Monday, June 30, 2014

#51 June 30, 2014

Hey everybody!

Hope everyone is doing just fantastic today! Nothing too crazy has happened...and from the way church went down I don't know if it will this transfer. 2nd Ward is much more developed than Fier is and I doubt seriously whether any fists or chairs will be thrown in my duration here. Bittersweet. Haha, it is funny to see how weirdly attached I could get to the things that drove me nuts for three months. 2nd Ward is the bomb though! We have some really good members and it is awesome to see that contrast that comes from a deeper conversion to the Gospel as a whole.

I came up to the area on Tuesday...and just like almost every other time we came into basically ground zero on the work scale. The previous companionship had had a bit of a rough time getting investigators and getting their work to where they wanted to get it. One of the reasons for that is the build of 2nd Ward. It is the south-western corner of Tirana and includes three main areas called Kombinat, Tirana e Re (New Tirana), and Kashar. These areas, especially Kombinat, have lots of great members and work...but they are a significant amount of time away by bus. (Tirana has several bus systems that run through it. They all cost 30 leke, about 30 cents, to ride.) If you don't plan out your day well you can spend a lot of time traveling around which kills a lot of opportunity to have as many lessons as would otherwise be desired. However, Elder Lee and I have decided we are going to kill this thing and just work 2nd Ward into the ground. We are starting up an English course tomorrow and will be doing a lot of finding.

So Elder Lee is from Minnesota. We both went to BYU before we came out on the mission and if I had stayed in my Wyview apartment instead of moving to Heritage we would have been in the same ward. He has been out three months longer than I and does really well at the language. He loves music and sings really well. His family is all LDS except for his father and he has an older brother and two younger sisters one of which was adopted from China. We both have two kneecaps and twenty phalanges.

Coming in to this transfer Elder Lee and I have a vision. This is my third of four Tirana wards and now Elder Lee has served in all four of them. We are Tirona Men. This city gets a pretty bad rap from missionaries sometimes as a place where the work is just kind of stale. That's dumb (excuse my language) and we are ready to make Tirana the place to be! Last transfer I was able to be in the middle of miracles happening with the work and now I know more than ever what the power of conversion can do. That power is not reserved to certain places for certain people, but rather if we thrust in our sickle with our might, we will reap for the Master a great harvest of souls.

So far, and I don't expect it to change much, being a zone leader means that missionaries call us if they want to go out of their area and on Sunday nights we get calls from all of the district leaders in Tirana and Shkoder to report on the week's work and then transfer that info to the Assistants. I don't want to diminish the worth of a calling, but I am also not about to exercise unrighteous dominion over those in our zone. I guess it kind of comes down to how I have always preferred to look at leadership. The biggest way to make an impact is by example. I have become a better missionary over the last year and now it is all about helping others to reach their potential as I try to find mine.

One thing that has been said recently that really touches on something that I have thought about a lot as a missionary is that being a missionary really gets me excited to be a member. Some of the best missionaries, and the most effective ones, don't have a badge on their chest. Crazy stuff, but true stuff.

Our new mission president, President Weidmann, comes in today. President Ford has been great, and it is a bit sad to see him leave, however, no matter however the next president decides to direct the work, it is the same work and the people and eternal needs have not changed.

You guys are great! Love you so much!

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, June 23, 2014

#50 Transfers everybody! Places! (Think 5-year-olds' ballet teacher)

Mission Conference Picture, June 2014

Well hey everyone!

I sure hope that you are having a fantastic day! Last night we got our call from President Ford (the last one that will be from him) about what we will be doing for the next three months. Elder Simons will be staying here in Fier with another elder from his same group. I, out of all the cities in Albania and Kosovo, will be going....back to Tirana! I have been asked to serve as one of the Tirana Zone Leaders in Tirana 2nd ward with Elder Lee. He is a great guy and I am excited to be able to serve with him! I am becoming a Tirana Man (You can almost make it work for the Elton John song "Rocket Man") and it is going to be great. I think one of the biggest things that I am excited for is taking back to my home town a lot of great things that I have learned over the past 3 months. We are going to do work!

