Thursday, July 16, 2015

I have had a great week. This week the Assistants to the President went to  la Reunion and Mauritius with the new Mission President. That's not normal, but he wanted their help. We have transfers next week. Regrettably, I'm still not leaving because my companion is going home. Yes, Elder Stokes' mission is over. I think I will be leaving this area after the next transfers.

We have some really wonderful people that we are teaching right now. On Saturday we expect to have two baptisms, which is very exciting. It's the family of one of the members. They are really nice people. Their names are Rosaly and Juditte. They are from Southern Madagascar. There isn't a church there so they didn't get baptized with the rest of their family. Also, we are teaching two new families. One really young couple who are both studying to become lawyers, and an older man and his wife. 

So you probably saw that last week I went to a little lemur park. It was super fun. Shhh!, but we paid the guards to let us go in and hold the lemurs. Very worth it if I do say so myself. They are so soft. Lemurs are exactly as awesome as you would hope and want them to be. They're super friendly and really smart. I have finally done the thing that everyone has asked me about since I found out I was going to Madagascar... have you seen any lemurs?

Lastly, today I would like to share a little spiritual thought. It is something I was thinking about earlier today on forgiving others. It's a little bit firey, but I think it gets the point across. I was thinking about something that had happened in the past that some people felt wasn't fair. I think it is necessary for us to recall that this life is not fair in one very specific way. If we think of something unfair as defined by being against what is just or breaking from the cause and effect axiom, then the most unfair thing to ever happen was the atonement. There has only been one person who deserved to be completely without misery. Jesus Christ, our Savior, was not only the perfect man, he was the only one whose life was perfectly unfair. He did nothing wrong, and yet he bore the brunt of all evil ever to exist. The reality is that this life is brutally fair to us. It reminds me of a wonderful story by C.S. Lewis. In the story, a man dies and goes to hell (a cold dark city). From there he must take a bus to heaven. There are many people from hell with him on the bus. They are all thinking that they will enjoy heaven more. But what happens when they get there... they don't like it. They prefer hell because their mindsets, for various reasons, are damned. One man in particular arrives in heaven, not to fall into the merciful arms of Christ's infinite atonement, but to claim his "rights", what's "due to him". This man inevitably returned back to hell by his own choice because heaven was not what he had expected. I assert that anything outside of the atonement is an absence of progression. God doesn't want to us to stop progressing, it's our choice. Also, we know that this life is not an accident and our actions are not simply weights placed opposing one another on the scale of eternity. This life is a journey, a time for us to live and grow. Nothing is fair, so we should stop focusing on it. Our salvation isn't fair, but it is in accordance with the great plan of happiness that we would receive experiences and grow. That we would ultimately learn to follow Christ with total faith. If we focus our whole lives on what's fair or not fair, then we are damned. If we give ourselves over to mercy by following the commandments and choosing to be obedient at all times, if we realize that life is a time of growth and stop refusing to forgive one another for the petty things that have happened in our lives, then we can truly gain joy in this life or the next. Give up worrying about what you are owed. Have faith, repent, and endure to the end. That is the price that must be paid, what is fair, what we deserve. I love you all very much and hope you have a great week!

Elder Ahlstrom 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

This is the week. One year ago I entered the MTC. Pretty crazy, all of the changes that have occurred since then. The biggest news this week is that we have a new Mission President. President and Sister Foote got here yesterday along with their son Kevin who just finished his mission in France. He is helping his mom get set up. She doesn't speak French, but she is learning to speak Malagasy. Having someone who can communicate, at least somewhat, will be helpful for her. You probably know, but President Foote worked in construction. (I believe that he has been involved in building temples for the church.) He is a little bit younger than President Adams, and he is excited to be here. Also, he is clearly still getting used to Madagascar. Sister Foote showed us a picture she posted on Instagram of someone selling meat. Ha ha, it was very funny. They also invited us for soup the third night that they were here, which was really nice. So far their schedule has been crazy. President Foote had interviews in Tana for two days straight and then he got in a car and drove to Antsirabe about two hours south and did a whole other day of interviews.

As far as the work is going, we have been doing a lot to get everything set up for the new Mission President. Now we have much more time to go out and actually work. We found two new wonderful families this week, and fast Sunday was really good. I translated for the couple missionaries along with a recent convert who speaks English. Elder Stokes couldn't help because he was translating teny tanana (sign language) for a member. I've been learning a little bit of Malagasy sign language from him too. He goes to Church in another ward, but the missionaries couldn't attend sacrament meeting so he came to ours. On Tuesday we hooked him up with sister missionaries in Washington D.C. who teach him American Sign Language because he is preparing to go to the temple. It's really awesome. His name is Julles and he gave me a sign language name. Take your right hand and spread your fingers right over the front top of your head, then as you pull your hand away, close your fingers. kind of like if your hair was gelled and you were running your hand along it into a point. It's super simple if you can see it. Regrettably it's hard to explain. He is one of the most awesome people I've ever met. He is very humble and very kind. Obviously Madagascar doesn't have standardized sign language, so he can't really talk to anyone other than missionaries and a few members who have learned. His family doesn't really speak it, but it doesn't seem to bother him. Anyway, I'm so excited and can't wait for him to be able to go to the temple. It's amazing that sister missionaries in the United States can talk to a deaf person in Madagascar! As I said, I'm learning a little bit of his language. I can ask your name, ask what's up, say nothing's up, say Jesus Christ, understand, God, and know. That's about it. I've got to work on it, but as a missionary you just have so many opportunities to do amazing things. I love it! Missions are always really hard but inexplicably worth it, beneficial, and special. I hope you all have a wonderful week, and I can't wait to talk to you next week.

Elder Ahlstrom

Thursday, July 2, 2015

I had a really good week. I don't even know where to start. This week was Malagasy Independence Day! Malagasies love their independence, so it was pretty much a week of partying. It was very fun. On Friday we had a lot of parties with members, investigators, and recent converts. At night we had a party with our Bishop and Ward Mission Leader (who is married to the Bishop's daughter). It was like the 4th in the US - BBQ, fireworks, and a whole bunch of people showed up and just started dancing. As missionaries we just kind of stood there awkwardly - ha ha. But, you know, that's okay! They fed us so much food. We had something like five meals on Friday. The fireworks would be illegal in the US. I'm pretty sure they were selling real fireworks, like the ones the fire department shoots off. Obviously we couldn't get them as missionaries. I guess I'll just have to wait until I come back. I love the members here. They're so funny, and they were so generous with us. They treated us like family. It was a really special opportunity. 

Sadly we had to go home early from the festivities because things are still a little dangerous here with the political situation. The President was impeached (found that out this week), but he's refusing to leave. I guess I don't really know what's going to happen. He will probably just have to leave at some point, right? He's refusing to honor the decision of the Supreme Court. Coming from an organized country I didn't really know that was an option. The price of everything is sky rocketing, and people are not very happy with him. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

President Adams is going home. Today we had a little party for him. Tomorrow is our last meeting as an office and then he's gone! President Foote should already be on the plane coming here. It is very strange to see the turnover. I'm very excited and a little nervous. I don't have to do anything to help, it's just weird to see all the change. I'm really going to miss President Adams. I respect him so much. He has taught me so much, especially since I've been able to see him work in the office. 

That's about all for now. Brother Volney sent me an email. which I always appreciate so much. It's always very interesting and good to hear from him. I'll talk to you all next week. Have a great time, and I love you all very much.