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, 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:

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:  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 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.

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.


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?