Thursday, September 24, 2015

It has been a nice week. The weather is slowly warming up here. Fianarantsoa is such a different place. The church is very small here and faces some difficult challenges. Last Sunday I conducted for the first time. It was hard, especially doing it in another language. I also conducted at Branch Council. Thankfully, I'm more used to that. We did financial training this week. South Africa representatives worked with me and then I worked with the members translating. Lots of new things this week.

We have a few really amazing families that we're working with and preparing for baptism. One met the missionaries when he was just standing out in front of his house. The missionaries walked by and asked if they could come in. Afterwards he said that he doesn't know why he let them in, but he just said yes before thinking. Since that time they've been doing really well. I'm really excited for them. We've also been working with a young man (he's two years older than me) who was recently reactivated. He has been bringing one of his friends to church with him who is also very interested in the church. It's exciting and I hope they can help one another.

This week was a massive gathering of Catholic youth in Madagascar. They all came here to Fianar. The center of action was just outside of our house. There were 50,000 people thronging the streets. It was pretty wild. There were tons and tons of buses that brought people flowing into the city at a massive rate. This little city turned into a large city over night. It was a little hard to find people to teach because so many people were doing things to support the gathering. It was cool to see people from all over the country. There were a lot of new dialects. It was a unique experience. Today everyone is going home. They're getting back onto buses and leaving. It was weird that the city could swell with people and then shrink again so quickly.

One thing that has been on my mind a lot lately is an answer Joseph Smith gave about how the church was governed. More specifically, why people were so desirous to be obedient and follow the counsel of leaders. In response he said, "They are taught correct principles and then they govern themselves." I've been thinking about the concept of correct principles, especially working here in a place with a lot of difficulties. I think a lot of times we want to just correct people and tell them what to do. That works, but it causes less growth in the individual and can only be maintained by constant supervision. It's a bit damning. On the other hand, teaching correct principles is inherently liberating. Perfect teaching of correct principles will lead to true understanding. Then people can choose for themselves. At that point there are no excuses. I think teaching and explaining doctrine is so important. Sermonizing is one thing, but explaining an expounding is Christ like.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I had a meeting with President Foote today. I feel like I spend a lot of time in meeting, but because of my new responsibilities I don't always have a choice. First off, I love all of you very much. This week has been good. My new assignment is really difficult, but it's causing me to grow a lot. There are quite a few difficult things here that I need to help with. Also, being in a leadership position means you have to correct people sometimes and do things that people won't necessarily like, but because it's the right thing. Today we had our personal interviews with the mission president. That is really a blessing of being in a small mission. We talked a lot about what is going on here and how we can help it grow.

So, things going on here in Fianarantsoa... there is a huge Catholic convention. Approximately 50,000 youth from all over Madagascar are converging on this little city. The largest gathering place is right across the hill from here. It's a little bit crazy with lots of people coming in.

Answers to questions from mom:
How is your new area? It's nice. It's really pretty. I love being out of the big city. It's much cleaner here, also the people are nice. There's one young man whose uncle I trained who now calls me Grandpa. It makes me laugh.

Is the flora and fauna different from the other areas you served? Yeah, its really different. Fianar is right on the line between grassland and jungle. It's not rain forest like in Toamasina, but dense jungle. This is where most of the wild lemurs are found. It's really pretty here. There are a lot of rice paddies. It's also high in elevation. The city is practically a mountain. which is difficult on bikes - lots of hills.

You previously mentioned that part of the area is sketchy. What's sketchy about it? It's the end of the world and sometimes it can get pretty dangerous. Nothing to worry about. Sometimes there are rebels that come down from the mountains and fight with the military in the city.

I heard from a missionary that served in that area a year ago that Fianar has some decent restaurants. Is that true for your area? Yeah, they're pretty good I guess. They're not bad - ha ha.

I then asked Alex what he would like for Christmas because I will need to mail his Christmas package in approximately two weeks. His only request was a Mt. Dew! I have no idea how I could safely mail a soda to Madagascar. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

This has been quite a week. First off, I really love my new area. In case you didn't know, this is where my first trainee was from. It's really cool to work in his hometown. It's also a little weird because people already know me. There is a picture of us in his house and all of his family already knew who I was. That was cool. People are really poor here. This place is outside of the western sphere. Some parts are a little scary, but we won't talk about that. For the most part it just feels like you're so far away from everything. I'm serving in the branch presidency, which is really strange. I had to count tithing on Sunday and we had a presidency meeting. It's all very new to me. I have had to do a lot of things that I hadn't really expected as a missionary. The reason I'm here is that there have recently been a lot of excommunications and disfellowshipping for a host of reasons. It's sad, but we're working on it. Both branches here are really struggling and we're trying to fix them and get everything running again. The branch president is a senior missionary. It is definitely a learning experience to read handbook one and administer leadership. It was really strange to sit in the counselor chair in sacrament meeting. Right now I'm just trying to learn why the Lord sent me here and what I need to do here. One of the biggest things is that the membership records here are in shambles. I need to go through and fix all of the MLS for both branches because it is something I know how to do. So, a new adventure trying to combat apostasy and such.

As far as the city is concerned, the missionaries are good. The people are really nice and very very simple. The place is really poor. I love it though. It is much cleaner than Tana. It has a very different vibe. It is very Catholic here. Our house looks over the cathedral and a giant statue of Mary on the hill.

Responses to questions:
How is your weight?
My weight is fine. You worry too much. It's just hard keep weight on here, especially now that we're on bikes riding up and down hills every day. I can't gain weight in this country, but I'm not dying. Here in Fianarantsoa it's hard because we don't have a supermarket or anything. We have to find everything on the street. It isn't like Tana.

Who is your new companion?
My new companion is Elder Hardy from Utah somewhere north of Logan. He has been serving for a year and a half.

Anyway, I'm doing well. I love the new challenges, but they are uniquely hard. I'm learning. Right now I'm just trying to keep quiet and watch. Next week I think I'm leading sacrament meeting so that's weird - ha ha. I'll 'talk' to you next week.

Elder Ahlstrom