Monday, May 31, 2010

Mission Week 38/Panama Week 27: Missionaries Get Respect

Hola Familia,
Well, Dad, I´ve never considered you an easy one to crack (referring to my deposition last week by lawyers representing a company whose contract we terminated), except when I was a kid. Heck, if those lawyers were smart they would´ve given candy to Liesy and told her to do the case.

It is kind of bittersweet how Mom´s job turned out. It´s been quite the roller coaster ride, right? And to think that they all are sad to see her leave after giving her such a hard time (when she was first hired). Irony has a weird way of seeping into things like that.

As for the mugging (last week), I didn´t get mugged; just some guy threatened to mug me. He was drunk and bumming a quarter off me. Says he´s one of the thugs up that way. Normally, mugging a missionary is a bad idea as they normally don´t carry much more than scriptures and taxi money. Plus there´s a lot of stories that circulate about muggers getting shot up or dying after mugging a missionary. They respect us out here, even more because a lot of them were baptised. But if we get mugged, my companion´s likely going to lose his camera. He always has it with him.

Actually, Dad, I´m not baptising a whole lot (referring to my comparison of the slow work there being no different than slow work in many missions, including my mission). I had one (baptism) this last week and we got two more planned soon, but I don´t know how those will go down. One has problems remembering things and the other has problems with tobacco and I think someone in their family might be working against us. We´ll see on that. I hope I don´t get stuck here for any more than six months. But we´ll see on that one, too.

I´ll have a CD with pictures in the mail tomorrow and a handwritten letter accompanying it.

I´m sorry for the short letter, I´m trying to do something like four things at once. I love you all and hope you all are keeping well.

Your Elder in Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mission Week 37/Panama Week 26: Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel

Hola Familia,
Well, the week has been long and hard, but things are improving.

I would say that months 8-10 is pretty monotonous so far, but we´ll see if it picks up. Time does sometimes seem to pass by much quicker than I notice.
I´m glad to hear you all can finally stop worrying about (Braden's) eagle projects now. Happy Birthday, Braden! I remembered it. I wrote it down in my agenda. Now you´re technically an adult. And of course, you´re already excercising that right.

It´s nice to know there´s always a spot for me at home (when home from college). 

As for birthdays, I hope no one remembers mine out here. I´d just like it to pass quietly while I´m working. I can celebrate when I hit 22. I hope you all have fun with Des´ given that it´ll be the last one for six months, when Liese will get another one. She must already be turning nine with all of them. (Both Austin and Desiree share the same birthday on June 13th...only 6 years apart.  And Elise thinks it is her brithday, no matter whose birthday we are celebrating.  She has to blow out the candles and help open presents.)

Sorry to hear that you´ve got pink eye, Mom. I just broke out of a really nasty cold that I´ve had for two weeks. Get well soon.

As for the work here, we had a baptism this last weekend and one I think was actually a real conversion. Her name is Denis Rios and I´ll try to get pictures from my companion. We´re still teaching her mother and two sisters and I think two of the three will probably be baptised, but we´ll see. Many of the investigators that we have aren´t progressing quickly, but they are learning. I´m learning how to really break things down to the most basic for them. I keep a lock and keys around at all times as a hands on example for teaching about the priesthood.

We had zone conference this week as well, which had a very big emphasis on working with the leadership of the ward to involve them. The bishop sat down with us and seemed sincerely interested in helping and is requesting paperwork I´ve never had to fill out before. Talk about positive problems. I just hope that the effort brings around some results.  Oh, here's something exciting.  Besides a baptism, some guy threatened to mug me on a bridge we often cross at night. I think there are gangs here, but they work differently. But they usually respect missionaries.  They still haven't learned that missionaries are poor and don't usually carry anything of worth except maybe a cheap camera.

Things are moving slowly and I think I´m really going to have to sit down with my companion and help him with his teaching. He´s still semi-new and his last companion hardly let him teach. So he´s still sometimes a little shaky. I think part of why I feel so sluggish out here is that we don´t seem to be finding many new faces. That means we´ll be knocking on doors soon. How fun.

Note: This is common in every mission when the work slows down and you start feeling a little down and depressed and you resort to the most dreadful form of proselyting: Tracting door to door where missionaries seldom find success.  But despite having doors slammed on our faces or people showing no interest in our message of Christ, we continue to march and sing:

Hymn: Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel

Verse 1
The world has need of willing men
Who wear the worker’s seal.
Come, help the good work move along;
Put your shoulder to the wheel.

Put your shoulder to the wheel; push along,
Do your duty with a heart full of song,
We all have work; let no one shirk.
Put your shoulder to the wheel.

Verse 2.
The Church has need of helping hands,
And hearts that know and feel.
The work to do is here for you;
Put your shoulder to the wheel.

Verse 3.
Then don’t stand idly looking on;
The fight with sin is real.
It will be long but must go on;
Put your shoulder to the wheel.

