Monday, February 24, 2014

#33 Another day, another destiny


So this last week was good! We were able to teach a good amount of people, had a good number of people in church, found a pretty good number of new investigators... the only problem is that I wasn't called to be a good missionary. Our companionship was not put together to do good work. We are here to be extraordinary and craze-ify the work out here in Albania! Oh gees. I guess that is why I have been blessed with many one-more-days out here, because I guess we have not found out how to do it right the first time! But really, it was a good week.

So this week. We have found a fairly solid ability with finding people (Tirona is a big city and that makes a wonderful avenue for talking to a whole lot o' people) and even teaching people (when they show up to the appointments that we set up, sadly on a significantly less frequent basis than we hope for), however, the third part of that equation, the baptism part, we have been working hard to breach that barrier. There was a baptism for the zone leaders this week and it was great to be able to get an investigator there and help them see a little bit more about the purpose behind the two American kids in suits on the road. Enxhi, a recent investigator, came to it and before the baptism started I was able to explain a bit about what was going down and the covenants behind the two boys getting wet. After the explanation about the internal cleansing that was going to happen, I asked her why she thought that they had decided to get baptized. She said that maybe they just felt guilty. I laughed and said that that was probably a big part of it. We all feel that yearning to be clean and it that can be a huge reason for some people to want to take that step into the waters of baptisms and the continual repentance that we are privileged to do.

On a similar topic, this week we are privileged to work with a recent convert named Pellumb right now. He was just baptized two weeks ago and then yesterday he received the Aaronic Priesthood and will have the opportunity to pass the Sacrament next week. As we went over all of the steps of what was going to happen last evening we took a few minutes at the end to sit down at the end and just really try to help him understand the purpose and meaning behind what he would be doing as a Priesthood holder as he would prepare, bless, and pass the Sacrament. John Bytheway gave a talk once where he mentioned how important the duty of Priesthood holders is. When your friend asks, "what are you doing this weekend?" and you say not much, you might want to rethink. A better answer would be that you are using authority, that in approximately 12 steps can be traced back to the Savior, in order to help put a congregation of people under a binding covenant with God. Suddenly you weekend seems a bit bigger. Helping to teach that and help someone see the importance was a wonderful refresher to me of my responsibilities as a Priesthood holder.

Yesterday one of the investigators that came to church with us let us know that his 1 and a half year-old daughter was in the hospital and asked us if we could help out. We told him that we were not able to help out financially, but that we did have a special way in which we could help out. We went over last night and gave his daughter, Xhoanna, a blessing. We are really hoping and praying for faith from the mom and dad to be exercised in the healing of their daughter.

Some questions:
How is your health doing? -- My health is doing well, I haven't even really had to pretend I am not sick!

Tell us a little about the weather. Have you had to use your raincoat at all? Does Albania ever get snow? -- So the weather has been for the most part really nice recently. It is actually usually colder in our house because the cement is not an incredible insulator for heat, but it does a rather fantastic job with the cold. My raincoat gets used a couple times a week and the waterproofing job that I put on it is holding up well. Snow. Nope. They will tell you yes but that is once in every however many billion years. Up north they do though (in Shkoder and Kosove).

Do you wear your suit coat much? -- We probably wear a suit coat every other day or so. The other days we wear sweaters.

And tell us a little about how your church building differs from ours. Do you have to have a key to get in to teach lessons? Is it an electronic key pad like ours? I bet the building is much smaller than our Stake Center. -- Our church building is three floors tall and the pronari (landlord) lives on the fourth. It has a gate in the front that locks and then all of the rooms lock (not electronically, we just have to carry around a billion keys). The Sacrament Hall is the first floor and then all of the teaching rooms are on the other two floors.

You'll be a Stake in Albania very soon! Tell us a little about that! -- The Stake should turn 3rd branch (as well as all of the other Tirana branches) into a ward. There are not a whole lot of options for a bishop, so that will be interesting. It is going to be a hard transition that will lead to a lot of blessings as more people will be taken to fill Stake callings, missionaries will be separated a lot more from the dealings of the units, and President Ford will no longer be the ecclesiastical leader for the area.

Can you tell me about a recent experience in which you felt you had been directed by the Spirit in your teaching or other activities as a missionary? -- I think that the most prominent for me this past week has been in our lesson with Pellumb. However, when I look back I can see little spiritual promptings that I have had to get out into the road and talk to someone, or whatever it may be.

