Monday, January 25, 2010

Mission Week 19/Panama Week 10: Tough Assignment in Chorrera

Hola Familia!
Change of duty station to San Diego?  Neat.  Elder Laidler (MTC Companion) will be happy to hear that. 

My new companion is Elder Victor Castillo and he's from Ecuador.  he talks a little differently so sometimes I can't understand a word he says.  He has been out about 19 months or so.  Elder Laidler was also in this zone but the day I was going to meet him, he got emergency transferred to San Blas.  Talk about irony.

I actually got a ward this time.  There are alot of really neat members in this one, but I think they don't understand that missionaries shouldn't be 'chilling' at their houses.  Lots of inactives, naturally, and I think the Bishop doesn't really care much for the missionaries.  And in all complete honesty, I can't blame him much for it.  There's a lot of work to do everywhere.

I just received two letters.  My ZL here still has them and I'll likely nab them from him right after I e-mail.  My guess is that they're the replies from my friends that I've been waiting for for awhile.  But one of the counselors to the mission President told me that I had a package, or at least that's what it sounded like.  Im not sure, but I'm hoping it gets sorted out soon.

Did I buy a rice cooker? No, because people here really like to feed me, too.  A lot.  I only buy cereal for breakfast.

I will write a letter to the ward today.  There will be time; the zone is going to play soccer again.

When I had a rough time in Concepcion, I wanted to go home.  Heck, there are alot of times when i still want to go home, for a myriad of reasons. I've still got alot tof growth do do; almost no one here knows how to work; my hold on the language can be very limited sometimes.  But I don't feel like I can go home right now. 

Working here in Chorrera will be difficult for two reasons:
1.  The members and the ward are going to need to understand that while we are here to be their friends, chill time is not allowed.
2.  I really need to study my language much more.  I think the only possible way I'm going to be able to teach anyone out here is if I use personal stories.  But to use those, I really have to understand the language better. 

The way some of the people out here think really drives me nuts as a missionary.  Nearly everyone I talk to is one of two things.
1. I was born as a {Whatever religion}, I'll die a {Said religion}.
2. Well, I don't really think it matters what religion you are, as long as you believe in Jesus.

I'm still hanging in there and I expect to destress quite a bit today.  I hope everything goes well with house hunting and all other endeavors.

Your Elder in Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Austin With President and Sister Madrigal


Austin With President and Sister Madrigal
on the day of his arrival to Panama on
November 17th, 2009

Another Transfer

Well, Austin is certainly seeing Panama probably much faster than any missionary.  Let's see.  He has only been in country for 9 weeks, spent 6 weeks in Alcalde Diaz, 2 weeks in Vista Hermosa, and has been in his third location now for 1 week.  This was not a planned transfer but he seemed like the likely candidate to fill a void in a companionship after a missionary was sent home.  He was in a threesome companionship, which makes proselyting difficult without giving the appearance the missionaries are ganging up on someone, so the move was probably for the better, although it is a wonder why one of the other 2 Elders who had been in Concepcion longer, was not sent.  The rapid transfers make it hard to really get your feet planted, but Austin understands and is in good spirits.  He didn't mention anything about his new companion but we will prompt him on his next letter. 

Below is a caption of the places he has been thus far.  Keep in mind that it took him 8 hours on a bus to get from Alcalde Diaz to La Concepcion...spend 2 weeks there...then take another 8 hour bus ride back close to where he came from originally.  Sounds like he went on vacation for 2 weeks. 

We received alot of comments from family and friends that we passed onto Austin.  He wanted to ensure you knew he was very appreciative of all your thoughts and prayers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mission Week 18/Panama Week 9: Transfer #2, Assignment 3: Chorrera

Hola Familia,
First off, I am very proud of my heritage. Jerryrigging things is so awesome (referring to relatives in Guam rigging up an old inoperable oven, by placing a regular single burner in the bottom of the oven and using that to heat the oven.  It works...; and breaking out the leaf blower and hair blower to blow the fire and get it going for a barbecue.  I called them Guamanian Rednecks). I have a fun time explaining my heritage to people out here, too.

