Happy New Year!
I know I have already bored some of you with my Christmas adventures, but you'll just have to endure another little recap! On Thursday we loaded up a bus here in Vlore with lots of youth and other members and friends and headed to Tirana for the big District Christmas Program with all the members in Albania. There was a great turnout and not one empty seat in the huge hall at the National Museum where we held the event. Each branch in Albania performed something that they had prepared, and we had over 2.5 hours of entertainment. All the big branches had choirs and lots of special Christmas musical numbers. Church choirs here aren't exactly what we have at home, so as you can imagine it was....interesting. All I can say is that us missionaries on the back row definitely enjoyed ourselves, even if at sometimes it was more like a comedy show than a musical performance.

Motra Leit, Motra Korita, Motra Hall at Christmas Program
So after all the other branches got up and did nice Christmas skits and sang Christmas songs, our branch youth got up and tried to sing "The Apostle Song" in English and then they did some skit where the Young Women pretended to be Motra Leit and I and be missionaries contacting people in the street. It was definitely entertaining and had everyone laughing...so yeah, go Vlore! We are always the strange different ones though, it's great...I guess. It was also awesome to see all of my Tirana friends there! It was a long day though, and we barely made it home by 10:30pm that night!

On Christmas Eve (which is when we kinda celebrated Christmas at our house, because that's the Danish way) we went to Seminary and afterwards invited all the kids to go with us Caroling. At first they seemed a little leery because they just don't do those kind of things here, but by the end we were able to get about a dozen kids to come with Motra Leit and I. So we went out and caroled to lots of the less-active members and some of the families that live around the church. Even though we took music, the only song the kids knew was Silent Night and then the chorus to Jingle Bells in English, so we just sang that over and over again. It was probably the worst caroling I have ever heard because they have absolutely no sense of rhythm or melody, but the youth were loving it so it didn't matter. And in general I think most of the people we sang to were surprised and enjoyed it as well. There were of course those who were about ready to shoo us off their porch also, so we just left it at one song and hurriedly left! By the end it was pouring rain and we were all soaked, but the kids didn't want to stop. I think it will always be a memorable experience for them!

Christmas Day started off at 9am with a baptism....well, almost at 9am. We actually were all waiting at the church and it was like 5 minutes to 9am and our little girl, Eva, still wasn't at the church. It's not exactly the coolest moment for a missionary when the person who is supposed to be baptized is MIA, so Motra Leit and I went running to her house. We were knocking on the door and nobody was answering, and I was honestly a little worried. Then all of a sudden Eva came running out of the elevator to her apartment because she had been at a cousin's house and was just getting home. We hurried to the church with her and ended up having a beautiful baptism! She is just soooo awesome! After the baptism we had a little young women activity and baked some sugar cookies. Then Christmas night we had a sweet Young Single Adult Activity at the Institute. It was a Danish themed night and Motra Leit entertained everyone with games, info about Denmark, and some Danish treats.
It was a lovely end to a fabulous Christmas.

Motra Leit, Eva, Motra Hall

The only other cool thing I can think of that happen this week was we had an unplanned visit to see Alseda, the awesome girl who was baptized last week. We were just dropping some new scriptures off to her, but she insisted that we come in and meet with her father. That was about the last thing I wanted to do on my lunch time, especially because her father had been against her coming to church in the first place, so I was pretty scared of him to be honest. It ended up being an awesome meeting though. We had a great time and her Dad is actually super funny and nice and reminded me a little of my Dad (or at least I told him that). Often missionaries talk about great experiences of the "Gift of Tongues" where they testified or something like that, but I had a different "Gift of Tongues" experience. It was more like a "Gift of Tongues-Comedy Style."
I'm not sure how to explain it, but to be able to be entertaining and funny in a foreign language is kinda hard (especially if you are a lame, not so funny person like me), but we had Alseda's dad just laughing and loving life and loving us. It was definitely a huge blessing! And I was even able to throw in some Word of Wisdom stuff on him because he smokes. It was sweet! Now I'm back to my boring, not funny-self, but I'm just so grateful that I had it when it was necessary! We had lunch with Alseda today and her Mom was telling us that we had to come back and visit her husband again because he really enjoyed talking to us. Quite the big change from the beginning!