Do you only speak Albanian with your companion or only with nationals? -- No...we should be better about that.

What is some of the most impressive things you have noticed about your companion? -- He is so chill. There are very few things that rattle his chains. I have found how tense of a person I am out on my mission. I have discovered many things that cause me to go out of my chill zone and I need to work on that.

And, finally, any package yet? -- Nope, not yet

Hey, I love you so much and I hope that you have a fantastic time in Utah, Mother! Get well Grandma, get wedding-ready siblings, get more jacked both of you Michael Phelps brothers, and Dad keep holding up the world, Atlas.

Elder Ostergaard

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

#32 February 17, 2014 ... with pictures even.

Hey Momma,

Well, this week was a good week in the field! It is one of those ones where it feels like the work is really progressing and we are inviting more people to come unto Christ. And since that is really what the work is all about, I would say that that made it a pretty solid week.

We are still having our struggles getting people to church, but they aren't as bad of struggles as they previously were so that is a huge blessing! Actually the investigator who we are most excited about kind of showed up last week at church. We had talked to him on the road and I guess invited him to come, but neither of us had gotten his number. However, after that he just showed up last week. He is a guy named Ernest and he is really cool. He is 21, so it is a bit easier to connect with him too which is great. He told us that he is really looking for some more faith in his life and we gladly told him that that is something that we specialize in. He has been coming to English course too. He said that he was baptized in the Orthodox church, but when we explained the reason for him to be baptized again and he understood and excepted, so woo! We also met these two girls contacting on Saturday night and invited them to church and they came all three hours which was really awesome! We actually just set up a lesson with them for later on today, so we are hoping that that will go someplace! For our other investigators, we have some that are making progress, but I guess just not as much as we would have hoped. However, If you could keep some of these names in your prayers that would be great: Ernest, Dodona, Drita, Zaura, Monda, Banush, and every other Albanian ever. Thanks!

This week we have been continuing on in our English course and we have seen more people coming which is just awesome! Teaching English is pretty fun and it gives a whole different feel to communicating with Albanians. Suddenly I can communicate with them in their language a whole lot better than they can communicate with me. We taught them how to say "see you later alligator."

We have gotten an interesting question from one of our new investigators recently that I guess I had never really thought about before. She has a muslim background, and though I don't think she practices that much, she still has beliefs in correlation with that faith. She told us that she didn't understand why we prayed in the name of Jesus Christ rather than simply praying to God. I have been reading my missionary library and some conference talks as well as asking some others about what they thought in order to come up with a good answer to this question. I would love your thoughts, but here are a couple of the things I have found:
1. We do indeed pray directly to Heavenly Father. We are simply told to pray to the Father in the name of Christ (Doctrine and Covenants 10:5).
2. There is a certain power in the name of Christ that we ourselves do not possess (for example see the story of Moses' encounter with Satan in Moses 1:12-22).
3. This is not completely answering the same question, however it is along the same lines. The plan of our Heavenly Father includes both perfect justice as well as perfect mercy. The Father must be just and hold to the commandments and guidelines He has set (see Alma 42). However, He has also created away for mercy to save us, and that way is through His Son. To say that we need Christ in order to return to the Father is not to diminish the omnipotence of the Father, but to show in more detail how His power is extended.
Those are some thoughts, but please feel more than free to shoot some others my way.

To answer some questions:
Do the Albanians celebrate Valentine's Day? I guess kinda. You could see people walking around with flowers and either the government or phone companies put up some decorative stuff here and there.
Today we, along with 6 other missionaries, went down to the artificial lake. It is this really big lake in the south of Tirana and we walked around and ate a bit of a sack lunch there. It was really nice!
Our laundry is done in our apartment with a washer that we have right there and then hung up on some drying racks (I think I sent a picture of those way back when).
Our apartment could be cleaner, but it isn't that bad.
For breakfast it is either eggs and hot sauce (from the American dollar store), cereal (I usually mix together corn flakes and this granola-ish stuff called muesli), or bread and nucream (a nutella-ish thing but better and cheaper). Then for lunch we are inside a good amount of the days. The zone leaders usually come over and we make pasta, or other stuff).
Grocery shopping is not crazy different here, just not as big of a selection of things. You can also go get produce from little fruit stands. The groceries aren't crazy different in price (except for peanut butter and stuff which are really expensive), but the fruits and vegetables and such are really cheap (I think so at least, a kilo of oranges is about 60 cents).
And my package is not yet here, but maybe soon.

