Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The most exciting thing that has happened this week is that we had transfers. I will be staying in Betongolo. My new companion is Elder Stokes. I've only met him a couple of times and we don't actually change until Tuesday. I think transfers in Madagascar take more coordination than they do in America -ha ha.

I got to watch President Adams play basketball this week. That was pretty unusual. We are doing a lot of tracting and trying to revamp our program. We're also continuing to help get the MLS up to date. I'm working on reading all of handbook 2. I know that may strike you as strange, but it's a great book. And it's not just Madagascar that needs it. I see things that every ward I've ever been in doesn't do. I strongly encourage everyone, leader or otherwise, to familiarize yourself with it. It is amazing.

I finally saw General Conference. It was great. I really focused on the introspective talks. I thought they were really good. I think my favorite talk was Elder Eyring's about prayer. It makes me want to pray for a purpose. I have found that when I pray for a true purpose and foster the feeling of true conversation that it makes prayer much more valuable. I have already seen answers to prayer and greater guidance from trying to focus on the actual meaning behind what I'm saying and not just "talking". It's been very worthwhile, but it's much harder.

What fun thing happened in the office this week? Well, we don't always work in the office. Although I feel like most of my stories come from it. Not a whole lot of exciting stuff has happened, but we taught a really amazing lesson about faith. We discussed the difference between faith and the power of faith. I described the power of faith as the actual using of faith in an active sense, whereas just having faith is very passive. I said that most people in Mada believe that if you're baptized and have faith that that's enough. There is a scripture in James that I love mostly because it's so sarcastic. (This is my translation of the Malagasy. I don't actually know it in English so maybe it's not the same.) It says that you say you have faith in God, that's good, but the demons also believe in God. So then what does faith really profit you? I think it's a very biting question but gets you to think. We talked about how the power of faith is being able to act without knowledge. Acting solely on trust but then receiving a witness, which is after all our purpose here on earth.

I got my white suit for the temple and it is way nice. Very cool! I'm trying to upload some pictures so stay tuned. Hopefully you guys are doing well! I can't wait to Skype. It's only two weeks away-ish!

Aza anadino, tiako ianareo - don't forget, I love you (plural)

Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, April 20, 2015

Will's card

Tom's card

Mom's card

Emma's card

Dad's card is still in transit

First off, I'm glad that you got your letters! I wasn't sure that they would be thin enough for the postage. It was exciting to see the photos of them. There was a little lady selling them on the side of the road in the market section of the city. I knew that you guys would like them. The cool little things that people make here are amazing. One of my favorites is little airplanes and cars that are made out of old soda cans. They are very impressive. Lots of people here just make some little random handmade craft to supplement their income. In regards to purchasing things, one thing many missionaries get here are handmade suits.They cost fabric plus about $30 US dollars. Last week my companion talked me into getting one. I really wanted to get a white one for the temple. I hope it looks good. I get to pick it up today so expect pictures next week. Last week we got it fitted. Before that I got the fabric. Also, because of that we'll be up in the really old part of the city. I think we are going to go sight seeing a little bit while we are up there. 

This week was calmer than last . We didn't have any fun road trips or anything like that to report. One thing that did happen, however, is that we saw a little soccer riot in our area. As I'm sure you can imagine, soccer is a very big deal here. We have a rather large patch of dirt in our area which is often used for playing big games. When there is a game everyone comes out to watch. Yesterday we were visiting an investigator who actually lives on the soccer field.When we got there, there was a huge game going on. Over the course of our conversation with the investigator something happened. I don't know what. That led to someone getting a red card. As I'm sure you can imagine that just set everyone off. Everyone stormed across the chalk line onto the field. And well, I don't really know what happened after that. One other cool thing is that one of the teams was Comorian. Comoros is a little island chain north of Madagascar. The people there are Muslim and speak a wild language that is a combination between Arabic, Malagasy, and French. They almost always are able to speak French. We have a lot of them in our area. That is why I've been trying to work on my French. Anyway, they were at the soccer game yesterday. As we walked by them it felt for a moment like we were in Somalia or something. It felt way weird and way cool. Comorians are really, really dark and really, really tall. Fun fact, they have amazing teeth. Anyway, Betongolo is such a cool area. You get to see things that you wouldn't get to see in very many other places. It was very fun. 

One last thing. I teach English every Tuesday and sometimes on Wednesday. Usually I teach the beginners, but this week I wanted to mix things up so I taught the more advanced class. We spent our two hour class working on translating the Book of Mormon from English to Malagasy. It was really fun. We were able to talk a lot about how to translate and how to maintain the integrity of the translation. And how you can't just translate the words, you have to translate the meaning. It was also really unique because we were able to talk about how when you translate you have to think about what the original author meant, not what you think he should have meant. For example, in Malagasy there are essentially two ways to translate 'in front of' or 'before' as it is said in English. The difference is that one means physically in the presence of, the other is less literal. That can be an interesting idea when looking at a Trinitarian versus God with a physical body point of view. It also becomes clear how things can really easily get lost in translation. I will never be a translator. It is way too hard. But it was fun nonetheless. In one and a half hours we translated three verses. After we were done everyone was very tired, but they said they really enjoyed it.

