Monday, March 31, 2014

#38 Ta ta Tirona, Hello Fier!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hey, hey family,

Well it done been written, I am headed to Fier this week. Elder Jorgensen and I were praying as we finished off our planning last night when President Ford called with the news about what the next three months of service are going to be like. I will actually be training down there and will be district leader once again. It is going to be interesting! Excited to rip it to shreds down there.

This week has been a good week though. Elder Jorgensen and I had set a goal at the beginning of the transfer for how many lessons we wished to have in a week be the end of the transfer and were able to hit it which was a great thing! Another goal that we had set was for baptisms which...well I guess that our purposes aren't always the Lord's. However right now we have some really promising people and we gave a referral to 1st Ward that is getting baptized in a week which is really exciting. So, the work leads rewards, I guess we just need to keep our eyes open for them.

One of those really promising investigators is Enxhi. She is still doing really great and actually recently finished up 1st Nefi. She is developing in testimony and becoming really excited about the Gospel. We actually just went over the Word of Wisdom with her yesterday and it was one of those lessons where you forget that some commandments are actually really hard for some people to follow. The only rough spot is that she lives here during the week and goes home almost every weekend. However, this might not be as rough of a spot as previously thought because home is in Fier! So the plan is that Elder Jorgensen will teach her (he is staying here in T3 and training) and then I will get her to church on Sundays. Here's hoping!

Another great success this week was getting Vjollca to church! She really loves the Homer couple and that helps as we help her to make and keep the commitments that are out of her comfort zone (she comes from a Muslim background and has a husband that doesn't really condone what she is doing with the Church). Really hoping and praying that as she takes these steps that her testimony will grow and she will be willing to follow the example of Christ in her own life.

One of the people that I will be really sad to leave here in 3rd Branch is Bishop Zela. We asked him to help us as we visited the Alimeri family. Brother Alimeri was actually Bishop Zela's counselor however many years ago and now has difficulty coming because of work and the such. However, Bishop Zela was able to get him to commit to come to church. Members and firends make a big difference. I mean really we, as missionaries, can go out and do some fairly decent stuff, but a missionary can never do the good that a good friend in the Gospel can do. Remember that, because it is true. We are set apart for this and everything, but one of the parts of being set apart is that you are made different than everybody else. Sometimes people who are the same to push 'em along.

So, the entire idea of sandwiches here is a bit different than in America, but those sloppy jos were open-face I believe just because there weren't enough buns to go around for a bottom as well as a top. As for FHE, most Monday nights so far have been spent just doing regular work, however if we have a YSA aged investigator we can take them to the YSA FHE or Institute on Wednesdays.

General Conference here is broadcast one session behind. So the Saturday morning at 6 on Saturday, the Saturday afternoon at 10 a.m. on Sunday and the Sunday morning at 6 on Sunday (with the Priesthood and Sunday afternoon just being translated and not broadcasted for everyone). We are encouraged to come on Saturday if we come with an investigator and on Sunday are invited regardless. So, we will see what goes on!

Not really a ton more to say. I am leaving the biggest city in the mission (which I love) with a strong base in the Gospel for the much smaller Fier with a similar trend in membership strength. It is going to be great! Really the biggest thing that I am afraid of is making sure that the new missionary that I will be companions with learns enough of the right things about missionary work so that he can become a better missionary than I ever was or will be. I will definitely be praying for the Spirit's help in the upcoming weeks.

Love you so much!
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, March 24, 2014

#37 March 24, 2014 (pictures, too!)

Dear Family,

Welcome to another installment of the mission of Elder Ostergaard – or more appropriately the mission of the Lord through the hands of Elder Ostergaard. The last week was another learning experience. It was good and we were able to see the Gospel make some preliminary steps in some people’s lives. Hoping to watch that continue!

There was one day this week where a ton of lessons fell through on us even though we had planned to meet in the homes and everything. To add insult to injury we were on exchanges that day which made me feel totally responsible for the very unladen-with-work day. Well what do ya do? However, we had a couple other days that we were able to get some really good work done and so, as is the custom here, the week was a roller coaster of emotion.

