Monday, January 31, 2011

M:72/P:61: Losing Track of TIme

Hola Familia,

Wow, I must be losing track of time, we´re already on week four . . .

Well, the week´s been a little rough out here, but it sounds like I´m not the only one who´s had some problems this week. I´m sorry to hear that Grandpa´s in such bad shape. And what a story! That´s got to be a really rough case they have out there. So you might head out there for a family discussion on the matter, huh? I hope that things don´t get too crazy out there.

Wow, Braden´s going to qualify as a junior already? Shoot, the boy´s taking a heavy workload. I hope that the coming year doesn´t overwork him.

As for the water crisis, it´s beginning to wrap itself up. I have drinkable water in the house again and I haven´t gotten diarrhea, yet. I did think that that water bottle was making things a little too easy, though. I mean, what´s the whole mission experience worth if you don´t get a horrible case of diarrhea? Oh well, it looks like things are getting fixed up now. Although, I´m curious to see how they handle next winter. It starts in March and I don´t know if they´ll be ready for all the incoming rain.

As for the work, we´ve got baptisms this week and we´re trying to make everything special so these two never forget the day. Our weak spot of the area is still looking for new people. We didn´t find anyone to teach this week. And with the zone conference this last Tuesday, things were a little stranger than usual.

My new leadership position still has not been fully explained in terms of a manual. But I´m fairly confident that through just asking questions I´ve been given the bulk of my responsibilities. I´m expected to go on companionship exhchanges twice a week. I don´t know how I´ll work that in, but I guess I´ll have to start doing those. As for the devotionals, I´ll just say that my mission has a lot of Elders that are . . . well, not very spiritual. In our zone this transfer, we´ve got quite the rambunctious group. I mean, I´ve never even heard of district devotionals before you mentioned it to me. I´ll see if I can talk it over with the ZLs to see what they think.

And as for pictures, I´ll resolve to try and attach two or three a week. And also try to take more pictures in general. I´m so bad at taking photos.

Well, I can´t think of too much else for the moment, so wish you all a good week and hope you all keep yourselves out of trouble and in good company. I love you all.

Your Elder in Panamá,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, January 24, 2011

M:71/P60: Did I Mention the Water???

Hola Familia,
Another week come and gone!

To start off, did I mention the water crisis we have here?  With all the flooding we´ve had near the major lakes and rivers of Panama, most of the water is undrinkable.  The Panamanians have been really caught off guard here.  Many parts of the country can´t even get a hold of water, much less drinkable water.  I´d be in a lot of trouble if I didn´t have my handy dandy filtered water bottle.  Amongst all the problems with the water, I do think it´s kind of funny to see everyone scramble for the pickups that pass by giving out free water bottles from the government.  If they were really trying to help us, they´d give us water filters for the sink.  Oh well.

I read the message you sent about Hermana Bloomfield.  I definitely can relate with some of that (her frustration for the lack of work in Chorrera and her bout with diarhea).  All missionaries from Panama will have that common understanding of the conditions we all labored in.  I mean, Spencer (Austin's BYU-I roommate who is serving his mission in Peru) has no idea what living in Panama is like.  I bet all the missions are just as unique with their quirks and eccentricities.

As for District Leader duties, that´s an interesting array of things for us to do (In lieu of instructions from his zone leaders or the mission, I sent Austin a list of responsibilities of what District Leaders are normally responsible for).  I´d be curious to see if anyone hates me for making them do something new like a district devotional.  I can already hear the groans of the other missionaries.  We´ll see how this goes.  Thanks for the update on my duties, though.  The zone leaders still haven´t given me my packet.

I, too, am a little curious to see how Braden progresses academically this semester.  He´s really trucking it on through school, isn´t he?  Speaking of school, I´m glad to hear that all my stuff is taken care of.  Thanks for all the help on that end.  My question now, though, is when do I pick classes?  Another Elder headed for BYU told me he was going to pick classes soon.  Should I be concerned with that?

You guys are going to Hawaii, huh?  Living it up without the missionary, huh?  I get it.  It´s okay, I understand.  I can take a hint.  Honestly, it´s probably not much different climate wise than here.

As for the work out here, things are improving.  They might even be looking up.  We´ve just placed two baptismal dates with a an elderly sister (yes, another one) and her grandson.  They´ve been investigating the Church for a long time and have been due for the water long since.  We´re beginning to find people to teach, although it doesn´t look like it will be an easy search.  Teaching is going well and I feel very comfortable teaching about anything in Spanish.  And the fact that I can teach English to people helps me get my foot in the door.  For example, we have a recent convert who has two Jehovah´s Witness sons.  Both of them have basically hated us and stayed as far away from us as possible, like as if we were lepers.  Now one of them is on a friendly basis with us because I help him with his English.

As for the adventures here, I can´t say much else.  It´s hot here.  The zone will be heading to Tocumen today to have multi-zone P-Day.  I don´t know why.  It´ll likely be boring.  I hope you all are enjoying the snow still.  Take care and stay safe, everyone!

