Monday, January 27, 2014

#29 January 27, 2014

Hola family-o,

How are you doing?! I hope that you are just wonderful even though I have heard it is nice and chilly back home. Today we were outside playing in the park in shorts. Albanian winters. They are a killer. (It actually is chillier than that generally and the rain is what really gets ya).

First of all, I am so grateful for new beginnings. In the mission I am especially grateful for two: the Sacrament everySunday and each new week beginning on Monday. Last week was definitely one of the those weeks where Elder Jorgensen and I were ready for a new start to come along. We set up a lot of things and people were just not deciding that learning about what we were teaching was one of their priorities I guess. After we got in last night and took a look back at our week I pulled out my Preach My Gospel and was reading in the very first couple of pages about how we can know if we are successful missionaries. We went through each point as a companionship and, not including the natural imperfection that we have within us as mortals, we were able to answer positively to all the points. After that we wrote up some ways that we can improve what we do both in obedience and the work itself so that we are no hindrance to the work here. In chemistry terms, we don't want to be the rate-determining step in this salvation equation. We are excited to get back out there and kill it this week though. We have been called of God to do His work here and we have not been called to fail but to rise to the call and succeed, so here we go!

So one great thing that we did learn this week was with our investigator Xhemal. We met with him and discussed more about what his situation was like and then talked to President Ford and we have been given the thumbs up to move forward! Now we just need him to exercise his agency and faith throughout the rest of the lesson process as we work to help him progress to baptism.

I have not done a whole lot of tracting on my mission as usually we try to find people on the street, but this last week we were giving it a try and had the fun experience of accidentally knocking into a recent convert and meeting with them a little bit. It got me thinking a little bit. Last night as Elder Jorgensen and I were looking through the White Handbook and thinking of ways we could be more obedient he came across the phrase that we need to be seen as servants of the Lord wherever we are. Whenever the Lord takes a second to check on what I am doing, I hope I am caught in the act of being busy in His work. We are not perfect, but we do have the capacity to stand up and try a little harder to do a little better. So I am trying to be better at keeping that part of my baptismal covenant that is found in Mosiah 18 where it says that we will be willing "to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in."

Oh before I forget, I heard a couple of crazy connections between the family and the world. Carley let me know that a member of Tirana 4th Branch (where I served my first 4 months) is now in her BYU student ward! My friend on a mission in Indonesia also just emailed me and asked if my borther's name is Alex and if he was getting married soon, because if so the sister missionary he was sitting next to was emailing his fiancee. So that was fun.

Something that I have been working on studying this last week a bit is the often asked question of if God exists and if He really does love us, why do so many people suffer? I have been looking in the scriptures, Preach My Gospel, and True to the Faith to get some help on answering that question. Some good thoughts were given in True to the Faith under the section of Adversity. I also think about Elder Eyring's talk where he asked for mountains to climb in order to try his faith. How I have tried to answer this question as of recent is by looking at the eternal nature of the Plan of Salvation and how God's perfect plan will try us in the exact way to help us reach the potential that He knows we can achieve. Whether that comes in a wonderful and loving family in Midland, Michigan or on the streets of Tirana to a gypsy family, there is a purpose there that will help us reach that point. In the end, I think that Preach My Gospel says it when it says that when it comes down to it, people are put up against the wall of faith and have to decide whether or not to take that leap and really seek for God's will to be made known to them. It is also important to note what Preach My Gospel says when it states that no matter what your problems are, the best help can be found through the message of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Oh, and also, probably a month or a month and a half ago I said that my one pair of shoes had developed cracks (eventually that extended across the whole width of my foot) in both of the shoes. I went and got the re-soled finally and he did it for 500 leke ($5) which was awesome.

Well, I love ya lots and hope you are having a beautiful day!
Elder Ostergaard

P.S. Mom, first of all, I feel kind of bad that you are sending a package already. It isn't even Christmas yet. Second of all, I love packages and that should not be taken as discouragement to send it if you don't want it to be. Third of all, I love peanut butter (especially chunky). Fourth of all, I love the idea of a companionship tie thing, but right now Elder Jorgensen already has one of those and I can get ties here, so don't worry about that too much. Fifth of all, I really like pictures. That family picture in the Christmas package was awesome and just any kind of pictures of the family would be awesome. Sixth of all, that is all of the "of all"s I can think of. I love you Mom!

Monday, January 20, 2014

#28 Monday, January 20, 2014

Gezuar te henen juve!(Happy Monday you all!-- or yous guys as I am told Michiganders say it)

Well, another week of missionary work has done been done. We have still been working on building up our teaching pool, but slowly and surely we can see that that pool is actually filling up a bit.