I think that the success of the week is this girl that was just found on Friday. Her name is Enxhi (I think that that is the most common name of investigator that I have had on my mission to this point) and we met here as she was going on her way home for the weekend to Fier. (Because Tirana is the biggest city by a long shot in Albania, a lot of kids come here to go to school and then go back fairly frequently on weekends to their home towns. ) However, she was super open to the message and we were able to even commit her to get baptized right there. One cool part of that first contact was when I asked her if she had always been a believer. She said no, that when her grandmother had died a few years ago that she didn't believe in God for a while. I was super happy that I was able to testify of the comfort that is inside of the Gospel that I felt under a year ago in that same position. Our mission has a pretty short supply of Book of Mormons, so I gave her a Joseph Smith pamphlet and asked her to read and pray about it. She got back Sunday afternoon from Fier and we had a really good lesson where we covered the Restoration with her and we are going to go to the YSA Family Home Evening with her tonight. Pray for this girl, she can really feel the hand of God in her life.

There were also two other good successes of the week with Vjollca and Brikena. Vjollca came to the lesson with her 6-year-old granddaughter and we taught the first part of the Plan of Salvation. It was a good lesson and we had Elder Homer there who is just a great guy and did an awesome job in the lesson. At the end of the lesson we gave her a reading assignment from the Book of Mormon on a pass-along card. She turned the pass-along card over and started crying. The card said “Til death do you part, but after that?” and she told us that her daughter (the mother of the granddaughter she had with her) was going through an incredibly difficult time of marriage. Elder Homer took over and did an incredible job listening to her problems and testifying of the Gospel’s healing and helping power with such things. I think it was definitely a watershed lesson for her and we are excited to see where it goes. Brikena is a really cool girl that was finally able to meet with us after a few unsuccessful tries and she was also just really open to the Gospel. One of those who just really loves Jesus, but doesn't know much about Him. We are pretty good about helping out with that second part.

So for how I have been feeling, I have been doing pretty good except for just being tense every few days or so about the work. Both Elder Jorgensen and I have been pretty solid health wise this transfer.

So far the 3rd ward and Tirana, Albania Stake are looking great! Bishop Zela and President Mema both understand their responsibilities and are really pressing forward. It is a great thing to watch.

Well, I hope that you all have a great day today and that this week is just great! Love you a lot and next week you will be able to hear what goes on during transfers (we get the call Sunday night).

Elder Ostergaard

1. Vëllai (Brother) Gusmari -- a stud in our branch, we helped him paint a bit on Saturday

2. Me while helping paint Vëllai Gusmari's house

3. The train a coming. We went to Elbasan today and stood in a train tunnel while the train passed by us, it was exciting!

4. Bugaçe -- basically a roll stuffed with greasy phyllo dough, it was great!

Monday, March 17, 2014

#36 Another One In the Books

Hey hey hey,

This week definitely had its ups and downs! On Wednesday we had the opportunity to have Zone Conference which was great, but definitely like a big humbling sledge hammer that hit me right between the eyes and crushed my phylacteries (I just read about those in Jesus the Christ today so I thought that I would throw that in there). President talked to us about location of lessons (they should be preferably in the investigator's home, than in a member's home, and then in the church if necessary) and about how this priority of location choices will improve our investigator retention rate and will allow us to see more success. I was going nuts for about 48 hours after that feeling like I had let the Lord down with the missionary work that has been performed in our areas over the last 6 months and like I had just been marking time here the whole time. But, why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up. At least that is what Alfred says in Batman. We are really trying to implement the counsel of our key-holding leader and having faith that as we work to not only work with our all strength but also bit by bit with all our minds and hearts that we will see the Hand of the Lord do what is in the will of the Lord. I feel like there is a lot of ground that needs to be made up, and am stoked to go in and do that.

We have had the opportunity to meet a bit more with the new Bishop (Bishop Zela) of 3rd Ward and he is fantastic (I was going to describe him using words such as tight, ballin', a bro, etc. but the White Handbook asks us to refrain from slang or casual language, so I am working on that). It was great to see that even as we are here to support and back up his work and the ward's work, he was also very much behind our work. I am excited to so the new changes that are going to gradually shape this stake into what it truly can become.