Your Elder in Panamá,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pictures At Last

Finally, for the first time since Austin has been in Panama, we received pictures from Austin attached to his email.  Such an arduous task for that young man, sometimes.  But...we are grateful for anything at this point and it was such a thrill for the family to see him engaged in the work. 

Elder Ascura and Elder Bryson Alley.  Proselyting isn't the only work missionaries do on their mission.  They are also engaged in service projects for local residents, both members of the church and nonmembers.  This could be just about anything, yard work, assisting in renovations, painting, or anything that can be done in a couple of hours.  Most of the service projects are also done on their preparation day, the only partial day off they get to do their chores, recreation, or other personal business.  So service projects are a real sacrifice for missionaries to give up their only free time of the week, and there are never any regrets, just a feeling of gratitude for the privilege of helping and serving those in need of their assistance.
Elder Ascura and Elder Luquez having dinner at a church member's home in Mananitas.  They are eating a meal that Austin prepared for a family(s) in his area.  It is a tradition in some areas around Panama for the outgoing missionary to prepare a meal for one of the families that feed him during his time there.  Before he left Colon, Austin asked us for a couple of non-traditional American dishes that he could prepare.  The dish in the bowl is your standard Chicken soup with assorted vegetables that we make in Guam.  What looks like a tortilla wrap is called Chicken Kelaguen. It is a mixture of chicken meat, onions, chile peppers, and marinated with lemon, salt, and pepper.  And to add a local flavor, he added cilantro and wrapped everything in a flour tortilla.  These are actually gigantic compared to the spring roll size that we normally make.  Austin said the members enjoyed these new 'interesting' dishes.

And of course, the fruit of every missionary is a baptism of one of their students. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

M:70/P59: New District Leader

Hola Familia,

Well, they did it. I didn´t think they would but they made me a District Leader. But they told me nothing about what all my responsibilities are. Soooo, I guess we´ll just wing it on this. I´ll be really honest, I´m really unsure of what´s going to happen this change because I surely don´t have any idea what I´m supposed to do as District Leader.

As for some of the new conditions, my companion didn´t get pulled out. He was almost sure he was gone. I suppose that leaves us five weeks more of memory making. The members love him here, so, naturally, they were all very pleased to see him still here. The zone has taken an interesting direction as all the companionships have had changes except mine. Also, judging from the faces they´ve got here right now, I think something odd is going to happen with the zone. But that´s just speculation; I really have no idea how this will all roll out.

As for the interview (for going back to college in the fall), I assume the President will be doing that when he does interviews normally. As a note about all the loot waiting for me at home, I´m not really too worried about much of that, Dad. I mean, as far as phones go, I only call people and rarely at that. I simple durable dryer-proof phone will do the job. Anything in terms of crazy weird technology would probably be me just hacking and modifying a PSP. Keep a lid on gaming? I haven´t touched a video game in a long while, Dad. I´ll let you excercise judgement on whether you want to give me that. Remember, though, I´m hacking it.

It seems like Mom´s been under a lot of pressure to me, too, lately. I just hope she doesn´t burn herself out. But that does remind me, do you all intend on moving again or what´s the deal on all that?

As for the baptism, we haven´t found him, still. I don´t know what the deal is but it´s making me cock an eyebrow. In terms of other work, we´re just trying to sift through people we´re teaching trying to find SOMEONE who will progress. One of the hardest things about working here in Panama is getting people to read and pray. I can´t count the people that just won´t and don´t do it. Many of the people in our current teaching pool have been receiving visits from missionaries for a while, so I don´t know what´s up. All in all, it´s likely that we´ll just end up knocking doors to get a hold of people.

As for you guys visiting Panama before I´m released, I´m not sure that´s a good idea, Dad. You´re likely to get robbed if you´re not in the right area. And if your Spanish isn´t spot on, I´m warning you, it´s going to be really difficult getting around here. I don´t know how we could work it out. I don´t get robbed because I´m a "varón" which is what the thieves use to designate a man of god. If I didn´t have the white shirt and tie deal going on, they´d rob me of the shirt on my back. I´m not even sure what parts of the mission I could show you.

As for Sister Ochs, good for her that she´s got pictures. I´ll try to send a couple in the e-mail. I was hoping to burn the CD now but that´s looking like it´ll happen later.

Well, I´m out of ideas of what to write. I hope you all are doing well and enjoying the winter up there.
Your Elder in Panamá,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

1000 Baptisms

I just read that the Panama Panama City Mission achieved over 1000 baptisms in 2010.  That is awesome!  I don't even think we did half of that my entire mission combined.  Wow!

Monday, January 10, 2011

M:69/P:58: Getting Back to Normal

Hola Familia,

Well, we´re beginning the new transfer. I´m completely unsure if my companion will stay or go. It could go either way on that.