That's what's happening here. I can't wait to hear from all of you again soon. Again, I'm glad you liked your cards. Have a great week. Let me know if you have any questions or want to know anything else. 

Elder Ahlstrom

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Thank you for your letters. It's always great to hear from everyone. I have two stories this week. First, I want to tell you about how awesome the Clowards are. They're one of the senior couples here. Elder Cloward is a water park builder. (You should look him up.) He is now serving as the financial clerk for the mission, which  I can say, essentially means fire fighter/ miracle worker. Sister Cloward is just all around awesome and the mission grandma. I work with them a lot because most of the office work revolves around helping them. One project in particular is determining the identity and number of all members in Madagascar and entering them into the MLS. I can't say that all office work feels fulfilling, but helping find lost members is really hard. It is also very worth it. It takes a lot of calling. Trying to find 10,000 people in a country without birth certificates and a 60% literacy rate can be hard. It takes my entire problem solving skills and watching a lot of people who are smarter than me make decisions. It's an amazing learning experience. It pretty much consists of meeting with President Adams, Elder Cloward, Frede (the doer of all things, office assistant, speaker of five languages, all around awesome), the AP's and us trying to figure out this problem. The most recent installment of our quest to help find everyone was to travel to Moramanga, a recently created branch. This Sunday I got to go with the Clowards and Elder Morley (one of the AP's). It was really fun. First it was fun because we just joked and drove down Malagasy streets (which are a joke) on a sort of road trip. Malagasy roads are always fun. We saw a trailer that had run away from its truck if you catch my drift. That was pretty exciting. Anyway, I can't tell you everything because as a mission we decided that talking about Malagasy roads is probably not a good way to get parents excited about missionary service. Sister Cloward made cookies and sandwiches for the trip. It was the first time I have had pickles in like 10 months. I like pickles. I didn't know I liked pickles, but... I like pickles. Once we got there we met an amazing Branch President. He didn't have a computer, but he knew that records were important. So he meticulously cataloged every member baptismal date, etc. for years. It was much better than we had expected. We had been prepared to essentially rebaptize a branch. They were very excited and had worked very hard to prepare everything. They are an awesome little Branch. I am always so happy to see the church in these far flung places. The clerk that we were helping train had literally never turned on or even seen a computer in his entire life. They were all so willing to do whatever it would take to get the church growing. I'm very impressed by the faithfulness of so many. It was a really pretty drive to a place way out of the way, which missionaries rarely get to see. It's an amazing area and part of the church.

The other, and much shorter, thing that happened this week is that we have been teaching two young men. They are also really nice, and they are preparing for baptism. Their guardian is already a member. They are both orphans from way out in the middle of nowhere. As we are preparing them, however, one of the things has been a little difficult is their lack of education. It has been especially difficult to explain tithing to them. They do not understand how to divide. They can divide by two, but they can't divide by any other number. We have been trying to help them understand. Anyway, to make a long story short, last night in our lesson I took a pile of rocks and taught them how to divide (or tried to). I wish I had more basic explanation skills. It's hard enough to teach division in English let alone in Malagasy to someone who has never even considered it or heard of it before. They're going to be ready. Hopefully they can perfect the skill of division later. Regarding learning, however, it would be much appreciated if you wanted to send a French grammar book. I've been trying to use more French, but it's hard.

Have a great week. One month from nowish we'll get to chat. Plus it will be my birthday so bake a cake or something. Keep working hard and being happy!

Elder Ahlstrom

Thursday, April 9, 2015

I hope you are all doing well. A few amusing things happened this week. As I write you, a huge party is going on right by us. Today is Lundi de Paques. I don't know if this is a holiday anywhere else in the world, but it is a huge deal here. I'll try to explain it. Imagine all of the excited anticipation of Christmas, the concerts of the 4th of July, and the alcoholism of St. Patrick's Day all rolled into one. It's a pretty crazy deal! Thankfully the Church is throwing a really big party to give people a safe alternative to all the craziness. I will say though, it seems pretty fun. Regarding the party, however, here is a little taste of Madagascar for you. They announced the party in church yesterday and invited everyone to bring food. There would be games, music, etc. Well, right after that, the Stake High Councilor stood up and informed everyone that were not allowed to go to the ward party because the stake had a party. Thus, the official church party was at the stake center. Well, the ward didn't like that. The Bishop stood up, told the stake that they always take too long to plan parties and the wards always have to step in, so we're doing our own thing. Then the First Councilor in the Bishopric stood up and had everyone SUSTAIN the party they were going to (I'm not sure that's how common consent is supposed to be used), and then promptly closed the meeting before anyone could say anything else. All in the Sacrament meeting! So yeah, things can be very fun.