They ask where you from? I say, "United States".
"What part?" "All of them"
"I don´t understand, where were you born?" "Germany. But I´m not German"
And then I drag out the pictures and show them my family. It´s proven to be a really good way to break the ice with members and get to know them better. From the family pictures, they call dad the Spanish equivalent of "Fatty" (WHAT?????).  Then it´s funny to watch all the people´s eyes bug out when they see the picture of dad working out in Afghanistan. I tell them my dad is made of All American Steel!

Yes, I did get moved, but not to San Blas as many other missionaries had anticipated. I got moved to Chorrera, which is about twenty miles away from the city. I´m not sure why they took me ALL the way across the country for two weeks just to haul me back, but that´s what happened. I was pulled out from our trio to fill a hole that opened up when another missionary went home. I got to eat breakfast with the mission president, though.

The new area is actually really likable. Not many hills; we have all the stores and stuff in a corner of our area, and there´s ALWAYS a really nice breeze, and there´s a good amount of stuff here, like a waterfall we´ll be visiting next P-day. The members here are really nice and likable, even though we have a lot of inactive members to work with. The church we go to is right behind our house. Lots of buildings because we´re in a city like area.

Package? Didn't get it yet. I heard that I had mail sitting in the Zone Leaders´ house back in Concepción, but they didn´t think to bring it to me the day before I left. I don´t know why, but they just didn´t think about it and so they´re going to resend it to Chorrera later.  I don´t know if it´s my letter that I´ve been waiting for or the package but something has arrived in Panama for me.

I should be pretty set with most of my food needs and such. We are close to the city. My area is actually the city center, and a ton more. They´re actually going to send two more missionaries in to our area to split it up a bit.

I´m glad that even the Catholic side of our family is excited to hear about my mission. It is kind of sad that not every one could come visit again. Maybe when I get home or somthing.

Fort Sill for your next assignment, Dad? Sweet, I intended to visit that place again.

Braden back to work with his collarbone messed up. Why am I not surprised? Keep me updated with his school plans. As for touring the country with me, I don´t know what´s going to go down. If I don´t leave the country first, it sounds like I´m going to have to remain a missionary in Panama with you as a companion and still obeying the mission rules. Well, my letter´s getting cut short again for time and I´ve got a lot to say. Maybe I´ll write it by hand. I love you all and will keep you in my prayers.

Your Elder in the Field,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mission Week 17/Panama Week 8: Emergency Transfer

Hola Familia,
Some of the things that have gone down out here...Members like to feed us out here. A lot. In fact, in any area where members like to feed us, I've resolved NEVER to eat 'til I'm full again. Ever. Not 'til I leave Panama. Because one day we ate pizza and I ate a very healthy share. I was quite full. Our next appointment? She fed us just because she wanted to. She gave me four Ojaldas, which is basically the words for fry bread tortillas, a fried egg, and a slab of beef. I ate what I could but I felt like I was going to puke. A couple hours later, because she WOULD NOT let us leave, we headed out for our last appointment. Dinner. Three more ojaldas and another egg. Never have I eaten this much food. And it's no wonder that any elder that goes to Concepcion gains weight. I really like Ojaldas, especially with salchichas (vienna sausage type things), but not that much. But, it turns out I might not have to worry about gaining weight. I might actually lose a lot in my next area.

Whatever they had in mind that was special for us, I now know part of it. I'm getting emergency changed. I don't know where to, my guess is San Blas or the Office, but I haven't been told yet. I've already got my bags packed. Just waiting to be told if I leave tonight or tomorrow. I kind of have to laugh because my companion Elder Oakley has been telling everyone that he was going to get sent to San Blas. And now, it's me. He was in absolute shock when we got the phone call. He was really hoping he could get to go to San Blas, too.

Now, just as a warning, because I don't know if I'm headed for San Blas, if I am and I don't get the opportunity to write again before I leave, you won't hear from me for the change. San Blas is basically a series of islands off the northern coast of Panama where a lot of the Indians here live. No internet or stores or anything. We have to buy everything we'll need for the change before hand. But I might not be headed out there, I don't know.

