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

Monday, January 12, 2015

#78

Hello Family Dearest,

We started up another week and everything, though it is pretty similar to what it was before in the work, is really different. President Weidmann has been in contact with us and been talking a lot about getting missionary work going on here in Shkoder on a more public front. That is something that I feel like he is a huge fan of. It is a really great idea, and a fairly terrifying reality. I was talking to him on the phone yesterday and he requested that we go and set up a meeting with the mayor of Shkoder as well as with as many important people here in Shkoder as we can. That is not exactly something I am super familiar with doing (I am much more comfortable stopping random people in the street and starting a conversation from scratch. This whole idea about knowing someone's name before meeting with them is just alien.). So, though we have no idea what we are doing, we are going to try to make this 4-member church get known by the head honchos of Shkoder.

Well, other than that, we have been doing a lot of that other, more spontaneous, work which is street contacting and tracting. It is pretty crazy, I have never had so much success in tracting as we have had in the past week and a half in Shkoder. We have gotten into several houses and shared a message about the Savior...but none of them have led to any real success (with one possible exception...we'll see what happens). However, in general, I feel like the work here is pretty similar to the work in Tirana or Fier. Some people listen, a lot of people don't, some girls look at you and see a passport, some boys look at you and say things that make their friends laugh. Same old paradise of missionary work. It is just baffling how a place that seems so similar in the most part to other places has had such little success in the past. This city was opened at the same time as Vlore, a city in the south that has an average church attendance of over 70 or 80. I think that a huge thing is the attitude of missionaries. I feel like, as a general rule, the Lord will not bring miracles to pass to those who are not preparing themselves to receive them. We need to be prepared to receive those miracles by being in the right places with the right Spirit and a willingness to open up your mouth as did Peter (Acts 10:34).

I love the example that Alma the Younger gives to us (when he probably isn't quite so young) after he talks to his son Corianton. He tells Corianton at the end of Chapter 42 that he has been called again by the Lord on a mission. At the beginning of 43 we see this father send his sons out on missions, and then it says that "Alma, also, himself, could not rest, and he also went forth."(verse 1) Alma had just sent out some incredible missionaries and as a father had done his work, especially as he was the High Priest and I am sure had his hands full in that capacity, but regardless of the current medals of service that he wore around his neck, he could not rest. He could not sit and fulfill just part of his calling and potential as a member of the Church/lifelong missionary, but continually was a witness of Christ. Pretty cool. Somewhat daunting when relating that to our calling as representatives of Jesus Christ. In an MTC talk entitled "Feed My Sheep" which preceded a talk of similar message given in General Conference, Elder Holland stated it this way:

Right here, face-to-face, again from the honesty of his heart he {Peter} said, “I do love you, more than anything.”
And to that, the Savior of the world said, “Then feed my sheep! I have asked you before to leave your nets. And I’m asking you again, and I don’t want to ask you a third time. When I said, ‘Leave your nets,’ it was forever. When I asked you to follow me, it was forever. When I asked you to be an apostle, it was forever. When I asked you to be a Missionary, it was forever. When I asked you to see this through to the end, it was because it’s not over ’til it’s over. Now forget your nets, and forget the fish, and jettison your boat, and throw those oars away for the second time, and feed my sheep. We’re in this ’til the end.”

This past week we had Zone Training. Our Zone Leaders let us know of the new mission goal that President Weidmann set with the Lord. It is for each companionship to have 4 baptisms per 3 month transfer. What an incredible goal! The effectiveness of our mission will go up and so many people will be able to come closer to their Savior. So, it you are doing some kind of praying for the people of Albania, I guess my suggestion would be to focus it on this new mission focus.

So, my companion is great. He is pretty young in the mission (but I remember how much I despised people expecting less of me simply because I was a younger missionary, so I won't focus on that). He really wants to do what is expected of him by the Lord and the mission president. He isn't the most naturally extroverted of people, but there has been a huge change over the last week and a half. He is becoming more extroverted in missionary ways meaning that he is so much more open to talking to strangers and overcoming the fear of others. That is such a hard thing to do for just about everyone, and he is taking massive strides. Bravo i qofte!

Well hey family, you guys are great. Brigham and Grant, Dad sent me some of your recent swim times and pictures and you guys are ripping it up in the water there! Bej te fala Elder Sponseller (give him my regards), I can't believe that he is coming home already! Absolutely ridiculous.

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Monday, January 5, 2015

#77

Happy Monday!

It is good to be able to say hello and think a little bit about what has happened in the last couple of days (it has not been long since the last installment).

Church here was awesome! We had seventeen people come which was awesome (6 missionaries, 3 Shkoder members, 1 visiting member, and 6 non-members), That is the most that have come to church in quite a long time and it was a fantastic way to start off this transfer. Church here lasts about 1.5 hours. The Sacrament Meeting is about 60 minutes and then Sunday school runs about as long as it takes to read through the lesson in Gospel Principles (we'll see what we can do to improve that).

One really big blessing that has happened in the last couple days came in the form of a recent convert from Tirana 1st ward named Franc. Franc is Shkodran (meaning a guy from Shkoder) and he came up for the weekend. While he was here he brought a friend to Church, brought another to be taught, introduced us to another guy, and gave us the phone number to a fourth guy and told us to call him and say we were Franc's friend. I don't know if I have ever seen as much member-missionary work fire in somebody before. It definitely made me want to be a better missionary in every aspect. I was recently reading a talk that Elder Bednar gave in the MTC in 2011 called Becoming a Preach My Gospel Missionary (you can actually find it on lds.org) and one of the parts that I really liked had to do with our eternal calling as missionaries. He said that when our release date comes and our tag taken off that we aren't released as missionaries, we just change our role from full-time missionaries to lifelong missionaries. Franc obviously knows that it was something good that he found and his natural reaction is to share it. I want to be the same.