On the other side of things though, I am sad and slightly terrified to leave Fier. It is an incredible place where miracles are happening -- as well as other stuff (when President Ford called to give us our assignments his first thing that he asked was how church was and if we had any fights) and it needs a lot of help! I am nothing special as a missionary, but leaving this very unstable place feels like I am leaving an infant on the street and hoping everything goes alright. I guess it is a good thing that there are 6 great missionaries that are going to be serving here and helping this place become what it needs to become.

Alda was baptized and confirmed this week! She and her sister Jona are both so excited to be members of the church now! Even though the water was apparently rather chilly, she told me that when she was baptized it felt like something magical was going on. That's the Spirit, peeps! Elder Simons have been incredibly blessed this transfer to see people enter through at the gate towards Eternal Life. Kinda makes all the rough stuff disappear, huh? We were at a store today and saw their older sister Xheni working and were able to talk to her a bit about the Gospel. She is also great and I am so very excited to see their family embrace the goodness that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the organization that teaches it in its fullness -- if you are not catching my drift I am referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Other than that however, it was a pretty normal week. Just living the dream here in the paradise that is Albania.

Something from the Preach My Gospel that we focused on this past week in Mission Conference was the Book of Mormon. In the Preach My Gospel we learn in chapter 5 all about the power of the Book of Mormon and how it should be used in missionary work. We have been told that recent convert work is a high priority now from the 1st Presidency, and in order to make that work more productive, people must be more converted when they make that covenant with God through baptism. How do they become converted, we use the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon has maybe about a billion purposes, but 3 main ones are: a foundation of testimony, a witness of Christ, and a fullness of doctrine. This book, combined with the Spirit, is our most powerful teaching tool. I loved what Elder Davis said during Mission Conference, that the Book of Mormon is the key that brings investigators from an apostolic state of doctrinal in-completion to a fullness of truth that comes through the restored Gospel of Christ. It is true. I read it. I feel the spirit of it. To say that I never have any doubts would be ridiculous, but when I look at my doubts and look at what I know, I know in my mind and in my heart that what I am preaching is true. "I [know] it, and I [know] that God [knows] it, and I [cannot] deny it, neither [dare] I do it". (JSH 1:25)

Love you so much everybody!

Elder Ostergaard

P.S. I would like to throw in my love for Grandma Ostergaard. I don't remember if it was the 21 or 22 that she passed away last year, but I am so grateful for the life that she lived. She left a legacy of love and determination to serve the Lord. She truly does live beyond the veil and will once again gain a body that will be free of all the pains that held her down her mortal life. What a blessing that will be to see! God's plan for us is real!

The Fier baptismal font. Not one of the things I am going to miss in Tirana

Elder Simons holding a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavoured Beans that we ate on transfer night together.

Us with Jona and Alda right before Alda's baptism.

Me and Motra Gjika. She and her family are some of the oldest members in Fier and they are great. It is crazy and awesome to know people here who are longer baptized members than I am!

Monday, June 16, 2014

#49 There ain't no calm before the (transfer) storms in Fier

Hey hey hey family!

This last week has had some great experiences and some, well good learning experiences that summarize Fier up altogether.

Big highlight of the week: Jona and Ema got baptized! How awesome is that? To beloved daughters of God took it upon themselves to enter into a covenant with their Creator to love Him, to keep His commandments, and to serve Him to the end. That is just magnificent.

Ema is incredible and is so converted to the truths that she has discovered here in the restored Gospel. She has found for herself that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that God's power has once again been restored to bless us in this day and time and to lead us back to Him. Her sister Eda (I have sent a picture before with both of them in it along with Pamela) used to be totally against Ema's baptism but has really come a long way and consented to say the closing prayer at the baptism itself.

Jona is also great. She I think is especially grateful for baptism because of the total cleansing power it has upon our souls. Some difficult times in her past really have lead her to find a way to continue just so happens that us being on the street that one day allowed her to catch sight of it. Alda, Jona's sister, will be baptized this week and we are also excited to work with them to get their family active in this spiritual pursuit that they have joined ranks with.