Well, hope you all have an awesome New Years Eve! Motra Leit and I will be staying up to midnight to see the fireworks (if I can make it that late...I've become quite the oldster on this missionary schedule) and then in the house all New Years Day doing some Deep Cleaning!

Love you -
Motra Hall

Kelsey at the internet cafe on her SKYPE call for Christmas.

December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I just had a super awesome week and another promisingly wonderful Christmas week in store. I guess I should finish talking about my awesome death trip last week that I kinda left you all hanging on. So as I think I mentioned we saw Butrint and then stayed the night in Sarande and enjoyed the beach out there. Then Tuesday morning we continued on to Syri i Kalter, which translates as the Blue Eye. This is a legit famous place and super beautiful! Basically it is a small little pool of water that is indefinitely deep because no measuring tool that has been sent down has been able to measure the depth of the pool. It is super gorgeous though and a stunning blue circle (thus the name). It was probably a good thing that it was freezing cold, or else a lot of us would have been super tempted to "accidentally" fall in! After Blue Eye we went to see Gjirokaster, which I had been to before with Motra Larson, but this time we went in the castle, which I didn't see last time. And I'm so glad we did, because it is probably one of the coolest castles in Albania and there was lots of exploring to do.

Syri i Kalter - "The Blue Eye"
Once back to Vlore, I turned around and was in Fier the next two days for some specialized trainings and special marriage advice talks from President Neil (he's so awesome). So after spending four days straight away from my area, it was nice to get back to work and meet with my people, because they were all worried that I had been transferred to Tirana and wasn't coming back!

On Saturday Alseda got baptized! She was the really awesome girl we met through English when Motra Leit first got here, who fell in love with the Gospel and everything about it. She, as most people have here, had some problems with her family (mostly her father) when she started coming, but the Lord really blessed us and she was finally able to be baptized. I'm not sure what it is, but it seems like each baptism I have just gets better and better. It was just so beautiful, and despite the freezing cold water, because our little swimming pool heater was broken, nothing could take the huge grin off of Alseda's face. She was just so happy and excited to finally be baptized! The good stuff!

Most useful thing I learned this week: When playing cops and robbers\guns with little boys, don't play dead because they think it is funny to try and kill you even more when your eyes are closed. I guess in my years of babysitting at the Hardcastle Ranch I was somehow deceived that all kids would run to you and be sad when you were "dead," but that is not true in the real world. Sorry, random, but it happened.

As you have probably already figured out by now, Christmas isn't too big here, but New Year is HUGE! So many people have "new year" trees in their homes. I decided not to bust their bubbles by telling them that those were actually decorated "Christmas" trees. Even the members here don't do that much because traditionally nothing is celebrated on the 25th. The Albania District will be having a huge Christmas party in Tirana though, so we will go to that, and then on the 25th we have lots of exciting stuff planned here in Vlore inlcuding a baptism, young womens activity making gingerbread houses (that should be interesting), and a Danish Night Party with the YSA's.

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and enjoy this special time of the year to celebrate the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ, even more. I'm so grateful for his life and his sacrifice and service in my behalf.
And I'm grateful for all of you!
I love you!
Motra Hall

December 13, 2010

Howdy everyone!

Just a quick hello today- Me and my Motras (Yourstone, Hiland, and Peatross) and 4 Elders are down here in Sarandë partying it up for the night. Don't have too much time to explain, but I am on what is known as the Death Trip of the mission that all missionaries who successfully complete a rigorous Progression Program earn at the end of their missions. It consists of an overnight P-Day trip that will extended till tomorrow afternoon. Since Motra Hiland was going to be the only Motra on the trip, us three all opted to go on our trip a little early so she wouldn't be the lone Motra. So far today we have just done a lot of driving and we also got to go see Butrint, a place with lots of ruins...you can look it up on Wikipedia or something and learn a lot more than I know. It was pretty cool though.