Another cool thing that has happened started while we were searching for the house of a previous investigator. We asked a couple people and finally a lady in this coffee bar (if I haven't sad this there are a crazy huge amounts of coffee bars here) if they knew the person. She said no, but we asked if she would like to learn about the message that we were sharing because we had some cool missionary friends that were girls that would love to come over and talk to here. So, on Sunday night we took the Sisters over there to meet this lady. Her house is actually connected to the bar and she was there with her husband and 2 kids. We were gong to just leave the Sisters to have a lesson, but they were pretty sketched out by the surrounding area (it was pretty dark) and so we stayed and were able to be in the lesson with them. It was a good lesson and it was just a wonderful testimony builder on inviting everyone to learn.

Family, I love being a missionary. I am not very good at it, but I see the Lord throw me bones know and then when I need it. One thing that I have been trying really hard to implement into the work more in the recent past is testifying. I love the word testify. In Albanian the word is d√ęshmoj. It expresses just about exactly what I want it to. I think about a lot of the stuff that we teach, and in many instances I don't know if I could say that I totally know that it is true, but I have faith that it is, it makes a lot of sense that it is, and my conviction of it grows everyday. So maybe I can't always say that I know. But I can say that I testify because I have truly been a witness of the life-changing blessings that the gospel brings to those that embrace it. I testify that Jesus Christ is the Savior. He is the Son of a living and loving God that cares for us and knows what is best for us. The Gospel and fullness of Plan of Salvation have been revealed to chosen children of God and is taught to us in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and through the mouth of modern-day and living prophets. Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ we can be perfected bit by bit and become like that loving Father and His perfected Son. I testify of those things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

Thursday, January 1, 2015

#76 A Change of Scene

Hey Everybody,

Happy New Year! I don't think that I had gotten used to writing 2014 yet, change really throws me off. Well, that is not the only thing that is changing, we got our calls from President Weidmann on Sunday night and I am now chillin' (pretty literally as well as figuratively) in the streets of Shkoder. I am stoked, more than just about any other place in the mission Shkoder needs some serious help. It needs some awesome missionary work, so please pray for us so that we can rip this place to shreds as we plan to!

Shkoder is the most northern city in Albania opened to missionaries. It is probably very similar in size to Fier (I think a bit bigger) and it is a pretty city. There is snow on the mountains, but we haven't seen anything yet by means of frozen precipitation here. It's possible though.

I am now serving with Elder Szabo. He just finished being trained up here in Shkoder and is a good kid. He is actually still 18-years-old, crazy. He is from American Fork and was a lacrosse player there. It is going to be a good transfer. I have definitely been blessed ever since the beginning with incredible companions.

Our house here is in a 3 story villa that is owned by some of the few members here in Shkoder (there are 4 active members: The branch president President Kraja who has been a member for about 14 months, Arsen, a 24-year-old baptized 13 months ago who will be leaving on a mission in a month and a half, and Mimoza and Pal Pali, a middle-aged couple (50's) who were baptized 4-6 months ago). So the Pali's are our landlords which should be fun because they are awesome. As you can probably tell from the member list, there is a lot of good work that can happen in this area. It is so exciting!

I don't really have a whole lot else, oh, yeah, my camera got jacked on a bus my last day in Tirana which is really too bad, whaddya do? I am going to see if I can get that old one to work out. Oh, and here in Shkoder, in order to catch as much sunlight as possible, we have switched the schedule forward an hour so that we wake up at 5:30 and go to bed at 9:30. That also means that our P-days end at 5, so just so that you are aware.

Love,
Elder Ostergaard

P.S. Hey Mom, you asked about the interview being archived. Here is the link to it, but we actually got a dvd of it as well that I will keep.
http://webtv.albanianscreen.tv/pages/videot/target_25_dhjetor_2014/ALB

I have not quite yet gotten the package, Dad, but I am not worried about it yet. Elder Rawlings was sent up to Kosovo anyway, so he won't be getting that bolo for a while anyway.

#75 Christmas Day 2014

Dear family,

This week has been a good week, one of the crazier things was actually when we got a call from a less active member in our ward who is a tv news anchor and he asked to interview us about the He is the Gift initiative We, along with some other sisters her in Tirana went and had a total of about 25 minutes to talk about our church on tv which was super cool and rather terrifying. I would not have thought that it would be that scary to give an interview on tv even with the added barrier that it isn't in my mother tongue, but it definitely was sufficiently frightening. It's all good though, two of the points of good television that Harbi (the anchor) told us were to have a strong message (and what's stronger than the gospel?) and to be visually appealing, or in other words beautiful people. So we destroyed those two points (jokes).

Right now we don't really have a ton of investigators that are moving forward. It is too bad to not see that progression because that is really where the best parts of the mission are. I once said (and thought that it was very lovely so I quote myself often) that the best parts of my mission have not been standing in water. Actually baptizing people is cool, but really the greatest moments have been while watching people find Gospel truths and applying them in their lives. So right now we are just working to help people get to that point.

I am so grateful for Christmas and for the blessings that are available because of the birth of Christ that we celebrate at this time. Thank you so much for your faith and the strength that you show to others especially to me.

Love,
Elder Ostergaard