Elder Ostergaard

Hey Mom, here are a couple pictures that I just got from Elder Austin. These are from Nertila's baptism and one of Sister Andrews wearing Elder Austin's fuzzy hat. Elder Austin actually just got on a plane this morning for America. He has been having continuing problems with his stomach in Kosovo and the area doctor in Germany told him to go home and get it fixed. Hoping and praying everything goes all right.


Hello Mother Dearest,

How did you pass? Are you tired. Are you bored? With health? From the house? Are you good? (then you just need to say good after every single one of those questions and that is an Albanian greeting)

These are some pictures. The first one is of a "pod racer". The gypsies here will attach the back half of a bike or a motorcycle to a big box with wheels on it and drive it around yelling really loudly for people to give them their old scrap metal and appliances.
The second is of Brother Alushi, this awesome member in 3rd branch that helps us out with a ton of lessons. He had us over and played the guitar for us and sang. It was awesome.
The third was actually taken last night after Elder Jorgensen and I talked with this guy from Taiwan. He spoke no English and really really broken Albanian. It was a good time!

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, February 10, 2014

#31 February 10, 2014

Hey Momma, [and I'm sure he means everyone!]

The weeks are just rolling by here and it is crazy to be sitting in this smoke filled room with an ndalohet duhani (No Smoking) sign up as I type here once again. Our weeks have been a bit difficult these last couple of weeks with people not being able to meet ad the such (I guess that is how the work rolls apo jo?) but we have been working and really trying to do what we need to be doing. This has happened a couple of times where we just come to the end of the week and look back at what was accomplished, not quite with that feeling of satisfaction that we had been a-hoping for. That is when we say a prayer as a companionship and plead with the Lord to accept and seal the efforts that we put forth. The work can always be improved, but it is good to know that the Lord will accept our best efforts, whatever they may be.

Elder Jorgensen and I recently started teaching an English Course which has started off well...except for the fact that it is totally filled with members and other missionaries' investigators. We need to get other people here to learn about the Gospel...but the church is kind of in a back alley of a not super well traveled road. Whaddya do? So we are still working on getting some other people there and hope that that works out!

Church is still a pretty tricky part of the work, because even though we were able to get a lot of people to come last week, people get busy. We are still pushing for these people to come and always inviting a billion people to come to church (we go through our list of current and potential investigators and call as many as we can to come). We are hoping to see all those that we have been able to see grow continue in that growth!

I was actually reading just a couple of days ago in the book Jesus the Christ. Christ was in the process of sending His twelve on their first missions. He told them that they must, "be fearless...for the most their persecutors could do was to kill the body." I read that and was really impressed by the weight of the Savior's words to them. And then I thought about me. Yeah, that is where the real learning comes in. As I likened the words of the Savior to me and the mission that I am serving right now I took a step back (figuratively as I was sitting at the time). What are my fears on the mission? People laughing at me. Being in the middle of an awkward conversation. So, essentially nothing. I have been called as a missionary to be as a missionary from an already "peculiar people" which really makes me double peculiar. Weirdness should be my bread and butter. The only thing that can stop me from being the greatest missionary that I can be is a lack of dedication to the regulations set by God and my own decisions on how much I want the Spirit and how seriously I will take my calling as a missionary. Repentance is a change of mind and heart that brings a re-aligning towards God, yourself, and eternity. This day I repent to be a better servant of Christ and a better missionary. I repented yesterday, the day before, and I hope to be willing to repent every day of my life.

Love you so much and Sure hope that you are doing just great and keeping busy!

Puç puç, (that is for Valentine's Day) Ju puth fort,
Elder Ostergaard

#30 February 3, 2014

Dear Mother,

Happy Monday and welcome to another week! This wasn't the massive breath of the air from a fresh week as it was last week, but it always great to be able to start again and start at it with some fresh eyes (On a similar note, I changed my toothbrush again yesterday or the day before, that is another great beginning. If you haven't changed your toothbrush in a while, try it out, it's great.).