Verse 4.
Then work and watch and fight and pray
With all your might and zeal.
Push ev’ry worthy work along;
Put your shoulder to the wheel.

Text and music: Will L. Thompson, 1847–1909

Well, I don´t know if there´s much I can write. It feels like a lot has happened, but I think a lot of it has just been internal. Things are improving out here, though. I hope you all take care and are keeping well. I´ll get pictures on a CD today and get them in the mail for you all.

Your Elder in Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mission Week 36/Panama Week 25: Depressed in Mananita

Hola Familia
Well, week 2 has come and gone of this transfer and I´m feeling pretty beat. But I´m alright. There´s something particularly odd about this area that has a bit of a depressing effect on me, but I can´t figure out what it could possibly be that´s making me feel that way. Anyway . . .

As for matters of testimony, I´ve just gotten used to the fact that maybe an earth-shattering thing isn´t something that would help me as much. For me it´s somewhat weird because a warm fuzzy feeling isn´t it, either. But I´m not really as worried about it now.  As for excercises . . . getting up in the morning is tough as it is. Now to do excercises? Well, I´ll see what I can do.

As for the house, I saw the pictures and it´s looking pretty good. Although, Mom, as much as I know you´d love for me to come back and live in Oregon with you all, I don´t know if that´s going to happen. We´ll see, but just a heads up. Thanks for the compliment on the Spanish. I´d love to work a little as a translator while in college and hope that I can make it happen. I did write to Spencer but he hasn´t responded. I don´t know if he´s not used internet yet or what. You did say it was, right?

An apartment by the beach, eh, Dad? Convenient. As for the fun experiences in Oregon, did you really think things were going to go down differently? At least you know you have a little something something to bring to the table out there in Oregon, right? I´m sure that everyone appreciates all that you do for them out there.

Well, a little bit about the work out here . . . the weeks have been rough. Adjusting to this area is really difficult and I don´t know why. One problem I have is that many of our investigators who are preparing for baptism are very spiritually weak and I feel like will just inactivate as soon as they´re dipped. We have one baptism scheduled this week: a 15 year old. Soon we have a 97 year old lady that wants to be baptised and wants me to bring her to the States. I´m just worried about breaking her back while baptising her. I´ll keep you all on top of it all.

Well, that about covers all of it. I´m a little worried about dengue right now because I killed a mosquito the size of a quarter. My Nicaraguan comp says that that´s the kind that has dengue. We´ll see. I´m feeling a little sick, so I´m hoping it´s not anything bad. Keep me in your prayers and take care!

Your Elder in Panamá,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mission Week 35/Panama Week 24: El Día Después Del Día de la Madre

Hola Mi Famila,
Well, given that I just called you last night, I imagine that not a whole lot has changed since then.  I did take a couple of pictures today (during Zone P-Day.  Monday is called Preparation Day, which is their only day to catch up on personal chores, laundry, shopping, and recreation, in preparation for the coming week).  We basically just went to a spot on a river where there were some small boats, fishermen, I imagine. 

I'm glad to hear that the prepartion for moving is going relatively smoothly and that most of the more anxious issues are more or less resolved. 

Well, I don't really know if there's much I can write today.  But I believe there was one issue that we didn't completely resolve and, since I have an abundance of time to write today, I can fix that.  And that issue would be my testimony.

If you are asking if I've had some spiritual experience to confirm to me that the Church is true, the answer is still NO.  However, in my time talking with the Church (in Salt Lake City), I've learned that perhaps that"s (spiritual confirmation) just something I'm not entitled to receive, at least for now.  If you are asking me if I believe that the Church is true and that all the claims it makes are true as well, the answer is YES.  I have examined nearly everything I've wanted to and can reach no other conclusion than that the Church is true.  However, my testimony is based on something different than what the majority of people base theirs on, I'm fairly sure.  As far as being an emotional and highly spiritual person goes, I'm really not either of those.  Not to say that it's not something I'm capable of, but those are traits that aren't as dominant in my personality.  I still feel strange promising people spiritual experiences when they're not something I'm abundantly familir with, but I have no qualms with saying the Church is true.

Well, I think that covers just about everything.  I wish you all the best of luck with all your endeavors and hope you all take care.  You all are in my prayers.

Your Elder in Panama
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Dia De La Madre (Mother's Day)

Austin called us about 9pm on Mother's Day, which urned out to be Family Day since we had all the kids listening to him on speaker phone, while anxiously awaiting their turn to speak with their missionary.  We talked for almost two hours.  Mission bed time is 10:30 pm and we talked til about 10:45, but he said it was okay to talk past bedtime for this special occasion.  We even had a 3 way conversation with his grandparents.  We were all thrilled to talk and to hear him speak in such fluent Spanish and all the kids were in awe and are now inspired to continue with their Spanish classes.  They have 6 months to practice for when he calls again in December, and 15 months for when he comes home from his mission to perfect what Spanish they can learn by then. 

