Monday, June 29, 2015

#102 Final letter from Albania


Well, I hope this is getting to everyone safe and well. This week was good and ended off great at church! We were able to see some people that we haven't seen in a while at church as well as a couple of faces for the first time, and well, that is just wonderful. It was interesting bearing testimony to the people there and hearing the sound of a horse and wagon riding by...realizing that that is not a sound I will be hearing in church again.

We came down to Tirana today and will be staying here until Wednesday morning. It is sort of this weird twilight zone between two worlds. Thank goodness we still have tags and a prophetic call to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or I wouldn't know what to do with myself. Potentially this is what the Catholics' view of purgatory is...just kidding, Dante didn't even know what the Mormons were.

I am not really sure of what to say, it kinda seems like it'll be said better in person anyway. This has been a fantastic two years. It can't really be explained in few words, or even many words. I guess that in a sort of selfish way, I would tell people to go on a mission because it is a really great way to grow. But more than that, I have come to recognize the goodness of God a little bit more and the mission is a little bit of something that we can do to show our gratitude for that.

I love you guys. Keep it real and I am excited to see you!

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, June 22, 2015


Hello Family!

Mom, happy birthday! I am 6 days late, but this whole being obedient to mission rules thing stopped me from getting it to you then. So, I hope you forgive my lateness. Same for you dad, Happy Fathers' Day yesterday!

This past week has been a good week, but with a few hang-ups, well, mostly just one. On Thursday we went over to Mark's house and he told us that he went to Lezha (a city about 40 minutes away from Shkoder) and talked to his dad and brother about being baptized and the such. They weren't fans. In fact his ailing father apparently looked like he was near to death when he told him. So Mark told us that he believes it is true and that he will definitely be coming to church and having lessons still, he just doesn't know when he can be baptized because he really wants the support, or at least grudging allowance of his family. Well, on Sunday we, as well as the rest of the missionaries fasted along with Mark to get an answer to all of this. We haven't been able to talk to him since after the fast, so we are going to wait to see what happens. We are praying that hearts will be softened and that Mark can have the faith to do what the Lord wants him to do. Haha, funny side note about him though. On Sunday during Priesthood we were practicing how to use the Priesthood, so we role-played how to baptize, give blessings, pass the sacrament and such. Mark was there and so our investigator has now role-played how to do all of those...I hope that is kosher. Whether it is or not, Mark is going to be stinking ready to hold the Priesthood when he does!

Other than that, and on a happier note, Tonini, while still in the job, was able to make it to church with Jona on Sunday! We are so grateful that he did whatever he needed to do so that he could come and respect the Lord's day by coming and partaking of the Sacrament. Thinking about their family as well as Mark (and many others that I have met on my mission), it is amazing to see the amazing wonder that they have for the Gospel. It made me think of Bishop Causse's talk that he gave this last General Conference. Is it still amazing to me? Do I hunger and thirst after the scriptures and the Gospel? I sure hope that my wonder of the Gospel keeps growing because I know that it changes and enlightens lives. I don't ever want it to grow dim in my life.

This week we have had a couple unexpected opportunities to meet with families that live a decent bit outside of Shkoder. We are supposed to focus on those within, but I guess if we try, the Lord can put whomever He wants in our hands to teach. We are trying to continually find people, and then have faith that the Lord will guide us where we need to be and put those in our path that are ready to hear the Gospel.

Well, I sure hope that this is a wonderful week for all of you and that you are able to see the hand of the Lord!

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, June 15, 2015


Hey Family,

I am grateful that this last week has happened. Saturday was probably one of the harder days of my mission emotionally. I think it was a mix of an internal clock counting down and reminding me of the future as just the feeling that we could always be doing more. The real kicker though was that night as called to confirm plans to go over to Tonini and Jona's house. Tonini found a job this week and that job requires him to work on Sunday's. It was one of the sadder phone calls that I have ever made. We are going over tonight and hope to be able to help them overcome this obstacle.

Well, the Lord sends us blessings with ever heartache and it was awesome to see Mark make it to church in a tie for the first time. He has such wonderful faith and as we talked to him this week about tithing among other things he expressed his willingness to fulfill this commandment. Talking with Elder Crandall about it, the first time that we met Mark (about a month into the transfer), it was on a tracting lesson and really we didn't see it going very far -- until now I have not had the opportunity to see anyone enter into the waters of baptism because of tracting. However, as we have continued to meet with this choice brother, we have been so impressed with his quite understanding of the message of the Restoration. We asked him while meeting with him on Thursday why he was following through with this -- his family is Catholic, even he is baptized in the Catholic church, his son is an altar boy there, but yet he is getting baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Spirit was strong as he told us that he has found for himself that this is true and that no matter who else follows from his family, he will come. What a testimony builder for me.

Congrats to both Grant (on finishing freshman year) and Brigham ( on going to the temple for the first time this week)! And Dad, I hope you heal up quick!

I don't really have much to say other than that...but I hope that you have a wonderful day and week! I hope that the summer months are looking beautiful out there yonder and that you are having a great time!