The work here in Albania definitely has hot spots and cooler spots for the present moment, though that definitely doesn't mean that is how it is going to stay! Most of our finding is done through street contacting though we recently have been trying to do some more tracting, as it leads directly into someone's house. Due to the nature of Tirana (it is the only city with more than one unit in the Stake, having four wards), a good percentage of the finding that we do actually leads to work for other areas rather than for us, so that is another plus for tracting. Neither of my companionships have seen success with referrals, but we will still keep going for those and hopefully become more effective member workers. There are definitely some members here that are very excited about the Gospel and will share it, bring friends to church, etc. There are also members that have not caught that wave, as Elder Nelson would say. Definitely makes me wish that I had been a ton better as a member missionary before the mission. There are some people that are either ostracized by their family for joining or are under age and forbidden by their parents to be baptized. However, a good amount of the time I feel like Albanians just do not have the religious zeal to care if somebody else does. I guess that is kinda good in a way for us. There are not a ton of people that have been sealed to their families in the temple, especially since the young nature of the Church here lends to a good portion of the members being the only members in their family. However, with Albanians out on missions and coming back that definitely opens up a pathway to more people being sealed in the temple in the upcoming years. We are also excited for the Rome Temple to open up (in hopefully about a year) because the closest temple now is in Frankfurt, which is a bit of a haul.

We have been able to find some cool people this week and work to help them receive the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. One of them was Agron. He came and picked us up and drove us out to his house. He is originally Muslim, but believes in Jesus Christ and is actually engaged to a Catholic girl who lives in Shkoder. He said he was going to read the book as a present for his fiancée (we decided not to tell him that Catholics don't really accept the Book of Mormon). When we asked him if he would be baptized he said no, he is just learning. We'll see about that. We are just really going on faith right now that the Lord will lead us to the right people and help us know what to do with them.

An interesting conversation I had this week was with a girl named Irma. She had been to church about a year ago and came for quite a while. I was talking to her about the reasons she had stopped coming and investigating the church and really just pleading with her to come back. She listed off a couple things including problems with someone in the ward, but I think the biggest thing was when she told me she didn't have a testimony the Book of Mormon was true. That is a stinking massive deal and really all of the other reasons were just footnotes in my mind. For a person to stay forever they need to be converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For a person to be converted, they need to start out with a testimony. The reasons for staying cannot just be the social scene, some member, and definitely not just some missionary. It has gotta come from the doctrines of the Gospel. It was interesting because I asked her if she would say a prayer before she left, she said no but that she would tell me some things that I could pray for. One of those things was that she said I could pray for her to come to church, even though she wouldn't. I definitely did and will though.

I actually just picked up my package this week and loved it! Thank you so much for the flash drive, candy, and for Grandpa Ostergaard's addition there. Especially the MoTab though. MoTab is great.

Love you so much and hope you have a great week!
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, March 10, 2014

#35 Na jena nje Kunj!! We are a Stake!

Happy Monday!

Biggest thing of the week was definitely the big step taken for Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia over the weekend -- we are a stake! Though there are few visible differences in the actual set up (the Stake President is the same, all of the units retained their respective areas, and all except for our unit the became a ward had the previous branch president remain as Bishop) it is a step forward for the Church here. Here in 3rd Ward our bishop is now Bishop Zela (he was recently in the District Presidency) and we are excited to be able to work with him here as missionaries. We are supposed to be more separated from the workings of the membership now, but that might be a bit of a process.

I have actually been thinking a lot as of recent about what has happened in the last long while and the impact my mission has had. Really, it is hard to see one most of the time. The number-wise results of the work that has been done here is not very comparable to Wilford Woodruff or Alma. I have been here for a long time and it often seems like the fruits of my labors have led only to changes within myself. As much as it is great that my mission makes me a better person, that makes it seem almost selfish. However, this last weekend as we met with the entire stake, I was able to talk to those from both areas in which I have had the opportunity to serve, and maybe a difference has been made. Nertila (who we baptized at the end of December) was at both the main meeting on Sunday as well as a cool cultural event the happened Saturday night. Maybe one of the most important things that I will have to learn here is how to recognize the hand of the Lord, because I think that more often that not, it is there and I am just way too thick to see the fruits of His influence. Thing to do #398.

