylvania or as exotic as... well, nearly anywhere. The stretches of African lands, the towns of Europe, the forests of South America, or the metropolises of Eastern Asia were all possible. Now, to follow the precedent of my aging infatuation with Asian culture, naturally, I hoped to serve there. A Japanese, Korean, or Chinese speaking mission was what I was hoping for. But because I had hoped to go there, I sort of knew I was naturally not going to be sent there.

In May, I finally received my mission call and prior to opening up the letter, I couldn't help but pore over my predictions as to where I would go. I knew I would go foreign and speak a new language, and I also knew that Central/South American missions were fairly common. A friend of mine, Spencer Broomhead, who was also my roommate at BYU-Idaho, is currently serving in Lima, Peru. But I also thought my Dad's prediction was right: Western Europe; France or perhaps Italy. Imagine my surprise to see Panama City.

I honestly knew next to nothing about Panama. I knew a girl from Panama when I was in junior high, but other than her, the only other thing I knew about Panama was a little trivia about the Panama Canal. So over the next few months, the stress of submitting paperwork was over and the mission buzz in the home receded into a temporary lull, allowing me to relax a little and reflect on the now known destination. I knew I had to relearn Spanish. I hadn't had any intentions of relearning it before, but with the versatility of it as a language, this in itself would prove to be a blessing in my life after my mission, given I retain my knowledge and practice. I guess everyone is worried about learning a second language because that's all anyone seems to mention when I tell them about my mission location. To be honest though, I feel I'm a bright enough kid that picking up a language, especially one I've already studied, shouldn't be too difficult. I will feel quite foolish if I prove myself wrong.

All that aside, I'm a little nervous about the trip as a whole, but not really too worried. I expect that whatever comes my way, I'll successfully pull through regardless how rough the challenges are. Now as I look forward to my upcoming adventure to Panama, I have only one real personal goal besides figuring out where I will be going in Panama. The next two years will give me the opportunity to labor in the service of the Lord and hopefully allow me to recognize and realize who I am, where I need to go, and how to successfully perform my duties as a missionary. All other thoughts can wait and will hopefully fall in place in time.

In closing, I don't know if I can offer very much in terms of advice except keep your eyes, ears, and heart open, and proceed forward with hope and confidence, while anticipating an exciting and spiritual transformation. I intend to return a changed man, hopefully for the better. See you in two years…and don’t forget to write!

Elder Austin Michael Ascura

The Temple Endowment

Austin received his temple endowments on July 16, 2009 in the New York Manhattan Temple. On this day, Lisa, Austin, and I got up around 4:30 to a beautiful summer morning and made the hour or so drive to the Manhattan Temple. Everyone at the temple knew exactly who we were the moment we walked in the front door, greeting us by name without any introduction from us. It was quite a spiritual experience, not just for Austin, but for Lisa and I as well.


Before the session, the Temple President, William J. Frost, conducted an office visit for Austin and I, while Lisa waited in the Chapel. President Frost was quite emotional from the start as he expressed his love for Austin and confided that he felt a much greater and special feeling for Austin today than he had previously towards anyone as the Manhattan Temple President. President Frost briefly discussed the purpose of the temple endowment and the significance it has on our lives, bore an emotional testimony, and then closed by having me bear my testimony to my son.

Afterward, we were sitting at the rear chapel waiting for the session to begin when an older gentleman sitting in the front row got up and made his way toward us. He shook Austin’s hands and said, “So this is the missionary”, and began speaking to him in Spanish. He chuckled knowing Austin didn’t understand a word he said. He introduced himself as Elder Christofferson and after some small talk, gave Austin his best wishes and returned to his seat with his wife. Lisa asked who he was and that started a funny argument between us. I said I thought he was the local regional representative but Austin insisted he was a member of the Twelve Apostles. After going back and forth for several minutes, I finally got up and asked President Frost, who confirmed that he was indeed, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Austin said he knew that was Elder Christofferson only because he gave the Priesthood lesson in church the previous Sunday, which was based of Elder Christofferson’s last talk in General Conference.

After the session, we sat in the Celestial Room for quite awhile talking about the various principles of the Gospel with Austin. It was truly a joyous occasion for us to escort our son and to observe his spiritual growth in the temple unfold before our eyes in such a short time. He would later go through the Portland Temple in Oregon with his mother while on vacation, and while I was in the Middle East; it was a very special temple session just for mother and son.

The Mission Call

For our non-LDS friends, service as a missionary is one of the most anticipated church assignments young men in the church strive for. Missions are open to men between the ages of 19 and 27, women after the age of 21, and to older retired couples. They length of missions will vary depending on the type of mission, but are normally 24 months for young men and 18 months for women and older couples. Although most missionaries are called to serve proselyting missions to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there are other types of missions such as serving at LDS visitor centers, historic sites, humanitarian, education and training, employment, and health care. Austin will be serving a proselyting mission. Missions are voluntary, not mandatory, and is normally financed by the missionary and his or her family. To find out more about LDS missions, check out this web site:

http://lds.about.com/od/programs3foldmission/p/lds_mission.htm.

Although every missionary has a dream list as to where he would like to serve throughout the world or what language he would like to speak, the decision on where a missionary is assigned rests with the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So in Austin’s case, he was involuntarily assigned to serve in the Panama Panama City Mission for 24 months as a Spanish speaking proselyting missionary.

Austin received his mission call on May 21st, 2009. This was supposed to be the most exciting day of his pre-missionary experience, to receive his missionary assignment. But when the mission call came in the mail, Austin was actually calm and cool about the whole event. When we first saw the “envelope” from the church, we knew exactly what it was, but we waited until Austin came home to allow him the opportunity to take that exciting walk to the mailbox to pick it up himself. When Austin came home, we asked him to go get the mail and we followed him with a video camera to capture the experience. He knew what all the hype was about and had it been anyone other than Austin, that person would have ran to the mailbox, plowing down everyone and anything in the way to get to that envelope. But No,…not Austin. He was actually pretty relaxed and nonchalant. He picked up the envelope, opened it as if it were any other mail and read through it without any emotion whatsoever. He said he was excited but you definitely couldn’t tell by his monotone voice. Not to worry though, the rest of the family made up for Austin’s lack of excitement. We were ecstatic!

Perhaps before he leaves, Austin will give us some insight to that exciting day.

Bienvenidos a todos!


Welcome everyone and thank you for visiting Austin’s missionary blog. We wanted to create a way for everyone to keep informed of Austin’s mission as he labors in the Panama Panama City Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we thought this was the most efficient and fun way to do it. Initially, Austin will maintain his blog site until he enters the missionary training center on September 15th, 2009, then management of the site will rest with the family. We will provide updates, stories, pictures, change of addresses, and whatever Austin provides so you can stay up to date with his mission. This is an exciting time for Austin and our family as he embarks on this sacred journey in the service of the Lord, and we know that through your support, thoughts, and prayers, he will be triumphant and faithful til the end. We express our love and gratitude to all of you who have played a role in helping our son and missionary grow and prepare for this sacred work, and look forward to having you be a part of our family for the next two years.


Mike, Lisa, Austin, Braden, Carissa, Desiree, and Elise
La Familia Ascura

Monday, September 28, 2009

First Impressions at the MTC

Hey everyone! Doing laundry again. REALLY hoping that my whites get white again. Cream colored shirts and garments are no bueno. Nearly all my white clothes were essentially ruined. Bleached 'em today, hoping for good results. Adjustment to the lifestyle continues. The dorms here are still four to a room. I got three jokers here, too. All of them had girlfriends when they went out. Elder Stewart just got his Dear John and now he's trying to reverse it with a "You're a distraction" letter. Elder Warburton just had a casual girlfriend. Elder Laidler, my companion, has a hardcore girlfriend he's been dating for years. She's out on her mission, too, though, so the down time will only be about seven months between them in two years. They seem really close, really, but I am curious to see what happens when she's off and he's not.

I understand most of what they do here and why they do it that way and only have minor problems with it. I'm still a bit of a loner out here, but I'm not too worried about it. Apparently, I already command a great deal of respect. Everyone seems to be very fond of me and my tactful reserve and occasional witty outburst, including my teachers, who are aware of what a rough time I'm having out here. We had an elder go home a couple of days ago due to psychological stress problems. Meds were illegal in Panama and they weren't curbing his anxiety. The leaders here decided to send him home after counseling with some therapists and psychologists and such. Nice kid, though.

Just so you guys know, I only get to check and write e-mail on Mondays, my P-days. I'm adjusting my diet as best I can. Lots of fruit. Trying to institute vegetables more. Actually ate a whole salad. Even more, a spinach one. I think I might actually like spinach. I don't like feta cheese, though. I learned that. That aside, I think my diet is fairly balanced and I'm trying to avoid fatty foods and desserts for the most part. I did finish off all the cookies, much to the happiness of my carb-cutting companions.

Every day for gym, I've been running 2 miles. I don't know if I'll do any weight training here, unlike my roommates who are determined to be ripped when they come home. As for my testimony's growth, things here are really hard for me. Almost everyone talks about how enveloped in the Spirit they are and here I am thinking I'm numb or something. But nevertheless, I press forward, for the Lord has made a promise.

Things are getting MUCH easier for me, though. I've been writing in my journal every day. Spanish is coming along fairly alright. I've relearned 80% of what I learned in High school, minus some of the vocabulary. With time, though, I think I'll be alright. Some of the other missionaries are getting really stressed over the Spanish. I think I'll have to sit down with them one-on-one at some point to help.

I'm glad to hear that my pride and joy machine is now neatly tucked away, although I wasn't too worried about it. And despite what Dad thinks, I better still have my colored shirts tucked away, too! My companion had an ingrown toe nail. I got to accompany him to a foot doctor and watched him kill some of the root. Took pictures for him too. I'm not sure how to send you all pictures nor can I open the pictures Riss sent me on their computers. You'll have to send actual pictures. The only way I can send you guys pictures is if I have them printed. Is that what you guys want? Speaking of which, I'd appreciate it if I got a picture of you guys. My bulletin board is empty and I think my roomies need to see how brown my Dad is.

Well, I think that covers most of the week. Hoping my clothes are white again.

Your Missionary in Training
Elder Austin Michael Ascura