Monday, April 26, 2010

Mission Week 32/Panama Week 23: Changes Are A'comin'

Hola, Familia!
Mom, please don´t overwork yourself out there. Although I´m glad to hear that you´re still holding the fort down in New Jersey. As for the Peeps, I´d be happy to get more. I just handed them out to kids and missionaries alike to remind the gringos of home and to give Latinos a taste of American confectionaries at its finest. I can imagine that the family is eagerly waiting our move to Oregon. They´ve always looked forward to our visits. Although, I´m sorry to hear that grandpa is getting harder to care for. I hope you guys don´t get too stressed out with him.

Well, I´m glad to hear that you didn´t need to head back to the sun, sand, and searing heat, Dad. I didn´t actually hear anything about the volcanoes until you all wrote me. It´s really beginning to feel strange as I´m beginning to be set further and further back in time. I expect that I´ll readjust just fine when the time comes, but it sure feels weird out here. You sent me pictures of the Eagle Project, but it´s not finished, yet? What more is there to do? What with only about a month left on it, Braden better jump on it.

Battle of the Bands? I didn´t know Harry Wagstaff had one. I´d look it up if I could but Youtube is on the list of Missionary computer no-nos. Show ´em how we do things, Dad.

Haha, no, no, Adrian Rojas isn´t 24 years old. He´s more like 14 or 15. Sadly, though, I won´t be visiting his house very much now. I´ll explain a little more later on that.

I heard that Mom was getting ready for the move, but I was under the impression that that would be the last move...as in Mom bought the house and that will be where you retire to. I didn´t know you had another move in mind. Well, Dad, marriage is all about give and take, right? You give twenty some years of service to the army and Mom takes the opportunity to choose where you retire, right? But seriously, Dad, she hasn´t been around with her family for an extended time for quite a while now. I don´t know if you could convince her to go to a neutral state, but Oregon isn´t that bad.

Missionary work here is improving, albeit strangely. We are teaching more and more people and are finding more and more people who seem like they might get baptised one day. However, that day looks like it might be a ways down the road. We have one baptism scheduled for this coming Friday, although a practice interview has made it evident that that baptism might get pushed back. We´ll see when he gets the real interview done. Although, I think their interviews are kind of shoddy sometime.

As for passing something (as was the old missionary discussions, which you had to pass off to your companion before you could be a senior companion), no. And the discussions do not exist anymore, Dad. Those are a thing of the past. Now we have "Preach My Gospel". You ought to get a copy and read it, Dad. I think you´d like it. It´s funny when the Returned Missionaries here try to impress us by reciting us the first discussion. We just tell them it doesn´t exist now and they don´t know how to respond. I thought the idea of memorizing lessons always was silly, but that´s just me, and my companion, too.

Being a leader here is still weird, although I think I´m growing steadily. Although my potential might be great, I still won´t consider myself a good leader until I understand how to work efficiently out here. But once I get that under my fingers, I´m letting everyone know how much game I got.

A side note on the very strange series of things occurring out here, as well as something I mentioned earlier, is that we won´t be visiting half the ward now, for food or anything. President Madrigal has instructed the sisters to remain in their areas and for us to remain in ours. Only for very small exceptions are we to cross the dividing line (each missionary companionship is assigned a certain area to proselyte in.  They are directed not to proselyte or leave their areas of responsibility without permission from District or Zone Leaders, or the Mission President). I suppose it isn´t appropriate for me to divulge all the details, but I think it would suffice to say that we are certainly having problems with the members and the talk amongst them.

One of my concerns that, as surprising as it is, has grown drastically is for the Nicaraguan sister we have here. As sneaky, arrogant, and quite frankly, disagreeable as I consider her, my companion and the other sister might be getting a little carried away in their talk. I understand that neither of them like her and that sometimes she kind of deserves what she gets, but even then, getting as personally antagonistic as it´s gettings isn´t merited, nor very missionary-like. I think I´m going to have a talk with them to see what I can do. Even if she kind of deserves it. Maybe when I get home I can complain to you guys all about it.

