Tuesday, June 28, 2011

M:93/P:82: Back From The Islands

Hola Familia,

Well, I´m back from the island and it would seem that, once again, the mission has thrown me some interesting curveballs to deal with before I finish my term of missionary service.  But first, the Blas news.

The conditions of being a San Blas Elder are as such.  You buy anything that you need in the city over a period of two to three days and then fly out to the island to live amongst the Kuna for six weeks before returning.  On the island there are shops but the selection of things you can get out there is somewhat limited.  Truth be told, it´s really like living in a third world country out there.

We lived in a room of the church building, which was much, much smaller than what we are accustomed to.  The majority of people out there live in bamboo huts with thatched roofing and sand floors.  Our latrine was above the shore line and consisted of a sink that did not work and a hole in the floor to the ocean.  Most Elders laugh about the prospect of watching fish fight over what goes down there (Hmmm-Seafood, anyone?).  Water only was accessible once a week, usually, and due to recent developments on the island, Elder Hutchinson and I could only get water the last four weeks by borrowing it or by rainstorm.  We´re talking with the mission to see if we can devise a more trusty or at least efficient way of securing water out there.  We had some dire water problems.  80 percent of the time we were basically out of water.  We even went to the river my second week out there to bathe.  Let me tell you, that proved to be a most foolish decision.  The mosquitoes destroyed me.

Most of the people on the main island where we lived spoke Spanish.  Many, however, suddenly only speak dialect when the Elders show up.  Selective memory is a bugger out there.  Most of the members are quite friendly and willing to assist with the needs we may have.  Outside of those mentions the general conditions were no different than my other areas.  Culture shock wasn´t so big as many of the Kuna out there are very modernized.

About my companion, Elder Reuben Hutchinson . . . he´s quite the funny guy.  He´s now at his thirteen month mark and quite relieved to be off the island now.  He was getting a bad case of island fever.  He´s Sigint (a soldier in the Signal Corps with a primary job in Signal Intelligence) and is a Private First Class (rank in the Army).  He says he should be a Specialist but got jipped off it.  He was in the National Guard back in Utah and is determined to take the military as a serious career.  You should have heard this guy, Dad.  I´m actually considering the Army after listening to him.  We got along great out there and I´m sure he´s as glad as I was to have been stuck together out there.

Among the new things I´ve eaten . . . Conch(4/10)(Ranking food by taste) Barracuda(9/10) and Wild Pig(9/10).  And we had lobster one night but I don´t remember what it was like.  While we got to eat a lot of interesting things, most of our diet was spaghetti.

Among our undertakings . . .

Trip to Tikantiki- We got to take an hour long boat ride to another island to see how things were there.  The trip proved to be somewhat uneventful as most people didn´t speak Spanish and neither my companion nor I have the language under our fingers.

Touched a Shark- Our neighbor, the District President caught a hammerhead shark that was bigger than I was.  Got a good picture with that.  I got to get it from Hutchinson, though.

Placed a Book of Mormon with the other missionaries- While we were out there, a group of mainly American missionaries came to visit the island and minister among the primarily Baptist congregation out there.  It was somewhat amusing to watch them try and get around and communicate with the people as nearly none of them spoke more than a hald a dozen words in Spanish.  We even got the opportunity to cut grass with them with machetes once.  We naturally showed them up, both of us being thoroughly well-seasoned in the art.  I got to be pretty good at it, actually, as long as the heat isn´t too bad out there.  Anywho, one of the last nights and coincidentally their last night on the island, the whole congregation was together for a going away activity outside their church and we ended up talking with some three or four of them on our way back to the house where we had been.  My companion took the English speakers on one side and I conversed with a girl from Mexico a bit about what we believed.  She professed to be of a non-denominational Christian belief but summarized had the believe and be saved attitude.  After comparing our religions a bit, much of which was her trying to show me how similar our churches were, I brought up the Book of Mormon.  Intrigued she asked for one and I parted to my companion hoping to be able to run back to the house a moment and return with a Book of Mormon.  I discovered, though, that my companion´s efforts to preach had not gone as well.  He was then speaking with the leader of the bunch in what was a lightly tensioned religious debate.  I joined in and not too long after found that he was somewhat frustrated to hear us providing ample and sound responses to all of his counterpoints.  At some point he excused himself and we returned after retrieving a Book of Mormon.  I couldn´t help but chuckle as I watched every single person that could see me stare at me with wide eyes as I handed that girl a Book of Mormon on the steps of the Baptist Church.  I don´t know if it will result to any conversions in the end but I felt very pleased to find someone that looked interested in learning more.  It would be really cool to find her years later and hear about how she was converted.  Time will tell.