One thing we do out here in Concepcion is we just recently started teaching English classes at the Church. I really like the idea and I think it's actually a little fun to teach English as it helps me practice talking with people and I get to learn all the connections between English and Spanish. I'm a little disappointed, though, because my fellow teachers are a little more interested in using it solely for missionary purposes. Which is the whole reason to begin it, but I disagree with how they want to teach English. Especially since we basically don't have more than one investigator and a couple members attending. And the investigator is well on her way to being baptised, it looks; we even have a date set. But it looks like I won't be around to see it. Right now, I'm writing from a place in Panama called Volcan. I'm not going to be able to climb the mountain like I'd hoped, but it's still really nice up here. Because of the ridges, "mountains", clouds, and how much cooler it is up here, it actually reminds me a lot of Oregon. I think Mom would like it a lot down here. It's really quite cool. At least in comparison to the rest of Panama. Now, I have mail waiting for me back in Concepcion, I don't know if it's your package or a letter or what. I also don't know why the Zone Leaders didn't just bring it up when they knew they'd be meeting me and I might leave today. So far, I'm not in need of much. I'm managing my money out here a ton better than a lot of the other elders, so I should be able to cover about anything I'll need for now.

Right now, I hear the Beegees playing. It's so weird hearing American music playing out here.

I'm not sure if I have much more to write about out here. The work needs . . . work. At least out in Concepcion. But I'm headed somewhere else for now. Well, I might get to e-mail you later, I might not. I'll make sure to fill you in on all the details and if I'm headed for San Blas, I'm not getting on the plane without malaria medicine. I love you all and keep you in my prayers. I hope everything back in the States is going well.

Your Missionary in the Field,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mission Week 16/Panama Week 7: Missionary Trio

Hola Familia

In answer to your questions:
1. These were my companions thus far:
- Elder Javier Cobba from Peru, was my companion for just one day when I arrived in Panama
- Elder Karlo Lanzo from Honduras was my companion for about 6 weeks in Alcalde Diaz
- Elder Kyle Oakley from Dallas, Texas and Elder Horacio Pavon are my current companions. 

According to Elder Pavon, this threesome companionship is not temporary, but I don't know for sure.  According to Elder Oaks, he thinks (hopes) that he's getting sent to San Blas or possibly the Mission Office, given that those places run changes on a monthly basis rather than the usual six weeks.  But no one here knows.  Anything could happen; we'll see.

2.  We can listen to classical and church music.  I've heard lyrics from other missionaries' music but that's all I know.

3.  Your package has not arrived yet.

4.  Regarding Malaria, I don't think anyone here has it. I hear malaria isn't bad out here, but I think it exists.

5.  The branch here is smaller than Alcalde Diaz and has a lot less youth.  I think the general age is younger.  We're trying to get 60 people to attend church for six months so we can get a new building nearby.  We had about 51 this last Sunday, I think.

6.  We aren't teaching that many here.  I'm not sure what's going on most of the time; bad planning and stuff.  Baptisms here are good by mission standards but they're still not common.

7.  I can't tell if the members here are better off economically or not, compared to Alcalde Diaz or in general.  They seem friendly, though.  This is the farmland of Panama and things are usually cheaper here.

8.  We have several P-Day options.  Volcan is an area that has a volcano with lots of wildlife and a view of both oceans.  I'd really like to do this one, but it's a big hike.  Frontera is a small town near Costa Rica that is basically a giant outdoor mall. You can buy about anything out there.  Fishing and Soccer are the other favorite past times around here.

Sorry to hear that Braden messed himself up again (Bradem broke shoulder while snow boarding on January 1st) .  Really a glutton for punishment, isn't he?  Probably had fun, though.  At least you got snow.  We're starting summer here.  New Year's for us was basically just visiting families.  We helped one family make tamales for New Year's and Elder Pavon ripped off a chicken's head.  I felt pretty bad for him, especially when I realized that he was hopping around with no head.  On the bright side, he did taste alright.  We got fed three dinners on New Year's Day.   They really like to feed us out here.  Sometimes, it's hard to eat because I'm full and sometimes it's because the food's weird. 

This change (transfer to current location) is going to really test me.  This last week has hit me harder than almost anything else for alot of reasons.  I hope you all are doing alright, especially Braden.  You all are in my prayers.

Your Elder in Panama
Elder Austin Michael Ascura