This last week the most exciting big event was definitely at church. We have really been having a difficult time getting people into church (we invite a crazy ton of people, but then I guess they find other things that take priority) and have only been able to get one investigator to come to each of the sacrament meetings we have had here in 3rd branch. However, perhaps it was this Fast Sunday, perhaps we are just finding a couple of people who are really becoming more open to the message we have, and perhaps it simply was not raining (though most likely and combination of the three), we were able to have more success with it this week! We were out waiting for a guy named Spirro to show up at a near-by landmark and he came with his wife which was really exciting! Then we walked over to the church (which had already started, I don't think that I have been on-time to church for about 5 weeks. Investigators, you can't go to church on time with 'em, and that is a lot better than going without 'em) and as we walked into the Chapel we saw Godona (more about her in a second) and a girl next to her that we didn't recognize (it was, in Godona's words, her "spirit daughter". We will figure out what that means next time we meet.). So we were super excited about that. Then as we went to go sit down Elder Jorgensen saw Julian who we had invited in a lesson the day before to come and went and sat by him. And then about 3 minutes later, Gjyska walked into the Chapel (we had met her about a week and a half before but had not been able to actually meet with her again since). We were so excited. As President Ford says in his British accent "investigators in church is the key key indicator" and it was so great to be able to have so many people there as the power of God was exercised through the blessing and passing of the Sacrament.

So onto Godona. We met Godona on Thursday while we were contacting and she seemed great. She is a 63-year-old nëna and she is spunky. When we met with her on Saturday she came in wearing some really exciting clothing and told us that she was a rrobaqepse, a seamstress, that she was born to be a rrobaqepse, and that she made all of her own clothes. Coolest nëna ever. We had a great lesson with her and she was super accepting of the Book of Mormon and the message that we gave to her. When we gave her a couple chapters to read that night before we saw her at church the next day, we asked her if she would read them. "Of course I will read them!" she said and I realized that perhaps it was a bit of a silly question. So we said we would see her at 10 the next morning for church. We weren't able to sit next to her or her "spirit daughter", but they were in the same row as me and they seemed to be doing just great. After the Sacrament began the testimony meeting, and after a couple of people gave theirs, Godona put her head out and looked down the row at me. "Can I go up there?" she whispered. I saw the Book of Mormon in her hand and thought that she probably wouldn't be preaching any false doctrine if that was the base of her words, and was like, "yeah, yeah you can go up there." She went up and said a bit about how she had just met the red-headed boy and the other boy the other day and had read from the Book of Mormon last night. She then started to read from the Book of Mormon. By verse 3, I could tell that she was reading from Moroni 10 and I thought, well, it is the last chapter of the last book in the Book of Mormon, she can only go so far! She read through Moroni's promise and kept going. I pulled out my book and started following along thinking that maybe my smile was so big it might fall off my face. At about verse 28 President Çuçi stood up and kindly told her that we needed to let other people get up and talk as well. She was very cordial and finished up and sat down unabashed. She's great. After Sacrament meeting she told me that she was going to go home and prepare what she was going to say next week. I tried to explain that we would actually be having a slightly different meeting the next week, but it was a bit tough to explain with all the people moving around, so I just told her that we would talk about it during the week.

We did have some sad things happen this week. Xhemal who we were really pushing for a baptism in the next week or so told us that he didn't have the opportunity to meet with us any more. We were super down about that and called him and tried to talk about it, but he just said that right now wasn't the time. We are really hoping that he will take what we have taught him and sometime down the road be ready to make that step and accept all the teachings and make those covenants! The same sort of thing happened with Dori. We really want to help those out that don't have the blessing of the Gospel in their lives, but I guess it isn't on our time as missionaries when that is going to happen.

I have recently been reading in Our Heritage which is a short history of the Latter-day church and it is really good. It is pretty incredible to see from the timeline of the Church how much everything was put in order by the Lord in order to allow His church to start and grow. The right people were always there when they were needed and so many people were ready to hear the message of the Restoration that these missionaries had to preach. People are there, the Lord is preparing those souls, we just have to do our part. We out here in Albania are part of a missionary force of 80,000 in the world. We are spreading the same message about the same book, the same Prophet of the Restoration, and most in importantly, the same Lord who is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It is pretty cool.

Well, I hope that you have a wonderful week and do a lot of great and productive things! And I sure am praying for your health Mom, that doesn't sound fun at all.

Elder Ostergaard

P.S. I wouldn't mind more MoTab music. You just sent the Christmas card that had the picture we took after Grandma's funeral ( which I think is the most recent all-family photo that we have).