Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hi Family,

How are you? I'm doing really well, as always. Please pass my love on to everyone!

This week I've been thinking a lot about the true value of the gospel. I want to take a little bit of time to share my thoughts. Recently we've had a few families that we've been working with who have run into some really serious struggles. Struggles, that frankly, it seems we can't do a whole lot for. Sometimes we forget the challenges that people face in Madagascar that they don't face anywhere else (at least certainly not in the U.S.) Although I haven't lost faith in the work, I sometimes feel that what we are doing could be misconstrued as unhelpful. Because of that I want to declare that I cannot believe that the gospel is merely a poor substitute for the things in life that bring people real happiness. That what we're doing is merely a patch when what people really need is things that only money or western living can afford. I simply cannot accept that we're peddling a cheap excuse for happiness to cover up the want that separates people. God loves all of us. That's what I have learned from my mission. I have found that the gospel answers all questions, both big and small. Frankly, living in Madagascar has shown me in so many ways, that the little things we think bring happiness really don't matter. I look around at members of the Church here, who really have nothing, and see a happiness in their eyes. That not only enlivens me, but reminds me why I am here. They know that no matter what occurs in this life, they will live together as a family in the next. They know that while they may not have much, someday they will inherit the glory of God. Not a glory of gold or silver, because to God those things have little more value than tin foil. We are co-heirs with Christ, and as such, destined to such a greater glory. In that context, when I consider what the gospel really means to me, it becomes clear that happiness is not something that can be sough after. It is not a collection of affects that once something has lost value in our eyes, is replaced with another "object". True happiness comes from within and has nothing to do with objects. It's the joy the gospel brings. The knowledge that this life is a time of struggles to prepare us for an infinite glory to come. I'm reminded of one of my favorite scriptures in Romans:

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Father.

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

And if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

So, that is my spiritual thought, I've just been thinking why I'm on a mission. Not because I don't understand the reason, but because through better understanding I feel I can do much better work. That's my conclusion. When we understand God, the gospel, and Christ - more importantly when we make sacred covenants with God so that we can become an eternal family - then we receive the blessings that no happiness on earth can bring EXCEPT through making those covenants. Because yes! Even on earth we can receive that paradisaical glory!

(Note from Mom: Alex typically sends his emails at about 2:30am Central time. This Thursday will be the first Thanksgiving that I have spent without the company of one of my children. Admittedly, I am missing Alex more than usual. I set my alarm for 2:30 and hopped online with the hope of email chatting with Alex. I was able to catch him online. He only had a few minutes, but it was great to communicate with him. Following are a few things that he mentioned during our chat.)

It's hard not to miss you during the holidays. Don't worry, I'm not missing you too much. The fact that it's like 20,000 degrees right now makes it hard to convince myself that it's almost December. It has rained sooo hard today. It's ridiculous.

We are not doing anything special for Thanksgiving, No, I did not make an apple pie. We're getting ready to set up a tree on Friday.

Lychees are awesome! The best thing is that they're so cheap. This week I bought a whole basket of lychees for the equivalent of two dollars. When I say basket I mean about 10 gallons plus of lychees.It was ridiculous! We had to carry it for like a kilometer and it was heavy, ha ha.
 (I asked a few follow up questions, and then Alex continued) Most of them are picked in peoples backyards. There aren't really lychee farms, mostly just wild lychee trees. (More questions from me, then Alex's reply) Mom! Property isn't really a concept here! (I just wanted to make sure Alex wasn't trespassing or taking food that belonged to people in need!)

Hugs to all, eat extra Thanksgiving dinner for me. Only one more Thanksgiving after this and then I'll be home with y'all again. Ha ha.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tell us all of the details about your new companion. Where is he from? What's his name? What's it like to be a trainer?
My new companion's name is Razafindretsetra. It's funny because his name is so long that the Malagasies can't even say it. Needless to say, he's from Madagascar. Specifically he's from Fenardon Soi (spelled phonetically). It's a little inland mountain town with two branches that are exploding with new members right now. He's really nice, really smart, and really fun to talk to. Although right now he knows exactly zero English. We're working on that though. It's good practice to speak Malagasy all day everyday. I also find that it's helped my language skills because I have to talk about more mundane things, which opens up a new area of vocabulary. It's hard, however, because honestly we share very little in common as far as experiences go. We've been getting to know each other, and we're doing well. I'll send pictures of us. Right now I'm uploading a bunch of pictures but they won't send. 

Did you get any packages?
I did get a package. The candy and muffins are already gone, of course. Thanks for the socks. (Note from mom: the package Alex finally received is the one I sent on September 11th. It took two months to arrive)

What did Sister Adams cook for you?
Sister Adams made oatmeal and muffins for breakfast. Sloppy Joes for lunch. 