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, June 8, 2015


Hey Family,

Well, this last week was a bit slow. We are doing a lot of looking for new investigators and the like, but though we have found some people who were willing to hear the message at first, none of them wanted us to return and continue sharing the message. I guess all that we can do is to enable their agency as much as possible.

2 Nefi 2:16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.

So, I guess that is what we'll do, just do the best we can to love, and teach clearly so that others can see the good of what we are teaching and then allow them to use their agency. I think that a lot of the time, all that we can do is be that one Mormon guy that they met 2 years ago that seemed like a good kid. I have definitely allowed my drive for the work allow me to be maybe less than gracious. Accept or not, we must show love. It is a difficult thing to do though sometimes, being persistent, but not overbearing. I don't think that that is a lesson that can really be learned in a book, but even in the last couple months of doing this in the field I still don't think that I have gotten a whole lot closer to the answer. Well, I guess that is what eternity is for.

We had a zone training this past week and I was asked to read from and comment on some parts of the white handbook. Interesting how bearing your testimony will often help you better understand Gospel principles. I had one of those experiences, and it was pretty eye-opening for me, so I am going to quote myself ("Oh John, that was a new one!"), ' Throughout my mission, my companions and I haven't been perfect, or anywhere near it, but I think that we are a lot closer than we used to be. I have seen that the Lord sends us down blessings though. He wants to bless us, and though I know He isn't waiting for us to be perfect to do it - that would leave us in quite the drought- , but I do think He is waiting for us to try.' What a blessing that the Lord looks for our small steps of progress and blesses us for them.

Yesterday was really cool for 3 reasons: 1) Tonini received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained to the office of Priest. 2) We started having a third hour of church. This is going to be really good in helping some of our recent converts understand the Gospel at a deeper level. 3) Mark came to church again (he hasn't missed since he came for the first time four weeks ago). It was cool seeing him, Tonini, and Vellai Pali sitting next to each other in Priesthood - can you say future Bishopric?

Mark is set to be baptized on the 27th of this month. He is getting himself ready by coming to church, reading (he is in the Book of Alma), and starting to live the commandments (he said that he would live the Word of Wisdom when we taught it on Thursday). The only problem is that he is busy and can't meet us very much. So, though his baptism isn't for another 3 weeks, we have a limited amount of appointments with him and we have to put a lot of information into them. He is a smart guy though and should be okay in digesting it. While we were at his house on Thursday we set out the game plan for helping him be ready for baptism and showed him the baptismal interview questions. He asked about tithing which we haven't taught yet, and not having enough time to teach about it well, we gave him a couple things to read about it. He still came to church, so it doesn't look yet like it was a deal-breaker. We are excited to meet next time with him and help him find the Gospel even more in his life.

Well, that about sums it up. Congrats to the grad! Way to make it through high school Brigham, you look stunning in your green robes.

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, June 1, 2015


Hey Dearest Family,

Well, the biggest news from this past week was that Tonini and Jona were baptized and confirmed as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! It was so wonderful to see them take this step, a step that they understand and are willing to fulfill. We went to their house and picked all of them up and got a furgon (van) down to Tirana for the ordinance. So, even though the Mom (her name is Age) and the other daughter (Lume) haven't been baptized yet, it is really a matter of time and will be a wonderful day when it happens. Their sights are toward the temple more and more and it is super great. Haha, Jona has read the entire triple combination and Tonini has read most of it. Crazy. (nudge nudge Grant, Jona is 2 and a half months younger than you, so maybe you can see if you can beat her time of the triple in 5 weeks!)

Cermeli Family

Motra Dunn, Lume, Age (Mom), Tonini (Dad), Mikael, Jona, Motra Kelly

Other than that, our most promising investigators are Mark and his wife Mireta. Mark is in the middle of Mosiah right now which is wonderful! It is so good to have investitators that read. They came on Sunday (he is 3/3 and she is 2/3 in the last three weeks). He is more into the message than she is and it was funny to watch him push her come to Sunday School. We probably made her late for work, but we didn't do any of the pushing at all, it was all him. I like it when we don't have to be the "bad guys." That seems to happen a lot. I guess it is good practice for the future where it seems like that is going to be a thing. Meeting with them is a bit difficult as they can only meet once a week, which makes helping them be prepared for baptism a bit difficult. We are praying for them. Mark, that he may have a continually strengthened testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel. Mireta, that she may more fully understand our message -- she doesn't quite get that we are different from other Christian churches yet.

As for branch business, we had the wonderful opportunity of having President Kashari of the Stake Presidency here in Shkoder on Sunday. He told us that they are going to be working to come up pretty often because of the fact that our branch president went to Italy for an indefinite amount of time. We sure hope that he returns soon!

Today we woke up bright and early at 3:20 to get on the road to go visit Theth "the pearl of the Albanian Alps." It was really early, but it was beautiful. After 3 hours on a 1/2 asphalt 1/2 rock road and a flat tire, we got to Theth. We hiked around and visited a waterfall, the "blue eye", and the itty bitty village of Theth. It is gorgeous, with a slight foreboding feeling (it is the sight, along with a lot of the rest of northern Albania, of blood feuds). It felt like walking through the movie the Village and Godric's Hollow from Harry Potter. Pretty cool.

