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!

Elder Ostergaard

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

Monday, February 16, 2015


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 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.

Elder Ostergaard

Monday, February 2, 2015


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 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