One of the really cool things that was said during the meeting was by Elder Kearon of the Seventy (he was the presiding authority here) and gave the concluding remarks at the meeting. He talked about a rose and said that a rose is incredibly beautiful. However, under a microscope it is really very ugly. He then referenced the recently sustained leaders and counseled the Albanian people to respect them and heed them, but to not look at them or their families under a microscope. They cannot stand that and neither can anyone else. I thought that this was definitely inspired counsel that, if taken to heart, could really help the work here progress and grow.

Probably about a week and a half ago Elder Jorgensen and I were contacting and got the number of this lady after telling her that we wanted to share a message with her about Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon. She showed up to walk with us to church last Sunday with her husband under the impression that we were going to come with them to their house right then. We said we couldn't, but that we were willing to come another day for sure (they didn't want to come to the meeting). So we called a couple days later and on Tuesday we took a bus out to her house (about 10 minutes). We got there and we came inside were I was surprised at the lack of furnishings for as nice of a house as it was. They showed us around a bit and we started sensing that our purpose for being their might not have matched their purpose for us being their. Somewhere in mis-translation she thought that we were there to buy their house. We told them that we were there talking about our church and they told us that had no interest in that sort of thing. We ended up telling them that if we decided we had interest in the house we would call back soon and then took the bus back.

Investigator-wise we have some people that are really cool that just need to continue to learn and work towards baptism. Enxhi had been out of contact with us for about a week and a half, but she came to Stake Conference and later on that day we saw her, her mom, and her sister in the road and talked to them for a bit. She is still not sure if she wanted to be baptized, but we were able to commit her to continue to read and then to pray about if she should. Aleksander also came to the Stake Conference and had a great time. We haven't been able to meet with him as much as we would have liked, but are hoping to see his continuing progression. Jurida is on a baptismal date, but we haven't been able to meet with her for a while. She is really cool and right now she just needs to let the message of the restored Gospel really penetrate her heart. A couple other awesome people are Esmeralda, Vjollca, and Eva. Really hoping that we can help them to continue in their Gospel progression!

Other than that, it has been the same old same old over here. We are hoping that as we keep doing our part the Lord will take care of the rest so that those who are in need of and prepared for the Gospel will receive it.

Elder Jorgensen and I are doing well and are always trying to improve in our work. The language is definitely improved. Elder Harvey put it this way: English is like skiing in that just about everyone can stand up and get around a bit without too much difficulty -- but mastering it is very difficult. Albanian is like snowboarding in that getting up can be very difficult, but the beginning is the hardest part. Communicating with people is much much better than it was, and I think the improvement is mostly seen only over long periods of time.

Alright, well, I love you lots family and hope that this is just a fantastic week for you. might as well be the best week ever, I mean why not right?

Elder Ostergaard

Thursday, March 6, 2014

#34 March 3, 2014 I am basically talking in Aramaic over here.

Knocking doors in dwarfville

Beso means believe in command form. It is basically the coolest Albanian graffiti around and you can find it here and there

Hey Fam,

This last week I was reading in Jesus the Christ and it mentioned a man named Bartimeus and had a note that that meant the son of Timeus, same thing with Simon Bar Jona. In Albanian the word for son is "bir", which is basically "bar", so if you carry the ten and apply the principles of horseshoes and hand grenades, I am speaking Aramaic. That is pretty sweet.

It has been another week out here in paradise, and well, we ain't dead yet! There have been a couple noteworthy things going on over here. One pretty crazy one happened because of one of our investigators named Banush. Banush is this really connected old xhaxhi that , due to his presence in both government and university positions knows a crazy ton of people. He is really hard to meet with, but really likes the idea of Joseph Smith and "new prophets" (we are very much in a agreement on that) and told us a couple weeks ago that we can't just be teaching one or two people about this at a time. We need to be meeting with ten, fifteen, or more. We told him that we agreed, but that first of all we needed to find those people. He said that he would bring people and we were very okay with that. It finally happened this last Wednesday when he brought 9 others with him to learn about this Joseph Smith guy and it was pretty cool. The outcomes of the meeting are still up in the air, but even just that fact that it happened is super cool. This is not missionary missionary work or even member missionary work, this is investigator missionary work. It was a real testimony to me of the possibility of sharing the Gospel with your friends.