So there is the really beautiful part of Fier, it is growing, there are people who want, need, and are accepting the Gospel. Gezuar. However, there is another, slightly more character-building part of Fier. We have been having some serious problems with the noise and vocabulary that is used around the church predominantly with the young men. This has caused us to search, ponder and pray a lot. This week at futboll ( we play futboll with members and investigators every Saturday) one of the young men let himself get a really hot head during the game and yelled at me (I guess I need to up my goal-keeping skills in order to keep people happy). Some stuff happened, he was told to leave the field and then came back and shoved and hit me in the head (it's all good Mom, he hit me surprisingly lightly for as big of a guy as he is). Well, the straw fell, the camel was sent to the hospital for emergency back surgery, and we decided that something needed to be done more so than was done before. We talked with President White and he decided that the best thing to do was to ask the young man to not come to anything for a month, and then after that to only come to Sunday meetings for a month. Elder Simons and I went over to his house and were the translators as President talked with the young man and his mom. It was pretty cool actually, he showed a lot of remorse for the things he had done and asked for frorgiveness. As President White told him what the punishment was for what happened, a lot of love and understanding was shown. We have a lot of hope for the young men here, and I have faith that if we can help them to to what is right, that their faith will grow and their testimonies and conversion to the Gospel will take over the natural man inside of them.

Transfer calls will be made this Sunday. I am kind of terrified for Fier. Their is so much potential energy that could cause it to burst into growth or to buckle and snap. I have never really had any desire to suggest transfer moves to President Ford until this one, however I have full confidence that he is a man of God and will make the choices that will most bless the lives of the missionaries, members, and investigators here.

Hey Mom, I love you so much and hope that you have a fantastic birthday today! You are awesome and such an example to me all the time. What a great missionary you are! I pray for you and know that you are praying for me out here.

Elder Ostergaard

Products of Saturday's baptism:

Us with Ema after her baptism

Us with Jona after her baptism, I think this is a hilarious picture so you should laugh

Us with both of 'em

The sisters and I after donating blood today (How many people can say they have donated blood in Albania? We checked it out and I can still donate blood back in the states, so it's all good)

Monday, June 9, 2014

#48 Best Day Ever

Hey everybody!

I hope that this past week was a great one! Over here in Fier it was another one to keep us on our toes.

One big thing that I have learned here in the last little bit especially is how easily Albanians get offended. We have had two experiences in the recent past of guys just walking into our lessons to help us out when we meet with an investigator. We appreciate the thought of them wanting to help us out in our lesson, but we don't want too many people in there and we had already asked someone to help us out. They then proceeded to get mad at us and tell us that we might as well never ask them to help out again. I guess in both cases they had helped to teach that investigator several times and figured that they would be the only one we ever asked. Oh, silly people. Both of them have calmed down since then, so that's good. Here's a lesson for you. If you are thinking about being offended...don't. It's not worth it!

We are looking forward to the baptisms of two investigators this week: Ema and Jona. Ema is doing great and has a whole lot of faith. We are excited for her. Jona is also doing great. She and her sister Alda are both learning together and Alda is excited to be baptized too... she just needs to come to church another week and so we will be holding that next week.

I remember thinking a few months ago how I had not really seen the process of the Gospel changing someone's life. I saw the after-effects and knew that it could happen, I just never really had eyes open to see it I guess. That is a huge blessing that I have been able to receive here in Fier. An eye-opening. These people are taking the Gospel, embracing it, loving it, and progressing in it. What a blessing for them and for us watching it happen. These people hearing the Gospel that have open enough hearts to receive and act upon the message which it contains reap the blessings within. I want to be a better and better missionary so that more and more people can see what these few have seen. I am working on it.

One thing that I found the opportunity to study this week was a look into David and his fall. I have had two thoughts in particular about how such a stud and man among men could lose his footing on the path to exaltation. My first thought was that it happened when David was on his roof. He was the king, he had everything...but he was looking beyond the mark. While we must always be progressing, we cannot look beyond the sights and parameters the Lord sets. Wherever you have been chosen to be right now in life, be there and love it. That's what it is all about. However, I read a little bit earlier in the story. Here is an excerpt from I Samuel 11:1
1 And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle ...But David tarried still at Jerusalem.
Where was David supposed to be? At the battle. Where was he? It probably doesn't matter a whole lot beyond the fact that he was not at the battle. We are called to stand in holy places because upon that rock of our Redeemer who is Christ the Son of God, we cannot fall. Temptations come to all, however, we are told that if we are watching and praying always that we will not be tempted above that which we can bear (Alma 13:28, Dad sent that thought to me a while ago). When we are purposefully do what is not correct, that promise cannot apply to us. David was not standing where he should have been and was therefore weaker in spirit. There is safety in the commandments of God, even the ones that can seem ridiculous sometimes.