District P-Day Activity---bumper cars American Style. (Albanian style is to just drive alone around without touching other cars. Good thing we were the only ones driving)
The most exciting things of the week I included in an email to my Mission President this morning, so I'll just copy that here...
"The Preston's (a senior couple) had a mini Super Saturday down here in Vlore for all the Seminary students, and the youth from Elbasan and Durres were able to come down and join our Vlore youth for a day of spiritual learning and fun. There were over 30 youth here and I think they all just had a wonderful time. It was especially exciting to see the young people that we have been working with here, as well as Alseda, our investigator that is going to be baptized this Saturday, get excited about the scriptures. There were lots of the typical Scripture Mastery chase competitions, and our youth were so prepared and had them all memorized and were so excited to recite them. I especially was proud of Alseda, who isn't even a member yet, but had memorized all the scriptures that the Preston's had assigned the youth a few weeks ago when they visited the Vlore Seminary class. Also, Alseda got up and bore a beautiful testimony and shared that although she wasn't baptized yet, she knew this church was true and how it has changed and blessed her life. It was just one of those rewarding moments as a missionary!"

Also, we finally had some time this week to visit a woman that we made contact with over a month ago. Due to scheduling conflicts and the fact that she lives kinda far away, we never really had a chance to visit her. Plus, I also thought after she told us that she was really busy that she didn't have too much interest, so she was pushed down our priority list...my bad. Anyway, once we finally got out to meet her, the first thing she asked is if we had brought her anything else to read. So I asked her if she had read from the Book of Mormon that we gave her, and she informed us that she had read the entire thing cover to cover, as well as the Restoration pamphlet that we had left, which is why she wanted something more to read. She said she loves to read and has read tons of books and material both religious and other, and she has never felt so good and so much peace as she did when she read the Book of Mormon. She said she has had a lot of stress lately with one of her teenage daughters, and that reading the Book of Mormon just helped her and took it all away. So we started talking and she had just one question; about why a new church was needed, etc. So we just taught the first lesson exactly with prophets and dispensations, Jesus Christ, and Joseph Smith's answer to "restore" Christ's church just as it had been. She was just like "oh, that makes perfect sense." Anyway, it was just an awesome experience and we are excited to start teaching her and hopefully her three daughters and husband as well!"

On Saturday in Vlore we had a power-outage all day for like over 10 hours. Anyway, sometime that night while we were in the church trying to teach and have activities by candlelight, my bag that I carry around got taken. Obviously there's nothing to do but laugh about it....why cry over spilled milk. At first I hoped that the stupid little boy who came in and stole it would trip on his shoelace and scratch his knee or something, but I repented pretty quickly of that mean thought and decided it would be a better story if he read my scriptures that were in my bag and came back to the church and got baptized. I'm praying for that option now! :)

As for other excitement this week there isn't too much. Our weather in Vlore went from a sunny Mediterranean climate overnight to what seemed like a windy Alaskan terrain. But I prefer that to the ridiculous rain storms we had the week before. I forgot to mention it last week , but the floods in Tirana were so bad when we were coming home from exchanges last week that it took us almost 3 hours to just get to Durres, which is less than like 40km away. But the floods there were nothing compared to the northern city, Shkoder, which flooded really bad and is still underwater. We have four missionaries up there, but they have all been moved down to Tirana for the time being. On the news it just shows people paddling around the city in boats. Super sad!

Anyway, Motra Leit is doing great too and is holding down the fort in Vlore with Motra Halabuk. I'm sure she is enjoying the break away from her crazy trainer!

Hope you all have a rocking awesome week! I'm going to go hit up the town now in my jeans....yeah! Don't worry I still love missionary work....but we are having a dang good time!

Motra Hall

December 6, 2010

Happy December!
I'm sure you all have your Christmas decorations up by now...haha, I know my family better than that. Our missionary apartment would still be pretty bare too if it was up to me, but Motra Leit and those Danish folks are quite the festivators (I don't think that is a word), so we have all kinds of Christmas stuff up and multiple countdowns going all over the place.

So I think this will be a quick little email today because our P-Day is being crashed by a member dinner. We don't usually have those, but the Smith's and us were invited to one tonight at 6pm. I just got a phone call from the Sister that has invited us though and she wanted us to come early to help her cook because she is the only female in the house, and of course to ask a man to help in her kitchen is preposterous. In normal circumstances I of course would happily offer to help someone who is having a dinner for me...but this isn't normal. I said we would be free after five. She said earlier. I said 4:30pm. She said 4pm. I said 4:30pm. (My negotiating skills are improving I think!) Anyway, whatever we could possibly be eating that takes 2 hours to prepare can't really be worth it. Plus me in the kitchen is always a bad idea. Mix that with me cooking and trying to communicate "kitchen talk" in Albanian. I think I would be more successful at shooting a six point buck in the middle of May (FYI: deer hunting season is not in May). Okay really random example...don't know where that came from. I'm not complaining though.
Baptism! Me, Denisa, Motra Leit, and Eva (the awesome little sister getting baptized in December)

I guess for starters I'll just include my "highlight" story of the week which I sent to my Mission President today:
"Although we had lots of great things happen, probably the highlight of the week for me was a small personal experience that I had. I was feeling a little frustrated and down (in a happy, motra kinda down way) because of the lack of activeness we have had from most of our adult members and Albanian branch leadership here in Vlore. Not to say that I don't love running half the auxiliary organizations of the branch single-handed, but I was thinking lots about the future of the branch and how it really needs some strong leaders. Anyway, as it was fast Sunday, I took these concerns and questions to the Lord seeking both comfort and direction during my fast.

Sunday morning as I sat playing prelude music 10 a.m. came and left and we had the usual turnout of about 5 youth and that was about it. Then slowly families and couples started coming in and sitting together until we had about seven or so couples, four or five other adults, and then our usual crowd of teenage youth. I was touched to receive such a prompt and direct answer of comfort from the Lord to my personal prayers, although it was kinda crummy because it was a little difficult to read the piano music through my puddle-filled eyes. As President Smith and I talked later we agreed that it was probably the best turnout to church that we have seen in our time here."

So yeah, I know I've said it before, but the Lord really does hear and answer our prayers...even us little unimportant Motras in the middle of nowhere Eastern Europe. Don't worry I really haven't had a bad week, it has actually been super awesome and busy!

Albania Flags fly today for Albanian Flag Day (basically like their 4th of July) November 2010

On Thursday morning Motra Leit and I went up to Tirana to do exchanges with Motra Halabuk and Motra Highland. Even though I have never served in that part of Tirana, I know quite a few of the members and people they teach, and I got super lucky and got to visit all my favorite people of that area and Sister Hiland and I had some great lessons Thursday night. Friday morning we turned around and headed back for Vlore with Motra Peatross and Motra Yourstone with us for an exchange in our area. I know back-to-back exchanges....us Motras are super spoiled. But it was good to have some help to catch up on the work we missed while in Tirana. This time I got to spend the evening with Motra Yourstone and it was great. We hadn't been together on an exchange since back in late June, so it was good to work together again.

Also, more super exciting news...Vlore Branch has another return missionary. Enea Rrokaj came home this week from his mission in Rome. He is really awesome and is going to be so good for this branch. Also, he has lots of cool connections. First of all he served with Breanna Hawkey on his mission. I had seen a picture with him and her at his parents house while he was out, so when I told him on Sunday he freaked out. More importantly though, he is best friends with Kozeta's son and his family knows and is close with her husband. So Kozeta was super, super excited to see him on Sunday at his homecoming. And I'm super, super excited to have Enea talk to her husband....I'm hoping it will help him give his permission for Kozeta to be baptized!

The only other notable event of the week was teaching the young women how to make paper snow flakes. That was some messy fun, but they all enjoyed it and now the church is looking all decorated for the holidays! Thankfully paper snow is as snowy as it will be getting here in Vlore this winter! :)

So, I didn't send this email before the dinner because I wasn't quite finished, but we just got back from that delightful aforementioned dinner. It didn't go so bad...mostly because the family ended up just calling the four other Elders also to join us, which meant I could scrape all those leftovers onto the Elder's plates when nobody was looking. As for the cooking....well I just kinda went through the motions and kept shaking seasoning and salt on stuff and the Sister seemed content with my contribution to the meal.

Well, I guess that is all I got for this week. I'm sure I've forgotten somethings, but if I told you all everything, what will we talk about when I get home!

Have a great week! Love you all!

November 29, 2010

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

What a lovely holiday it is-- eat, drink, be merry, and be grateful! Those are all things that I think I can do pretty well. We had a mission conference on Thanksgiving (actually it was technically a "combined Zone Conference" just for the record) and we had a wonderful time together. Sister Neil and all the Senior Couples worked really hard to have a wonderful traditional Thanksgiving dinner for us. And just for the record I didn't just eat rolls with Nutella and mashed potatoes with gravy, but I sampled some vegetables and turkey as well. The dinner was just a small part of my eventful Thanksgiving day though.

Thanksgiving actually started a little after 4am when Motra Leit and I woke up to get ready. We headed to Tirana around 5am in the morning with our District, which got us there a little early so we could do a little pre-Black Friday shopping in the huge Tirana outdoor Market. I had never been there before, but I can easily say that place puts Algodones to shame. I totally enjoyed just wandering around watching the Elders barter, since as we know I'm not exactly a big shopper. Anyway, back to Mission Conference....after we had all feasted and were too full to even touch the dessert table, we all wandered back into the conference room where the Neil's treated us to a traditional Thanksgiving movie. This year we watched "Toy Story 3" and I loved it. I laughed, I cried (yeah I took it pretty hard at the end when Andy gave his toys away to the little girl), and all around just thought it was great. I don't know, maybe my movie critiquing skills have gone pretty downhill since I've seen no normal movie for over a year, but it got two thumbs up from me.

Does it sound like I had a great Thanksgiving? Just wait, there's more!

So it was getting kinda late and we still had the drive back to Vlore, so we volunteered to drive back with the Smith's who had come in their own vehicle that morning. So we all took off and we were still in the middle of Tirana when we found ourselves in a little fender-bender. Actually if you want to get technical it was more of a scratch(er)-dent(er). So we were all fine and it wasn't that big of a deal; I mean what do you expect when there are hundreds of cars going 7 different directions in a circle intersection with no lights, signs, or police directing traffic. Needless to say, I didn't envy Elder Smith at all having to drive in that mess. Anyway, we of course were all fine except the lady in the other vehicle who was yelling at us because "we hit her" (she was behind us though). The Smith's were so cute they were just like, "we are American. No kuptoj Albanian." (Kuptoj means "understand"). So she starts yelling in horrible English, and in the meantime the hundreds of cars around us are honking cause we are blocking the way. Finally we get to the side of the road and get a policeman to come to the scene. No offense, but as all Albanian policeman are he was completely "kote." I got the pleasure of trying to translate and talk our way through this little problem, and it was quite entertaining to say the least. Of course the Albanian mentality was to try and just get us to pay them some cash and then we could all leave and be happy. The policeman just tried to look official and ask for our documents (too bad he forgot to ask the other car for their documents!) Finally a special accident analysis was called to the scene, but before he arrived the other car decided they didn't want to wait so they just got our phone number and left. So yeah, typical Albanian situation....lots of yelling and nothing was accomplished. It made for a lovely Thanksgiving story though!

Motra Leit and our newest investigator on Thanksgiving. November 2010

Okay, and the last exciting part of Thanksgiving day...more early Black Friday Shopping. On the way out of Tirana the Smith's stopped to get some special groceries that we don't have in Vlore from this Albanian Shopping Mall place. It was the craziest thing and totally blew my mind - it was like walking from the streets of Albanian right back into America. I was just walking down the hall of this place staring all around me and turning around and staring at the ceiling, you know that "totally in awe" kinda thing. And get this, Motra Leit bought stuff with a CREDIT CARD! I forgot what those things were. Like I haven't seen one of those in almost a year. I'm pretty sure mine is just locked in my suitcase because the only thing it would be good for here is to scrape your windshield, but I have no car so its completely kote. Oh and the other funny part of that little mall visit was that we ran into the same couple from the car accident in an aisle in one of the stores. That was super awkward, and afterward Motra Leit and I ran and hid in the corner of the store till they left to avoid any other unpleasant collisions.

Okay, on to reasons why I was especially grateful this Thanksgiving year.....we had a baptism! Denisa, the girl I talked about last week, was able to get baptized on Saturday. A lot of smiling and reassuring words on my part, as well as lots of childish begging from Denisa, got her mother's signature of approval for her baptism. I jokingly told her mom that if Denisa gave her any problems she could call me up and we'd take care of it. Her mom held me up to that one though, and the night of her baptism she had me come to her house so that she could tell me to talk to her daughter about not keeping secrets from her mother. So we got to have a lovely lesson about that today and it looks like I'm getting the opportunity to step into this teenage counseling role. So as you can imagine, I don't envy my parents or anyone else who has/had the pleasure of dealing with teenagers. Denisa's commitment of the week is to just say "hi mom, how was your day?" when she gets home from school before going to lock herself in her bedroom. It's a start. But really she is super good and it was a lovely baptism.

Even better though is Denisa's little sister, Eva. She is 13, but so cute and so awesome. On Sunday we came out of a branch council meeting about an hour after church had gotten out and Eva was just still sitting in the church reading a "Preach My Gospel" (the guidebook for missionaries basically). She showed us all the parts she had underlined and liked and she asked if she could take it home to read some more. When she came back today she told us all the things she had learned from it and she was like, "did you wake up at 6 this morning and do your exercises, because I read that in your book?" Then in her lesson yesterday she told us that she feels so good at church and feels like it is already her baptism because she can't wait. Then she asked what she should do when her mom asks her to go buy bread or something on Sunday, because she said I know I'm not supposed to and I repent, but I know that I'll break that commandment again when my mom asks me the next time. We told her that God understands and it is good that she is obeying her parents. Now she wants to help her mom stop drinking coffee. She's so good! I learn so much from her and her simple little Christlike example that she constantly radiates!

So yeah, like really life couldn't be better. We have been so blessed and are so grateful to the Lord for all we have been given.

I love and miss you all! Thanks for all you do!

November 22, 2010

I guess the big awaited news of the week is transfers. We got the big call this week determining our fate for the next 6 weeks and...Motra Leit is staying in Vlore with ME!!!!! We were super excited to hear that and celebrated with homemade Root Beer (super delightful)! I was a little nervous because that will make almost a year for me here and I was thinking my time might have run up, so we were quite relieved to get that news.

As for Motra Korita we still don't have much new news. We had a two day training this week in Fier and Motra Korita was able to come down with President Neil and came home with us for a one night slumber party, but had to go back to Tirana afterwards. Her leg isn't doing much better, in fact I thought her limp looked even worse, which was super sad. She went to see some better doctors in Tirana and they did a new x-ray of her foot and ankle. Apparently she is missing a bone in her ankle, or it is deformed or something like that, plus like some kind of cracked something in her knee. I can't imagine how the Doctor here missed that...unless it had something to do with her 5 second glance of the x-ray against the window and that was it. Anyway, I know my description of her diagnosis isn't that accurate, but that is all I really could understand with my measly Albanian. So the verdict is still unknown, but she has at least another 2 weeks in Tirana if not more.

As for our work here in Vlore, it continues to flourish. Satan has kinda been having a heyday causing a few obstacles/road bumps with our baptisms planned for the coming weeks, but I pity the obstacle in the path the Lord,of Motra Leit and I. We will Fitojme! To explain a little...

Power Outage....more flooded streets within just the last 7 minutes. I love Albania! I also love that Gmail automatically saves my email draft...thank goodness!

Anyway, so Denisa who is supposed to get baptized this Saturday, as well as her younger sister who is getting baptized next month, both need a parents signature of consent. And that is a lot easier said than done...especially here. Their mom knows that they have been coming to our English classes and that everyday they come to the church to learn, but when they mentioned baptism she say no way. As for their dad, like most Albanian men, if he even knew they looked twice at some church he would go crazy. I told Denisa that we could come meet with her mother and maybe answer any questions she might have, but she said that her mom doesn't even want to talk to us. And I'll be honest I'm pretty scared to meet with her myself...I'm not exactly the most convincing person. Still, Denisa is sooo excited for her baptism, as are we, so we are just praying for a miracle and I think it will all work out.

Our second major obstacle is for Kozeta. She too needs permission, but from her husband. He officially thinks she is crazy to want to be baptized and is being pretty difficult. In general though he is a much more understanding and lenient Albanian man, so I know that he will eventually give her permission, even if he doesn't like the idea. This week Kozeta told us all the reasons he gave her for why she shouldn't be baptized. It just so happened that right before our lesson with her I had read and printed her off a copy of Elder Uchtdorf's talk "Faith of Our Fathers" which addresses every concern that her husband brought up. Still waiting to see if it helped. In the meantime though, Kozeta continues to be super amazing. This week she told us how one day she was looking for half an hour or so for something on the Internet but just couldn't find it. Finally she just decided to pray, even though it was such a simple thing. She said right after she prayed she found just what she needed, and she was so surprised at how effective praying really can be. Oh I love that woman!

Wow, sorry that kinda sounds like depressing stuff, but really we aren't depressed at all, because we know everything will work out.

So I had another first this past week. Unless I am forgetting some childhood experience that my mind refuses to remember, I'm pretty sure I experience my first time getting in trouble and being lectured for being out too late. Either I was just that amazing of a teenager, or else my parents are just super cool...or maybe a combination of the two. Anyway, it was about 8:30pm and we found ourselves about an hour away from our house up in the mountains after the buses had stopped and the taxis had all gone home. It actually isn't that unusual of an occurrence because one of our investigators lives out there and can only meet at night, and I wasn't worried because we would still be home before 9:30pm if we walked. Granted it is dark, but that is just life here because nice lighted streets are hard to come by in Albania. Anyway, of the non-member parents of one of the girls from church drove by and recognized us and insisted that we get in the car and they drive us home. I at least knew who they were, although we aren't exactly on any kind of name basis. Anyway, I got the whole lecture about being out this late from them the whole ride back to our house. It was quite entertaining!

I hope you all have a super amazing Thanksgiving! We have so much to be thankful for. And know that I am super grateful for all of you and your love and support and prayers. And I'm exceedingly grateful to be a missionary in Albania! It is the best!

Much Love and Misses

November 15, 2010

Howdy! Life is just fabulous over here; lots of work, lots of miracles, and lots of fun! It was kinda a busy week, so I'll just start with some bullet points:

-The Elders found a new crepe restaurant here in Vlore, and it is simply amazing. We went last Monday for one of the Elder's Birthdays, and then Motra Leit and I decided it was so amazing that we were going to go every day of the week (except Sunday of course!) It is kinda out of the way, but we got the owner's cell number and just started calling him everyday to tell him when we were coming so he could have our order ready. I'm pretty sure he loves us, since us two Motras have probably brought in more business this week that all his other customers combined. To date we have consumed 22 crepes, and will be returning tonight. And don't worry we always get a healthy chicken crepe with vegetables to accompany our Nutella and banana dessert crepe!

- We had the coolest dinner appointment ever this week with the Isufi family. We planned ahead of time to teach them how to make real American Hamburgers on their "BBQ." Turns out their BBQ is an awesome little shack on the roof of their house that has an old school fireplace in it. It was super cool...

Cooking burgers in a cool shack on the roof of the Isufi's house. Us with Noel and Bruno Isufi!

I'm not sure how "American" the burgers were, since I made Motra Leit do all the dirty work with the raw meat (I know I'm a wussy), but everyone liked them. When nobody was looking I passed on the meat and just had a veggie burger since I realized that is was ground pig not ground beef. Still super fun! Afterwards I got to help Brother Isufi with his talk for church on Eternal Marriage...my favorite! :)

- Motra Leit and I got brave and decided to teach the young women this week how to make Danish Cinnamon Rolls. We had an awesome turnout of 11 girls and 2 younger brothers, and between all the chaos and cinnamon everywhere I think they had a good time. The rolls turned out pretty dang good too!

- Since we weren't having crepes on Sunday, and we had forgotten to go shopping Saturday night I got the pleasure of trying to create a little Sunday brunch for us. I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty proud of the beans & rice and bread & butter that we ended up having. I think it was pretty good...after it was covered in salt. But really, the bread was homemade and I didn't even use a recipe. I just mixed yeast, water, flour, and some sugar together till it looked like some kind of dough and then I was too impatient to let it rise, so I just stuck it in the oven. So if I can't get into grad school after the mission, I'll probably just open up my own bread store!

I'm sure you are probably all thinking that I'm a total loser since all I have talked about is food. I can't deny not being a loser, but at least Motra Leit and I are keeping plenty busy running from appointment to appointment and walking miles and miles to keep all those extra dessert crepes off our hips (for the most part). On the topic of walking...today we had our District Trip and we did our fair share of walking.