Well, you want a progress report of my testimony and feelings of the Church? Well, alright. As far as I am able to tell, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Sants is exactly what it claims to be. Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw and was called as the restoring prophet of our dispensation. President Thomas S. Monson is an authorized successor of Joseph Smith and has the same authority that the Twelve Apostles called by Jesus Christ had. I certainly don´t like some of the things I see sometimes and I´m sometimes skeptical of what could be considered as more "mystical" parts of the doctrine, but I find no fault and can give no comprehensive explanation for the Church´s existence except for the testimony that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve give.

You guys are going to kill me because I don´t take many pictures and I still have to get that letter done. Changes are coming up and I might leave. Time is running out on the computer and I´m wrapping up.

I love you all and hope you all are working hard and keeping well. You´re in my prayers.

Your Missionary in Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mission Week 31/Panama Week 22: Things Are Looking Up...

Hola Familia!
P-Day has once again rolled around and the last week has proved to be fairly hectic.

First off, I did receive the package with the cards and candy. I got to teach some Latin kids what Peeps are. I think they like them. Which reminds me, if there´s Latin kids asking to be your friends on facebook, they´re members in my ward. I believe it was Adrian Rojas that was trying to be your friend.

That´s right, you guys are beginning to move! When exactly were you going to begin and when do you expect to be out of New Jersey? I hope the moving process doesn´t take too much of a toll on you both. As for the birthday party, I´m glad to hear that everything went well. And that you won´t have to worry about another sweet sixteen for two years.

Braden´s Eagle project, huh? Time´s running short on that. I´m not sure if I can provide many ideas on how to get more bulk in to make sure it gets through. I wish you all the best of luck and hope that everything gets through all right.

Back to Afganistan again? Well, I heard from Mom that you´ve been grounded for a while due to the ash in Europe. I actually heard that there have been some earthquakes out in California. Stuff going crazy over there or what?

Well. Things here have been fairly interesting over the last week. Many of our investigators (I´m sorry if the term bothers you but your alternative is quite a mouth full) are actually showing signs of progression. Even people that I was about to give up are now actually appearing like they might do something. Even the one lady who wasn´t sure on eternal marriage might be changing her mind a bit. I´m beginning to get the hang of planning for all the things that we have to do and I´m thinking that the next change in this area, whether I´m here or not, will see some good success.

As for the Sisters, the relationship between them is a little stressed and I don´t know if they´re going to resolve it. But at least now I´m not babysitting them. They are operating almost completely on their own now.

I now have the impression that the Mission President has very high expectations and hopes for me. And I´m not really very sure why, although I am a little flattered. My companion told me that the Mission President is using him to help me unlock my full potential. I´ll try to measure up to the position I´ve been given and look forward to the opportunity to learn and grow.

Well, I think that covers the bulk of what´s been going on this week. I hope you all keep well and work hard. You´re in my prayers. And I will get that letter to you the next P-Day.
 
Your Elder in Panama
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mission Organization and Interviews

A Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is a geographical administrative area to which church missionaries are assigned.  Almost all areas of the world are within the boundaries of an LDS Church mission, whether or not Mormon missionaries live or proselyte in the area.  In 2010, the LDS Church had 340 missions worldwide (see allso www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_(LDS_Church).

MISSION PRESIDENT

All Missionaries serve in a mission under the direction of a Mission President, who, like individual missionaries, is assigned by the President of the Church.  The Mission President's wife is asked to serve alongside him.  President Manuel Madrigal is the Mission President over the Panama Panama City Mission, and his wife Esperanza serves alongside him.  Mission Presidents are typically in their forties or oder, and usually have the financial means to devote and sustain themselves full-time for three consecutive years.  The Mission President has at least two counselors, who are Latter-day Saints usually from the local area, who keep their regular employment, but serve actively in the mission.  The role of counselors varies by mission, but they typically serve as liaisons betweent the mission and the local membership of the church.