We had a couple interesting teaching experiences this week. A few days ago we were teaching Xhemaj about the Word of Wisdom. Alcohol had previously been brought up as a possible concern, so we went into the lesson hoping for the best. We told him the different parts of the commandment and he said that he was in agreement with everything, except for one thing. Alcohol. But not as we had thought it would be. He said that he was out of work right now, and the only income that he got for his family was from a based from home distillery where he made and sold alcohol. We were not exactly sure what to tell him as the Word of Wisdom doesn't really prohibit that. So we asked President Ford that night, and we are still in a sort of a buffering stage on that and have to learn some more stuff before we can tell him anything for sure on this. He is great though. Pray for him!

We were also teaching a lesson to this guy named Dori and were looking at the Book of Mormon. He opened up to the picture of Moroni burying the plates in the Hill Cumorah and he loved it. He told us that it was such a beautiful picture that there must be truth behind it. I am not sure if I could every build a testimony off of the beauty of a painting (though it is in fact a very nice painting), but if he can use that as a starting block, all the power to him!

This week I have been reading a bit in Jesus the Christ (which is fantastic by the way and you definitely should think about picking it up if you have not already...or even if you have already). One of the really awesome things that I read was actually about John the Baptist. John had a large following of disciples that really thought that he was something. John, however, had always testified of the coming Savior and when he indeed did come backed down in order to let the Lord take His position at the head of the work of God. That is an incredible work of humility and something that I look up to a ton. Maybe this is true with everyone, but perhaps most trying thing for me of all is my pride. I have such a hard time just thinking about -- me. I am really trying to follow the example of John and become a humble servant of the Lord.

Something else that I have loved is reading Elder Talmage's look at the character of Christ especially as relating to Christ's cleansing of the temple. He writes that contrary to an often thought of look at Christ as completely submissive, or Savior is the essence of manhood and has righteous passions and actions to accompany that characteristic. Meek when meekness was right, strong and bold when they were required to do the will of the Father. Studying the life of the Savior through this book has better helped me to learn about the everlasting sacrifice that was done and the eternal Advocate that He is.

Something that has been pretty tough with the work as of late is getting people to church! 3rd Branch here has some really great and strong members, but it is much smaller than we would hope it to be. Getting our investigators to church has been so far a pain. We had 13 people tell us that they were going to be coming to our Sacrament Meeting -- and 1 of them came. Don't get me wrong, that one was a great one and we are so glad for the growth in the Gospel the was fostered in his soul during that time. However, church attendance is so important and these wonderful children of God need to be a-coming! So if you were wondering what could require prayers here in the 3rd Branch district of Tirana, that is something that could definitely use those prayers.

Thank you so much for your love and prayers. It sure means a lot to me! It is pretty cool to be part of maybe the most prayed for group of people in the world and the members and investigators that we are working with sure could use those prayers.

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, January 13, 2014

#27 Chug chug chug chug (That is the sound that a train makes)

Hey hey!

Another week has indeed come and passed. Crazy stuff. I know. I am living it in fast forward out here.

So the work here in Tirona continues! We are still finding a lot of new investigators to try and build up our teaching pool. I really like finding. I think that that is a pretty rare thing as a missionary, but I think that it is great. There is no other time where you get to meet so many different people or just see the crazy quirkiness of Albanians more so than finding. That, and I just feel super kot (lazy, useless) whenever we aren't in a lesson or finding.

One thing that I had decided to do at the end of last transfer and that Elder Jorgensen and I have tried to here is do more member work. We did basically straight investigator work last transfer which allowed us to work hard, but this might be a way to work a bit smarter. We split up the branch list between the 3 different companionships in 3rd Branch and have been working on finding those less actives on our list. This is a fairly daunting task actually. But in a really exciting way. If you are lucky, the member will have a full address on the list which includes a road name, a pallat (apartment building) number, what stariwell they live in, and the room number. So when you get that information you first try to call the phone number that might be there too -- but usually they don't exist anymore. So, you go to the road that they live on -- often un-labeled -- and start to find the pallat. Most of the pallats aren't numbered anywhere visible and so you kinda just ask xhaxhis (old guys) if they know where pallat 14 (or whatever) is. Most of the time it is a no because there are so many of them, so we ask if they know what one of the pallats close by is to which they will say something like "that one over there is 68" -- but in Albanian (ai pallat andej eshte pallati gjashtedhjetetete). So you walk down a little bit and do the same thing until someone says a number that is pretty close to the one you are looking for. (I think that the way these pallats were built really was starting from 1 and then continuing on sequentially, but they just kind of built them wherever there was extra space somewhere in the general proximity of the road and made it the next one...which leads to a somewhat without-rhyme-or-reason feel, but not completely). So then you go and start doing the exciting part. You go to all of the pallats near-ish by and try to find what one they are. This might be spray-painted on the wall somewhere or otherwise marked, but probably not. Then you try and find the water or electricity bills that are usually laying at the bottom of the stairs (this is one really good thing about no one paying their bills) and those will usually say what the address of the pallat is. This is repeated until the pallat is found. Then you start tracting to see if anyone knows this person (and if they don't you try to see if they are interested to hear a message about the Gospel).

That has been a big part of my excitement for the week. We have some investigators that I am pretty excited about. Xhemaj was found street contacting and he is awesome. We have been able to meet with him a few times and put him on a baptismal date. He also came to church which was awesome! We are really hoping to see him keep on progressing. Altin was also found street-contacting. He was wearing a security uniform so I thought he was on-duty, but said hi anyway...and he stopped! We were supposed to meet him a half-hour before church. Then he didn't answer is phone -- but called us back about 15 minutes later and said he would be there in 20 minutes, so Elder Jorgensen and Elder Harvi stayed at the church with our investigators and Elder Pierce and I went out to go get him. After 20 minutes he said he would be there in 10. After 10 he said he would be there is 5. So then 10 minutes later he came! It was pretty amazing how fast the anxiety and frustration that I had had vanished once he showed up! He came to the last half of Sacrament meeting and then had to go because his two-year old was sick. He and his family need the Gospel! I mean, everyone does, but he does especially right now!

That is awesome about the new ward mission plan! If everyone here were giving us 4 referrals a year we would be really busy! Also having member-lessons be part of the ward mission plan is really cool because it really gets the members to be part of the missionary work when they are in on lessons with the missionaries and watching someone receive the Gospel. So, way to go.

But a little more about my companion. He is quirky. He sings in the shower and likes to talk with people he knows (if he doesn't know them he is a bit more quiet). But yeah, that's all I got. Vetem kaq.

Something funny that happened this week was while we were contacting and we stopped this couple and started talking to them. We asked if they were besimtare (basically if they believe in God). They said yes and then the woman turned to her husband and said "si quhemi ne?" or 'what are we called?'. He thought for a second and said muslim and she turned back to us and said 'yes, we are Muslim'. That is not they way we should live our beliefs by the way. If someone ever asks what you believe, I hope there is no hesitation or asking they person next to you to remind you.

Well, keep it real back there state-side! Love ya tons and am trying hard to make you proud and be a good boy out here in Albania!

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, January 6, 2014

#26 First New Companion and District News

Hey Momma,

Look how good our family looks! (referring to this photo:)

Did you get your hair shorter than usual, Mom? Maybe it isn't any different, I am not very good at that whole haircut noticing thing. You look good either way!

Before I forget, here is the picture of me. Sorry that the resolution isn't awesome, that is the highest resolution that the camera can do. (Photo requested by family to make full size poster to use at upcoming weddings.)

But wow, it sounds like the Christmas break was awesome! The new missionaries got into the country on the 3rd (there are 8 Elders and 8 Sisters) so that is pretty cool. My new district is just the Tirana 3rd branch which means that it is the Zone Leaders (Elders Pierce and Harvey), the Sisters (Sister Hawkins and Defriez) and us. Sister Defriez is right out of the MTC from Grand Blanc, so it was really cool to find that Michigan connection!

So with Elder Jorgensen, we are assigned as co-senior companions rather than having a junior and senior companion. He is a pretty passive guy, so I tend to be a bit more of the voice, but I am really trying to back off a bit sometimes with that. I think we are so far doing a pretty good job of our missionary work without the experience in the field that other missionaries have. I am a really firm believer that energy and desire to do missionary work trumps experience when the experienced one doesn't want to do anything. My language might be just a little bit better, but we are both continuing in that field that is for sure. One of the coolest things about the language is hearing people randomly "start" to say words or phrases all of a sudden that you had never noticed before. Most of language study consists of reading out loud from the Book of Mormon in Albanian, so if any foreign language speakers had any other great ideas I would love to hear them.

But, the work has been starting to roll a little bit more here. We were able to get a lot of numbers and first lessons in the last couple days of this past week, so fingers crossed that those individuals will continue to show forth that interest and grow in their faith. One thing that I have seen more than really ever before on the mission is people that don't really believe in God. Here in Albania, almost everyone has some sort of a belief in God even if they don't really act on that faith. I think maybe it is the "hip" thing or something now because within 3 days we had conversations with three 18-20-year-old girls that don't believe in God. The thing that I could really see though as we talked to them is that either they had some sort of a desire to believe or at least are not against the idea that there could indeed exist a Supreme Being. This led to several discussions on faith and hope generally stemming from Alma 32. I love how in Alma it talks about how even if we have but a desire to believe, we need to let that desire work within us and that desire can grow to a hope which can then become faith and then a sure knowledge. The Gospel isn't just a message for some people, it is a message for everyone. Heavenly Father has created ways for anyone, no matter what their state in belief is, to progress and come closer to Him. All we have to do is start where we are. Look forward to the future and consistently nourish your growth and progression will come. It is a pretty cool thing. Some of the names of these new investigators are Iris, Linda, Deni, and Elsela. A prayer in their direction would be greatly appreciated.

3rd branch is indeed a different place than 4th branch. First of all, it is much more of a suburb feel than the more big city aura of 4th branch. It isn't Midland, Michigan by any means, but it is a bit smaller. The members here seem really solid. There are several members that are really willing to help out with lessons, but so far we have not really utilized that as we don't really have many (or any) solid, planned lessons yet. However, as we develop the work a bit more, I am excited to have those awesome members help out in this awesome work.

Well, hey, have an awesome week this week! Keep it real and whatever you do, do it well. There is no other way to do it!

Elder Ostergaard

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

#25 Happy New Year

Gezuar Vitin e Ri! Shoot, that means that I have to write a different year in my journal now. I don't know if I am ready for this change.

But, let's get down to the nitty gritty, we just had our first transfers! That is so crazy because if I had been on an English-speaking mission with a normal transfer cycle, I would have written this email the first week of September...crazy. Por, ashtu behet ne Shqiperi! So Elder Austin is now in Prishtina, Kosovo (where he was before he became my companion in 4th branch of Tirona). I am now in Tirona 3rd branch serving with Elder Jorgensen. Elder Jorgensen is in my generation of missionaries, so it will be pretty crazy to not have someone more solid in the language than me (however last transfer I really worked on holding my own and not relying on my companion so I think that will definitely help out). But Elder Jorgensen is a good dude from Castledale, Utah. He was hurdler in High School (from which he just graduated in 2013) and took states in his division twice (Alex, that is mostly for you. He ran a 39.9. What times were you running?) I am excited to be with him and hope that we can get everything done here that we need to!

It was pretty hard to have us both leave our area because we, well, we did a lot of finding and met a lot of people. We knew who all of these names and numbers on the paper were and just really hope that Elder Bullock and his new trainee who are going to be taking over our area will do a bang-up job so that those people we found can progress in the Gospel! It was pretty cool because even though the transfer ended on Monday, on Sunday we were able to find 4 new investigators that seem really promising. I was glad that Elder Austin and I were able to leave the next two missionaries with a lot of work.

So, New Year' is like a a war zone here. Everyone goes out and purchases their aerial fireworks, roman candles, and M-80s and it is nuts. We had to be inside the house by 4:00 so that we wouldn't be sure to not get hurt by any crazy cuns or anything. We were allowed to stay up for the fireworks, but at 10 we were really tired so we decided to take a nap and slept until about 11:47 when Elder Jorgensen was awakened by the large amount of explosions and we watched the fireworks...for about 8 minutes and then went back to bed. Wow, that makes us sound like party-poopers too, Mom, but at least we felt great in the morning!

To answer some questions from Father:
So I am not totally sure what the landscape is in Albania because I have been in the big city almost the duration of my time here. There are mountains and such, I have sent back some pictures with some before. It is not in general as green as Michigan, but there are some really beautiful landscapes.

I see a lot of dogs, some cats, a couple random horse and cow now and then, and a lot of pigeons. Other than that I don't see a lot of animal life. Except for that time we saw that guy gutting a sheep outside of the Institute Center, that was exciting (but now that I think about it that doesn't fall under the animal life category either). Oh, and here everyone eats turkey on New Year's and so a bunch of people had tied up turkeys' and chickens' feet and would just put them on the sidewalk for people to come buy.

My clothes are doing just great. As for the shoes, the Eccos are doing just splendidly, but the Clarks fairly recently developed large cracks in the soles (it was not a pliable enough sole) which would definitely not improve their water it is good it has not rained like at all recently. I might be able to get them re-soled here, so we shall see what happens with that.

We have a washing machine in all of the apartments and then hang the clothes to dry on these drying tables. That definitely makes cleaning our clothes a lot easier than it could have been!

As for things that we need, we are coming into this area with a very very limited amount of work, so prayers for us to be able to find investigators at this time would be fantastic. Other than that, I cannot really think of anything.

Oh, I cannot remember if I wished Brigham a happy birthday or not! Happy late birthday Brigham, I meant to say that on Skype last week.

Love you, everybody and I hope you have a fantastic week!

Ju dua, dhe mos behuni kote ne punen tuaj sepse ju jeni shume me mire sesa ajo!

Elder Ostergaard