Oh, on the picture front, I'm uploading them but it is going SO SLOW, so I hope you actually get the pictures. 

Now, regarding the week... it started on a sad note, saying goodbye to my trainer Elder Gaul. He was transferred to Tana and is now working in Amboimangakely. I got to drive up with him though because I needed to get my trainee. The bus ride was long. I think I've racked up quite a few frequent rider miles since I've now driven 40 hours on long distance taxi be's. They are, as always, not very comfortable. I have not been able to fall asleep on one yet. I guess that's one of my long term mission goals. Tomatov has been ridiculously humid, but it still hasn't had a whole lot of rain. Our power has been out a lot too, which means a lot of sweating and washing clothes by hand. We got a new stove! This may not sound particularly interesting, but its one of the most exciting things that has happened recently. Especially because the old one would take all of the hair off your hands when you tried to start it. Also, on the exciting new things front, the lychee harvest is in full swing. Today I'm going to try lychees for the first time. Await pictures (if Dropbox ever loads, which I wouldn't count on). Today we're going to the bizarre to buy some stuff. At some point, when I get closer to the end of my mission, I think I'm going to buy a ton of jerseys. It's way funny and you see them everywhere. A Lebron James jersey costs about $5 here as opposed to $50-100 at home. 

We're also preparing for some new baptisms coming up on the 29th, so please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. We are baptizing the grandchildren of our recent convert ward mission leader. Actually, I think he's going to do the baptism. He's really funny. His name is Jean de Dieu. He's smart and kind of looks like an old Malagasy version of Smokey the Bear. He's also really funny because he loves to ask deep doctrine questions from the Doctrine and Covenants, that must then be explained in Malagasy. He also loves to talk about the history of polygamy!''

So that's about all for this week. It was a fun week, very exciting. But I also spent a lot of time on a taxi be. Have a great Thanksgiving. I'm trying not to think about it. Thankfully the blazing temperatures make it feel like it isn't the holidays. Regrettably the vahza supermarket put up Christmas decorations and is playing Christmas music. I think I might make an apple pie this week, but I'm not sure because apples are expensive. Okay, y'all have a good week and I'll talk to you soon!

Monday, November 10, 2014


This week I can honestly say that I miss all of you. I miss spending the holidays with you, but I'm so excited about all that's going on here. It's the kind of "missing you" that makes me want to work harder, not less.

This week has been a little bit of a whirlwind.I'll start with the most exciting news! It's a boy! Okay, pardon the mission lingo, but I'm training. On that front there's so much to say. We found out last night. The AP's wait for all the zone leaders to call in their stats. Then in the order that the stats were received they respond to each zone. We found out around 10:10pm, which was good because I was super tired. Although I had no intentions of going to bed util I had heard the news. I leave Wednesday morning to pick up my trainee. I don't know yet if I'm going to be training an American or a Malagasy. Those decisions will be made by President Adams when he has all the trainers and trainees together. One of the best parts is that means I will get to have Sister Adams' cooking, which I'm very excited for. Hopefully you'll get lots of pictures next week when I meet this new Elder.

Oh, here's a funny story. I actually can't take credit for this one. It comes from Elder Wooten and Elder Christiansen in my zone. A few days ago they were working together when they tracted into someone rather strange. At first he seemed like just a nice old man, but then they got talking. It turns out that he has some interesting... beliefs... More specifically he told them that Malagasies are extra terrestrials, but the vahzas (white people) cut off the Malagasies communication with the aliens, and that our church was a tool of white enslavement and separation from their alien forefathers. I love Madagascar! I don't think many people have the opportunity to work with such exciting people. On the other hand we have some really great investigators coming along right now. Don't get the impression that everything is so crazy, but it's certainly not a "normal" experience!

Speaking of Madagascar as not being a normal experience, most of the sheer craziness has worn off. Today a man ran through the busiest road in Tomatov because his hat had blown off. He nearly caused a pile up, causing pusses, tuc tucs, and semis to swerve everywhere. I didn't think anything of it. When I saw someone with an entire butchered cow on the back of his bicycle (you'll have to trust me on this; it was a whole cow!), I thought nothing of it. I will say, however, that I was taken back on Sunday. I was on the third floor of our church, zoning out in our Gospel Principles class (don't judge me - ha ha), when lo and behold the palm tree out the window started shaking. All of the sudden a Malagasy ran up it. He was harvesting coconuts. He just walked right up it paying not mind to the fact that he was 40 feet in the air. Regrettably, my camera was out of batteries because the power has been out almost all week. Needless to say it was a very funny and surprising sight.

