Monday, July 28, 2014

#55 O Kalamajt!

Hey chillens,

It is the beginning of another week...kinda terrifying! It is a good thing that I still have forever left on my mission because sometimes I think about how fast the weeks go by and it freaks my out. It feels like I haven't done anything out here, so hopefully the Lord has been expanding my efforts from the beginning and hearts have been changed.

So this week we have been able to do some good work (it can always be better, but that is what tomorrow's for) and I have faith that at least one or two souls were brought a bit closer to Christ. We have been trying to meet with this family (the Ndoj family) for about 2 weeks and were able to go over and meet them on Thursday. They haven't been seen by missionaries in about 2 years, but have been taught quite a lot before. From what the records and they said, they just have a hard time leaving their Catholic roots behind. We went over and were able to start making friends with them and after the first lesson invited the 17 year-old (Eriola) to come to basketball that was being played the next day. She said that she would and brought her sister Kristi who is one year older as well. It is an interesting way of doing investigator work. They are great people, but right now are not super into the whole church thing. It feels almost like we are doing less-active work. They are great, so put out a good thought for them.

We got a call on Friday night asking for help in moving someone. We went out their, and in about 3 hours were able to get it all done with the help of a dum-dum ( a small truck that they use all the time here, I think I sent a picture a while back). It was some hard work though. I don't know if I have ever sweat more in my life actually...kinda gross. Neither the building that they moved into or out of had an elevator, so I was super grateful that they only lived on the 4th and 3rd floors respectively, because 7 or 8 floors would have been killer! It is good to be out there doing some good service though and showing our love for the members of 2nd ward.

There is a member in our ward named Ali Ylli. He is a stud. He has got a good testimony of te gospel and loves the Lord. He has his own problems as we all do, but besides all of that, he is great! However, we hadn't seen him in two weeks at church, so we called him up on Saturday...but once again he said that he would not be there at church which is really (excuse my strong language) dumb. After church we went out to go see what was going on with him. He let us in and we were able to sit down and talk. He didn't let us know exactly why he hadn't been coming and we didn't delve too much into it, but it must have had something to do with not feeling needed and that is rough. We shared a thought from Alma 36:27 and talked a bit about how it related to him. Then we just sat there for a bit and tried to let the Spirit do some talking. After a little bit, a thought came into my mind to ask him if he had been praying. It wasn't some overcoming sense of warmth and emotion, just a thought (1 Kings 19:11-12 check it out, it works). So I asked it, and he said "no". It was something that he knew he should have been doing and we were able to testify of its power. One of the questions Preach My Gospel asks is whether or not you are comfortable with silence as you teach. I am working hard to become better with this aspect and I know that it is indeed a true principle. We need to be quiet sometimes in order to let the Spirit be heard.

Our stud investigator, Gerti, is doing well. He told us that he was able to put away his iced tea, and came to church for the first time. We failed to talk about church attire with him, and it was pretty funny to see him walk in with his 4-inch mohawk, John Lennon sunglasses, and a tang-top. He's a hipster and we love him. He ended up leaving after first hour because he felt bad that he hadn't dressed nicer and said he would dress better next time. When it comes down to it, I am personally super happy to even see people in church in the beginning stages, but I am glad that he sees areas of improvement.

I think that my favorite story of the week though happened on Saturday. I was on an exchange with Elder Wright and we were traveling back from the 1st ward building because I had to do a baptismal interview there. Elder Wright got off the bus way early...but because I am terrible with directions, I figured that I must have made a mistake and followed him off instead of beckoning him back on. We looked around and realized that we were indeed a fair bit away from our desired location, but Elder Wright told me the reason that he got off was because he heard me say "go" which I definitely didn't say to him. I'll give you a hint, it was the Spirit. So we walk to where we are going and end up having about 15 minutes before our next appointment. We decided to do a bit of street contacting and end up talking to these two girls. They say they are from Fier (what a crazy random happenstance, I was just in Fier) and one of them says that she had been to our church...and in fact was baptized in our church about 5 years ago. I was able to double check locations and stuff to make sure that we were talking about the same church. She said that she went to Greece after that and then came to Tirana. Even though she lives super close to the church here, she hasn't come or anything because she is afraid that because she has a few tattoos and wears dresses that might be too short that we would be uncomfortable. We assured her that we wanted her to come to church and actually invited her to the baptism that was happening in an hour. She told us that she would love to come and bring her friend too and that she was going to go home and put on something a bit more modest for the service. The Spirit is pretty cool, and it looks like it will come and do our job for us sometimes if we need it!

