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