Sunday, June 19, 2016

June 13, 2016

I had thought to make this email a long final goodbye, but now that the time has come, my mind is completely overwhelmed. My heart is heavy, and I am incredibly excited while at the same time incredibly nervous. Things are so weird, life is so weird. I love my mission so much. I love this work, I have never felt so fulfilled in my life. It has also given me a desire to make my whole life more fulfilling. I want to do things and be an example of good. Peace, civility, friendship, and happiness are the greatest causes to search after. Anger, hatred, incivility, judgment, and an inability to compromise are results of people who have unfulfilling lives and are unwilling to do the things that will bring them true happiness. People look for evil when they are uncentered, unbalanced, and unhappy. Well, I'm happy, and I've spent two years helping others to be happy, and I want to be able to continue to do that throughout my entire life.

Please have a great day a great week, and I will give you hugs in under 11ish days!

Elder Ahlstrom
June 8, 2016

It's great to hear from you. I'm going to keep this email a little short, not because I don't love all of you, but I have a lot planned for these last p-days, so that means email time suffers a little bit. Today I placed an order for the suit that I'm going to wear home. And next week I'm going to have a soiree. It's all very fun but a little bit sad. Actually it's really sad. It's hard to think that I'm almost done. I don't really like it. I never thought I'd come this far. Not that I ever thought I wouldn't finish, but just that I'd just serve until the end of time. I am excited to report on my mission to the high council and especially excited that dad will be there. I get letters from the high council every month and I was hoping it would be dad's turn before I came home - ha ha.It's hard to think about what to write, but I'll tell you all about it in three weeks. Please be happy and safe.

Elder Ahlstrom
May 23, 2016

Well, it's not to say I've run out of things to say, but I definitely don't have anymore catchy titles to put on my emails. I hope that you are all doing very well and that you are all happy and healthy. I'm sorry that some of my emails recently have been weirdly short lately. You know that one thing that's always hard for me is to talk about my investigators, because conversion is a very sacred personal thing. It's hard to say someone is "doing really well" and then "not so well". Coming closer to Christ is between us and Christ, so I usually wait until afterwards to talk about people. That aside, Elder Brown and I have had a really good week. I enjoy working with him a lot. I think we work very well together which is nice. We are seeing a lot of success which is even better. I love being able to work as hard as I can to the end. I must be honest, the thought of coming home is very melancholy. I want to see you all, but I will be sad not to be a missionary any more. I actually love being a missionary - a lot. It's hard, but I would do it again. If they announced that missionaries have to serve another year, I think I could manage - haha. The scariest thing is coming home. It's hard to think about coming home. Missions are easy, life is hard. I don't really want a whole lot of down time when I get back. 

(Note from mom: The bulk of Alex's letter focused on specific things that he would like to do when he returns home and personal notes to family members. He mentioned a desire to continue studying languages. I'm including his thoughts below, but I wanted to explain the reason it seems like a weird transition from the note above)

I would like to learn some new languages as I've said in the past, but i don't know exactly what yet. I feel that i should learn French better. I just love speaking languages. The only way to really talk to someone is in their own language. I even look at myself, although i speak Malagasy, the deepest expressions of self I can only truly express in English. When you hear someone speak their native tongue, you are hearing an inheritance of knowledge passed down for millennia. It's really beautiful to think about, you are hearing the words they learned as their mother whispered to them putting them to sleep. I love language, it tells you so much about people and it enlarges your borders immensely. That being said languages are really, really hard! I hope you are all doing well. Please have a great week.

Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, May 23, 2016

May 16, 2016

Well, I had a very calm and uneventful birthday, which was nice because there's not really a whole lot of time to try and have a big thing. It's just kind of just another day. Church was good and then we got a lot of work done. It was a very satisfying birthday, for being on a mission. Elder Brown and I are working really hard together and it's great. Life is going very well. I was working in two areas the last two weeks so it's nice to get back into my real area full time again. It's also fun to be able to just work really hard up until the end. We have a lot of big things coming up this week. We have some meetings with missionaries, etc. I'm just trying to stay focused. I have been working on a cool list of scriptures to share at one of the meetings about the importance of missionary work and the scriptural foundation of it -  why it's so prevalent now, and how you can find prophesies of the modern missionary work in Isaiah. I'd share it with you all but I totally forgot to bring it with me. Today we played soccer against one of the wards here in Tana. We won. It was fun. I only played a little bit because I'm really terrible at soccer, so I played until I was satisfied, and then yeah... It was nice to see all the other missionaries. We also ate a lunch with everyone, so I guess you could say I celebrated my birthday today. I got egged yesterday, which I did not like. It was terrible. I've never egged anyone but whatever. You have to be a good sport about it. Thankfully it was after work so I could take a shower. I guess it's technically a term of endearment so I should appreciate it. I guess i'm just looking forward to when showing endearment means something a little less exciting! But life is good. I'm happy. I hope you had a great Mother's Day. I love you very much, all of you.
Elder Ahlstrom
May 2, 2016

Dear Mom, Family, and Friends

How are you! Yes, it feels crazy that we will be Skyping this week. I can't wait to see you all and talk to you. It will be great to hear your voices. I am doing well, first, I'll tell you about the news that happened here this week. So my companion, Elder Yeagley, is going home. His two years are up, but he is leaving before the transfer mark because of Mother's Day, so I don't have a companion until sometime next week. So now I'm working two areas, Betongolo and Ambohimanarina, which are pretty much on opposite sides of the world from one another. The Elder in Betongolo is in somewhat of a similar situation, so we will be serving together. It's not great, but I guess it will have to do! Another piece of exciting news. Three wonderful people got baptized this Saturday. They were so excited, and it was really special. I didn't do the baptisms because I"m still somewhat new to the area, but it was great to see how happy and excited they all were. I don't want to say too much since we'll be talking later this week. I'm really sorry but I'm really bad about emailing now, it's just hard to think of new things to talk about. I guess the two most important things i can say in any email are these

1.) I love all of you more than you can know

2.) I know that Jesus Christ lives and that he is the Savior. I have never seen him I don't believe I have ever heard his voice HOWEVER I have felt his love and I have felt his divine power. I know that he lives because I have seen his presence in my life.

I cannot wait to talk to you.

Elder Ahlstrom
April 25, 2016

It seems like some really exciting things have happened this week, and not all of them good. I'm doing very well here in Madagascar. I'm glad that your house hasn't flooded. Did the temple flood? I think you all get crazier rain than we do. It's crazy to see your pictures. I always think how it almost look like Madagascar. Today we're having a very calm preparation day. I'm looking forward to being able to just sit around for a little bit. This last week was really crazy for us. It wasn't bad, but we had a lot of meetings and we were working with other missionaries on the other side of town and sleeping on the floor. Saturday I was so tired. We had a meeting with President Foote and the Stake President of Ivandry. I translated for the stake president and Elder Yeagley translated for President Foote. It was a really good meeting. Afterwards we went and taught English. By this point my mind was spent - hahah! Now I feel much better, and am much better rested. It was fun to be able to go to other areas and work with people. It was special to be able to see people I had worked with in the past and see how much they had grown and progressed. It is especially a spiritual moment when I can see people who I worked with and taught, who have grown deeply in their conversion to Jesus Christ. It is amazing to be able to talk to them and hear the great happiness that has come into their life. I love the gospel deeply and love to see how it changes people. I know that it has changed me deeply. There is a family that is preparing this week to be baptized. It is exciting for me to think of the great change that is about to come into their lives and the growth that the gospel inspires. That is the most important thing, is that the gospel causes people to grow. It's a journey. I can look back now and see that journey sprawled out behind me and the work that I have done on my mission. I can't wait to share these experiences with everyone. Writing is one thing, but I love to talk and I love to share the things that I have seen and felt. I can't wait to Skype with you all in a few days. I will let you know next preparation day when will be best for me. I love you very much. Have a wonderful week. Thank you for writing me every week of my mission. Even though it is often only small talk it makes a very big difference. 

Elder Ahlstrom
April 18, 2016

First off, I hope you have a wonderful birthday, mom.

Also, a quick note, my email last week was pretty short because I was really sick. I'm feeling fine now, but that's why I was not really there in my email. Things are going really well here. I'm enjoying the work that we're able to do. Ambohimanarina is great. The branch is just very fun to work in. Everyone is good at being nice to new people. The English class we teach here is huge. It's boring to teach small English classes. I think I've gotten pretty good at teaching English in Malagasy.

So this week we actually had a few exciting things happen. First off we had an epic power dilemma. The power company here is terrible as I've recorded in other emails. This is the same power company that exists all over the island, so yes it is also that same company that caused the riots when I was in Toamasina so long ago. Well they sometimes like to randomly cut peoples power. I don't know why, but to make a long story short we were at the jirama office for two days trying to get our power restored. Essentially it comes down to someone looking for a bribe. Way frustrating, but whatever. Anyways, it was a big hassle. They just keep sending you to new people around in a giant circle. I've gotten pretty good at breaking through all their silliness though. Elder Yeagley and I are pretty good at doing "Madagascar" by now. So we got our power on, but it was a big hassle. They cut it for no reason. Then they told us a bunch of bills hadn't been payed which they had, then they told us that we had to pay a bunch of fees because our power was cut blah blah blah. But it's all over now. I also got my shoes re soled this week. They feel so much better. Now they have tires on the bottom of them. I had walked through the soles of both my shoes but these should probably last me now to the end. The guy did a really good job. I love that Malagasies are so good at fixing things. They never throw anything away. At some point the original product becomes indistinguishable from all the repairs, and it becomes something new. (In this way a pair of pants in Madagscar will steadily become a car over the course of it's 200 year life! ha ha. I think that's how most of the taxi be's we ride on started as.:) Also the person in the Liahona last month, Solofo, is in my branch. He's a high counselor and a really nice guy. He teaches at a school that is in exclusively English. It closely mirrors the american educational system with the goal of getting it's students into american universities. He went on his mission in Africa, Uganda or somewhere around there, where they speak English. So that's kind of a fun connection.

On a more spiritual note,conference was great. I only saw it a week ago, but we haven't been able to talk about it. I really loved conference. I thought it was very applicable for all the things I'm preparing for in my life right now - being on a mission, and also preparing to come off of a mission. So that's life here. Please have a wonderful week, and I will talk to you all very soon.

Elder Ahlstrom

Friday, May 13, 2016

April 11, 2016

Life is good and I'm happy. For the most part things have been very good. I'll start generally by saying that this week went very fast. That's always the case, but this week it was accelerated by the fact that we had conference. On Saturday and Sunday we watched conference at the mission office in English with all the other missionaries in Tana. It was good to see new faces, and I was surprised by how many people I didn't know. It's weird because I haven't been in a zone for over a year (zone-10-30 missionaries within a close geographical location, have meetings together etc.). I've been a little bit further away. So it was weird, but yes, new people have come into the mission. Conference was really great. I really liked it, and I thought that it had a lot of great things in it. I was especially touched by the talk on refugees, and felt a very strong prompting that I should learn one of the main refugee languages. Now that I have a knack for picking up crazy weird African-ish languages and I'm stupid enough to spend time learning a language that's not really applicable, I felt why not. Actually in all seriousness, I felt strongly impressed that I need to at least try a little bit. Having lived in Madagascar I have learned that 1.) talking to people in a language they don't understand can't help them 2.) your native language is the language of your heart 3.) you can't understand someone truly unless you can speak to them in their native language. That's a little bit off subject, however, because obviously it's still a while before I can render that service, but I wrote it down when I felt the inspiration. Other than that, I felt that two often repeated topics were "do you really believe" and "are you close to Christ". I feel we can all work on these things, especially because they're very personal goals between yourself and God. Also, as it says in the New Testament, knowing God and Jesus Christ is eternal life. Kind of an interesting thought. Since none of us have eternal life yet, then it would be logical to conclude that we should better know our Savior. We can still get closer to him. As far as the area, etc. well I'm still getting used to it. I think I can probably get along pretty well now in it. I know where most of the people we visit live, etc. Elder Yeagley and I are doing well, just working. Right now we're working with someone and their three kids, so please keep them in your prayers.
Other than that I have nothing new. Hope you are all doing well.

Elder Ahlstrom
April 4, 2016

First, it's very exciting to see my flight plans. I hope you are all doing well and had a good conference weekend. We will be watching conference this upcoming weekend so I will tell you what I think then. I've been hearing a lot about this "I was a stranger" thing. It sounds really good. So I'm working in Ambohimanarana. It's a wonderful branch. We actually go to church right next door to the American Embassy in a beautiful brand new church building. It's very strange to be working in such an organized area  again after having worked so far away for so long in little tiny branches. Even if they ran well, they were just starting. Most of the members there were 2 or 3 years in the church at most. Here many of the members have been in the church for 15 or 20 years. It's fun to be able to work with new people and have the new experiences of an area. I'm still unpacking. I haven't been to the office yet. Today I will finally be able to get there and get a bunch of my stuff. I only have warm weather clothes but Tana gets really cold at night so that's the first step is getting my blankets and sweaters from the office. Work is going well so far, just trying to get used to everything. This week has been a rush. After I finished cybering you on Monday, I hopped on an airplane to Tana. That was exciting because it also happened to be the dedication of a new plane, the first jet engine plane in Madgascar Air Mada fleet. There were a bunch of politicians and journalists on board. They had two fire trucks spray arcs over the plane to dedicate it's maiden voyage. It was all very exciting, I guess you'd say haha. I sat next to a really nice guy who helped foreign companies and scientists get visas to come to Madagascar and work. It was really cool to hear about his work. It was also strange because the whole converstation was in English. He was very good. He also spoke German and French, so go figure.
This week has just been trying to get used to everything again. But life is good and I'm very happy here. My new companion's name is Elder Yeagley. I actually lived in the same house as him at the very beginning of my mission. He arrived one transfer before me and we both started in Toamasina.
I'm trying to think of other things to say, but as I said, in general just kind of a normal week. I'm excited because i get to do some fun things preparing to go home like getting some souvenirs and getting a suit made to get off the plane in. Yeah so that's kind of life here. I hope you are all doing well
Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, April 25, 2016

March 28, 2016

So, I'll start out with the exciting news from this week. I received my transfer. I'm going to be serving in Ambohimanarana in Tana with Elder Yeagley. I'm very excited. I had actually gone on splits in this area back when I was in Betongolo, so it will be really neat to see it again. Plus I'll be able to see all those people that I knew when I lived in Tana. I work in the area where the American Embassy is located. And I'm right next to the airport in Northern Tana, so that should help you find it on a map if you want. It is not in the city at all, which is nice. It is mostly rice patties with hills coming out of the marshes. The hills have little towns on them which are connected by raised roads running over the rice patties. It's very beautiful and I"m very excited to get there. I take an airplane later today. I only found out like two days ago where i was officially going. Although I had known I was leaving for a little over a week. It's sad to leave Ft. Dauphin. I really don't like leaving everyone. I had the opportunity to give a talk in Church yesterday. It was very sad. However, I know that the Elders who will be working here are great, so that helps. Elder Coleman, who you know, was in my group. He will be working here in Tanambao after I Ieave.  So, that's what's going on here.

Other than that, this week has been crazy trying to help the new Elders figure out the area. I don't remember if i said this in my last email, but they took me and my companion out and sent the new Elders down early. I have been trying to teach them the area before I leave. I can't believe how well they're remembering everything. They're great. Yesterday was Easter, but for us it was a very calm day. Nothing really happened. We didn't really do anything. I guess that's most holidays in Madagascar. Today is lundi de paque so everything is closed. Therefore, I'm going to keep this short because there are more Elders than computers at the one cyber open in Ft. Dauphin. They need the opportunity to write their families too. I'll let you know more about my new area, etc. next week.

Elder Ahlstrom
March 21, 2016

Well, a couple of exciting things happened this week. I received two new companions this week. Not real companions but the people who will be replacing me and my current companion here in Ft Dauphin. We received news this week that two other Elders will be coming down. After that Elder Bassett will leave on Wednesday to have a minor medical procedure. I will stay here until next Thursday and then I'll head to my new area. I do not officially know where I will be going, so everything is still kind of up in the air. I just know I'll be leaving. It feels like the time I have been here in Ft. Dauphin was really short. I"m glad for the new experiences and opportunities, but also sad to be leaving already. It's been hard to start letting people know that you've worked with for so long that you won't be coming back. It's okay though, the new Elders are obviously wonderful and everything is in good hands. I'll still miss it down here though. Life is very good and I'm doing very well. Currently I'm incredibly tired because we went deep into the jungle today to attend a wedding for two families preparing to be baptized. It was very exciting and wonderful to see how ready and excited they were. They gave the missionaries a chicken for the occasion, which was a little strange. Obviously it's not the sort of thing that you can turn down - ha ha! Those were the two really big things that happened this week. I'll write you from here next preparation day and then after that I'll be gone to my new area! Weird, weird, weird. I'll let you know next week where exactly my real last area will be.
This week has mostly been spent getting the new Elders used to the area, showing them where everyone lives, etc. Other than that not a whole lot is new, although that's pretty big "news". I'm really tired, so I'm going to keep this a little shorter than usual. I love you all very much. Please have a wonderful day and week.
Elder Ahlstrom
March 14, 2016

I hope that you are all doing very well. I am excited to be able to write and share a few things. I'll start off which what we did today. I'm very tired because we just got back from walking/hiking the coast. It was really amazing. We walked out to the end of a long peninsula that juts into the ocean. It was beautiful. Then we climbed up to the top of it and could see for miles. After that we walked through a tiny little village at the edge of the world. As we came around the peninsula we saw a little cove with tons of fisherman getting ready to launch their boats to go to work; it was very cool. It's also fun because when you go out into the country like that you're going to places that few people have ever been. Most Malagasies don't even go out to little places like that, so being able to go there is pretty special. It just has a very different vibe from the city. In the city things are fast, there are computers, people drive cars, but out in the country there's nothing. People live in the home they built for their family when they got married. They eat what they provide, whether through growing or fishing. It's very very simple. Almost no one knows how to read. Most people don't even own a book. They live a life apart, something we can't really comprehend. It's hard even to talk to them, though we speak the same language. TThey don't really have anything to talk about other than basic stuff, like what's your name, where are you from, but much after that and our life experiences are just too different. Also the dialect that they speak is crazy. Just all very interesting.

The work went well this week. I got really sick, but I am not sure what happened. It wasn't from anything I ate. I just couldn't keep food in me, and I totally lost my appetite for like 4 days. I got it back by sipping boxed juice, then moving to soup, then rice, but it was miserable. Thankfully we didn't miss a ton of time because of it. It was just strange because Saturday we ate dinner with the mission president, Sunday we fasted, and then I got sick.I have no clue what brought it on, but it feels good to mostly be over it now. It was just really tiring. All the people we are teaching are doing very well. As I have said in past emails, we are working slowly with everyone because we are really trying to develop those with a strong leadership focus to help strengthen the branch.  It has been fun, here in Ft. Dauphin, to really work finding people who could become future leaders. Often they come from some very unique religious backgrounds. It's interesting that their concerns are always so varied and different. To an Adventist getting baptized again isn't nearly so strange as not praying on Saturday, to a Lutheran, they might accept prophets, but still not see why the truth would be exclusive. I really like seeing everyone's different world perspectives.

I got the package with the Mt. Dew and stuff, I don't need anything so don't send a birthday package, just a card. I'll get home before the package gets here and then I expect to be spoiled (at least a little bit). Plus I'll need stuff for school that will more than make up for it, so it's no problem at all and actually preferred. I don't need Milky Ways sent in the mail because I'll have them in person in three months! My return ticket is being purchased this week. I already put in my return location. I'll be flying in to Houston International. you should get my flight itinerary in a week or two, maybe three. You get it first, so please email it to me when you get it. I hope you all have a wonderful week, and I'll talk to you next week!

Elder Ahlstrom

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

March 7, 2016

This week was crazy. We had the Elders from Tulear fly in. An Elder had an emergency surgery and had to be flown to Tana. He had an appendicitis, but he's doing very well now. It was seriously a miracle that we got him on the flight though. It was the last one for like 3 days, which obviously would have been too late. We found out at 2 o'clock and he left at 3:50ish. They almost didn't let him on the plane. After that we had zone conference, and finally today, there's time to slow down a little bit - haha. Life, it goes too fast. Zone Conference was with Elder Hamilton of the Seventy. I got to translate, which was pretty fun. It made it hard to focus sometimes on what was actually being talked about. I've gotten pretty decent at translating on my mission. You just have to learn how to hear something while saying one sentence behind. So you hear, translate, and speak - three different thoughts. Once you get into a groove, though, it's really fun, But then comes a weird word or phrase that doesn't translate or you forget the word in Malgasy or English, and then you get off of the rhythm - haha. I was also able to translate for President Foote. It was great to see them. They're awesome!
This week we are going to be teaching the plan of salvation a lot. I love teaching the plan of salvation because I think it makes everything very clear. That is if you understand why you are here and everything, it all fits into place. It's why we have to act the way we act during this life. It explains our goals and where we are going, and you realize that change and perfection are required to be better. I really love that. and it helps me understand why overcoming challenges now will be a blessing later in life or in eternity. It is very empowering - the idea that we can make differences and push ourselves to be better.
I love being a missionary and I love you all very much. Have a great week.
Elder Ahlstrom
February 29, 2016

First off Emma and Will look great, and it's great to see Grandpa Dale. This cyber is very hot and there is a screaming child so I don't really want to email. I just want to get outside, but I love you all very much so I want to be able to talk, so I will use my patience - haha. I'm actually working on that this week, so maybe this is a blessing. This week went well. Exciting news, my companion had a minor operation to remove his ingrown toe nails because they were infected. He's doing much better now and he's much happier, but we've been taking things easy. We weren't able to work for two days this week but now he's feeling much better so we can focus again on work. President Foote and Elder Hamilton of the Seventy are coming down this week. I'm very excited to see them. We are having a zone conference and I'm looking forward to it. 

Last week I got a haircut and while my hair was being cut I started talking to my barber. He was a really nice guy. Anyway, I asked him to tell me a crazy story, and I told him if it was good that I would send it to America (the story that is). Well, it was a good story, so now I have to tell you. He was over at a friends house way in the middle of nowhere, (in Ambanivolo) with three other friends. It was night, and so they had to leave to go home. They started out heading along the path in the middle of the night. Mind you this path is just a cow path. As they're walking, they come to a river and prepared to forge it, when further along the bank they see a group of daholo (bandits) doing they're fomba daholo (bandit rituals), sacrifices etc. Well, these bandits are from a very different tribe and so my barber and his friends didn't understand them, but they were seen by the bandits. The daholo started after them to kill them, rob them, and sacrifice them to their bush god so that they would have success in their pillaging. My friend and his friends took off running as fast as they could, jumping through rice patties and under brush trying to hide their path. Unbeknownst to them, a little bit further along the path, was a massive funeral service. The daholo thought that my friend was part of the funeral. Fahoriana started firing at the funeral service, at which point the funeral service fired back at them. As they ran away a gunfight broke out and they were in the middle of it. They escaped, but all the gunfire alerted the gendarme, and my friend ran into them along the main path. The gendarme thought that my friend and his friends were part of the daholo and lined them up in front of a firing squad. Before they started to shoot, however, the tompo ny fahoriana (leader of the funeral party) burst out of the brush and cleared my friend the barber by telling the gendarme he was not part of the daholo (because his dialect wasn't bara, that of the daholo). They were all let free, the gendarme forced back the daholo, and they finishead the night off at the funeral.

I thought it was a pretty good story. It's even better when you imagine people running through the malagasy bush (ambanivolo) so that's my story, Have a great week, I love you all very much. The Church is true!

Elder Ahlstrom
February 22, 2016

Wow, everything looks really nice with the new design in the TV room. It's also good to see that life is going well there. We''re working really hard here in Fort Dauphin, and lots of good stuff is happening. V is doing well. He decided that he was going to leave his job and look for new work so that he could come to church. We didn't even encourage him to do that, we just told him to pray about what he should do whatever it was, and that's what he felt was the answer. He has a lot of faith, be he also seemed much happier after making the decision. He is a very impressive young man.

I had a good week. The new elders just came in from Tana, that was exciting and they got here safely. It's funny because it's like an hour and a half flight but the drive would take days. Today we get to show them all the cool stuff here in Ft. Dauphin, and we're going to have a nice lunch. Life is soooo expensive here. It's crazy. It's just because we're very far away. The people here, however, are very nice. It's fun because we're teaching a lot of people with varying religious backgrounds. Most of them are very strong in their own faiths, so it's interesting to see the different perspectives they bring to things. We're teaching some people who are very Catholic, very Protestant, very Adventist, and it's interesting to see their concerns. It's also interesting to see the universal truths of the gospel. A lot of people have very direct specific concerns and they're all different. Some people easily accept one principle while another is really hard and visa versa. One thing that is always interesting though is the difference between those who ask and those who don't, ask God that is. That is the single greatest difference between those who learn if the message is true and those who never can accept it, they're unwilling to trust or to receive a hard answer. I think this is good for all of us, however, to consider that. Something being hard, or something being new is not a good enough reason to God for us refusing to accept him. In whatever facet of life or perspective, he has clearly set forth his plan. Adding to it or taking away from it with our own perspective will not bring us salvation. We must stay focused and centered on following his closely defined path. Ultimately, all teaching in the church serves the purpose of explaining the plan of redemption and then giving people the opportunity to follow it or not.

President Foote is coming down in March. I can't wait to see him; he's the best! We cleaned up our house after a very long time of neglect last week and now it's clean. I'm so happy; it was way nasty. This week we're going to our branch president's house for dinner. He lives in a rio tinto housing subdivision so we're essentially going to little America. It's very weird. It's very far from town and has a big gate around it. There are basketball courts and everyone speaks English (because you have to to be a high up in rio tinto). It's very funny, so that is something new.

So, in general a good week and next week will be a great week. I can't wait to hear from you all again, and please enjoy yourselves.

February 15, 2016

How are you? I hope everyone is happy and healthy as always. I’m glad to be able to write to you all. It is another hot and humid day here in Ft. Dauphin, and the internet connection is terrible! Work is going well here. It was fun to see the pictures and everything from Emma’s birthday. Did she register to vote? I remember that’s how I celebrated my 18th birthday, and then I got the voter I.D. card right after, which was pretty fun. I still have it, and although I don’t think it’s expired, I doubt it still works. I don’t even know what state I’m a legal resident of anymore. How does that even work, I have no clue. It’s also fun to see all the construction you’re doing on the house. One of the other Elders here mentioned how his mom moved a rug from one room to the other and how he felt like it wasn’t his house anymore. I thought it was funny how we get so used to things and even small changes are crazy. It also made me laugh to think that when I come home everything will be different, not just the rug. It’s going to be weird being in a new house, it will feel like it’s someone else’s - haha. The important thing, however, is that family will be there.

You mentioned Vino in your letter. He is doing well, but he’s been very, very busy. I actually shared with him a talk that you quoted to me, faith by choice, not by chance. I felt that it would help. This week was transfers. I am staying here and my companion is staying the same. The cybers haven’t been working today so I don’t even know if this email is going to get to you. I love you all very much. This is short because of all the silliness with the cybers today. I hope you are happy, have a great day.

So the internet wasn’t working so we put it on a flash drive and brought it to another cyber.

Elder Ahlstrom
February 8, 2016
It's been a long time here in Madagascar. Next week is the end of my first transfer here in Ft. Dauphin. I feel like I should be used to things by now, and I am to some extent, but I don't think you ever fully get used to anything. I hope you are all doing well.
I would like to quickly talk about an amazing person we're teaching right now. His name is V, I believe I mentioned him before. He is just the nicest guy I've ever met. When we first started teaching him, he informed us that his brother had joined the Church. He then asked 'why did my brother leave the faith of my family, what do you guys bring that is so unique, what's the importance and the unique reality of your message'. We told him that it was the Holy Ghost, and that his brother had developed a relationship with God. That's what made the difference. It's been really amazing to see him develop a deeper faith. He is struggling a little bit right now because he unexpectedly became the primary provider for his family. It's been really hard for him because he has had to work full time, that means he lives at his work and doesn't come home. We were only able to talk to him for 30 mins this week because we caught him for his one evening at home before he goes back to work. People in Madagascar are amazing and work so hard. It's remarkable. He is trying to figure out how to balance his life and keep growing spiritually, so please keep him in your prayers. I don't think I've ever taught someone who was so prepared to receive the missionaries. Anyway, we're trying to help him, but it's definitely a very personal quest. I'll let you know how he's doing.
Another couple that is ready to be baptized are waiting on marriage issues. It is pretty hard to get married here because you have to go back to your birth commune and get it directly from them. Out in the sticks, half the time the communes aren't even open for months at a time, etc. Just very slow and frustrating, especially for people who are ready but just waiting on that last step. It rained this week, which was nice. Both for the farmers who are in a terrible drought down here and also for missionaries who hate the heat - ha ha. Things are going very well, and we are very happy with the success that we are seeing. It's fun to work down here and I am very happy. I hope you are all happy too.
Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, February 8, 2016

February 1, 2016

Life is going very well here in Madagascar. I can't believe it's already February. I was doing the math and realized that Emma is going to be 18 in two weeks, which is wholly unacceptable to me, but that's just a side note :)

The work is going well. As I've said in previous emails, Ft. Dauphin is one of those very few places where missionaries get in to almost every door, and where everyone is willing to listen. Far from this making things easier, however, it puts a lot of pressure on to keep working hard, stay focused, and actually teach well, instead of just running from place to place.

Regarding teaching... I love to teach. It's my favorite part of missionary work. I think I'm pretty decent at it, if I do say so myself. I absolutely love to explain and invite. Teaching is ultimately the call of a disciple of Christ. It is to strengthen others through exhortation. Respecting agency sets you free. It's worthy of note that the thing Christ did best during his public ministry here on earth was teach. Ultimately, learning is a fundamental principle of salvation.

In response to your question mom, we did get to see the broadcast. Most missionaries in the world watched it live. It was a very big deal. We had a bit of trouble watching it. We are just very, very far away - ha ha. It was amazing doctrine that was taught. I think my favorite part was when we were encouraged to have a renewed focus on the Savior. They said that when we're teaching we should always testify of Christ.

That's about all that is new for now. I love you all very much. Have a wonderful week.

Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, January 25, 2016

I'm doing very well. It is so hot here. Two days ago we walked into a gas station. Gas stations are some of the nicest buildings in Madagascar. When I walked in, all of the sudden I felt something very cold, and it surprised me. It was air condition. It had been so long since I had felt air conditioning that I had forgotten the sensation - ha ha!

I'm healthy and happy and working hard here in Ft. Dauphin. Oh, if you could just see where I work everyday. Our area is mostly the large peninsula that juts out into the ocean. When you're in the middle of it you can see the beautiful blue ocean on three sides, the cliffs in front, and the mountains behind. At night as we walk home it looks like stars are reflecting on the ocean until you realize it's the lights of the fisherman off the coast, twinkling as they go about their work. We see it every night as we're walking home around 9pm. Every morning as we run along the beach we can see them bringing in their catch.

We are working with a lot of really wonderful people right now. I really love being able to teach all the time again. I'm also working on learning the dialect here. Missionaries are supposed to only teach in their assigned dialect and language, so I'm learning it to keep myself learning Malagasy on the side. I'm pretty sure the "dialect" here is is not related to Malagasy. There are a bunch of similarities, but even the grammar is different. It seems like a combination of several other languages. It's definitely different than what people speak over most of the island. Everyone, including Malagasies, say it's the hardest dialect and many Malagasies from up north can't understand it at all. When someone speaks straight Atandroi, i don't have a clue what they're saying - ha ha. So working on it. I doubt I'll get really good, but I hope I can learn some things.

Elder Ahlstrom

Thursday, January 21, 2016

January 18, 2016

There's a lot to talk about since we struggled to find a cyber last week. The internet was down all day, so when it finally came on I only had about 50 minutes on a French keyboard to do all my reports and emails. Now I have a little bit more time. I hope you're all doing well. Ft. Dauphin is very different, but I like it. It allows for more time to focus on normal missionary work. There is a lot to do. It's kind of a cultural requirement here that if someone knocks on your door, you have to let them in. Obviously missionaries love that - ha ha. The nice thing about it is that in most places the people who might actually be interested never get to talk to us because they don't want to let strangers in the door. That's why missionaries here always try to get in the door. Obviously, the person can then decide how to proceed. We teach a lot here. I would imagine it's one of the highest rates. It's very exciting to be able to work with so many people. Ft. Dauphin is also interesting because it is very stratified economically. A good portion of the people work for mines and are very well off because they make American level salaries. The other half are subsistence fisherman. Imagine Old Man and the Sea - that's pretty much what it's like. For instance, I believe I mentioned this last week, but last p-day we purchased lobster from a man who had just caught it while we were walking along the beach. It's amazing stuff like that. I have been eating a lot of fish. Things are really expensive here. It's ridiculous. And there's not a whole lot. It's going to be so weird to go back to the US and see so much variety. Here it's basically what you see is what you get. If you can't grow it or catch it locally, most likely you won't be eating it. There are a few things for foreigners but even those things are mostly for Chinese and Middle Easterners.

Elder Bassett and I are working hard and doing well. It was funny to see the pictures of the family, because his dad's company sponsors the concert where the pictures were taken. His dad works for Conoco Phillips, so Elder Bassett has been to that concert many times. Also, I just got my last Christmas package this week from the taxi be.

The last thing I want to do is share my favorite scripture with you. Hands down, no passage of holy writ brings more joy to my soul that this from 2 Nephi 4:28-30

28 Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

29 Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.

30 Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

Now, I don't want to analyze it too much because it's a psalm and just like a song, you're not supposed to hyper analyze it. That just ruins it. Also, I think different things are highlighted when you read it at different times. That's why psalms are so amazing. They are just very unique in the way in which they speak to our heart. I would, however, like to make a few points about it that can help you start to ponder the scripture. I find that within this passage are some of the pearls of greatest price in the form of a command. 

"Awake my soul!" This is my favorite part. I feel like so often we allow our heart to sleep. We are so busy that we are actually in a deep sleep. The reality all around us is lost in the charade of busy we create for ourselves. What action comes following the command, awake my soul? I think it depends on the person and the moment. We should ask ourselves what does it mean for my soul to be awake?

As I said, I don't want to over analyze so the last part I'll share is the end. "Rejoice oh my heart and cry unto the Lord... I will praise thee forever... the rock of my salvation."

The Book of Mormon is amazing. We should all read it more often and savor it. I love to read it slowly. It is beautiful to me and I love the words of God. When I read the Book of Mormon I feel pure inspiration pouring into my heart. My mind is enlightened. That is the power of the Book of Mormon and I encourage everyone to drink deeply of its knowledge. It will fill your soul to overflowing. 

Elder Ahlstrom 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

January 11, 2016

It took us forever to find a cyber today. We ran all over, and now we don't have a ton of time. Sorry, but I'll have to be quick. Ft. Dauphin is very different than the rest of Madagascar. It's much smaller and much, much cleaner than anywhere I've been. It is one of the smallest missionary areas with only six Elders. I'm serving with Elder Bassett from Katy, which is apparently about 30 minutes from where you live. He's been serving for 7 months, so he's a little newer missionary. He works super hard, which I like, and he is perfectly obedient, which is pretty much the best compliment you can give a missionary. It's absolutely beautiful here. I don't want to plug my camera into this cyber. I've known too many missionaries that lost everything that way, so you'll have to wait to see pictures. Essentially it's a large peninsula that forms a bowl of bright blue water on one side and continues straight along the edge of the coast on the other side. Directly north is a massive mountain range that comes up to the coast. It's stunning, absolutely amazing. It's the prettiest place I've been in my life. It is also the most jungle and exotic part of Madagascar. I've already been served a whole fish head. Although I shied away from the head, I've eaten fresh lobster that we bought off the guy that caught it. The work is fun here, but it's hot! The branch is doing well. The church is very well established here and the branch presidency is endowed, which is really nice. They also speak English because all of the church leadership here works with mining companies. They are very successful for Malagasies. Our apartment sucks. It's nasty, not dirty, but little and drafty and run down. But it overlooks the beach and I go to sleep to the sound of the ocean crashing, so I can't complain about that.

Elder Ahlstrom
January 4, 2016

Happy New Year! I hope you're all doing well. I am a little tired but happy and healthy. A lot has happened this week. First, we had a happy and safe new years. Other than the fact that there was a street party that was blasting music in front of our house until 7 in the morning. I didn't sleep very well. I kept waking up at 3 and 4 in the morning and think, who could possibly still be dancing. I'm not totally convinced that everyone didn't just pass out and forget to turn off the music. How can you dance for 12 hours straight? As it is, I'm glad the holidays are over. It doesn't really feel like the holidays when it is hot everywhere. Also Malagasies party too hard - ha ha. Actually I'm just complaining a bit. I think it would be super fun to go out and party in the streets, but that isn't really for missionaries. It seems that some people had a bit too much fun judging by the taxi that nearly flew off the cliff that faces our house. Thankfully he ran into a house instead of going over the cliff, so everyone was safe. (Except for the taxi and the house.) 

The funniest thing we did this week was get special permission to watch cow wrestling. I'll send pictures when I can. Those guys are insane. Malagasy cows have really long horns. Thankfully no one got skewered, which is apparently pretty common. One person almost got trampled. Overall, it was a fun taste of something that only happens here in Fianarantsoa and the surrounding cities. Here it's very cultural, and it's fun to watch all the customs that surround it. 

This is actually the last time that I'll be writing you from Fianarantsoa. Next time I'll be in (drum roll please)... Ft. Dauphin, which is the southern most tip of Madagascar. I'm very excited because it's a coastal town. It's not a big city like Toamasina. I get to fly air Madagascar, so that will also be fun taking a little prop plane down south. I will be serving with Elder Basset. It's my understanding that he's actually from Houston. 

Other than that things are going well. I'm packing today. I'm sad to leave Fianarantsoa. I hate leaving areas. I can't believe I've been here for 4 1/2 months. It feels like a week. Of course I can't believe I've been in Madagascar 1 1/2 years. That also feels like a week. They're having 6 baptisms here the Saturday after I leave - two families and a young man. It was amazing to work with so many wonderful people. I miss them already. They're very excited. The branches here are also doing a lot better which makes me happy. 

Elder Ahlstrom

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

December 28, 2015

It's great to hear from you. Not much has happened since we talked on Christmas Eve (as expected). Next week I might be getting transferred. We're going to try and watch bull wrestling on New Years, which is very Malagasy! Hopefully it will be fun. I'm a little tired today. This was a crazy week, and we are busy this p-day. I'm hoping that I'll be able to snag a nap at some point. I'm very happy, and yeah, nothing much to report. I really appreciated the gifts you sent. They were what I needed, and I am thankful for them. Just a few things that I had wanted to mention when we Skyped, but I forgot. I am not planning on getting tons of souvenirs, obviously. But I do want to get a few really special things. One thing I had been thinking about is a nativity set. They have very, very nice ones here carved from rose wood. They're pretty expensive, but they're practically priceless in America. I don't know, that's not really pressing, but if there's anything you want let me know. I've never really focused on touristy stuff during my mission, which I like because it is, after all a mission, but I just thought I'd ask. Other than that have a happy New Year.
Elder Ahlstrom
December 14, 2015

Well, it's another week in Fianarantsoa. I always feel like i should say more in my emails, but it's hard to get all your thoughts distilled into an email in just a few minutes. I want to share uplifting thoughts and i want you all to know that I love you very much, and that I am doing well, and that I am happy and healthy. Also, I did get grandpa's package> He's the best and I've already used some of the stuff in it. I cant wait to talk to you all very soon. You know, you don't really think about it during the week. However, as it gets closer you can't help but think about home a little bit, especially during the Christmas season. I am planning on Skyping y'all on the 25th or 24th early in the morning here (like 8 ish). I hope that's not way too much of  a bother for you all. I think that will work about to be the best time for us.

This week has been very rainy. Don't worry about my shoes being wet, because the rest of me is soaked anyways. I have my rain jacket and umbrella, but ultimately it doesn't' make a whole lot of a difference when the water is a foot high and the rain moves horizontally instead of vertically. You just get wet - everywhere - haha. I live in the rainforest, you know. This week we did a lot of tracting and different things which was good. We also got to focus on teaching some really cool new families. I'm excited for them so I'll let you all know how it goes.
But yeah nothing much here, I love you all very much,
Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, January 4, 2016

December 7, 2015

Our ceiling fell in during a wind storm

December 7, 2015

I hope you're doing well. Sorry for the short email last week, but as I said, President Foote was in town so things were a little crazy. Some of the highlights from this week, well it was actually a little bit crazy. First off, Elder Snell was unexpectedly transferred, which was sad. Also part of our roof collapsed in a really bad wind storm. It was a little alarming. I wasn't the tin roof, but more the drop ceiling inside the house. This week has really been wild and I'm looking forward to a little bit of a slower week this week where we can kind of refocus. Things are going well here in Fianarantsoa. We're expecting to have some baptisms coming up. The people getting ready are very excited and I'm very excited for them. I think they're really ready. We're also getting excited for Christmas and the New Year. The Rakotoarisoas (the couple missionaries here) invited us to celebrate New Years with them. From the pictures you sent it looks like you all are getting really excited too! Our work with the leaders here is going well. When we were sent down here the church was really struggling to survive here in Fianarantsoa. That's kind of a scary prospect, but a big part of our coming down here was to make the church strong and self sustaining. It's been a lot of work, but the members are amazing and little by little they're getting ready to take on the responsibilities of being leaders in the church. It's a slow process, but it's very rewarding to see them take initiative and to see the church make an abrupt about face. I did see the church's Christmas video. It was really amazing. I'm doing well and I hope you are all doing well too. Have a great week. 
Elder Ahlstrom
November 30, 2015

Well, another week has passed by. Time is flying at an epoch rate. It's amazing to me. I can't believe that tomorrow will already be December. I hope everyone is well and that you all know how much I care about you. Of  course keeping a singleness to the work is absolutely necessary, but at this time of year my thoughts can't help but be stolen away to home. Although I can honestly say that I've devoted everything during my mission, as much as I could, I feel so indebted. Ultimately the blessings I have received have always far outweighed any "sacrifice" I may have thought myself to have made. I remember at this time Christ's pure love, and it pushes me to focus on people and to minister the way he did by going into the homes of people and bringing light into their lives, one by one. There is no greater Christmas joy than helping the Savior as he progresses his work, the work of helping individual souls, children of God, come unto Christ.

This week has been great. We actually had a surprise visit from President and Sister Foote. It was very unexpected. They just called us and told us they were coming down. They're awesome and I love working with them. We played basketball with with President, which is always fun. This week it has been rainy. Nothing too exciting to report. For Thanksgiving we made chili. I have received some Christmas packages. Thanks. 

I hope you all have a great Christmas season. 

Elder Ahlstrom