I have recently been able to study prayer in PMG and work to try and improve my communication with Heavenly Father. I have been thinking a lot in the recent past about spirituality. I want to have a closer relationship with my Heavenly Father. I want to know that my will is in line with His will and that my will will be accompanied with enough courage in order to fulfill it. That is what I will be praying for this week especially, that I will be able to follow in the footsteps of the Lord closer than I have ever done before.

Hey, I love you so much family! Be good and do your best to be missionaries and even to help out the missionaries (dinners are nice and such, but even better is with lessons). Remember, you aren't there to help them fulfill their callings as missionaries, they are there to help you fulfill yours.

Elder Ostergaard

P.S. By the way, Elder Dericott shot me an email and told me how much he loves you guys.

Monday, July 21, 2014

#54 July 21, 2014

Happy Monday everybody wherever you may be!

This past week has just been a little bit better than last week, so bit by bit we are building up to where we eventually want to be here. Same old story here in Tirana as it has been everywhere else!

To give an overview of the work this week, I have decided to copy and paste the points that appear in the first chapter of Preach My Gospel that define what makes a successful missionary:

Feel the Spirit testify to people through you. - This week we met with this girl whose name is Eriona. She is Evangelical (they call them Ungjillore) and we met her at the beginning of the week and had a great lesson with her. She loves Jesus Christ and the Bible a lot, and that is always a great thing to see in others. We gave her a Book of Mormon and a pamphlet about Joseph Smith and invited her to read them that night. I gave her a call the next night and she told me that she had read the pamphlet and didn't think that we could meet again. It took a little bit, but I was able to convince her to meet us just once the next day. She came in and we listened to her concerns, answered her questions, and testified of Christ, His mission, and the role that Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon have. She ended up telling us that she didn't think that we would be able to meet again, but would pray about it. Agency is there for everybody to use, but all we can do as missionaries and witnesses of Jesus Christ is testify clearly and strongly.

Love people and desire their salvation. - Albanians are great. Sometimes they drive me a little nuts, but whenever I have just tried to continue on in love it always comes. This past week I have had good experiences street contacting. There have been a few really good times where I have been able to just talk to people and find out what makes them tick and then see how the Gospel can relate to them in their lives. I know that that love will just continue to grow too.

Obey with exactness. - On an exchange this week, there were two lessons in a row that we set up and traveled out to go to...and then it ended up that the man of the house wasn't there. It is a pain, but we just said we would set up a time to come back another day. However, even though we might not understand all the rules or want to follow them all the time, "[His] ways are not [our] ways" and we just need to trust that it'll all work out. We keep everything within the rules and trust the Lord to make everything else work out.

Live so that you can receive and know how to follow the Spirit, who will show you where to go, what to do, and what to say. - While in the lesson with Eriona, she made a point about how men are not able to see God (check out John 1:18 with the JST). I try so hard not to Bible bash or anything like unto it, but the story of Stephen came to my mind where he saw the Father and the Son before he was stoned to death. It was a good way to show God's connection to His children in a not bashing sort of way.

Develop Christlike attributes. - I am working on patiently trying to type an email that I think will end up being longer than I expected.

Work effectively every day, do your very best to bring souls to Christ, and seek earnestly to learn and improve. - I have recently (it was actually probably last week, but I am going to say it anyway) asked a recent convert who has taken part in a lot of lessons with missionaries how I can improve as a missionary. Her answer only had to do with how we worked inside lessons. I realized that most people's opinions of a missionary's ability and effectiveness revolved around what they did within the opening and closing prayers of a lesson. Most of my opinion on what makes an effective missionary actually has very little to do with that. So, I realized that need to not put any part of missionary work on the back burner. It is all important. Be obedient, work hard, love the people, love the Lord.

Help build up the Church (the ward) wherever you are assigned to work. - We have been working to help less-actives in our ward this transfer and help them discover that light that they once knew.

Warn people of the consequences of sin. Invite them to make and keep commitments. - Gerti, an investigator that I believe I have talked about before, was taught the Word of Wisdom this week. We went through the five main points that we teach investigators. Alcohol, good. Tobacco, good. Other drugs, good. Coffee, good. But then on the final one, tea, he was a bit shaky. He told us that he really liked his iced tea and he would do it...but could he start the next day because he just wanted to finish up the stuff he had. I was about to say yes, but then the member that was in the lesson with us pushed back a bit and I realized that we are indeed here to call people to repentance today and now. That was a good learning experience.

Teach and serve other missionaries. - On exchanges I definitely end up learning a whole lot more than I am sure other missionaries ever learn from me. I am not very big into telling someone how to live or work. I would much prefer leading by example. So, maybe some of the missionaries I was on exchanges with this week (we took part in two...we have to do a lot more as zone leaders than ever before) were able to learn something or other this week.

Go about doing good and serving people at every opportunity, whether or not they accept your message. - Our English Course is pretty small and the most frequent attender is this girl named Helena. We have tried several times to invite her to learn or go to institute, etc. She is not interested in any of that, but she is great and we are happy that she enjoys learning English from us. Hopefully some day she decides to see a little bit more about what we do, but until then we will just keep going.

So, I guess when it comes down to it, even though everything is not going according to Elder Ostergaard's plans, according to Heavenly Father's plans, I have been able to do some things that are helping me become a successful missionary and my mission become a successful and fruitful experience for all those involved. Congrats on the wedding reception and moving on from that stage of existence and best of luck at Trek!

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, July 14, 2014

#53 July 14, 2014

Hey everybody, Ku jeni me lali?

I am super grateful to be able to be here writing you today. It is always crazy coming to the end of another week and trying to express some of the feelings and experiences that have happened over the last 7 days. It never really works out. But still I will sit down and try at the keyboard of this remarkably smoke-free and music-less lokal.

This last week we have been trying to dig out an investigator pool. The work, as usual, is not going nearly as quickly as I would have wanted it to, so I guess it is always good to remember that it in fact is not me that gets to make those calls. There were a lot of good things though, and we were able to invite others to come unto Christ, so it was indeed a success.

We have been continuing on with our English course and it has been going well. We get a pretty constant 7 people or so (though there are almost always new people and people that aren't there...whaddya do?). I have also seen some good progression in my mission-long struggle of talking too much (especially during lessons). It helps that Elder Lee is good at the language and is not afraid to get his ideas out there. It is a good thing for me. I think that we are a pretty effective team (not anywhere near perfect) but just like I have seen coming into every other companionship, we have different strengths that help support each other in the work. I would definitely say that he is the most similar to me out of all my companions thus far though (I have been pretty blessed on my mission with companions).

So this week I think that the most exciting thing that happened (if by exciting you mean terrifying) was while we were tracting. We had about 15 minutes before an appointment in an area next to Tirana called Kombinat and decided to go tract a little bit. We got into a pallat (an apartment building) and were about to walk to the top when I thought about it, and if we were able to get into one house it would be enough time, so we decided to show our faith and just knock on the first door. We knocked and a twenty or so year-old guy opened up the door and without asking any questions just said "hello guys, come on in". I was pretty impressed with how easy that was. We walked in and this place was super ghetto, all that I saw at first was unpainted walls and racks of shelves with papers strewn on them. We came in a little bit more and saw a guy with tattoos all up his arms sitting at a computer and a girl sitting on this table thing with her shirt rolled up over her stomach. It took a second, but we realized that we had just walked into a make-shift tattoo parlor. They started asking us about what we were doing in Albania and stuff. Then the girl's friends walked in and she started asking questions about if we were dating anyone and saying that the tattoo on her rib area was in english and that I should read it. At the same time the guy was trying to get Elder Lee to get a tattoo of a cross. I don't know how to explain all of what happened very well on paper, so you will just have to ask me in person sometime. All in all, it was a terrifying and scarring experience. I wasn't okay for about 3, 3.5 hours. Missions are great.

Another crazy thing that happened this week was a Cinnabon opening up here close to us in Tirana! The guy who is in charge of it is working hard to promote through us American he gave us a few free boxes of cinnamon rolls. That was fantastic.

2nd ward is doing just great as a ward unit. They function very well and it is great to be around people that are so capable in the Gospel and Church leadership. Far from the weak point in Fier, One of the weaker points in 2nd Ward is that it is too old. Nothing against old people or anything, but we need some more youth here. We will see what we can do.

I have been studying Faith a bit this week and had a question. Can faith be perfect? If you read in 2 Nephi 9:23 and James 2:21, the scriptures definitely show that faith in deed can be perfect. However, if faith is sort of by definition a predecessor, something still in it's beginning stages, how can that be? I drew up a sort of Venn diagram based on Alma 32:21. I attached a quick sketch that I threw on the back of a pass-a-long card (the only paper I have around right now). Even though knowledge is really a further-along part of the process in seeking truth, we know that both faith and knowledge are attributes of Christ. It is almost like how we as missionaries strive to both have new investigators as well as help people be baptized. God is not a God of shortcuts. How would we learn that way? So here is what I came up with: a perfect faith does not really mean that you are at this certain point in how much you believe something. Rather, to have perfect faith means that you are going in the right direction. James tells us that to have perfect faith requires works, so do something. In the diagram I drew up, faith exists in the overlap between truth and things not seen, but that overlap means hope (such as the "perfect brightness of hope" we read about in 2 Nephi 31:20). So how do we get that perfect faith? We just keep going I guess.

Well, I love you all and wish you the very best.

Elder Ostergaard

Some of the Elder in Tirana. The other redhead is a new missionary in my distract named Elder Right. He is way cool. If we are ever companions I am going to give him one of my name tags and we are going to go around as brothers.

This was a day we played basketball to find new investigators.

My snowglobe.

Figs and Plums. Figs are crazy. Elder Lee doesn't like them. They are a weird purpley color and look like alien guts when you eat them. Everyone has been giving us figs and plums (they can either be like normal plums or small and orange like you see here).

Monday, July 7, 2014

#52 Will Somebody Open Up a Window?!

It's a Monday, which means it's the best day of the week until tomorrow rolls around. Make the most of it.

This last week we had a, well I guess you could call it a building week. We have gone around and met with a lot of members (active and less active) and are hoping to really build up the member trust base here. It is a different kind of work than I have done before, but I think it is really good. I am used to more coming in and hitting the streets for many hours all the time. We are hoping that as we do this and really help stoke a missionary work fire in the hearts of the members that we will see some good success that is more lasting. The ward here is really strong and has a lot of old members as well as recent converts. Bishop Gjini is very by the book and runs a tight camp here. It is almost scary to see how smoothly stuff runs here. I don't know if most people do family home evening, though I do know that a few do.

We started up our English Course this last week here and it started really well. The second day wasn't quite as promising...but we are hoping that people will be able to come more and that we will see some good success.

Some awesome news that we got, probably the best news of the week, was from Elder Simons. He called up a few days ago and asked me to guess what was going to happen on the 12th of this month. Eda is getting baptized! I don't know if you remember who she is, but she is the twin of Ema and told us about a month ago that she didn't want her sister to be baptized. However, the Spirit softens hearts and she found for herself that what we have is true. I think a big thing is that the biggest change of heart occurred once she started reading the Book of Mormon. Seriously, the book has power. She didn't agree to read until maybe the last week I was in Fier, and now she has a testimony. This stuff really works.

We have been working with Gerti, he was actually the first person who agreed to meet at a later date from when we came into 2nd Ward. He is progressing and is great, but we just learned that he goes home to his own city every weekend. This is going to be rough for getting him to church. We also met this taxi driver named Ilir whom we invited to a baptism on Saturday. He came and we had a lesson with him afterwards. He was so cool. Just looking at him I could see future Melchizedek Priesthood holder. At the end of the lesson we asked him where he lived, and he told us a place that was just barely outside of our ward boundaries. It was cool; it was probably the most Christ-like I have ever felt about passing off an investigator. Even though we have like zero work right now, I just felt this desire for the well-being of this man. When we called the other Elders to pass him off, they tried to tell us that we should teach him anyway knowing what our work level was like. However, I felt like the widow with her two mites. We were here with very little and were casting in basically all that we had. I have no doubt that as we do all we can and do it the best we can that the Lord will bless our efforts and that those who are ready will be taught.

I had the opportunity to read the King Follet Sermon by the Prophet Joseph this week. That blew my mind. You should check it out sometime. I have also spent some solid time studying Doctrine and Covenants 88 this week. I found a lot of really cool things there that made an impression on me as to why we do certain things in the church and what kinds of examples we need to be.

Our new mission President also made it in this past week and he and his wife are awesome. They are from Solothurn, Switzerland and have a really good look on the work here. He really seeks for the missionaries to be spiritually healthy enough to do the needed work. He also asked for us to pray for our companion by name in every personal and private prayer which has been really good to do and I can see how it can really bless the missionary work.

Well, I love you all and hope that Alex, Grandpa Shurtz, and America had great birthdays!

Elder Ostergaard

P.S. And thank you so much for the package Mom, it was great!