I'm doing really well, though. I'm happy and loving the work. I'm also excited because in no time at all it will be Christmas, and you know what that means... (phone calls!) I'm really focused and can honestly say that I'm happy with the work that I have put in thus far. Things are just starting to get hard now. I need to be the senior companion now and step it up!

Elder Ahlstrom

Thursday, November 6, 2014

(Note from mom: On Monday Alex had difficulty trying to upload photos to his Dropbox account. Today these photos appeared in the account. Odd but I'm not complaining!)

P-day lunch at Foulpointe

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

(Note from mom: Frustration on the picture front! Alex is having difficulty uploading pictures to Dropbox. It is unclear if there is an issue with his Dropbox account or if this is a result of antiquated Mada computers. Hopefully there will be many pictures to post next week!)

I think I am FINALLY not sick! I haven't been sick all week. I'm trying really hard to take care of myself because missions are hard when you feel like death! I would like more NyQuil if you could send some. I've been out since just after I arrived in Mada because I've been sick so much.

Answers to the Potter family's questions:
First, please send my love! In my branch there are between 60-80 members. Yeah, it fluctuates a lot. In all of Tomatov there are about 700 members. The church is, needless to say, very young here. Our mission President focuses on what he call centers of strength. We focus on helping districts become stakes and helping build the Priesthood. Before President Adams there were more baptisms, but not the infrastructure necessary to support them. We're working very hard to put forth the necessary effort to hopefully get a temple in Madagascar one day. I can say that working here has taught me the power of the Priesthood, families, and the temple. The blessings received from each not only build the church but ultimately (and most importantly) build the people of Madagascar. That is the real goal.

I have seen some African animals. First off, there are geckos everywhere! They're really great though because they kill the flies and cockroaches, which are also everywhere. I have seen some lemurs. They are pretty rare in the city. I actually saw one as a pet. They're really smart and friendly, although I didn't touch that one because I wasn't sure if it was safe. In Tana you can go to lemur parks and they'll eat honey out of your hand. They're very friendly! I have also seen huge bugs! The rhinoceros beetle, which is huge, and some giant moths (although not the foot long moths - yes, they exist here.) Again, those are pretty rare in the city. Madagascar doesn't quite have "African animals" like lions and elephants because it's an island, but it does have amazing plant life. I essentially live in an African jungle. The humidity is always 100%, and I sweat. A lot - ha ha. But it's super fun and I love Madagascar.

As far as the people go, they are SUPER short! The average height is about 5 feet. I have a picture of me with a bunch of members, but I'm having trouble sending it. Hopefully you will be able to see it next week. I tower over everyone. It's kind of funny. My height combined with being white means that pretty much everywhere I go people stare at me. Most people really haven't seen that many white people and certainly not ones that speak Malagasy. When I start speaking peoples mouths drop. Also, they usually try to speak to me in broken, very broken, French.

So as I said, this week was good. Finally we were able to get back to work. One of the positive and unexpected side effects of being sick was that my Malagasy feels like it has magically gotten better. It's really just that for the first time in weeks my body is functional. The work is going well. We have transfers next week. The coolest thing that happened this week, although not mission related, is that we went to Fulpointe as a zone today. It's a really nice beach just north of Tomatov. The other Elders go a lot, but it was my first time. It was a very relaxing way to spend preparation day. We had lobster and shrimp caught just feet away. I have lots of cool pictures from it that I'll send when I can get the card reader to work. Also, the water is really shallow. I can walk into it really far without the water being above my knees, which is the deepest we are allowed to go in the water. It's really refreshing to feel the water, although if I had to work on the beach everyday it would be a lot of temptation - ha ha.. I still like being so close to the water. It's so relaxing to sit on a lounge chair and write letters! Speaking of that, I have a letter for everyone. I'm sending it today. So yeah, things have been good lately.

Oh, one thing that dad can feel common missionary sympathy for... a "miracle healer" from the U.S. is coming to Tomatov. Her front team has been everywhere putting up posters all over the place, including (and this will tell you a lot about Mada), over the speed limit signs in the middle of town. She's throwing a faith and miracle party where she will "heal" people. Really it's probably just going to start a bunch of riots. As you can see, I'm not very happy about it. Frankly, she's really coming to take people's money. I kept one of her posters as a souvenir because it captures a lot of the religious chaos present in Mada. There are lots of healings, magic, miracles, witchcraft, etc here. We don't really associate with it (obviously), but we see a lot of it. I've been proselyted by a lot of churches.

Okay, well now I'm really done. Can't wait to hear from you soon. People will be coming down from Tana so I should receive any packages or letters that have made it here. I'll let you know.

Elder Ahlstrom