MISSION ORGANIZATION

Missions are organized in two parallel structures.  The first is the organizaiton of the missionaries.  There are two or more missionaries who serve as the Assistants to the President (APs), and are separate from the Counselors to the Mission President.  The APs carry out the direction of the Mission President in the organization of the mission, the assigning of companionships and proselyting areas, and oversee the welfare and training of the missionaries. 

The missionaries are divided into zones, each led by one or two missionaries assigned as Zone Leaders (ZL).  The number of missionaries assigned to a zone varies in size, usually depending on the size of the LDS population or amount of missionary activity in the area.  Each zone is further divided into Districts, which are led by a single missionary who serves as the District Leader (DL).  Zone Leaders and District Leaders train the missionaries within their respective areas, see after their welfare, conduct interviews, proselyte togtether, and share successes.  As an example, a Zone may have 12 missionaries assigned and may be divided into 3 Districts of 4 missionaries per district.

INTERVIEWS

Periodically, missionaries are interviewed by their District Leaders, Zone Leaders, and Mission Presidents.  Interview requirements may vary by mission, but are typically conducted quarterly at the District Leader level; semi-annually at the Zone Leader level; and annually at the Mission President level, or as often as the leadership deems is necessary.  The purpose of the interviews are dual purpose in that it gives DLs, ZLs, and the Mission President an opportunity to verify the morale and welfare of each missionary, while allowing each missionary to speak candidly, discuss personal issues or concerns, and seek personal guidance as needed.

Mission Week 30/Panama Week 21: Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad

Happy Anniversary.  I remembered, I promise!  Happy 25th.

My experience in the temple was a surprising one and still a very confounding one.  Why something so small and generally dismissable has such a profound effect on me still is a bit of a mystery.  But I'm sure it's really not as important to understand that much.  Needless to say, it has given me a little food for thought on the topic.  But thinking about my own possible future family isn't something I try to dwell on too much.  I figure if a goofy couple like you and Dad can make it work, I can get something together when the time comes. 

Mormon Prom?  When did that happen?  Well, I've got to hand it to him (Harry Wagstaff), that's a good use of his job.  I haven't actually heard of that being done on a pizza before (Harry asked Carissa to the Mormon Prom at church by making a Dominoe's pepperoni pizza, which was arranged in a way that spelled PROM?). And he's going to BYU-Idaho?  Good luck out there...Well, I hope that Riss enjoys Prom; at least she has a date.

As for the work here, there's excellent news and there's not-so-execellent news.  The not-so-excellent news is that one family we were teaching and had extremely high hopes for justs revealed that eternal families isn't something they're so attached to.  That was a bit of a gamebreaker.  Sunday was a tough day.  I almost lost it at least five or six times.  We're going to be working very hard with this family.  The excellenet news, though, is that we received 12 references (referrals) from a member and learned that he is very eager to help with the mission work.  And so you know, 12 references is about the equivalent of two weeks IF people give you them a lot.  Half of them we've already talked to and they seem very eager to listen.  The others, we'll be visiting with him and we're hoping they're as eager to learn as the first half. 

As for work here in general, the numbers this week were considerably low and I will be working today to try and organize my plans and work to avoid this happening again.  Adjusting to leadership is still proving a testing and trying task as everyone seems to look to me for whatever thing they don't personally know.  We'll still be doing a little babysitting, but I'm hoping that by next week I can ween them off and get them to do everything themselves.  But we'll see.  Anyways, I think I'm finally beginning to understand how to be a leader here and am improving as a missionary as well.  Getting to know my companion is certainly a bit of an oddball, to say the least.  But he's very likable for the most part, so it's not so bad.  As for dealing with the Nicaraguan sister, she generally doesn't bother me as much and I think she's beginning to mellow out a bit, but we'll see how that goes.   She still always expects me to know what she wants and to be prepared to carry out all her orders.  Dealing with her, adjusting to leadership, all the while with a new mission plan being put into effect in the ward makes things a little difficult sometimes.  But I'm not so worried about it, even if it does drive me to the ends of my mind.