I made tacos this week. They were really good! People here eat lots of beans and I found one kind of bean that tastes really good as a substitute for pinto. Other than that our Easter wasn't a whole lot of fun. (note from mom: sadly Alex still hasn't received his Easter basket that I mailed five weeks ago. I have to get his birthday package in the mail or it will be late too!) It's hard. Most members can't afford to feed the missionaries and it isn't necessarily a good idea for us to eat the food. So, I had oatmeal for Easter dinner. Good thing the sheer awesomeness of Madagascar makes up for it - ha ha. Have a great week and very shortly we'll be able to Skype. Be safe and be well.

Elder Ahlstrom

Thursday, April 2, 2015

This is the "great and spacious building"
that I mentioned in a previous letter

Responses to questions:

How is your weight? I've actually gained weight since I've been in Tana. There are a lot of resources that I didn't have access to in Toamasina. My companion and I have found a secret in Madagascar. The way to stay healthy and yet not eat like a rich Frenchman all the time is to enjoy Malagasy food. But with just a little more respect for, you know, sanitation. We have found that our palates and allotment pretty much place us firmly in the Malagasy middle class. Now, the Malagasy middle class is obviously very small, but it does exist. Mostly it's comprised of wealthier Malagasies and foreigners not from Europe (specifically people from Comoros or West Africa.)We found this awesome little place where we've been eating (sort of restaurant,sort of hotely).They cook Malagasy food, but they wash the plates with soap and use filtered water. It's really good. We also found a little creamery in our area that sells milk, and it's pasteurized! It's not the French stuff that you can get from the way overpriced supermarket. But it's also not straight from the teat! Also, it's creamy, not nuclear waste infused like the other stuff. We've just been looking to see where foreigners, but not rich foreigners, eat. The milk is the thing I'm most excited about. I've been telling everyone.

What was something significant that happened this week? This isn't really spiritual, but it relates more to our human condition. This week I had two really unique opportunities to share learning with some people. There's a really nice family that lives very near to us. They live and work in a store in a bazaar. I've never seen them not there. They're really nice people and sometimes they offer us free food and other things. They don't have a lot, but they really try to help us. They're just good friends. Anyway, we talk to them every day as we walk home. Last week on p-day I bought a dictionary that is Malagasy to Malagasy. I'm really excited to use it and improve my language skills. It will allow me to read things that are harder for me without having to switch back to English to translate them. Anyway, we were walking home and the family saw the book. They were very interested when they saw it because first, it was in Malagasy and second, two vazha had it. One gentleman was eating at their stand. (He may have been a wee bit inebriated.) He could not wrap his head around the idea that a white person could speak Malagasy or read a book in Malagasy, even though we were having the whole conversation in Malagasy. He also didn't understand how you could have a book explaining words without it being a multilingual dictionary. (There are a lot of French to Malagasy dictionaries here.) The interesting thing was that he mostly wanted to argue about how the book that I was holding in my hand couldn't exist. He didn't think it made sense. How can you define the word fish because a fish is a fish, right? While the gentleman and I were talking about the book, the wife, with a baby on her back, kneading dough for the next day, opened the book and just started reading. I don't think she has ever learned something in a formal environment.She was fascinated by the book. I practically had to tear it away from her when it was finally time to go. It was interesting to see someone who had basically never learned anything in an organized setting become so fascinated by reading the dictionary. (An idea that in the U.S. is synonymous with boredom and weirdness.) She was absolutely fascinated that there was more to learn about the world, not in French or English, but in her own language that she uses every day. I loved it. I also have such a greater appreciation for learning. I don't think that woman was secretly Einstein, but I know that she is a daughter or God, which in the long run means far more. I also know that there are levels of humanity. Some people have more than others. This woman, who has never been to school, had "humanity" because she wanted to learn and grow and make herself better. She may not have known that but I saw it. People who focus their lives on wealth, fame, or anything other than personal and spiritual progression are just missing the mark. That's really all there is to it. This isn't just a message for religious people. and it's also not a message condemning those without faith. If God had wanted another rock on this earth, he would have made one. We don't need to fill that position. He didn't want another rock, he wanted us. So he created you, gave you power to reason and think. And most importantly, he instilled the greatest of all things, agency. So that we can grown for ourselves and become better through our own efforts and learning. Moral agency is by definition the test of mortality. Do we want to be better than we are or are we happy with settling for far less than our potential?

I don't have a lot more time so I'll forego the other questions. I hope you are all well. Also, congrats to Lucas! Lucas, you have made such an important step. You cannot even imagine. And you've made your Father in Heaven very happy. Loceys, you guys are awesome. Have a wonderful week. I'll talk to you all again very soon. Much love!

Elder Ahlstrom