In the end, I felt the greatest blessing of having participated in the event was the opportunity to really appreciate the value of the restored gospel.  I feel that we really do take it for granted as we overlook how many man-made systems are in existence and how many people believe in them.  It was sort of sad in a way to hear the outlook that that youth leader had on his own existence.  He felt that God was always angry and furious with us down here on earth and would prefer that we not try to be the best we can.  We felt happy to be Mormons.

Outside of that I cannot recall too many specific occurrences to make mention of here.  Thus, onto more present matters.  With the general flow of things as they are, Elder Hutchinson should be leaving the island and I waiting to receive word on my new companion and take him back to the island for my last full transfer of the mission.  However, as I have already noted, things are not normal.  We are both being pulled off the island and two new elders sent in our place.  President has received the impression that both my companion and I are needed in specific parts of the mission right now.  So, the Elders are all in for quite a surprise this transfer as we all gather together tomorrow to find out who the happy new Blas Elders will be.  I will be reassigned to one last, new area.

Now the reason for that is, in part, the impression that Pres. Ward has received.  The other part is a matter of health.  While I was out in the island, I ended up making a fairly good number of trips to the small medical clinic on the island.  I have had some four or five random infections on my ankles and feet over the course of my trip as well as a urinary tract infection, both of which I´ll see a doctor today to have taken care of by city doctors.  I´ll inform you all tomorrow what all I got.

I´m sure you´re all riveting with questions so I´ll leave you all to formulate and inquire for tomorrow.  As for schooling, I´m glad to see I´m signed up for classes but I´m wondering how this semester will go.  I´m confident that I´ve forgotten a good chunk of my calculus, so I´m sure that this semester will be a real mind cracker.  I don´t suppose that you could tell me who my New Testament teacher is, could you?  That class really screwed me over for the way the class was run.  If I´ve got the same guy as last time, I´d really like to know ahead of time.  The physics class and math class will all depend on my personal initiative to keep on top of my work.  I feel that although it will be a challenge to get back up to snuff that quickly I am sufficiently intelligent to ace both courses.

Well, I´m slightly spent from all the writing so I´ll leave it at that for the moment and I hope to hear from you all soon.

Your Elder in Panama (that´s not going back to San Blas)
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

M:89/P:78: Another Quiet P-Day

It is kind of wierd not to receive any emails, letters...anything from Austin since he is out in the wilderness of San Blas.  So to make up for the lack of news from the Panama City Mission, we started surfing the net and came across a blog from Elder Bryson Alley, Austin's former companion in Puerto Pilon from October 20th to November 29th, 2010.  We were actually thrilled because he, like Austin, provided a weekly report of their missionary activities, only in this case, Elder Alley provided much more information in some areas, or a different perspective of the weekly activities.  In fact, a couple of trivia and great information we learned from Elder Alley. 

On one occasion, they went to a dinner appointment and had PIG SNOUT.  Yep, you were right the first time...Pig Snout.  Elder Alley did not give any details regarding the outcome of the dinner or their reaction, so that will be a topic of discussion when we meet up with Austin again.  Elder Alley also had some details of a service project that he and Austin volunteered to participate in during their P-Day, to help build a house made of corrugated tin for an elderly sister in their ward.  Austin only sent a picture, but Elder Alley provided some details and several pictures that have now been incorporated into Austin's blog.  Another event was that of a baptism of Eddie Gonzalez.  Austin only mentioned of a baptism, but Elder Alley talked about the baptism and even posted a picture.  This was great encouraging information about the hard and sacred work they were engaged in and the end result of their efforts.

If you reread Austin's letters during this timeframe, you can read both of these missionarys' perspectives.

Perhaps the most comforting information we read was a one liner:   "Oh yeah, guess what – I’m with ANOTHER gringo! Crazy, huh? I was sure that wasn’t going to happen. His name’s Elder Ascura. He’s pretty cool. :)"  It was truly comforting to know and hear first hand, a first impression of our missionary and to wonder if perhaps their entire time together was just that..."cool".

Elder Alley's letters of Austin can be found at: http://elderalley.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html




Elder Bryson Alley from Bountiful, Utah

Elder Ascura in Puerto Pilon, Colon

Off to work in Puerto Pilon, Colon


Missionary Apartment

Baptism of Eric Gonzalez (on the right) performed by his brother Eddie (at left)