Austin said the area he is in now, the Tocumen (pronouced Tuh-coo-min, as we were corrected several times), is a pretty rough area in terms of violence and crime.  His area in the  Mananitas (Man-ya-nitas) neighborhood is divided into half city and half jungle so it makes for an interesting experience.  He mentioned there are over 750 members in his ward but only about 150 members are active and a significant number of inactive members are involved in drugs.

There is also some gang and criminal activity in his area.  Recently, the District Leaders, who live close by, had a fire bomb thrown at their door and burned the door down and parts of the apartment.  Normally, missionaries have pictures of Christ posted on their door or windows and are widely recognized and respected in the community, and therefore, go untouched.  So this fire bomb incident was a mistake (we hope).  Austin does not feel threatened, which gives us some relief. 

Austin did expound a little on his transformation.  Since he came on his mission, he has been more attentive to his leaders, General Conferences, and reading the scriptures, all of which he rarely took interest in before his mission.  He has sinced gained a tremendous appreciation for the Gospel and its importance in our lives.  He did not really mention his testimony and we didn't push it, but the knowledge alone is a start for him and he is satisfied knowing that the Church is exactly what it claims to be.   He also counseled Braden to start preparing for his mission now, and to forsake the world and enter the mission field when his time is up.  Coming from Austin, that counsel was more profound than anything anyone else could offer.  Let's hope the counsel sinks in.

As for pictures, Austin was adamant about the mission rules, which dictates that missionaries NOT carry their cameras during proselyting hours, because missionaries are targets for robberies, which is quite common, not just towards missionaries, but towards Gringos (Caucasians) in general.  But he did say that he would try to take more pictures, at least on P-Days and baptisms.

When it was finally time to say goodbye, it was a difficult moment for all of us, knowing it would be 6 more months before we could hear his voice again at Christmas time.  But we bid him goodbye with respect and gratitude for his divine calling as a servant of the Lord.  He is a tremendous example to us and we are eteranally grateful for his service.

La Familia Ascura

Monday, May 3, 2010


Tocumen is a town in the Panama province of Panama. It is known for the Tocumen International Airport and is where Austin landed when he arrived in Panama on November 17th, 2009.

Tocumen Airport

For those who remember the war in Panama (Operation Just Cause) in the late 80's, The Tocumen Airfield was a strategic objective during the war (  Austin mentioned that 21 years after the war, you could not see traces of the war as Panama has been rebuilt and is now a peaceful nation.

Tourist Map of Panama City

Heart of Panama City

Panama City by the Panama Canal

Nothing like a good 'ol American hamburger stand

Hopefully, Austin will give us his final impressions of La Chorrera, where he left, and his initial impressions of his new area in Tocumen. 

Mission Week 34/Panama Week 23: Assignment 4: Tocumen

¡Buenas Tardes, Familia!
Alright, where to begin? Well, I´m glad to hear that the move is almost underway. I´m sorry that I can´t be there to help with all the manual labor, but I would guess that Braden can handle it now with how ripped he´s getting, yes? De-cluttering has always been a weakness of our family. We just like our stuff too much. I wish I could offer some sort of insight to help along on that, but I don´t think I can. As for the move to Oregon, I think you´ll fit in alright, Mom, despite the many years of being absent there.

Mormon Prom, come and gone. Well, if Riss feels bad about her big night, at least she had a date for hers. The girl I asked said no; I just had twelve guys! But the important thing is to enjoy the night out among your friends during a time of your life that will never be the same in a couple years. High school is still too young to be getting into serious relationships. And I can testify that the dating pools in Idaho are quite ferocious. Men don´t come back single. Although I do feel a little bad if the night was a little disappointing.

Braden´s Eagle Project is finally finished? I hope there aren´t any surprise hitches. I did get to look through the pictures, although, I strangely didn´t feel like I recognized nearly anyone. Sorry I couldn´t have been there.

A talent show crash? Sorry to hear that your act had some hiccups. I´m sure the next opportunity will prove more fruitful. The first talent show the missionaries had out here was a catastrophe. The second one somewhat close to it. I did magic in the second one and I think the people liked it. I don´t remember if I mentioned that before. Dad, just you wait ´til you get here. You´ll hear all the musics of Panamá.

Adrian: I don´t know why he has his age set there. He´s 15. And I can´t hit him now because I´m in a different zone now.

Uh oh. They didn´t give me as much time as I thought. Sorry to wrap this up in a hurry.

I´ve been moved to Tocumen, very close to the airport. What a torture. But I hear the area´s good. My new companion is Elder Luquez.

I´m going to call this Sunday for Mother´s day at 8 or 9 PM. If it doesn´t get through, I´ll be calling the Monday afterwards.

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

Your Elder that lives close to an airport,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura.