Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fianarantsoa - courtesy of Elder Snell

It has been another good week in Fianarantsoa. There isn't a lot to report, simply because missionary work doesn't really change a whole lot from day to day. We're always doing a lot, but as far as crazy or noteworthy things, they're a bit rare.

This week we will be going to Antsirabe for zone conference, so we will have a bit of traveling. Also, Elder Bednar came this week. I was very far away from where he was speaking, but it was still cool that he came here to Madagascar. The members were really excited and a whole group from our branch went to see him, including the branch president. The branch president got everything settled before hand, but I had to help lead everything on Sunday while he was gone. We were able to get a member to serve as first counselor, but he was only called last week so I had to help him. For all practical purposes I was leading our Sunday. It was a little nerve racking. Overall, it went well. 

We are working really hard here. There's a lot to do. We're starting to get into the summer which means rain, rain, and rain. It's also starting to get hot. Fianarantsoa is in the middle of the rainforest. The city itself has been mostly cleared out over time, but you don't have to go very far to remember where you really are - it is both beautiful and also very muggy and hot. 

The work is going well. It is difficult, but I love the people. I got a text message from someone who I found in Tana. He is getting baptized and wanted to say hi. I really appreciated that. I'll probably call him later today. I'm really enjoying working with my new companions Elder Snell and Elder Obioma. They're both super obedient and very diligent, which makes missionary work much more fun. Also, we're having a good time cooking together. Elder Obioma likes to cook. This week we made spaghetti and Philly cheesesteaks. Next week is enchiladas. They aren't that good, but we are enjoying trying things. We work so so hard in this place, there's just so much to do. Most of the time we're on member splits working in two different areas. 

The last thought that I'll leave you with today is this... make your discipleship less artificial. It's easy a missionary to get caught up in programs and schedules - using your time, but not actually being present when it comes down to teaching and helping. Although administering the gospel is important, it is temporal. Ultimately we (isika, in Malagasy there is 'we' exclusive and 'we' inclusive including the people you're talking to. Isika is inclusive.) Isika need to focus more on ministering and never get lost. As servants of Christ we must always remember that we are his body. We are his arms. We can never forget that discipleship. Ultimately it isn't a program, it's charity - the pure love of Christ. 

Have a great week,
Elder Ahlstrom 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hello. I'm well other than the fact that I'm trying to use a stupid French keyboard because the cyber we usually go to with the English keyboards isn't open. Accordingly, I'm going to keep this a little short because it takes forever to type anything! ha ha. It's good to hear that everyone is doing well. I'm very happy in this area. Our branch is doing well. Yesterday a member of the mission presidency came down from Tana. We also had financial training this week and learned how to give out welfare, which was kind of a strange conversation to participate in.

As far as actual missionary work is concerned, we are trying to combine three programs into one. I don't want to spend too much time talking about the administration of missionary work today. I don't find it to be very spiritually uplifting - ha ha. I have been listening a lot to the general conference talks from this last conference. Possibly my favorite talk was given by President Monson at the Priesthood session. It was on keeping the commandments. I really appreciated that topic. Recently I've been thinking a lot about the basics of the gospel. We make our discipleship far too complicated sometimes. When it comes down to it, the gospel is very simple. We will only find happiness by keeping the commandments. No matter how much we justify or tell ourselves that something doesn't apply to us, it cannot negate reality. Asking questions is not wrong, but excusing our own indiscretions by blaming it on lack of evidence robs us of needed blessings. Follow priesthood leaders, keep  the commandments, and things will work out. Do it even if it is inconvenient because in this the most joy will be found.

So, before I throw this keyboard through the window, I love you all. Have a great week.

Elder Ahlstrom

Thursday, October 15, 2015


This week I'll start by answering some of your questions. When and how are you going to hear General Conference?I actually already listened to the whole thing. I downloaded it onto my flash drive and we have mini DVD players at the house to watch church stuff on. I watched it. It was really good. I felt like the three biggest things were keep the commandments, the Holy Ghost, and practically applying the gospel in life to receive the greatest joy and benefit. I really liked all the talks, but I think my favorite was probably by Eyring. I think he has my favorite thoughts every conference. He's awesome. How are you feeling? Last week you mentioned that you are really tired. Did you get some rest? I'm always really tired because I've been working 16 hour days. We just have a lot to do working with the branch, but I did get some rest and I'm feeling less tired now. Now that you are in your third area, and a veteran in the field, what are some of the ways you've changed and grown? Hmmm, well I don't really feel any more prepared now than I did when I was being trained. I probably feel less qualified. But that doesn't really matter, it's just a matter of trusting that you are doing what is required of you, and fulfilling it to the amount that the Lord grants you success. Mostly you just have to learn to be really trusting. I do like being able to help others and explain things to them. I've also been very blessed to serve in different callings which have taught me so much about the church, myself, and others. I've had the blessing of working with tons of amazing elders - especially serving as a trainer to Elder Razafindretsetra, working in the office, working on fixing MLS, serving as a district leader and zone leader, and working in the branch presidency is constantly humbling. I've learned that absolute humility is necessary. I'm still working on it, but you have to be willing to take the opportunities that the Lord gives to you and apply them in your life. That is where the greatest blessings come for me. I've learned that you can never be too worthy, too consecrated, too humble, too patient. The list goes on, and we'll never achieve any of these qualities in this life, but it is the responsibility of a lifetime of service that teaches you how to apply these things in your life. It's hard, but it's a blessing. I enjoy it. I wish I was better at it, but one step at a time - ha ha.

On other notes, we had transfers this week. I'm staying here and getting two new companions. Elder Obioma and Elder Snell. We will be the three elders serving in the two branches down here. I believe that two of us will continue to serve in the branch presidency. We are all working really hard to shore up the foundations of these two branches, so that's definitely exciting. I hope everyone is well.

Elder Ahlstrom

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I'll pass along your message to Elaine and thank her for feeding us. I ate my Halloween package already - it's not really a thing here and I don't like waiting. I'm having a hard week, working hard. I'm actually really tired. I'm looking forward to taking it easy today. Working in the branch presidency here is hard. We have to do things I've never done before. This week we were trying to assign callings and trying to figure out a paint scheme for the church to repaint it. It is also very humbling. Fun fact, I'm terribly bad at leading sacrament meeting. I get really nervous. It's funny because I don't mind public speaking, but doing it in Malagasy is harder.

What else... the weather has been really nice lately as we approach spring and summer. I made meatloaf yesterday. It was okay, which is how I'd describe all of the food I've made here up to this point. Sorry this is a bit dull. I'm just really worn out. I think I'm going to rest all day. I've never been so tired at any point in my life. Good, but tired. Working all the time here is especially taxing, but I like that.

I love you all. Have a wonderful week.

Elder Ahlstrom
September 28, 2015

Well. I'm sure you feel this way too, but at the end of the week it's so hard to gather your thoughts. It's not that I don't have anything to say, but I am not good at just writing. Apparently, I'm very verbal. I guess that isn't actually a bad thing. In fact, I'm so verbal that I bought a dictaphone for my journal because writing in it was the worst thing ever. I hated it and couldn't express my feelings or thoughts very well.

I'll start today with one thing I think will make mom very happy. I think it's the answer to prayers (probably a lot of them offered by her - ha ha). There is a woman name Elaine down here. No, that's not a Malagasy name. She's actually from South Africa. Anyway, she isn't a member of the church. She and her husband live here because he works with US Aid. She's not an investigator, but she met the missionaries here a few years ago and she feeds us two to three times a week. Her son lives overseas and she misses him a lot. She hopes that feeding us will help bless him. She loves the missionaries and calls us her boys. She feeds us western meals. On Sunday we had BBQ and potato salad. She's such a blessing and so nice. She always says that she has to keep us fat! I thought you would all like to hear that reassuring news.

This week has been good being a counselor. It is still hard. It makes me feel very irresponsible and immature because I don't feel ready for all of it. Thankfully, I have the Lord and church handbooks. I've said it before, but people should read the handbooks. They are a blessing! We are making progress here, but the church is still really struggling. We are on the outskirts of the church as it were. The members are really sweet, though.

We have a baptism next week. It's a really sweet couple. I think I told you about them, and they're so happy. The Assistants are also down here visiting right now, so a lot is happening. I got my Halloween package. I feel like it got here really fast. I don't remember you mentioning that you sent one. Hey, one thing that I would appreciate for Christmas is seven pairs of socks. All of mine had tons of holes in them, and I was getting really bad blisters. I threw them all away and bought Malagasy socks, but Malagasy socks aren't very good and they're not big enough. So if you could send more socks it would be appreciated. Send dark athletic style socks instead of dress socks. Dress socks get holes in them too fast. (note from mom: I thought this request was too funny to leave out. Evidently Alex will be getting dark athletic socks for Christmas. The poor kid wears a size 14. I'm sure Malagasy socks are too small.)

I love all you very much and hope you have a good week. Tell dad to enjoy his trip to DC. Maybe he can stop by the Madagascar embassy and say salama inona vaovao for me!

Elder Ahlstrom