Senior trip to Panama?  There's a word here to describe what I think might happen, and that word is Ponchera.  It means punchbowl, but here, they use it to describe something that breaks rules, more or less.  I do find it kind of funny that Dad seems to want to get here as much as I might want to leave.   Why doesn't he just wear the nametag awhile?  My Spanish is still improving and I'll also be putting into effect a better language study plan to try and widen the horizon of what I can say.

Well, I think that covers the most part of what's coming up.  Interviews are in two days (See next entry on explanation of Interviews).  I got the music and will be buying a CD player and speakers today.  Many thanks for the note, Sister Dezzeo!  I'll try to put the advice to practice.

You all are in my prayers and I hope you all are keeping well.

Your Elder in Panama
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mission Week 29/Panama Week 20: Personal Revelation That Changed My Life

As you read through Austin's letter, we wonder if you could see the big changes in his tone and personality from previous letters.  We could feel alot of humility; a change of perspective as a member of the church, missionary service and future as a result of this flash of image, perhaps a personal revelation of  his future family.  It is a wonderful turn of events for Elder Ascura, and a blessing for his family to watch it unfold, when previous letters hinted at him possibly ending his mission abruptly.

Hola Familia,
I'm glad to hear that you all had a good Easter.  Easter here is a little different and makes it a little hard to teach as everyone's partying and getting drunk or already drunk, and we all know how fun it is to try and talk with a drunk guy in a different language.  Also good to hear that the youth conference went well. 

As for things out here, I got to watch all the sessions of Conference and took notes on every session.  Although, I must admit it was a little hard for me to find application with so much of the emphasis on parenthood and families that they had.  Needless to say, Elder Holland has yet again, been a crowd favorite with his charisma, humor, and faith.

As for new people to teach, there have been a couple new families spread out here and there, but with all the fun duties of scrambling around to show the Sisters where to do things, it sometimes cuts into what we are permitted to do as missionaries.  But the conditions of the mission work here in Chorrera are improving.

As for me and my area-mates, over the last week, some interesting developments have taken root and I'm betting that I'm starting to get a glimpse at what's going to go down a couple weeks down the line.  The Nicaraguan Sister, with her overboisterous attitude, has quickly set herself at odds with nearly the entire zone, especially my companion.  My companion is so mentally sharp and on the ball that you couldn't win a verbal fight with him if your life depended on it.  She's even starting to get a little distanced from her companion.  I'm trying to remain civil and take as many opportunities to show kindness and love when I can.  And I don't doubt that there will come a time when she'll end up turning to the one person she berated the most, for comfort.  But that's just a guess; we'll see what happens.

As for my companion and I, we are getting closer and getting to know each other better.  He and I get along well because neither of us is out to kill the other and we're both pretty chill guys.   Plus with all the interesting things he can teach me, I'm eager to learn and listen and he's perfectly fine with teaching me.  He's proven to have had a very interesting history in Costa Rica before his mission and I hope to get the most out of my time with him.  There's a lot to learn.

Now, as for this experience that I've left you all on the hook for three weeks, I hate to say it, but you might not be as impressed with it as I was.  Its effect on me is only dramatic to me because of how small and simple it was, and slightly embarrassing it is to recount.  But we had gone to the Temple to help the ward with ordinances because there was insufficient priesthood holders and I was marking names as they were confirmed. As we were doing this, and I was making an extreme effort to focus on my task as my mind easily wanders, I saw for a glimpse a pregnant woman in my mind.  Now, I don't remember many details, as it was no more than a flash of an image, but I feel like I saw for a moment, my future wife and child. And I only say that becuase of the wave of admiration and adoration I had in that small moment that stayed with me for days.  For someone who had felt that he didn't have a very strong connection with family, like me, it left me to wonder about a lot of the issues and concerns I had on my mind during this time.

Well, I'm not sure there's very much else I can say right now.  Being a leader is becoming less strange; I'm learning, progressing, and although it's not easy, I'm fairly satisfied with the prospect of working through it, especially after President Uchtdorf's talk on patience.  I'll make sure to get my pictures organized a bit.  Oh, Dad, please send me a list of my priesthood lineage in the next letter.

I hope you all are keeping well and working hard.  You all are in my prayers.

Your Elder in Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura