Thursday, December 26, 2013

#24 Christmas Day 2013

Without a doubt, the highlight of our Christmas day was Skyping with Elder Kimball Ostergaard, along with his brother Alex, who spent Christmas with Rachel's family. Having us all back together again, even on the screen, was such fun!! Kimball and Alex's antics kept us all laughing, and it was two hours full of lots of fun! Kimball shared lots of information that he doesn't usually broach in his letters, and we got the clear picture that though he loves us, he is not homesick, but wrapped up in and loving being a missionary.

Fortunately he received his Christmas package, including a camera and a pair of batman pajamas. He loved it! (The camera too, I think.) :)

Here is the letter he wrote after our Skype session.

December 25, 2013

Well hey hey,

Isn't this so good of me to write an email as well as to talk to you today? I was debating it, and then I realized that it would probably be a really good thing. Maybe. We are going on faith here.

But this week has been another ride on the roller coaster of missionary work! A lot of lows, some highs -- that definitely makes you cherish those high moments though! We have a lot of investigators that told us this week that they couldn't meet until after the New Year, so that was too bad.

I think that one of the coolest things that happened this week was this big concert that was put on for members and nonmembers. I was asked to play the piano for the choir as well as the congregational numbers (which was rough if anything, but that's okay). Pirro and Nesa came which was awesome and I think they both had a good time ( at least that is what they told us!). Something that I have been able to see so far on mission is how much members can help with missionary work. One thing that really helps is that they can speak the language -- really well -- and that makes a big difference. Also, I mean, as much as we are real people and everything, I am pretty sure we are seen as a slightly alien species. When people can relate a bit better, that definitely opens up the willingness to let something as powerful and incredible as the Gospel to change their lives. Because really, as wonderful and beautiful as this message of truth is that we have, it cannot penetrate an unwilling heart.

But Christmas! What a beautiful beautiful thing! Even though it doesn't get celebrated a whole ton here, it is still such a very special day. So something that I have been thinking about a lot as of recent is why we even celebrate Christmas. And really, we celebrate Christmas because of the Atonement. Two of my favorite scriptures about this are in Alma 7:10-12 and 2 Ne. 33:6. Check 'em out, they are great.

Well I am out of words. It was so awesome to talk to you and see two soon-to-be new editions to the family! Gezuar Krishtlindjen!

Love you so much,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, December 16, 2013

#23 Hey Momma

Hey Mom,

Well, it is the end and beginning of another 7 days here in Tirona (that is how people from Tirana say Tirana, because we are cool like that. I am really hoping to keep some Tironce in my speaking through my mission and maintain a bit of a hold on my mission roots here.). This last week we had a pretty cool experience, and the first one of its kind for me on the mission here -- Nertila got baptized! It was weird, being as I had not seen anyone enter the waters of baptism before this last Saturday, I had a hard time convincing myself that she was indeed ready for it! But, I successfully did so and was able to see Elder Austin baptize her and the covenants made along with that. The next day I was able to perform the confirmation, which I was pretty nervous about. I mean, I was about to be the mouth for a massive spiritual step in her life...and I am not Albanian, or anything close to it. However, I figured that, seeing as how this is within the will of Heavenly Father, He would indeed help me out so that the Spirit would be unhindered in that Sacrament Meeting. And you know what? He sure did.

This week other than the baptism was pretty rough with lessons and investigators not panning out as we wished for. I guess, what do you do other than try harder again this next week, so we are ready to go out and kill it this week.

I actually had a pretty awesome personal experience last night. At about 15 minutes before we had to head in for the night and end our week's work I was standing in the road and thinking about how much we had not done during the week ( never a thought line you should follow if you want to buoy up your self-esteem). I offered a prayer and just told Heavenly Father what I was feeling. I told Him that I really just wanted to feel like I was contributing something to the missionary efforts in Albania during the past week. I wanted to be able to bear my testimony with power before it was our time to head in to the house; I didn't even require them to be interested, I just really wanted to fulfill my part. That prayer was totally answered and as a bonus we got a number from this guy. Our prayers in faith are totally answered. When you feel like you are at your lowest, turn to your Heavenly Father. When you are at your highest, turn to your Heavenly Father. When you are at any time in between the two, turn to your Heavenly Father.

I got to go on two different exchanges this week. It is always a pretty crazy to see how different people's talents make their way into their missionary work. I am so glad that we don't have to fit into some kind of cookie cutter mold to be a good missionary because I wouldn't be very good at that. We are definitely called into our missions for a reason, so we just have to work to try and fulfill whatever that is.

Love ya everybody and I am so excited to talk to you on Christmas!

Keep it kicking out there! The Book is blue, the Church is true!
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, December 9, 2013

#22 Monday, December 9, 2013

Hey Michigan (as this basically-American-but-still-Albanian-lady-by-descent-and-current-residence tells me every time that she sees me)!

So this week...happened...and it sure happened in a very happening fashion. A couple interesting people that we met this week: Spartak Hamiti, the Guinness world record holder for juggling a soccer ball. He is a character. We were also street-contacting on Rr. Myslym Shyri -- a favorite past-time of ours -- and met this guy who apparently was the world weightlifting champion at one point. We are kind of a big deal now having met such famous people.

We tend to meet a whole lot of people. A good portion of that is that we go contact whenever people are late for or don't show up to their appointments which is not an uncommon thing. That is a statistic that we have been trying to raise (lesson attendance), but somewhere between missionary efforts and lessons/baptisms/church attendance is a line of personal agency. We have the guys in R&D looking at ways to poke some holes in that barrier, but until then I guess I will be grateful for the opportunity that these wonderful children of God have to make their own choices and learn and grow from their own experience.

One cool thing that we got to do this week is go rock babies at an orphanage. We have a set of missionaries go over every week and help out with this and it was great. While I was there and after I thought a bit about how those babies got were they were and what would happen to them afterward. I have definitely lived a life blessed by the Lord to raise me in a beautiful and ideal environment. Because I have in my life what I do (support, security, experiences), that has got to mean that there are people out there for me to help -- and by out there I mean right here in the Adriatic South Mission.

So I just saw a heading on that said "Bloom Where You are Planted" and that is actually something that I have thought about a lot within the last several months. It is interesting to be a missionary out here surrounded by other missionaries and all be striving for the same purpose -- even though we are all so very different! I will hear sometimes things about other missionaries who have gone and done great things or are currently doing some awesome things, and that is great. However what really gets me is when they are put up on some untouchable stand of missionary-excellence. It is so important to remember that we are called to the work where we are called and when we are called for a reason. Though it might not be in the plan of Heavenly Father for everyone to have an incredibly number-filled mission (check out Abinadi), but He certainly called us to be where we are for the purpose of serving our Lord and Master with our utmost might and zeal and no language barrier or lack of being in a "golden" area can change that! This is not even just for missionary work at all. No matter who you are, remember who's you are and do your best to exemplify that. When the servant of the Lord of the vineyard in Zenos' allegory of the olive tree asked why a good and fruitful tree had been initially planted in such a poor spot of ground, the Lord of the vineyard responds, "Counsel me not, I knew that it was a poor spot of ground" . You are exactly in the right place and time in existence to fulfill the Lord's plan for you, so do it!

This week I was able to study a bit in Mosiah and I realized again how cool Gideon is. In this part of the Book of Mormon the Lamanites had come to war against the people of Limhi because some of their daughters had been kidnapped and ended getting driven back for the time being by Limhi's people. Gideon, when he learned that both the king of the Lamanites as well as Limhi suspected that the people of Limhi were suspected of this crime came forth and decided to put the record straight. He not only remembered the priests of Noah that were in the wilderness and proposed them as the probable suspects, but I think more than that he looked at their situation in relation to the words of the prophet Abinadi. It made me think about how I look at the world. Do I think about my surroundings and how to act based upon the words of prophets, apostles, and other church leaders? When I must make a big decision do I both study it out in my own mind and turn to the Lord's words to make that decision? I know that it is something that I can definitely improve on and I would really encourage you to turn to the words of the Lord's servants, that is why they are there! He loves you so much and wants to show you in every way that he can that that is true.

Well, I hope that you have a fantastic week and find some great ways to be a better disciple of Christ everyday! I love Elder Bednar's words "The Lord needs all of be...good boys," and I think that relates to all genders.

Elder Ostergaard


Our Mission Conference held on US Thanksgiving Day 2013

Preparation day bowling outing with most of the Tirana Zone

Monday, December 2, 2013

#21 Happy Monday Once Again!

Well hello once again! It is crazy to be here on the computer yet one more time, but yes, here I am still alive in the beautiful country of Albania! Happy late Thanksgiving and -- as Thanksgiving also happened to land on Albania's holiday Festa e Flamurit -- Gezuar Festen e Flamurit! It is kind of a big deal. I say kind of because I am not really sure how big of a deal it actually was. Some people that we talked to did absolutely nothing for this day of independence from Germany and others were celebrating stuff after we were inside our pallat (nothing good ever happens after 9 -- or 9:30 depending on if you have a lesson or not -- so all those people partying were probably actually just reading their scriptures and planning for the next day anyway).

So for Thanksgiving we were able to celebrate at Mission Conference with all the missionaries in the Adriatic South Mission (mostly from Albania, but also in Kosovo and Macedonia). It started out with a training session from President Ford which was awesome as it always is and then on to some other training segments on different aspects of missionary work. Then we ate. That was a good part. Frankly I could have eaten a significant amount more than I did, and I think that I will blame that upon the fact that Alex, Carley, Brigham, and Grant weren't there to try and out-eat. After that there was a talent show where our district did this midget-dancing routine where one in each companionship was the feet and one was the torso and we danced to a version of "I Hope They Call Me On a Mission". (Haha, that just reminded me of that video that we made in our old house of the head, legs, and torso coming together for a family reunion... that was a good video.) Then we ate desserts; I made an apple cake that was delicious. After that the Mission Conference ended with a testimony of all the missionaries that will be leaving at the close of the year. It was way good.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving I just decided that I was going to talk about some things that I am grateful for at this time in my life:

-I grew up with the Gospel with parents who loved me, loved each other, and cared enough about me and my siblings to help us learn of and receive the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then to live it.
-I have not been sick since getting set apart. That is awesome. I am kind of planning on that to be the case for the next forever, so here goes.
-I can do hard things. I have been taught this my entire life and it makes a massive difference here! It is pretty dang hard sometimes and it is good to know that I can do it
-Experiences that humble me and help me realize that what I just said isn't true. When times get tough I have learned that with the Lord's help all things can be done.
-The half hour we have to work out in the morning. It is great. Maybe I'll get buff, that would be fresh to death.
-Fasting. It is great. Yesterday I was able to fast for 4 of our investigators in particular that are at a point were we just really want them to make another step, become a little more converted, and come closer to Christ.
-Quiet moments. They area sometimes few and far between, but they are so great and help me to better understand the Spirit and be grateful for everything that is happening and has happened.
-The Spirit. I have thought about this a lot. What could possibly overcome someone in such a way as to have them give us their telephone number after talking to a couple Americans for 45 seconds on the street. I cannot think of any good reason except for maybe feeling the Spirit for that small moment. Without the Spirit this would be a very boring two years because we wouldn't have any people to teach.
-All of the experiences that I have had to prepare me for my mission. They made a difference and someone up there definitely knows what they're doing.
-Warm showers. What a blessing!
-The opportunity to wear a tie every day. Ties are great.
-The Atonement. It is real, it works, it helps me everyday, and it can sure bless your life if you let it!

Well, those are just some of them, but they are things I am really grateful for, so there is my contribution to the table discussion that was had on Thanksgiving.

I love you so much and hope that your week is even better this week than it was last week!

Elder Ostergaard