Blue Eyes Pool

Elder Clawson

Happy 32nd tomorrow Dad! I hope that you have a wonderful day and know that I love you from over here in Albania! Also, that is wonderful Brigham for being sustained to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. I hope that every day you try to be more like the stud Priesthood leaders you see around you. Willing to give your time, talents, and efforts for others and the Lord. Mom once told me of a talk she had heard which encouraged people to go to the funeral, meaning, do those small things that might be a bit of inconvenience but could mean the world to others. Some of my saddest regrets in Priesthood service come from not attending the funeral both literally and figuratively. At the same time, some of the most wonderful moments come from doing taking that time and showing that love.

Hey, I love you family and hope that you have a wonderful day and week!

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, May 25, 2015


Dearest Family,

In the last few transfers I have thought a bit about the meaning of time. President Uchtdorf taught us that one of the reasons that we feel so sad when something ends is that we, being eternal beings, are not used to the idea of endings. Time , in many ways, seems to lose meaning. I can't even imagine how the eternities work if they aren't based on the mortal boundaries of time. I guess we'll see when we get there!

This last week we were able to see some wonderful things as we continually see Tonini and Jona get ready for their baptism. They will be baptized on Saturday and are ready for it...well about as ready as anyone can be to make a binding covenant with their Creator. We had talked to Sister Mimoza this week about Jona and how we didn't know what to do to help her have Sunday attire, and she totally offered a skirt and a blouse for her. We also presented Tonini with a white shirt and tie (he has never worn a tie before, not even for his wedding). Neither of them are huge fans of the kind of clothes, but they expressed that they are willing to do it if that is what the Lord asks. Beautiful, isn't it?

We have also been working with another man named Mark. Mark is also a wonderful human being that has been prepared by God to receive the message that we have been called to preach to him. Over the first two weeks that we had begun teaching him, he read the first two books of Nephi and really likes the messages in the book. His wife has not shown the same excitement for the message that he has (she came to church last week, but net this week), but he still keeps chugging along. He came to church again this week, and though there were few, he stayed, and enjoyed it. I think that sometimes I underestimate the power that the Spirit of the Lord has in the lives of others. People feel things that we don't know they feel and can find answers to questions in ways we can't foresee, or even see at all. It is wonderful and beautiful to see the Lord work through Mark. He is working to be baptized in about a month.

We had an interesting opportunity this week to help someone out that was having a bit of a scary medical episode. It helped me realize even more the need to be ready. It was such a blessing to have one there that knew medical procedures, but even more so to have the Priesthood there. In the necessary moment, I thought about myself, my thoughts, my actions... We cannot prepare for those moments in the moment it happens, we need to be ready beforehand. I was so grateful that I could, with reassurance, put my hands on their head and take part in that blessing. I want to be ready in every way to do what the Lord wants me to do, and that means I have a lot of work to do. I guess there is no time like the present to do that than now.

Well, I hope that you all have a wonderful week. I hope that Brigham, Grant, and Dad (but especially Brigham) heal up well from their runs. Happy Memorial Day! Have a wonderful grad party Brigham, and happy early birthday Grant. You are so stinkin' old. Looking at those pictures from the marathon that Mom sent, it looks like you are graying quite a bit.

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, May 18, 2015


Dear Family,

This past week I think was a great example of how the Lord generally works in our lives. It was going alright, but then, comeThursday, Friday, and Saturday, we didn't have much of anything going our way. However, as we continued knocking on doors, we were praying that the Lord would do His work in His time. On Sunday we were pleased to see 5 investigators in Sacrament (the most in quite a while). Sister Mimoza Pali (I don't know how much I have talked about her, but she is so wonderful, in 20 years or so when she is about 75, Shkoder has 2 stakes, and Albania has a mission, everyone is going to look back at her as being the momma of Shkodra. She is so wonderful and though maybe she really doesn't understand a ton about the Gospel yet -- she is a recent convert of only 9 months or so -- she's really doing wonderful things.) Gave a talk and taught the Sunday School lesson as well, and we were able to have a really good set of meetings.

The biggest thing, however, was after church. We sat down and talked to Tonini and Jona. They came in looking so good, cleaned up, and happy. We asked them how they had been doing on their commitments -- for Tonini to stop sports bets and Word of Wisdom stuff and for Jona to pray about if she should be baptized. Tonini said that he has been staying away from the betting, and though he has slipped on some word of wisdom stuff, he knows he needs to stuff now in order to be ready for his baptism on the 30th. He said with real conviction this time that he was going to stop. We are going to take him some hot chocolate this week so that he can do that instead of coffee. Jona, when we asked her (by the way, she finished reading the Book of Mormon early last week...crazy) if she had prayed for an answer told us that she indeed had, and that she feels like she needs to be baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!!!!! It was so wonderful! She is willing to leave what has really been a lot of her life and change it, because it is right. She will be baptized with her father on the 30th! What an answer to our prayers.

We don't have a ton of time, so I am going to have to roll out of her, but I love you guys! One of the pictures is at a martyrs monument her in Shkoder and the other of us playing dominoes with some xhaxhis (old men).

Elder Ostergaard