A cool thing that I have felt more than ever this past 2 months or so is an increase of love for everyone here. These are great people even with all their craziness and such! Albania is the place.

Hey, I love you family! Dad, my clothes are pretty good for the most part. The biggest problem is probably ink on my white shirts. And Mom, it is a bit early, but Happy Birthday!!! I didn't think that my own mother would ever turn 29, but that's okay, I won't tell anyone. Shume urime per ty! Edhe nje qind!

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, June 2, 2014

#47 Poppin' and lockin' it with my homies in Fier

Dear Family,

Happy Birthday Dad and Grant! I am a bit late on Grant's (I remembered on the 27th), but if it makes you feel any better Grant, I wasn't going to get you a present anyway. Dad, I am sure you are looking as dashing as ever.

Also a quick shout out to my familial line in the Dow High Marching Band. The fourth generation of Mormon Drum Majors was born this past week. I am so proud.

This last week was a great week! Pamela was baptized! Man, it seems like we were teaching her forever, but it was only a month. She is way awesome. She is continuing to read everything almost as fast as we can dish it out and has her sights set forward to the temple and potentially a mission after a while. She couldn't decided who she wanted to baptized her out of Elder Simons and I, so she flipped a coin and Elder Simons was able to do it! She will be moving to Tirana fairly soon here to start university, but she has promised us that she will be a strong active member over there. We are excited to see the impact that she can make as a member-missionary.

Ema decided that she also wanted to be baptized! She has had serious desire and faith for a while, but when Pamela set a date for Saturday Ema told us that she wanted to be baptized that day as well. She thought about it a bit more however, and asked if she could actually wait a week or two in order to be for sure ready for this. Both of them have next to 0 familial support. Ema's sister Eda told us straight up this week that she did not want her sister to be baptized and the rest of the family is against it as well, but Ema is a pretty determined child and will not be deterred. I told her and Pamela that they were going to have to be each other's support system and they will be. Elder Simons and I both think that Ema would be a great missionary some day.

As for Jona, Alda, and Xheni, they are doing well and progressing in the gospel. Jona is especially excited and tried to have us move her baptismal date up. We couldn't because she needs to come to church at least twice before she is baptized and yesterday was her first time being able to make it to church. She stayed for all three hours though and her dad even showed up for about 45 minutes at one point! It is so cool to be able to see so many progressing in the Gospel as much as they are. They are taking the messages we attempt to put before them and put them into their lives. What a great blessing that is.

This week has been full of it's young men problems once again which keeps us continually searching for ways from the Lord that these loud, rowdy boys of the present can become leaders and solid Gospel role models of the future. I guess something more that I needed to become is patient, because bit by bit it is coming. But it just drives me nuts how I am not getting patient fast enough (haha, you get it?).

I am thinking back to my studies this past week and nothing is coming to me as something that I need to share with you. But that is okay. You should read something though from the scriptures and apply it into your lives. At least, that's what the good book says to do.

I hope that you all have a fantastic day and week! School is wrapping up which is so crazy! Don't worry, everything will work out...however you should probably study a bit.

Elder Ostergaard

P.S. And my condolences for the Rodriguez family. I haven't seen Nathan in years (probably since being a deacon) and I will saying some prayers in their direction.

This is Elder Simons and I (I am the one on the left with the red hair and name tag) with Ema, Pamela, and Eda (in that order) after Pamela's baptism.

Here is Elder Simons and I (it is a bit tricky to find me in this one because I am actually the crazy, old Albanian guy) with Ylli Binaj, one of the oldest and most hilarious members in Fier. Ylli knows probably about 400 English words, and most all of them are slang taught to him by missionaries (city-slicker, "your mom", bite me...). He's a character.