Monday, May 26, 2014

#46 Missionary Life is a highway, but like an Albanian highway with lots of potholes and sufflaqe stands

Alright, Shqiptar highways don't have sufllaqe stands, but it kind of completed the simile.

Dearest Family,

What is going down in the land of chocolate milk and honey? I hope it has been a fantastic week with enough downs to make the ups count. This week has certainly been a roller coaster with my stomach flying into my throat every now and then but then settling back down again (in the most spiritual of ways, I feel great, Mom).

Have you ever had a point in your life where you just look around you and think about how blessed you are, and then feel incredibly spoiled by all of the blessings that have come your way? That is something that I have felt this past week. It seems like all of our investigators are going through some really difficult times in their lives and it is tough for 'em. One had a member of their family killed, one is seriously worried about a stalker, etc... I remember one day my senior year sitting in my Calculus class in the fetal position because I just didn't know what to do. I was worried about not getting an A, and as much as grades are important (keep studying Brigham and Grant), I have definitely been blessed with a whole lot of things. Whether or not that was because I needed to be in a position to help others out, or they knew that I wasn't gonna make it any other way when they sent me to earth I am not sure.

However, one really cool thing that we have been able to see is growth. Pamela reads everything. She finished up the Book of Mormon, a General Conference Liahona, and a few different pamphlets. She was told this week (as was Ema) that the appropriate attire for church for women was a skirt or a dress, and they both wore them! On Sunday we told her that she needed to decide by the CES fireside that night if she was going to get baptized on the 31st of May. We talked to her later on and she accepted! We are excited for this Saturday, so keep praying for her throughout this week. She has a strong testimony, but well, she is a teenage girl. We just need to help her go through with it.

Ema has also been a cool, but difficult story. The girl has faith, a lot of it. She also has serious desires to be baptized. The problem is that her parents don't really see eye to eye on that subject. I guess the family has enough of a Christian tradition to create a push-back from the dad especially on the matter of baptism. She is into the book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon and we are helping her to grow in faith as well as to pray for help so that she can follow through with this desire to follow Christ. We have offered to go over and talk with the family as well as to send the sisters over, but right now it looks like we might have to be treading water a bit.

Another wonderful thing that is developing is with 3 sisters: Jona(19), Alda(14), and Xheni(20). We met Jona on the road about a week and a half ago and invited her to hear about both the Gospel as well as to come to English course. She showed up that day with her little sister and after English course we shared the message of the Restoration with them. We have continued to teach them and invited them to be baptized about a week ago. They told us that they would talk to their families and let us know. They came back and said that their mom, dad, and sister were all okay with it. Jona came to the CES fireside with her older sister Xheni and we talked to them afterwards learning that Xheni had actually been to this church 2 years ago or so and had not been able to come back since. They are progressing really well and we are excited to see them continue in the faith.

We continue to have similar problems with reverence and the such in Fier. We actually had to ask one of the young men this morning not to come during the week at all except for to church for the next few weeks. A lot of prayers are going into how to help these kids out. I shared that talk "I Love Loud Boys" that Dad sent to me in District Meeting and it made me pretty emotional. Really, I do love these loud boys. They have so much potential and they truly can be the future of the Church here. We just need to help them see that.

We also met this really cool guy named T Funa (a Tongan from Alberta, Canada) who spends every other month here as a manager of an oil rig. His son is also on a mission right now in Halifax, Canada. He took us to dinner a few days ago which was a really good up to a pretty low day. The Lord knows how to help us out when it is necessary.

Hey people, love stuff. It makes a difference. I have been trying to develop my love for Albania, Albanians, the Lord, and His church since I have been out here on my mission. I feel a closer connection to all of it and the work in general right now than I ever have before. If you love then you can make a difference. True story.

I know that my Savior lives. He loves you, He loves those I am serving right now, and He even finds enough in Him to love me. He called a prophet named Joseph Smith to restore in perfect fullness the truths that He taught personally when he was on the earth. Thomas S. Monson is a modern prophet and truly testifies of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon is a testament of Jesus Christ that allows us to develop a perfect faith in the Redeemer of Mankind. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Elder Ostergaard

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

#45 Monday, May 19, 2014 (more pictures!)

Hey Family,

I hope that this week has been just stellar! We had an opportunity to go to a trainer-trainee meeting early this past week which was great. One of this biggest struggles that I have in being a trainer is letting go of the reigns enough. It is a really terrible habit that I have, to just kind of plow through and just do what is necessary. However, as a trainer that is really a terrible thing to do because, well Elder Simons needs to have experience in order to learn. Since the meeting I have been working harder to let go of the reigns and encourage him to do more. It is a slow process but hopefully bit by bit I will learn how to be a better missionary and in the process help Elder Simons to find everything that is necessary to become the best missionary he needs to become.

This week we have been continuing to work with Pamela. She has read up through Helaman 5 (let's remember that she has had this book for like 2 and a half weeks or so) and comes in usually with a bunch of questions underlined in her book that we help her to answer. She has so many questions though. We have taught her everything but she has a really difficult time still believing in life after death. She told us a week ago that she had received an answer on whether or not she would be baptized...she just would not tell us what the answer was yet...but if she says yes we should think about who would baptize her...but only if she says yes. So we have committed her to pray specifically about it and then to tell us if she should be baptized on the 24th of May. She sent us a text later that night saying that if she got a 10 (or the top score) on her English exam then she would be baptized. We decided to not pull out the chapters on those who tempt God. On Saturday she came to the baptism and said that she probably wouldn't come to church and wouldn't say why. She in fact did not come and we just met with her earlier today and all she would ask is if God even thinks before He acts, because sometimes it doesn't seem like it. We testified to her of God's sincere love for us and then prayed together. I think that there are some pretty big things that are going on in her life that could either potentially harden or soften her heart and I our job is to kinda stand by with our meat tenderizers and take whacks whenever we can to help her find that answer and courage to act on it.

We have also been meeting with Ema and Eda, the two twins who are also friends of Pamela to help them with English and teach them at the end of lessons. Eda doesn't have a whole lot of desire for the Gospel (she has come to church and stuff probably just because her sister comes and and said that she got nightmares when she read the Joseph Smith pamphlet...that might take some time. Ema however has read through all of 1Nefi without a whole lot of push from us. At the baptism she was talking with the sister missionaries and told them that she was a bit offended that we had not really asked them if they wanted to learn about the Gospel. We were pretty shocked by that as we discuss it blatantly every time we meet and invite them to act on it...but hey if she's open to hear more we are sure open to speak it!

This week there was also a branch talent show which was pretty fun. We didn't really prepare anything, but Sister Kokol, Sister Forte and I were able to throw together a last minute song (as in the performance was really the first practice) and it turned out alright! Thank goodness Albanians are not blessed with large amounts of musical talent or ears for it.

There are some other investigators that could also really use prayers. Florjan just needs to capture a bit more understanding and desire for what he is learning and the steps that he knows he needs to take. We haven't been able to meet with Desdemona all week and when she didn't come to church we went and knocked on her door. She told us that her ex-husband's brother was killed the day before. We were pretty floored and she could really use the help of prayer from outside as well as from inside. Also Ina has been having some health issues and could really use the help of prayer.

On an exciting note, we woke up last night at about 2 in the morning to our beds shaking. Earthquake! "Earthquakes, in divers places...and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in the heavens..." (Matthew 24:7,30) Just sayin'.

Well, have a great week! Go do something for someone else. I was thinking a couple days ago how easy it is to put others down in joking and how totally unnecessary it is. If everyone walked away from talking to me feeling better about them self how much better would the world be? Imagine if everyone did that? Let's try it.

Elder Ostergaard

These pictures are from the trip to Berat we took today.

Monday, May 5, 2014

#43 Monday, May 5, 2014 (with pictures!)

What's going on everybody?!

This last week has been really good. The big cap-off was Saimir's baptism. He is awesome and we are really looking forward to him progressing. His life right now is kinda the pits and we know that he can find happiness and answers in the Gospel, he just needs to go and do now! He gave an awesome testimony after his baptism which was so great to hear.

So, some other new on the week. Florjan had a baptismal date set for the 3rd, however, he was not ready for that and we are still working with him to be ready to enter into the waters of baptism. He has been doing really good this last week and so we are hoping to see his testimony continue to develop and his desire for the Gospel increase.

We are working with some girls that are in our English Course. One of them, Pamela, was the one that initially showed interest in the Gospel. She has come to church the last 2 weeks as well as our branch activity in Apolonia this past Thursday. However, she has a hard time accepting all of God's will. She wants some answers to questions in her life that are really hard, and they are questions that can only be answered through personal revelation and prayer. Humility is an interesting concept. She has been humbled by some things in her life but there is still a portion of humility that she needs to develop. Ema and Eda are two twin sisters that are good friends with Pamela. We are still kind of getting a feel on their interest for the Gospel, but they have also come to church and seem really cool.

There is one other girl (I don't know if I will ever remember her name) as well. She is also a friend of these other three girls. She told us in English Course that her father is a priest in the Orthodox church. I was thinking that that would probably put a damper on things. However, she, during the spiritual thought at the end of English course will ask really good questions and seems super accepting of the answers that we give. On Wednesday we were sharing the scripture Moses 1:39 and she asked where we would be going after this life. We told her that we had an awesome answer to that, but it was a little bit long. We invited all that wanted to to stay after and learn about it. About 12 people stayed and we taught the Plan of Salvation. It was really cool, and she was totally accepting. She is also really good friends with a girl in the branch and so that is really cool. We will be giving her over to the sisters to teach, so hopefully that turns out well.

So the work here is going. New investigators are being found, progressing investigators are being baptized, and, though there can always be progression, we are definitely going in the right direction.

Qofte nje jave te mbare. I hope that you see the Lord's hand even more in your and others' lives this week.

Saimir's baptism:

A massive rip that I got in my pants while we were waiting for the bus to Apolonia:
(we ran home and were told by President Bott that we could wear jeans for the activity as it would be more active. It was pretty exciting wearing jeans with a white shirt and tie.)

Caves at Apolonia with Elder Baldwin in front of me. You can see his laser on the cave walls and a bat flying above.

Some of the ruins at Apolonia:

The plan was to go to Apolonia for a branch activity if it didn't rain on Thursday. The plan was to start at 9. At 7:30 it was raining so we decided to call it off, however there was rebuttal from the branch when it started to clear up at 8:15 or so, so we put it back on. We went out on a bus (there were 46 of us)
and when we got there for about 2 and a half hours we played some futboll, some monkey-in-the-middle-ish kinda game and explored some tunnels there, including having bats flying all around us which was crazy. Then it started to pour. We all got back on the bus and went back. It was really good though.

Elder Ostergaard