Something similar happened with Dodona. We went over to her house this last week with the Homers and when we got their, she had also invited two friends and her son to come and hear what we had to say. That was also super cool. However, we have to give her over to First Branch because of where she lives, so we are praying that they can help Dodona and all of her friends down the path of the Gospel of Christ.

We met a guy named Aleksander a couple months ago and had tried to met with him before, but due to everything he had not been able to until this past week. (We actually had an interesting mess-up of thinking another guy was him and teaching him a really short lesson before Aleksander got to the church. Oops. Kinda.) We sat down with him and taught him a lesson about the Book of Mormon and just watching him was an experience. The guy loves Jesus Christ a lot, but doesn't know a ton about this Bible or anything. However, as we explained about this Bible and the Book of Mormon and how they build each other up and strengthen each other, he was just excited. We read through the Introduction with him and he would stop every now and then and tell us how much sense it made. He was then able to come to part of church yesterday and, well, he is just a great guy. We are excited to help him progress in his knowledge of the Savior and His Gospel.

Last night we had a movie night at the church. The sisters had popped up some popcorn (kokoshka), and we watched the Restoration film. While Elder Jorgensen and I were waiting for someone to show up so that we could show them where the church was, two guys walked by and we invited them to come and watch the movie with us. They said yes so we took them and it was really good. Something that I have been figuring out on my mission is how easy and good it is to just ask. A lot more times than I would ever think people have responded is more positive ways than expected, so I have come to know that I never know what people will say or what all is going on for them.

I had an opportunity to study some of this past General Conference this last week (I know that it has almost been six months, but finding time to study everything is tough). One of the really big things that has kicked me in the rear end and said "listen up" was Edward Dube's talk. He quoted President Packer in a story about an ox-pulling contest (go check it out). I thought about myself as a missionary and how I often try to "bulk-up" and become the biggest, best missionary that I can be. I don't think that this is a bad thing, but it is not the only thing. We are here two-by-two and as such it is important that I am pulling in time and rhythm with the other ox in the yoke (my companion). Only in completely unity can the biggest loads be pulled. Only together and with the Spirit as a third member can the impossible be possible and our potential as missionaries of the Lord Jesus Christ be expanded and fulfilled.

On an unrelated note, I was talking to Elder Jorgensen this morning about opportunities that we had to serve in the Church before the mission. It really hit me how much magnifying your calling makes a difference. There were definite times were I did not try (either because I did not know how or didn't put forth the effort) to magnify my position and truly lift where I stood. However, when I did, it made all the difference in the world. The same deal has made itself manifest. When we work to magnify our calling, the Lord magnifies us to fill the newly created view that we take. However, when we do not try to do that, the Lord has no need to magnify us as our own purpose and view is minimal. If you can do a bit more to help progress the work, do it!

So this week is Stake Conference, and we are really excited to see this next mile-marker of growth in Albania. How all the current District and branches will be affected is right now up in the air. However, one big thing is going to be who is where here in Tirana. There are a lot of people who are living within other branches' borders and with the creation of a stake this will be a more enforced thing. Third branch will see several people leave (including the Elder's Quorum President, Relief Society President, and 2nd couneslor in the District Presidency) and we are hoping to see several people enter as well. For number of units, I am not totally positive right now (there are currently 10 branches and 2 groups in the district). Some members are excited about the change, some aren't really sure how anything is going to change.

In a typical day we don't walk a crazy ton as we are often either sitting in lessons or standing on the street and contacting. Probably a couple miles. Public transportation is only used if we are going out of the branch which isn't very often. Actually just a couple weeks ago the government closed down the use of unlicensed forgons (vans that drive from city to city). That changes the transportation from city to city pretty significantly, but I have only ever been on 2.

In our English classes we use this book that was put together for missionaries as the base line, but then we will do other things too. However, a lot of the times missionaries will just make stuff up. Whatever it is, they are learning English I guess.

Alright, well I hope that this next week is just the bomb diggity for you and that you learn something knew and do something great!

Elder Ostergaard