The holiday season is boiling down over here as well. The parties are reducing as people get ready to prepare for Carnaval. Which, if you care to attend, is in February usually. Strangely, this year it will be in March. Anywho, things here are swinging back into being normal and our schedule will likely be completely normal next week, what with transfers this week.

A remote control helicopter? That sounds like fun. You just had some credit for a helicopter? And a Droid Incredible? You´re just all about new toys, aren´t you? Christmas has already passed; you have to wait until July to get new toys again. I´d be excited about getting that phone but I don´t think I´ll make it home in time. He already seems to have robbed the PSP. Why stop there? And a car? You´re just rolling out the big guns, now. I´d love to help keep Bray in school, Dad, but I don´t think he´ll ever listen to me. Not right now while I´m that crazy Mormon missionary, at least.

As for college, it was University of Colorado in Colorado Springs(UCCS). If I´ve missed the deadline, there´s no problems, don´t sweat it too much. I´ll try to get those essays up today.

As for our baptism, he didn´t show up. Recently, the doctors found a node in his lung so he had an operation the day before the baptism. We´ll be swinging by his house soon to see when we can get this guy dunked. As for comparison of baptisms, Dad, we´ve got to compare quality, not quantity. And naturally I´ll probably baptise more than you did, Dad, I´m in Latin America. You were in the States. That´s almost a European mission and European missionaries have to really overhaul it to just get one baptism all their mission. I´m sure we´ll have plenty of time to compare mission stories when I get home.

Oh my gosh. You just said "btw". You are such a phone addict, Dad. Anyways, the 22nd is my leave date? Alright, then, I shall plan accordingly. It does throw a bit of a wrench in the plans but I don´t think Panama will be going anywhere soon. The timing of a visit to Panama would probably depend on what you´d like to do here. You can time the visit to something cultural or to when the weather is typically agreeable or to a holiday. We can discuss it later, I suppose. So, I´ll only get a week to get myself organized an off to school? Big surprise. I never get the breaks I want. I guess Christmas of 2011 will have to be my break . . .

Well, Mom, I´m sorry to hear that you´re job´s at risk. But I suppose if you don´t mind losing it, then I shouldn´t worry too much. This week I helped a lady we teach frequently take down her tree and Christmas decorations. I thought about you all while doing that. I hope you guys get back into the groove of things well. Don´t stress yourself out too much, Mom.

Well, I can´t think of much else to say for the moment. We found a giant rat in our house so I´ll have to invest in traps or something. I´ll keep you all posted on the major happenings out here. Take care, everyone. I love you all and think of you all often.

Your Elder in Panamá,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, January 3, 2011

Christmas Party in Panama

M:68/P57: Happy New Year

Hola Familia,

Well, this week didn´t get very much done, either.  People are still trying to squeeze in all the last minute partying here.
The New Years celebration was, as I expected, very food-filled.  I got fed another eight or nine times in excess.  I actually got sick; my companion, too.  One of the sisters microwaved the pork she gave us.  Let me tell you, do not microwave pork to cook it the first time.  It makes guests feel very bad in two days.  While it tasted very good, the feeling I had days later reminded me of when people poisoned me with laxatives.  I couldn´t help but laugh upon remembering that.
Outside of that, we didn´t get much else done.  We visited a handful of members in the week and have a baptism this Saturday.  I´m hoping all goes well.  I will also note that trying to sleep in this country on New Years Eve is an excercise in complete futility.  All night, music is blasting everywhere with the sporadic snaps and booms of fireworks.  And then midnight rolls around and you might as well just go outside to enjoy the show.  I didn´t even bother going to sleep like my companion did.  The fireworks were nice.  It was a pity that Mom had to work.
Man, I can´t think of anything else to tell you all about.  I remember arguing with a kid trying to convince him to buy a PS2 instead of a PS3.  It was really funny as I bet you all have had that EXACT conversation with me about a decade ago.  And, just like I probably did, upon buying his PS2 he has been absolutely glued to the TV screen since Christmas.  Irony has a funny way of showing you the past, don´t you think?
Ah, we just went to the Baha´i temple today.  It´s a smaller international religion that essentially preaches union in every way imaginable.  They claim to believe in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastroism(?), as well as a couple other sources.  They think we should have a universal language and writing system and that we should be united in everything.  It was made in 1842, I think.  As far as my analysis goes, I consider it admirable and remarkably but expectedly modern.  However, I consider the idea of simultaneously believing in nine religions without having any doctrinal conflicts highly unlikely and slightly naive.  With how open it is, I´m not sure if they actually have set doctrine or standards on anything.  Just thought I´d mention all that.
That aside, we are on week six of the transfer.  Week six is notorious for being a boring week.  My companion will likely (and wholehearted) be pulled from the area next week.  I´m not at all sure what this next transfer is going to be like.  I´m just hoping I can get something done.
Well, I´m officially out of ideas for the letter this week.  I hope that this suffices and that you all get through the post-holiday madness without any big problems.
Your Elder in Panamá,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura