Monday, June 29, 2015

#102 Final letter from Albania

Hello,

Well, I hope this is getting to everyone safe and well. This week was good and ended off great at church! We were able to see some people that we haven't seen in a while at church as well as a couple of faces for the first time, and well, that is just wonderful. It was interesting bearing testimony to the people there and hearing the sound of a horse and wagon riding by...realizing that that is not a sound I will be hearing in church again.

We came down to Tirana today and will be staying here until Wednesday morning. It is sort of this weird twilight zone between two worlds. Thank goodness we still have tags and a prophetic call to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or I wouldn't know what to do with myself. Potentially this is what the Catholics' view of purgatory is...just kidding, Dante didn't even know what the Mormons were.

I am not really sure of what to say, it kinda seems like it'll be said better in person anyway. This has been a fantastic two years. It can't really be explained in few words, or even many words. I guess that in a sort of selfish way, I would tell people to go on a mission because it is a really great way to grow. But more than that, I have come to recognize the goodness of God a little bit more and the mission is a little bit of something that we can do to show our gratitude for that.

I love you guys. Keep it real and I am excited to see you!

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, June 22, 2015

#101

Hello Family!

Mom, happy birthday! I am 6 days late, but this whole being obedient to mission rules thing stopped me from getting it to you then. So, I hope you forgive my lateness. Same for you dad, Happy Fathers' Day yesterday!

This past week has been a good week, but with a few hang-ups, well, mostly just one. On Thursday we went over to Mark's house and he told us that he went to Lezha (a city about 40 minutes away from Shkoder) and talked to his dad and brother about being baptized and the such. They weren't fans. In fact his ailing father apparently looked like he was near to death when he told him. So Mark told us that he believes it is true and that he will definitely be coming to church and having lessons still, he just doesn't know when he can be baptized because he really wants the support, or at least grudging allowance of his family. Well, on Sunday we, as well as the rest of the missionaries fasted along with Mark to get an answer to all of this. We haven't been able to talk to him since after the fast, so we are going to wait to see what happens. We are praying that hearts will be softened and that Mark can have the faith to do what the Lord wants him to do. Haha, funny side note about him though. On Sunday during Priesthood we were practicing how to use the Priesthood, so we role-played how to baptize, give blessings, pass the sacrament and such. Mark was there and so our investigator has now role-played how to do all of those...I hope that is kosher. Whether it is or not, Mark is going to be stinking ready to hold the Priesthood when he does!

Other than that, and on a happier note, Tonini, while still in the job, was able to make it to church with Jona on Sunday! We are so grateful that he did whatever he needed to do so that he could come and respect the Lord's day by coming and partaking of the Sacrament. Thinking about their family as well as Mark (and many others that I have met on my mission), it is amazing to see the amazing wonder that they have for the Gospel. It made me think of Bishop Causse's talk that he gave this last General Conference. Is it still amazing to me? Do I hunger and thirst after the scriptures and the Gospel? I sure hope that my wonder of the Gospel keeps growing because I know that it changes and enlightens lives. I don't ever want it to grow dim in my life.

This week we have had a couple unexpected opportunities to meet with families that live a decent bit outside of Shkoder. We are supposed to focus on those within, but I guess if we try, the Lord can put whomever He wants in our hands to teach. We are trying to continually find people, and then have faith that the Lord will guide us where we need to be and put those in our path that are ready to hear the Gospel.

Well, I sure hope that this is a wonderful week for all of you and that you are able to see the hand of the Lord!

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, June 15, 2015

#100

Hey Family,

I am grateful that this last week has happened. Saturday was probably one of the harder days of my mission emotionally. I think it was a mix of an internal clock counting down and reminding me of the future as just the feeling that we could always be doing more. The real kicker though was that night as called to confirm plans to go over to Tonini and Jona's house. Tonini found a job this week and that job requires him to work on Sunday's. It was one of the sadder phone calls that I have ever made. We are going over tonight and hope to be able to help them overcome this obstacle.

Well, the Lord sends us blessings with ever heartache and it was awesome to see Mark make it to church in a tie for the first time. He has such wonderful faith and as we talked to him this week about tithing among other things he expressed his willingness to fulfill this commandment. Talking with Elder Crandall about it, the first time that we met Mark (about a month into the transfer), it was on a tracting lesson and really we didn't see it going very far -- until now I have not had the opportunity to see anyone enter into the waters of baptism because of tracting. However, as we have continued to meet with this choice brother, we have been so impressed with his quite understanding of the message of the Restoration. We asked him while meeting with him on Thursday why he was following through with this -- his family is Catholic, even he is baptized in the Catholic church, his son is an altar boy there, but yet he is getting baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Spirit was strong as he told us that he has found for himself that this is true and that no matter who else follows from his family, he will come. What a testimony builder for me.

Congrats to both Grant (on finishing freshman year) and Brigham ( on going to the temple for the first time this week)! And Dad, I hope you heal up quick!

I don't really have much to say other than that...but I hope that you have a wonderful day and week! I hope that the summer months are looking beautiful out there yonder and that you are having a great time!

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, June 8, 2015

#99

Hey Family,

Well, this last week was a bit slow. We are doing a lot of looking for new investigators and the like, but though we have found some people who were willing to hear the message at first, none of them wanted us to return and continue sharing the message. I guess all that we can do is to enable their agency as much as possible.

2 Nefi 2:16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.

So, I guess that is what we'll do, just do the best we can to love, and teach clearly so that others can see the good of what we are teaching and then allow them to use their agency. I think that a lot of the time, all that we can do is be that one Mormon guy that they met 2 years ago that seemed like a good kid. I have definitely allowed my drive for the work allow me to be maybe less than gracious. Accept or not, we must show love. It is a difficult thing to do though sometimes, being persistent, but not overbearing. I don't think that that is a lesson that can really be learned in a book, but even in the last couple months of doing this in the field I still don't think that I have gotten a whole lot closer to the answer. Well, I guess that is what eternity is for.

We had a zone training this past week and I was asked to read from and comment on some parts of the white handbook. Interesting how bearing your testimony will often help you better understand Gospel principles. I had one of those experiences, and it was pretty eye-opening for me, so I am going to quote myself ("Oh John, that was a new one!"), ' Throughout my mission, my companions and I haven't been perfect, or anywhere near it, but I think that we are a lot closer than we used to be. I have seen that the Lord sends us down blessings though. He wants to bless us, and though I know He isn't waiting for us to be perfect to do it - that would leave us in quite the drought- , but I do think He is waiting for us to try.' What a blessing that the Lord looks for our small steps of progress and blesses us for them.

Yesterday was really cool for 3 reasons: 1) Tonini received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained to the office of Priest. 2) We started having a third hour of church. This is going to be really good in helping some of our recent converts understand the Gospel at a deeper level. 3) Mark came to church again (he hasn't missed since he came for the first time four weeks ago). It was cool seeing him, Tonini, and Vellai Pali sitting next to each other in Priesthood - can you say future Bishopric?

Mark is set to be baptized on the 27th of this month. He is getting himself ready by coming to church, reading (he is in the Book of Alma), and starting to live the commandments (he said that he would live the Word of Wisdom when we taught it on Thursday). The only problem is that he is busy and can't meet us very much. So, though his baptism isn't for another 3 weeks, we have a limited amount of appointments with him and we have to put a lot of information into them. He is a smart guy though and should be okay in digesting it. While we were at his house on Thursday we set out the game plan for helping him be ready for baptism and showed him the baptismal interview questions. He asked about tithing which we haven't taught yet, and not having enough time to teach about it well, we gave him a couple things to read about it. He still came to church, so it doesn't look yet like it was a deal-breaker. We are excited to meet next time with him and help him find the Gospel even more in his life.

Well, that about sums it up. Congrats to the grad! Way to make it through high school Brigham, you look stunning in your green robes.

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, June 1, 2015

#98

Hey Dearest Family,

Well, the biggest news from this past week was that Tonini and Jona were baptized and confirmed as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! It was so wonderful to see them take this step, a step that they understand and are willing to fulfill. We went to their house and picked all of them up and got a furgon (van) down to Tirana for the ordinance. So, even though the Mom (her name is Age) and the other daughter (Lume) haven't been baptized yet, it is really a matter of time and will be a wonderful day when it happens. Their sights are toward the temple more and more and it is super great. Haha, Jona has read the entire triple combination and Tonini has read most of it. Crazy. (nudge nudge Grant, Jona is 2 and a half months younger than you, so maybe you can see if you can beat her time of the triple in 5 weeks!)

Cermeli Family





Motra Dunn, Lume, Age (Mom), Tonini (Dad), Mikael, Jona, Motra Kelly

Other than that, our most promising investigators are Mark and his wife Mireta. Mark is in the middle of Mosiah right now which is wonderful! It is so good to have investitators that read. They came on Sunday (he is 3/3 and she is 2/3 in the last three weeks). He is more into the message than she is and it was funny to watch him push her come to Sunday School. We probably made her late for work, but we didn't do any of the pushing at all, it was all him. I like it when we don't have to be the "bad guys." That seems to happen a lot. I guess it is good practice for the future where it seems like that is going to be a thing. Meeting with them is a bit difficult as they can only meet once a week, which makes helping them be prepared for baptism a bit difficult. We are praying for them. Mark, that he may have a continually strengthened testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel. Mireta, that she may more fully understand our message -- she doesn't quite get that we are different from other Christian churches yet.

As for branch business, we had the wonderful opportunity of having President Kashari of the Stake Presidency here in Shkoder on Sunday. He told us that they are going to be working to come up pretty often because of the fact that our branch president went to Italy for an indefinite amount of time. We sure hope that he returns soon!

Today we woke up bright and early at 3:20 to get on the road to go visit Theth "the pearl of the Albanian Alps." It was really early, but it was beautiful. After 3 hours on a 1/2 asphalt 1/2 rock road and a flat tire, we got to Theth. We hiked around and visited a waterfall, the "blue eye", and the itty bitty village of Theth. It is gorgeous, with a slight foreboding feeling (it is the sight, along with a lot of the rest of northern Albania, of blood feuds). It felt like walking through the movie the Village and Godric's Hollow from Harry Potter. Pretty cool.

















Blue Eyes Pool




Elder Clawson




















Happy 32nd tomorrow Dad! I hope that you have a wonderful day and know that I love you from over here in Albania! Also, that is wonderful Brigham for being sustained to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. I hope that every day you try to be more like the stud Priesthood leaders you see around you. Willing to give your time, talents, and efforts for others and the Lord. Mom once told me of a talk she had heard which encouraged people to go to the funeral, meaning, do those small things that might be a bit of inconvenience but could mean the world to others. Some of my saddest regrets in Priesthood service come from not attending the funeral both literally and figuratively. At the same time, some of the most wonderful moments come from doing taking that time and showing that love.

Hey, I love you family and hope that you have a wonderful day and week!

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, May 25, 2015

#97

Dearest Family,

In the last few transfers I have thought a bit about the meaning of time. President Uchtdorf taught us that one of the reasons that we feel so sad when something ends is that we, being eternal beings, are not used to the idea of endings. Time , in many ways, seems to lose meaning. I can't even imagine how the eternities work if they aren't based on the mortal boundaries of time. I guess we'll see when we get there!

This last week we were able to see some wonderful things as we continually see Tonini and Jona get ready for their baptism. They will be baptized on Saturday and are ready for it...well about as ready as anyone can be to make a binding covenant with their Creator. We had talked to Sister Mimoza this week about Jona and how we didn't know what to do to help her have Sunday attire, and she totally offered a skirt and a blouse for her. We also presented Tonini with a white shirt and tie (he has never worn a tie before, not even for his wedding). Neither of them are huge fans of the kind of clothes, but they expressed that they are willing to do it if that is what the Lord asks. Beautiful, isn't it?

We have also been working with another man named Mark. Mark is also a wonderful human being that has been prepared by God to receive the message that we have been called to preach to him. Over the first two weeks that we had begun teaching him, he read the first two books of Nephi and really likes the messages in the book. His wife has not shown the same excitement for the message that he has (she came to church last week, but net this week), but he still keeps chugging along. He came to church again this week, and though there were few, he stayed, and enjoyed it. I think that sometimes I underestimate the power that the Spirit of the Lord has in the lives of others. People feel things that we don't know they feel and can find answers to questions in ways we can't foresee, or even see at all. It is wonderful and beautiful to see the Lord work through Mark. He is working to be baptized in about a month.

We had an interesting opportunity this week to help someone out that was having a bit of a scary medical episode. It helped me realize even more the need to be ready. It was such a blessing to have one there that knew medical procedures, but even more so to have the Priesthood there. In the necessary moment, I thought about myself, my thoughts, my actions... We cannot prepare for those moments in the moment it happens, we need to be ready beforehand. I was so grateful that I could, with reassurance, put my hands on their head and take part in that blessing. I want to be ready in every way to do what the Lord wants me to do, and that means I have a lot of work to do. I guess there is no time like the present to do that than now.

Well, I hope that you all have a wonderful week. I hope that Brigham, Grant, and Dad (but especially Brigham) heal up well from their runs. Happy Memorial Day! Have a wonderful grad party Brigham, and happy early birthday Grant. You are so stinkin' old. Looking at those pictures from the marathon that Mom sent, it looks like you are graying quite a bit.

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, May 18, 2015

#96

Dear Family,

This past week I think was a great example of how the Lord generally works in our lives. It was going alright, but then, comeThursday, Friday, and Saturday, we didn't have much of anything going our way. However, as we continued knocking on doors, we were praying that the Lord would do His work in His time. On Sunday we were pleased to see 5 investigators in Sacrament (the most in quite a while). Sister Mimoza Pali (I don't know how much I have talked about her, but she is so wonderful, in 20 years or so when she is about 75, Shkoder has 2 stakes, and Albania has a mission, everyone is going to look back at her as being the momma of Shkodra. She is so wonderful and though maybe she really doesn't understand a ton about the Gospel yet -- she is a recent convert of only 9 months or so -- she's really doing wonderful things.) Gave a talk and taught the Sunday School lesson as well, and we were able to have a really good set of meetings.

The biggest thing, however, was after church. We sat down and talked to Tonini and Jona. They came in looking so good, cleaned up, and happy. We asked them how they had been doing on their commitments -- for Tonini to stop sports bets and Word of Wisdom stuff and for Jona to pray about if she should be baptized. Tonini said that he has been staying away from the betting, and though he has slipped on some word of wisdom stuff, he knows he needs to stuff now in order to be ready for his baptism on the 30th. He said with real conviction this time that he was going to stop. We are going to take him some hot chocolate this week so that he can do that instead of coffee. Jona, when we asked her (by the way, she finished reading the Book of Mormon early last week...crazy) if she had prayed for an answer told us that she indeed had, and that she feels like she needs to be baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!!!!! It was so wonderful! She is willing to leave what has really been a lot of her life and change it, because it is right. She will be baptized with her father on the 30th! What an answer to our prayers.

We don't have a ton of time, so I am going to have to roll out of her, but I love you guys! One of the pictures is at a martyrs monument her in Shkoder and the other of us playing dominoes with some xhaxhis (old men).

Love,
Elder Ostergaard


Monday, May 11, 2015

#95

Hey Family!

It was good to talk to you yesterday and see all of your smiling faces. You be a-lookin' great and it was awesome to be able to just talk for a little bit. There are so many things that I was not able to say, but that is okay. It is also interesting to see just how people have changed...and mostly how you haven't. You guys are still great!

This past week we have seen a bit of what you could call a lack of success I guess...if you didn't understand the principle of faith! We haven't been seeing a ton of countable success, but whatever it is, I am sure that the Lord has a plan for it all and we are excited to fulfill that. It was mentioned to me that maybe there was some frustration about the work, and I actually don't think so. I just really hope that even though we are not perfect that we are on that road that will allow the Lord to work through us. I guess if my faith about anything ever wavers, it isn't that the Lord can't do what he plans to do or that the work isn't right, it is that we somehow aren't doing what we need to be doing in order to receive the blessings of the Lord. The beautiful (and really difficult to understand) thing however is that the Lord doesn't wait on us to be perfect to bless us. If that was the case, He would be waiting an awful long time to bless us.

One thing that stuck out to me this week was actually at our multi-zone conference. President had asked a sister to stand up and share a success story from their companionship. When she stood up, I was expecting something about how 37 people were baptized or something, but instead she shared the story of one of their investigators (who wasn't even baptized yet) that they were watching experience a mighty change of heart. It hit me how the success and miracle stories that are all around us are simple and that we, if we keep our eyes and ears open will be able to see them. They are small, but they are there and they are important.

Crazy thing! Today while we were on our way to Lac (it is a city about an hour or so away that has a famous church) we walked past a store in Shkoder and a guy walked out and yelled "Elder Ostergaard!" It was Elder Brown, an elder who went home right when I came in to the field ( he extended for an extra 2 weeks so I got to know him just a bit). There were 4 other ex-missionaries with him including Elder Austin, my trainer! Because of his parasite and getting sent back state-side I haven't seen him since second transfer, so that was super cool. We also were able to see a couple of other ex-missionaries while at zone conference. It is weird to see that side of life.

This week, Tonini and his family didn't make it out to church. We will be going out and seeing them tomorrow and hope to help them continually realize the importance of constant and sincere devotion to the Lord and His gospel. As we tried to help his daughter Jona accept a baptismal date this week, we ran into a bit of a stumbling block as she expressed her difficulties in changing churches as she was Catholic and has been her whole life. I, though I have tried to imagine the difficulties that that would bring, can't really imagine what sort of difficulties that would bring. It requires an entirely different view on the most important things in life. It requires you to be recognized by a different title. You are automatically at least somewhat alienated from what used to be a major part of you. I guess all that we can do is teach pure doctrine powerfully and in that way show that it is not just worth it, it is a much better option. Needless to say, we have some prayers going up to heaven for that family.

We are pushing to make an extra effort to find leaders. This proves a bit of an added challenge to the whole missionary work thing. Not only do we look for those that will accept the message, but those that will be willing to lead others in the effort of this great cause afterwards. The tricky thing is that...we can't really tell who those people are. There were some "find-the-elect" sunglasses at the MTC that we could have gotten to make the whole distinguishing work easier, but they were $45, way out of my price range. So, that puts us back at normal led-by-the-Spirit missionary work. I guess all that we can do is talk to everyone and hope and pray that the Lord will put those chosen spirits in our paths. And He will.

Hey, I love you guys a lot! I hope that you are having a wonderful week and that Brigham's visa and everything is going smoothly. You should have just gone to Albania Brigham, it would have been a lot easier! Just kidding, if the prophet said Brazil, that is because you will be ripping it up down there and that is what is supposed to happen.

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, May 4, 2015

#94

Hey Family,

I hope that you are on the way to having another incredible week! Last night as we knelt in prayer before going to bed, I was just shocked that once again I was telling the Lord that it was the end of another week. It goes so so fast. I have definitely been thinking about how important it is that we use our time in a useful, productive way, because it just kind of leaves us behind like James Bond leaves an explosion -- not even looking back (I guess Lot's wife should have learned a bit from him).

One of the wonderful miracles that happened was on Sunday when Tonini and his daughter Jona came to church. Tonini has been a regular, but this was Jona's first and it was great. We had a bit of a rough time getting people into church yesterday (as well as in the past in general, we have been averaging about 14), and so as I blessed the Sacrament with Elder Wilcox, I was praying that the Spirit would be with them to realize that even though we were few, it was still the truth. (One of my favorite book quotes from all time is from the novel 1984 by George Orwell were it is stated "sanity is not statistical.") Being Fast Sunday I also had an opportunity to bear my testimony. I was struck with the thought of how the Church would have been in those early days with the Savior and His Apostles. I can imagine there would have been a lot of noise, few people (depending on if there was free food or not) and just generally not looking a whole lot like how D&C stated it by being a house of order. Things take time. The Lord knows that, and we should learn it too. Well, as a beautiful answer to prayer, during their introductions in Sunday School, they expressed that they believed in what was going on...or at least were working on believing. It was really great to hear Jona say that she was here for the first time and hoped that she would be around a whole lot more. The Lord doesn't need grand cathedrals to perform his work. Sometimes it happens in small stables and sometimes in the first floor of a small apartment building on the outskirts of Albanian cities.

Another wonderful blessing came last night as Elder Crandall and I went tracting. We knocked a door and were let in and ended up sitting down with a mom, dad, and daughter. At first the dad and daughter showed a lot of resistance ( we learned later on that much of the daughter's resistance was because she thought that we were part of another religious organization that Albanians aren't too fond of here), but after a while of talking we were eventually able to testify of Joseph Smith and the truthfulness of the work that we were a part of. Elder Crandall bore a really wonderful witness that touched the heart especially of the father and helped them understand that maybe there indeed was something in the words we were saying. It was really cool to see after he bore his testimony how the dad asked once again how long he had been learning the language. He was just floored that it had only been three months. He recognized it as a gift from God. The gift of tongues is real. However, I think that a gift that I have seen prevalent much more in the mission is the gift of communicating in the language of the Spirit. People can understand the importance of the message even when they might not have a whole lot of idea what is going on. We will be going back there on Tuesday and hope to be able to bring the Spirit into their home so that they will continue to want to hear this message of truth.

As for English courses, we have not been doing so hot in numbers. Perhaps it is the time of year and perhaps it is just not as exciting for the city as it used to be. We will see as time progresses.

As for Skype on Sunday, at about 8 o'clock I will give you guys a call. Our call will be 40 minutes long, so if you have any questions get 'em ready.

Well, I hope that you have a wonderful week and I will be excited to hear about it when we talk on Sunday!

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, April 27, 2015

# 93

Hey Family,

Happy Monday everybody! First of all, CONGRATULATIONS SOON-TO-BE-ELDER OSTERGAARD! What a wonderful blessing that you are called to serve a mission by a living prophet of God! When I was getting ready to go on a mission, I was sure to keep in mind that I could go anywhere in the world, but I really knew that I was going to South America. I, however, was not counted worthy to serve with the entire city of Midland in a country, so I came to Albania... where somehow they found a way to stick some other Midlanders as well ( the Volzs and almost Sister Threet).

I hope that you have been having just a splendid day so far! This past week we have been doing quite a bit of tracting and passing out of English Course fliers. A lot of our investigators have been showing some difficulties with meeting with us which lends us to spending a lot of looking for other investigators.

Even though we have been having some difficulties with meeting with a lot of our investigators, I think that the highlight of the week has been Tonini and his family. We have continued to go and visit them (it is only about a 10 minute drive, amazing how that would not be a barrier at all to missionary work in Midland) and they are great. The 15-year-old (her name is Jona) has been doing awesome. She has read the first several books of the Book of Mormon, and though she is going through catechisms at the catholic church, she told us on Thursday that she prefers listening to our lessons than those of the catholic priests. They really like and understand the idea of a modern-day prophet and really everything else that is taught. The only potential hang-up being as we talked about the prophet and his counsel to not gamble. Here in Albania it is huge to do sport betting, so we will see how this goes.

It is interesting how the Lord works. Often when we are trying to do what is right and things aren't quite going how we want, I have thoughts of how maybe the Lord's work is somehow being blocked up somewhere. However, when I take enough time to actually think about it, I realize that His work cannot be frustrated, it is just going in a different direction than we thought ourselves. However, that is not to say that we should not always be trying to work harder and better. What a blessing that we can always try and do that. I have truly realized that getting caught up in our own weaknesses is pointless and destructive. I hope that I will always be able to recognize that I have weaknesses, but not dwell on them. I love how Elder Holland put it when he stated that the Lord has been working with imperfect servants from the beginning of the world. "Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son," he states, "imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we." I am grateful that we have the opportunity to try and serve even though we are so inadequate, because without this opportunity, I don't know how we would possibly grow. What a wonderful blessing to be a missionary. I am so grateful for the Lord's refining fire, that as Tad R. Callister put it, "a potential god in embryo" has a chance to improve and move forward beyond human and mortal weakness.

I hope that you all have a wonderful day and week everybody!

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, April 20, 2015

# 92

Hey Everybody,

I hope that this last week has been fantastic! One thing that I noticed yesterday was actually as we called in to give the report on our week to our district leader. He referred to several of the things that we mentioned as miracles, and it was a good reminder to me that truly our lives are filled with miracles and life is so much more beautiful when we recognize those.

This week we had a couple of cool things happen. One was that we received permission to use the Sisters' car to go and visit Tonini and his family (he lives a bit outside of Shkoder) and so we were able to do that near the end of the week. It was great to be able to meet them and talk to them about the Gospel. His 15-year-old daughter had read the Joseph Smith Pamphlet and part of the Book of Mormon and had a lot of questions for us (they have strong Catholic roots so they were questions like: why do your priests marry? why don't you do confession? why don't you think that the Catholic church has authority? etc.). We were able to answer them and it was great to see Tonini back up some of the things that we were saying. He still isn't sure which church is true, but we're getting there bit by bit.

About a week and a half ago we talked to a man and his daughter on the way home at the end of the night and were able to go and meet those two as well as the mom this week. Jaku (the dad), Vera (the mom), and Dajana (the 10-year-old daughter) are from the north and have a Catholic background. They mentioned that other people from churches had been to their house before, but we weren't expecting when on the second visit Sunday night, Dajana pulled out a Book of Mormon and Restoration pamphlet that had been given to them a year ago. Pretty cool! We are excited to work with them and hope to help them become closer to their Heavenly Father through the message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

On Saturday we held a traditional dance at the church (Albanians love to do that) and had a good amount of people come. Activities are a really good way to do missionary work. I have thought about during high school when I invited a couple of my friends to come to stake dances with me and it was great and they had a great time. I wish that I had done more to try and invite my buddies to learn a bit about what we were and why. I think one of the reasons that I didn't is that I didn't really know how to, and that made me scared. It is actually a really unthreatening thing to tell someone, "hey, I am going to be going to church on Sunday, wanna come?" How cool would it be if we just invited people in warm, normal ways to "come and see"?

One cool thing that we got to do this week was go over to the house of a less-active lady and whack cement off of her walls with a pickax! She deserved it though, she hasn't come to church in years. Just kidding, she asked us to do it, so it's kosher (in the most Mormon of senses).

Well, I love you everybody! Hope that you have a good week and don't do anything too crazy.

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, April 13, 2015

#91

Hey Family,

This past week has been a bit of a different experience in comparison with the rest of my mission. For those that do not know the schedule of missionaries on the training schedule in a foreign language mission, we wake up at 6:30, have personal study from 8-9, companion study from 9-11, and then later on in the day we have an hour of language study. That is a lot of study time and for most of my mission, we have been very lenient in our hacking away at that to go do the "more important" things. Well, for quite a while I have been called to repentance and especially with this opportunity to train have really re-thought about things and realized that it is important to get that study in. I guess I used to think of studying as the Lord giving us a break from our labors, but instead it is truly a period for us to be prepared. It is not a break but a preparation period. It is truly an act of faith to take time to prepare our spirits before going outside, but it allows the Lord to work so much more through us. 5 minutes with the Lord's help is much more effective than hours without it. So, as we have worked to be diligent and obedient in our studies, I have found the need for a different kind of endurance and it is definitely building us up as missionaries.

Conference was wonderful! We were counseled to have all of the sessions at the church building and to attend all of them, something that has not happened before here. When there were people there we watched it in Albanian, and when it was just missionaries we watched it is English. I remember watching conference after 1 month in the country, and I proudly announce that it was significantly better this time! Thank goodness.

I really loved the talks of Elder Anderson, Elder Bednar, and everyone else. It was cool to hear the stories about the Ivory Coast and Haiti. It was inspiring to hear about those areas that in 30 years had grown enough for the Lord to see fit that a temple be built there. It helped me find a new desire to help this people work towards obtaining that blessing. I had written down a few questions to look at while I watched conference, one of them being to know how much to expect of all those with whom we work. I was grateful to receive the answer that though we do need to expect everything of them, we need to love them. A lot. I am so grateful that the Lord didn't "drop" me the 5 billion times that I made a mistake, but that He has continually worked with me. He is so patient with us and works with us even when we don't want Him to. There is so much to learn from His redeeming and enabling love.

We are currently working with a man named Tonini, and he is really cool. He has Catholic roots and he is really just trying to figure out which church is right. He really liked conference and we will have an opportunity to go out and meet his family this week, so it would be wonderful if you could throw out a prayer that he can receive and understand the answers to his prayers about which church is the Lord's church.

One wonderful thing that was in General Conference was President Uchtdorf's testimony of why he does what he does in the Church. It wasn't for anyone else or even out of a feeling of duty. Rather, it was because he loved the Lord and wanted to do what He asked. In a similar line, Elder Nelson talked about when he thinks of the activities he participates in on the Sabbath, he thinks about the message that those send to God and the love they transmit through his dedication. He said that when he bases everything he does on his love for God that everything is crystal clear. I am glad to be walking down a road in that direction that is based upon love rather than anything else.

Have a wonderful week everybody!

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

#90

Dear Family,

Happy Monday and I sure hope that you are all having a wonderful week so far! This past week was not quite spent as planned with many days spent in Tirana waiting for Elder Crandall (my new companion) to get into the country and then for the trainers and trainees to all to be assigned together. He is great. He is the third of five children, played in band, loves to sing, did drama, about 6 feet tall, and has strawberry blonde hair. Kinda crazy huh? Elder Crandall is from Colorado and he actually just got back recently from a year-long exchange in Germany. He

It is really hard to think of what I was like when I first came into the country, what was weird and what was normal. I have been trying to think of how I felt those first moments, days, and weeks...and I am coming up blank. Well, I guess he is just going to have to figure it out himself. Just kidding-- kind of.

This week I have been doing a lot of thinking about the Savior. Isn't it great? I hope that every week of the year will find me thinking about the Savior a lot rather than needing to wait for Easter or Christmas. One of the things that really struck me was just the extreme loneliness that must have been experienced by the Savior during this the last week of His mortal existence. One thing that really caused me to notice that was in the Joseph Smith Translation of Mark 14:36 which states:

36 And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane,which was a garden; and the disciples began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy, and to complain in their hearts, wondering if this be the Messiah.

Even here, on the brink of the Atonement, the most important and eternal event ever, even those closest to the Savior did not recognize fully, or perhaps very much at all, the purpose and calling that the Christ had. I wonder if we understand any better than these men do the role of the Messiah in our lives. And if we do, I wonder if we apply that.

One thing that was reinforced to me this week was the knowledge that I love to bear my testimony. It is always just such a wonderful reassurance that I actually know what I know and love it. I am so grateful that the Spirit, as promised by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, is a necessary part of dictating that Jesus is the Lord. When we proclaim these truths, the Spirit enters in and everything just sort of fits into perspective and works. I like it a lot.

We had a bit of a rough day at Church yesterday (we will be watching conference this upcoming weekend) with a good amount of rain holding many back from coming. I sure hope that we can help others to recognize the need for the continuous Atonement in our lives. I also hope that I am learning that lesson in my own life in a very eternal way. It is easy to see how a mission is sort of a crash course in eternal learning, future Church service, as well as simply living as a disciple of Christ.

I hope that this week is wonderful and that you can continue to keep that Easter spirit with you!

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

P.S. Yes Mom, fringo is the Albanian word for gringo. I have no idea where it came from, perhaps somebody simply mis-typed and 'f' instead of a 'g' while creating the Albanian slang dicitionary.

As for Mother's Day, that is way too soon, Christmas was yesterday. Ask me about it next week. Thanks!

Monday, April 6, 2015

#89 Places everybody, it's transfer time!

Hello Family,

We got a call on Saturday night from President telling us about transfers. I will be staying here in Shkoder and have the opportunity to train once again ( I tried to let President know that I had messed it up the first time and it wasn't a good idea...but whaddya do?). I will be paired with my companion on the Thursday after spending 2 days in Tirana 2nd while waiting...it'll be fun going back there a little bit. Elder Szabo is headed down to Tirana 1st (the only one of the Tirana wards I haven't had the opportunity to serve in). I am excited to stay here because Shkodra eshte nje qytet mrekullirash (Shoder is a miracle city). I am ready for the excitement that comes with fringo fire and just having new eyes on a situation. I hope that I can make myself pliable to be able to change and improve.

This past week we have been working to be a little bit better at continually looking for new people to teach. We have been able to meet many new people, and though we know that many of them will not have a continuing interest in the Gospel, I sure hope that we can, through our efforts and the Spirit's direction be led to those that are prepared. It is an interesting concept that we are truly looking for the elect, those that at this moment in time are ready and waiting. I think that it is a principle that requires a good sense of our eternal-ness and that all will have an opportunity at some point to accept this message. I hope that we will have the faith to find those that are ready now (I also hope that that is a lot of people, haha, but that isn't really my decision).

Other than that, this week hasn't been too crazy. One cool thing that has happened though is this family that we met last Sunday. We tracted into them and have since met with them several times. The father came to church on Sunday in a suit (he looked good). They have 2 sons that recently moved to Montreal and asked if we could get missionaries in contact with them, so I sent a note to Elder Dallin Jones. Hope that that works out!

Well, nothing much more to share. It is warming up pretty well here (I hope President switches over to short sleeve season soon). Conference here won't happen yet this week, but I would still love to hear your thoughts.

Love,
Elder Ostergaard


P.S. I am sure that you all know this already, but Albania beat Armenia in futboll 2-1 this week. Pretty big deal here. Haha, I wonder what percentage of the US recognizes those two places as distinct nations?

Monday, March 23, 2015

#88

Dear Family,

I hope that you have had a wonderful week! This week I found myself without a planner for a couple of days (I accidentally left it in a byrek stand, I don't know if you know what byrek is, but it is basically flaky, butteriness with stuff in it-usually a kind of cheese called gjize, tomatoes and onions, ground beef, sausage, spinach, or a yogurt thing called kos.) and looking back I realized that I was totally reliant on Elder Szabo for anything time-related seeing as I haven't worn a watch in 4 months. Thank goodness for companions!

This week we got a little bit of bad news hearing that Adriatik had some familial problems meaning that he will have to be out of Shkoder this week and not be able to be baptized on Saturday. Our other investigator Leo that we were working with to be baptized by the end of the month is also not looking like that will be possible. We feel a bit like we are letting our mission and the Lord down as we are working to achieve goals that were set between President Weidmann and the Lord. However as we prayed about it last night, Elder Szabo expressed that he felt that what we are doing what we should be doing in helping people be baptized when they are really ready rather than simply trying to fill a goal. Isn't it great that the work of the Lord is a one-by-one work that differs, though it is the same at the same time, with every one of His children. We all need something different and in order to do this it requires love from the teachers to really look for what is needed. I sure pray that we will be in-tune enough with the Spirit so that we will know what the Lord wants these, His children, to know, feel, and do.

On Saturday we had a wonderful opportunity to get out on the street for about 4 hours and, using a table, street contact. We heard in a talk this week that it is impossible for someone to love the Gospel and to love people and not to love sharing the Gospel with people. I can say that I love the people and I also love the Gospel, and it is true that I truly do love sharing the Gospel with people. I am not that good at it, but I think that really a big part of it is just loving people and then, if we have put in some thought to studying the Gospel, they will pretty magically find their way together.

A few weeks ago I was reading in the book of Acts (I love the book of Acts, it is perfect for missionaries) and I was very struck by the words it says about Peter and his companions. They were imprisoned, freed by an angel, and then retaken and set before the Jewish council. After many words spoken they eventually beat them and let them go. Here is the part that stuck out to me: "And they departed from the presence of the council,rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name." (Acts 5:41) Are we willing to suffer shame for His name? I have thought about that many times as people will sometimes yell or taunt and it is a bit shameful. What a blessing to be able to wear a tag that shows everyone that I am with Him, like it or not. I wish to be always willing and able to suffer shame for the name of the Savior.

We once again shared the film Ephraim's Rescue with a small group of people (we were supposed to show Joseph Smith:Prophet of the Restoration, but had problems with the subtitles) and I was struck by one line in particular. A woman tells Ephraim that he is a holy man and he replies that he has so many mistakes and flaws that he can't even count them. She replies by asking, "then how is it that you do so much good?" He answers, "I try." That is all we have to do. Just try. I testify that the Lord can work miracles with our meager and imperfect attempts. He has been working perfect deeds through imperfect means since the beginning of time and He can do it with us.

I hope that you all have a wonderful day and week. This world is beautiful and so are the lives that we live in it. I hope that you can take a bit of time to see that today!

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

#87

Adriatic South Mission
P.O. Box 2984
Bulevardi "Gjergj Fishta"
Qendra "ALPAS", Shkalla NR. 5,
Apartamenti NR.14
Tirana 00355, Albania

Hey Mom,

Really quick before I forget, this is the new mission home address.

Happy Monday and late Pi Day! Sad to say, it does not get celebrated here in Albania at all...and I totally forgot about it until I read some emails. I am guessing one of the big reasons for that is that dates are written day-month-year in this corner of the universe (as well as just about everyone else in the world I think).

Well, this past week we had an opportunity to see two brethren baptized and confirmed! Mariglen and Franc are now the newest members of the Shkoder Branch, a much anticipated occasion. It was wonderful being able to talk with these two the day before their baptisms about their feelings on all of this. They practiced bearing their testimonies to us (there is an opportunity for them to bear their testimonies after the ordinance and there were some nerves on Franc's side) and it was great to hear them talk about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the changes that they have made and seen in their lives since first meeting with us.

We were able to share the story of Abish with Mariglen. It is a pretty important story for me in recognizing the role of the member in missionary work. After Ammon and the King's house dropped like flies because of the influence of the Spirit, Abish (a previous believer aka a member) runs around and tells everyone about this wonderful and incredible miracle. They all come running and...much to Abish's dismay begin to argue with one of them actually attempting to kill Ammon. In the midst of her distress however, she takes the Queen's hand and she rises and preaches followed by the others. In the end, a huge amount of people were converted and baptized. Ammon did great work and was able to service his way into the King's house and help in his conversion...but unless Abish had gone out and told all of her friends (and everyone else too), only the King's house would have been converted that day. Thank goodness for members that see in them the ability to help others. Elder Bednar made the statement that full-time missionaries are full-time teachers and that members are full-time finders. Crazy, huh? I actually did the math, and starting with 1 member, supposing that Shkoder is 200,000 people big, if each month each member would bring 1 friend into the the fold of the Gospel, this entire city would be baptized in a little over 17 months. That's crazy. We just need to open our mouths.

One thing that I have had the privilege of seeing this weakness is a clearer view of some of my weaknesses. It is a really difficult pill to swallow that we have points that truly must be changed. However, as I considered some of the things that I learned about myself, I was so grateful that these particular challenges are brought into my view right now. What better place to learn to be better than on a mission? I recognized a little bit about how a father must feel when he makes a mistake and fears for the consequences that could come from it and just hopes to not make that mistake with the next child. The Lord truly knows our weaknesses and allows us to walk through that refiner's fire. I pray that we will always have the courage to accept those weaknesses when we see them and lay them at the Savior's feet. The Atonement of Jesus Christ does not only provide redemptive power that changes bad men to good, but also an enabling power which helps good men become better. It is truly a blessing that these short-comings that we find within ourselves do not need to be overcome by ourselves, but that we can call upon heavenly powers to both "[put] off the natural man" as well as to "[become] a saint" (Mosiah 3:19). Elder Bednar gave some thoughts on this subject...somewhere, but I can't remember when.

Thank you so much everybody for loving the Savior and desiring to serve Him! I am so grateful that I have these 2 years to wear His name upon my chest and that, as Philip of the New Testament,"[open my] mouth... and [preach] unto [Albania] Jesus." (Acts 8:35)

Love you everybody!
Elder Ostergaard


#1 This is from us mopping ;out the flooded church a couple weeks ago.


#2 This is from when we made taffy two weeks ago for FHE. As you can tell from the smoke, it boiled over onto the stove. Franc that just got baptized is the one in the middle with his thumb up.

Monday, March 9, 2015

#86

Hello everybody!

This past week has, as always been dominated by the blessings that were very much so present. It reminds me of the part in Pollyanna where she is sitting with the pastor under that large tree in the field and she reads her locket "'If you look for the bad'... oh, it always makes me cross-eyed" then the pastor reads the quote "If you look for the bad in people you surely will find it." It is that way in both people as well as situations. We can see good or we can see bad. It is up to us.

Yesterday we got together and all headed down to Stake Conference in Durres. Stake Conference was a little funky this time around because they actually did it in two parts, one for half of the stake in Elbasan in the morning and one for the other half in Durres in the afternoon. We were able to load 18 people up (6 missionaries, 4 members, and 8 investigators) to go down there. We made a big push for all of the men to be wearing their Priesthood uniform and, well in a few words, we looked good! It was so wonderful to see all of these current and potential Priesthood holders wearing white shirts and ties. It truly makes a difference. The conference was wonderful and really packed a punch for those who had ears to hear. I had the opportunity to sit next to Mariglen (a 20 year-old who will be baptized on Saturday) both in the conference as well as in the van on the way home. President Mema (the Stake President) gave a talk focused on those preparing to serve missions. I turned to him near the beginning and told him that this was for him, he looked back and said "ajo eshte arsyja pse une po degjoj me vemendje" ("that is why I am listening intently"). On the way back we sat and talked for those 2 hours about how his life is changed by this message that he started to hear 2 months ago and what that means for him. Cool stuff.

We started up our English Course on Thursday, our main fear was that the morning Zone Conference in Tirana would make us late. However, that wasn't a problem, with the main problem turning out to be the buckets of rain falling from the heavens all day. Few people showed up. However, we have solid hope that on Tuesday we will have a much better turn out. In fact, the first day not working out might have actually done a good job of weeding those out that weren't really interested anyway.

Haha, one exciting thing that happened this week was on Wednesday night, we were out tracting and the other Elders called us and let us know that the toilet had a problem and the church had flooded. We jumped over there (it's a good calf workout) and the four of us and the sisters used mops, a squeegee, brooms, and a dustpan to clear the water out. We had to try and do it pretty quickly because it was getting late. We got most of it out (just by pushing the water out the door) and then left the air conditioners on overnight to dry the place up before the English Course the next day.

Hey, I love you guys and pray that you are doing alright! RenFair looked fantastic from what dad sent to me. I hope that you are having a wonderful time getting all runner-y for the marathon and such.

Love,
Elder Ostergaard


This is the Franc Posse. From left: Martiglen (working to be baptized on the 28th), Franc (will be baptized on the 14th), Leo (working for the 28th), Franc (the member that brought them all).



This is our Shkoder squad in front of the Durres chapel (it is actually built by the Church and is beautiful). From the back left: Leo (I), Franc (I), Martiglen (I), Me, Erion (I), President Kraja, Elder Szabo, Mariglen (I), Elder Wilcox, Kujtim (I) Middle from left: Sister White, Sister Vjerdha (I), Sister Maxwell, other lady (I) Bottom from left: Arsen, Franc, Noj, Elder Walley.

(I) after their name means investigator.

We be a-lookin' good.

Monday, March 2, 2015

#85

Hello Everybody!

This past week we had a bit rougher week numbers-wise (only 14 in church and fewer people taught about the Gospel than we would wish) but there were also miracles!

Do you remember a guy named Mariglen that was mentioned last week? Well this week he came to church in a white shirt and tie, and he was looking good! Being Fast Sunday he took part in fasting and actually bore his testimony during Sacrament Meeting (not totally positive if that is kosher or not...but we aren't Jewish anyway so I am cool with it). In his testimony he mentioned that 2 months ago he didn't really have any kind of relation with his Heavenly Father. This was partially due to the fact that the closest church to his hometown was an hour away by car. However he said that as he has learned from the scriptures over these past months he has discovered and strengthened that relationship. How awesome is that? People are changed by the Gospel. Truly.

This upcoming week we will be able to go to stake conference! It is actually going to be the first stake conference since the conference where the stake was actually formed (that was along time ago, before I was in Fier) and it is going to be awesome! We have talked to our investigators and members about wearing the uniform of the Priesthood, so we are hoping to take a lot of well and properly dressed men down to that meeting! It is pretty amazing how many steps there are in the Gospel/Church, different ways that the Lord asks us to act that bring us a little bit closer in line to His way. Here at the beginning stages a whole lot of those steps are very apparent. In fact, just about every time we meet with these people they are invited to do something that will very noticeably change their life and how they worship God. That is a whole lot of change. The cool thing is that when people have the Spirit with them, they are willing to make those changes. The Lord is so so patient with us though, and thank goodness because we forget so often the importance of different elements of the Gospel or even the elements themselves and He totally lets us take another stab at it. Beautiful huh?

Last night we were able to go tracting a little bit. We knocked on the door of this family and the wife opened the door. The husband was there too and consented to let us come in. We tried our best to have a spiritual lesson with three young kids running around and hitting each other in the nose with tv remotes. The husband turned out to be the most interested and we had his eye contact just about the entire time. At the end of our testifying about the Restoration and how prophets were given once again to the earth by a loving God along with His Priesthood power, the husband was willing to accept a return appointment...but the wife fought and said they weren't interested to hear anymore. It was so sad to see this man who had apparently seen something in the message allow another's agency to overcome his. We left a Joseph Smith pamphlet (my favorite one), an English course flier (which has a map to the church on it) and our telephone number. So, if he acts on promptings of the Spirit he will have a way to get in contact with the missionaries. Someday down the line something will happen to continue working on that seed that has been planted in his heart.

This week we will be re-opening our English course, so we are hoping and praying those that are chosen by the Lord will be led to it!

Love you so much everybody! Missions are great! I highly recommend them. 4 stars! Two enthusiastic thumbs up! If you could I would ask that you keep a prayer out for Mariglen, Adriatik, Franc, and Leo. They are working to be baptized on the 14th of March. Thanks so much!

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

These were taken by Elder Wilcox while one of the little kids that sells roasted almonds on the street came up and became converted by the word of God.

Monday, February 23, 2015

#84 I'll Build You a Rainbow

Dear Family,

Hey, it's Elder Ostergaard again! It probably doesn't feel like it has been that long between installments...because it hasn't. It is way too short actually. However, this past week has had a bit of action, so that is good, mostly.

Last week I was able to tell you about a cool guy named Franc. He is still cool. Today I would like to tell you about 2 other cool guys named Adriatik and Mariglen. I mentioned a couple weeks ago that there were two guys in our English Course that we had big hopes for. Well, They have been coming to church almost every week (except for the times when they have to go home to their fshat (village) for the weekend). This week we had 3 cool experiences with them. The first was when we had a lesson with them about the Word of Wisdom. They totally understand that we aren't just another church and that truly the blessings of modern-day revelation are desirable. So, as we taught them about this law, though parts of it were a bit hard at first (really just the coffee, here in Albania people just sit around and drink little Turkish coffees all the time, so it requires a change for basically everyone), they understood why and were willing to live it. How cool is that? That is a life-changing thing and they did it because some 14-year-old said he saw God in a grove of trees.

Second, this week we organized a movie night at the church where we put on Ephraim's Rescue (with subtitles, that is how they watch just about everything here anyway) and brought popcorn. Probably about 15 people came, 3 of those being members, and though we were hoping for a bit more, it was fantastic! That film brought in a wonderful spirit and touched many people that watched. There are currently several solid investigators up here in the Shkoder Branch and we are excited for the strength that they will be to this area when they make that first covenant with God in the waters of baptism.

Third. On Sunday President Agalliu, the Second Counselor in the Stake Presidency came to visit Shkoder. Shkoder hasn't seen anyone from the stake in over 6 months (which is not bashing on the stake, they currently have way more on their plates than we can even understand, I guess that is what you get when you are in a brand new stake), but it was such a blessing for those up here to see someone who just knows what he is doing. He was able to set some wonderful expectations for Sunday dress, tithing, etc. During Sunday School when he talked about wearing a white shirt and tie Mariglen leaned over and asked me why we hadn't told him about that because he wanted to do it. He also asked me if he could help to give a talk during Church (I told him that once he was baptized that he sure could!). What a wonderful fire that is being kindled inside of his soul!

We had the opportunity to go see a bit of the opening of a shop/radio station. There was a visit from the Minister of Culture or something and a press conference. While we were there we talked to a couple people and were able to share a message about our Church. We also talked to a guy named Ezra who is from Peace Corps here. He told us about what we did and how he has been able to become effective at it here. He said that the way that he has been able to really become effective is by knowing people. It is so true. A robot can wear a missionary tag and talk to people all day...but the effectiveness would be minimal. We are called on missions at specific times to specific places because we are in fact people with personalities. It is so much easier to see now that the need for being real and being a friend is huge! The Savior was a perfect example of this. He loved and he wasn't afraid to give of himself. Oh, man, there are so many times that I look back at my mission and just wish that I could have learned things earlier...and then I have to take a step back and realize that the Lord does everything in His time. But if you are reading this and are going to go on a mission, heed my words! Don't get caught in the rut of being a robot, even if it seems like you are working crazy hard. Work hard, yes, but do it with a brain and do it with a heart that is willing to give.

I love you guys and hope that you won't freeze to death. However, you might be lucky, because maybe you will just freeze and then be in a sort of frozen coma and then just wake up when you thaw out. Good luck in swim Brigham and Grant!

Love,
Elder Ostergaard


(one's a little blurry, but cute expressions)

Monday, February 16, 2015

#83

Dear Family,

This week has indeed been a good week. Nothing too crazy, and we did see some lulls in the work, but there are definitely blessings everywhere. I want to tell you about one of them.

Franc is our most progressing investigator. He is the friend of another guy named Franc in our ward and is a big 20-year-old guy (we get along). This past week there were some planning problems as we tried to send both members and investigators down to Durres for a YSA activity. It ended up making some of them pretty disappointed and several didn't come to church which was a shame. Franc, however came by himself. After the meetings (which in total last about 1.5 hours still) we sat down with him and taught him the Word of Wisdom. Franc has a baptismal date for the 7th of March and we knew that he at least smoked a bit and drank coffee (because he is a living, breathing boy in Albania...it generally comes in a package deal). However, as we taught and committed him to live this law he knew that it was something that he needed to do and said he would live it. We asked him how he was going to overcome this smoking and coffee especially and he said that he was going to pray about it. Perfect answer. He is so humble and just wants to be better. Elder Szabo called him up later that night and asked him how he was doing with it. He told Elder Szabo that he had thrown away his cigarettes. How awesome is that?

It has been warming up here in Shkoder. That has no relevance to the email, I was just trying to throw salt on freeze burn there in Michigan. Haha, just kidding. Because it has been warmer, there have been more people out and about in the last couple of days. This city is pretty lively and it is exciting. We are working to be public in how we work, to be seen! I think that is such a sad part of many missionaries' missionary work because they are just so afraid to think that someone might actually see that they are there with a book. Isn't that the point though? I mean I totally have my fears, I am no Abinadi that just threw himself in front of everybody, but I think that we should all try to be! Just because someone is naturally shy doesn't mean that God was trying to prevent them from being a good missionary in that way, but because He really knows that they will grow by overcoming that barrier. Tad R. Callister gave a talk in the MTC several years ago called Becoming a Consecrated Missionary. It is fantastic. It is also a bit of a spiritual 2x4 that whacks you between the eyes. One of the things that he mentioned was that a consecrated missionary is focused on the work of salvation so much that every conscious thought is based on it. That is a lot of thoughts. I have been working over this past week to be better at that, and I don't know if I am any better, but I am trying to be!

Well, that is about all of the excitement here on the Shkoder front. This is a land of miracles, and the hand of the Lord is just everywhere. I will often come back to the apartment at the end of the night and as Elder Szabo and I kneel to pray together before we plan for the next day and I think about the blessings that have been poured out upon us just feel so inadequate and unworthy of the blessings that the Lord has seen fit to lay upon us. It makes me want to be better. A lot better. Over the last many months realizing the amount of growth that is necessary has been very humbling and grateful for the promise of eternities in which to do so.

I love you so much everybody!
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, February 9, 2015

#82 Blessings out the wazzoo continue

Hello Dearest Family,

I hope that you have been having a terribly wonderful week wherever in the world you may be. This week like every other week the hand of the Lord was definitely present (you'd think that He would forget now and then, but He never does). I am so grateful to be a missionary.

We have had the wonderful opportunity to work with a good amount of investigators that are progressing well towards making a covenant with Heavenly Father in the waters of baptism. A lot of them are thanks to Franc. I have mentioned Franc before, but he is still being a stud member missionary and has wonderful ideas of how to accelerate the work of salvation here in Shkoder. A lot of them aren't possible at least from the side of young full-time missionaries, but they are still great ideas and really make me take a step back and think about what sort of member missionary I want to be.

This week we had 21 people in church which is great! A really beautiful tender mercy that happened was watching our investigators come in. We can't do a whole lot to get investigators to church within the first 20 minutes of the meeting (when we are often going out and calling or fetching investigators somewhere) because I have to be on the piano and we have to help with the Sacrament. However, as I sat there on the piano bench we saw exactly as many investigators as we had set a goal for the previous week walk through the door. The principle of setting goals has been something that I have not understood at all most of my mission and still probably don't get that well, but one thing that i do understand is that when we set a goal and work to achieve it we show the Lord what we think we can do with His help and that faith is then turned into results through his miraculous power.

One cool lesson experience that happened this week was with these two boys from English Course named Adriatiku and Mariglen. They are about 20 years old and are in Shkoder for school. In the city where they live the nearest church is 40 km away and so they were not raised with a whole lot more than a very basic Christian belief. However, they are good boys and we have been teaching them for the last couple weeks, they have been to church the last two weeks, and have accepted to work towards a baptismal date. In a lesson that we had recently we were going over the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it just felt rigid and rough (I am sure that anyone who has ever taught anything knows what I mean). So in the middle of the lesson we just changed gears. The shift in conversation allowed for Mariglen to testify of the change that he has seen in his life since the first time he prayed in our first lesson. What a beautiful sound to the ears of a missionary! So often it feels like we are beating against a brick wall, but when we see that the Lord has softened the heart of a soul it is just like "oh, thank goodness!"

Well, That is about all that I have got for you now! I hope that today you are able to look back and see the enabling power of the Atonement in the events that were experienced. If you are not sure what that means, I encourage you to look it up. It'll be worth your time.

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, February 2, 2015

#81

Dear Family,

Hey everybody, this past week has been a bit of a roller-coaster. We had some good stuff happen such as having 18 in church which wasn't as many as last week, but it is our second best. We also had a large multi-zone conference which was pretty cool. One of the things that President Weidmann did was have us watch the Meet the Mormons movie. It was really good! It does a really good job of answering questions that investigators or potential investigators could have about us, and it does it in a very chill and natural way. Another thing that we discussed was chapter 11 in Preach My Gospel and helping people to make and keep commitments. In case you did not know this, that is a very difficult but essential part of missionary work. One thing that really stuck out to me in my pre-study of this chapter was that we can testify and promise blessings on seemingly everything! If something is good and brings someone closer to Christ we can testify about it and promise blessings for that action. It expanded my mind. I could really testify and promise blessings when asking someone to say a prayer in a lesson, to let you into their house, and the list goes on.

We had a bit of craziness in the district this week. I mentioned that an elder in the district was going through shock. His name is Elder Meyers. This has happened 3 times on his mission and they just sent him home this morning to go figure out what the problem is because they haven't been able to yet. In the meantime, Elder Wilcox (he is the district leader and a really good missionary who has been in the field about 8 months) has been with Arsen, one of the members from Shkoder. Arsen, now Elder Bisha, will be going to Tirana on a mini-mission though and we will be getting a new missionary, Elder Walley, up here. I am glad that I decided to not get sick on my mission so that none of this stuff will happen to me.

I had the opportunity to listen to a talk with Elder Szabo from a BYU Devotional by Craig C. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy. It was incredible. He went over 4 decisions in his life that had shaped him. One of the things that he discussed was his decision to receive as much education as he could. It made me think a whole lot actually. I have been blessed with opportunities out the wazoo to do some pretty cool things in my life. It seems as though either the Lord is saying that either this kid needs every chance possible to learn a thing or two, or He is preparing me to try and be ready to be an effective tool in whatever capacity He may need (probably a little of both). I have come to a rather stark realization that if I do not obtain as much education as possible, I am not making myself as effective of a tool in the Lord's hand and not achieving whatever potential He may have for me. If I do not do my part to find a good job to support my family and have a habit of saving along the way, I will not be able to help others around me. It truly made me understand even more fully what Paul said when he said "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" This moment and each moment is so important to prepare ourselves for the grand work which the Lord wills for us to accomplish. That whole thing didn't come out really as I wanted, but I think that you get the point.

Also, one thing that I have been thinking a lot about in the recent past is agency. I didn't used to think that I had very strong opinions about things in life. That has changed. Haha, it actually makes me smile when I think how much more firm I have become on some things in my life over the course of the last many months. Well, one of those things that I have come to find is my insistence that agency is a gift that God allowed us to maintain upon this earth and is not something that man can either give nor receive. I see missionaries and members so often be afraid to ask commitment...as if it were the least bit in their power to grant another the freedom of agency and they are afraid to bind it down. We must be bold in our message because no matter how much one asks, expects, or even "forces" another to do, agency is still present. That is something that can neither be given nor taken by another. It is innate and natural. When we show forth bold invitation, we do not bind someone's agency down, but rather require its being exercised. So, be bold.

Hey everybody, you guys are great. Today there is going to be something that is going to push you to make a change in your life in order to better your standing with the Lord. When you receive that little nudge I urge you to not overlook it, but to have the courage to follow it, even if it is a bit uncomfortable.

Love you so much,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, January 26, 2015

#80

Hello everybody!

So do you remember how our sacrament hall seats 27 people? Well, yesterday I had the opportunity to serve as the deacon and pass the sacrament to the congregation. When I finished this I brought it up to the other missionaries that blessed it and took for myself the very last water cup! We had 27 in church! How awesome is that! Wanna know a crazier thing? 2 of them were members (the other members were sick/in Tirana) and 6 of them missionaries... the rest were investigators! Many of them were young children, and so we are still a bit up in the air as to what is going to happen with this in the future, but for now, this is a huge blessing!

Our English Course has continued. The numbers have settled down a bit but we are still at about 80 people attending, and that is way solid. There are a couple of guys around our age that come to the course that just seem like really good guys. We invited our entire course to come to church, and then the Sisters saw them on the road on Saturday and invited them again and they came! I sure hope that we can help them to accept the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that was restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith when the world was once again ready to accept the loving, outstretched hand of their Maker.

We recently listened to a talk where it was mentioned that the speaker has questions, a lot of them, about the Gospel. He said that he didn't have doubts but that he had a lot of questions and I thought that that was beautifully stated. I have been noticing that in the recent past a lot. I have had a lot of questions in the recent past that I just could not wrap my mind around. They weren't doubts, I wasn't worried that the Church's foundation was shaking, I just don't understand a lot of things. Bruce R. McConkie stated that doctrinal truths must be learned in a spiritual way. Elder Anderson in the most recent General Conference said something similar when he said that "spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God". A lot of these questions that I ask I can't figure out in my mind. My logic just doesn't cut it. However, after prayerful study and sometimes a bit of time, the answers come. I think that it is interesting how Moroni mentions in his promise in Moroni 10 that one of the key ingredients to an answer is faith in Christ. Questions are expected, in fact a question was the catalyst for the restoration of this Church, but questions must be asked in faith.

He Dad, I did get that second package and those bolos are fantastic! Thank you so much and Elder Rawlings (though I am not sure if he has actually gotten it yet) is way excited for it.

As for talking with the mayor, we tried to go to the municipality and set up a meeting with him. They told us when we came back that it wasn't allowed for preaching to happen with the mayor. We tried to explain that that is not what we were trying to do, but they didn't really care too much. So we are going to send the other Elders in (so that way they don't recognize us and turn us down before we even ask) and have them talk to somebody else about it and make sure it is explained clearly what we are trying to do.

We were blessed to have many new investigators this past week. Some of them don't look too promising, but we are hopeful for several of them! Oh, and President has asked for an effort to find a new building here in Shkoder, so we will see what goes on with that. If we can get a larger area in a more central location it could be a big blessing to this city for sure. That is super cool that you talked with President. He is such an incredible man and truly helps me to better understand my relationship with my Heavenly Father and how to better magnify my calling as a missionary. You know that saying how you don't treat a man how he is, you treat him how you want him to become? Well, he does that, and it works. So do it.

Yesterday an Elder up here in Shkoder actually went into shock and started having spasms (we think it was from low blood-sugar) and we had to run over and help him out there. He should be doing all right now, but he will be in Tirana for a bit to make sure that he is doing all right.

Well, family, you guys are great. I think that there must be some prayers directed this way because miracles truly are happening. Please pray that we will be strong enough to do all that the Lord has in store for us up here!

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, January 19, 2015

#79

Dear Family,

This past week showed the Lord pouring His blessings out so much that we did not have room enough to receive it, pretty literally!

We started passing out English course fliers about a week and a half ago and we only had 3000 fliers and I am a fan of having a lot of fliers (advertising really is what it is all about, totally learned that on my mission) so we went and got another 3000. We got those fliers to anyone and everyone we could and by Tuesday we ended up with probably about 500 left over between the companionships. I knew that at least some people were going to come because we had been getting some calls about it. However, on Tuesday at 3:00 we showed up an hour early at a round-about close to the Church to make sure people were going to be able to find the Church (it is not in the most conspicuous place in the world). So as a couple of side notes, in Shkoder, to any kind of recent memory, they hadn't seen more than 15 people come to the course and the building has 4 rooms...the sacrament hall, the Sunday school room, the branch president's office/kitchen, and the bathroom. Well we stood there and people started coming. And they kept coming. We got a call from the elders in the Church saying that they were having troubles with space. Every seat was filled, people standing in the rooms, filling the hallway, and many people who couldn't even get into the Church. We couldn't get a good count that first day, but we have guesses of it being something around 120 or so. We ended up just telling everybody that we were going to get start the course on the Thursday with the different levels happening at different hours. On Thursday we did get a count of 122 and think that probably about 150 people totally had showed face between the first two days. Ridiculous. That is so cool. We ended up having to make the course a 3-hour deal with a total of 5 different classes. It is all about advertisement.

One really unexpected blessing from English Course was in the shape of a 20-year-old named Noj. Noj is one of the few members here in Shkoder and has been inactive for various reasons for a while. Well, his friends got fliers and told him about the course. He asked where it was and when they told him he was told them that that is where he went to church. He came to the course and to Church as well. I was talking to Elder Szabo about it, and if the only thing that comes out of English Course (passing out 5500 fliers and having 150 show up) is that one less-active member decided to come back, it would totally be worth it.

Other than that, we had 14 people in Church. So no record this week, but still pretty good and next week we are going to get that next record, count on it. Just for your knowledge, the Sacrament hall currently sits 27 people and if we stuffed it with chairs we could probably load it with 36. So that is what we are going for. Can you imagine the excitement if we stuffed church like we stuffed English course? That would be so amazing!

Do you remember that member named Franc who brought his friend to Church and referred several others to us as well? Well it looks like he will be staying here for good now which is going to be such a blessing for this branch! His friend that he brought came again and really enjoyed it and accepted to work to be baptized in February. Another blessing.

One thing that I have been thinking about is something that stems from another blessing. We we have had a previously unheard of (for two of us at least) amount of success tracting the last several weeks. However, as people have let us in and we have shared a message with them, it just feels like the message is getting to their inner ear...and then stopping. Enough so that they hear it but that is as far as it gets. I feel like the Gospel is something that, if understood correctly, should either make someone really excited, or terribly offended. With this message, there really isn't a whole lot of middle ground, and it kind of hurts to see these people that are essentially spiritually apathetic allowing for the blessings of true doctrine just pass them by. I guess all we can do is teach clearly (President Lee told us to teach not just so that we are understood, but so clearly that the message could not be misunderstood) and with the Spirit, and then let people's agency take over.

I got to give a talk in Church on Sunday (that is going to be a common thing here) and talked about the blessing of membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that was directed toward the investigators present. (Most of the talk was on welfare...just kidding)

I am so grateful to be a missionary. I am also so grateful for the new 2015 mutual album that can be found on www.lds.org/youth/music?lang=eng. Dad, it doesn't snow here, but there are mountains around Shkoder and we can see the snow on them. That is so wonderful that Brigham got his Patriarchal Blessing! That has been a really great thing in my life. Read it often. My prayers are also out for Brother Pennock and I sure pray for his quick recovery.

I love you guys,
Elder Ostergaard