We decided to do a District Trip that nobody else has probably ever done, which was to visit Kotë, a tiny village about 45 minutes outside of Vlora. There is no famous anything out there, so our main intention was just to say that we had been to Kotë, because in Albanian the word "kotë" means "good-for-nothing, vain, useless, worthless, etc." So yeah, we think we are pretty funny for having a "kotë" District Trip to Kotë. Turns out though that Kotë is a super beautiful little village tucked into the mountains with a river and lots of awesome old school suspension bridges...

Motra Leit and I jumping on the super sketch kote bridge, over the kote river, with kote mountains in the background!

And I'm pretty sure that that old little town doesn't get too many visitors because the whole town was just sitting around the town center just staring at us. Oh, and since it is so small there aren't very many vans that drive out there, so we found ourselves walking a few miles before we were finally able to hitch a ride back home. Our adventure also included lots of run-ins with sheep herders and even a chance to help an old man "harvest" his field with a hand held "sickle." Super kotë, but we had a good time!

Our Kote restaurant with the Kote owner...he loved us!

In general the weather has been super beautiful and the sun has been gracing us with its presence most of the days, although the evenings are getting much cooler. One day this week though, we had a terrible rain storm. It only lasted about 2.5 or 3 hours, but it was enough to flood all the streets of Vlore. We had been in a meeting when the rain started, so when we left we were without an umbrella and had to run home in buckets of pouring rain. I'm pretty sure I would have had a better chance staying dry standing in the shower than we had getting home. It was kinda a lose-lose situation because if we ran on the sidewalk then the gutters/pipes would dump on us, but if we ran in the streets we were in a foot of water...yeah we got pretty wet. So we ran home and grabbed our coats and umbrellas and headed out to our next appointment. By this point the main road in front of our house was completely flooded and there was even about 6 inches of water up on the sidewalk, so anytime a car would drive by it was like a mini tidal wave. The best part was when we got to the road to go back in to the apartment building where we were visiting someone. The back road was literally water above my knees...
Flooded streets....don't judge those white legs of mine!

It was quite the adventure, and would have been even more exciting if I wasn't constantly thinking about how these flooded streets were probably only about 50% rain and the other 50% overflow sewage. I love Albania!

Besides all these crazy adventures we have been having, we also have had an amazing week with all our investigators and actual missionary work. I know I probably over use the word "best," but I can honestly say that I had probably one of the most spiritual and amazing lessons ever this week with Kozeta. I'm sure I've talked about her before, but she is an English Literature professor at the University here in Vlore and she is super amazing. She has been investigating the church for about a year and a half, and although she knows it is true and has willingly accepted and kept like every commandment, she has always had this thing about baptism. I personally have been teaching her for over 8 months now, and it seems a week hasn't gone by that we haven't told her that she needs to be baptized. In the past few weeks though we have started seeing a small change and this past couple weeks Mora Leit and I focused our lessons on the Savior and his Atonement. As she has learned more about this, her heart has been touched and she said that she is understanding now why she should be baptized and that she would pray about it. When we met this week she talked a little more and then I gave her a scripture to read that I had come across a month or so ago and immediately thought of her. It was D&C 39:1-13, and before she came I took a pencil to the book that she was going to read out of and replaced her name with the one written in the verses. She read through it and then she and I just sat there in silence (both of us using our "gift of weeping") and she said "Yes I know. I can't deny this feeling. I must do my baptizing." Obviously my pitiful little description here will never do that moment justice, but it was nothing short of the power of God entering in and taking over the lesson. I hope I never forget that moment!

Well, I could probably go on for another hour with awesome experiences we had this week and tell you about all the awesome people we are working with, but I have to go meet now with all those awesome people instead. I love you all though, and am so grateful for your prayers and thoughts! Have a rockin' week

November 8, 2020

Happy Week of Veteran's Day! In case you were wondering, that isn't celebrated here in Albania either, although we do have some kind of Independence Day sometime this month...but I don't know when.

If you didn't guess, my past week has been awesomely amazing and eventful, as it usually is. For starters I guess I better follow up on my last week's email about Motra Korita. Because I'm such a brutal companion, President thought it would probably be better for her to take a little break off her feet and away from me, so on Tuesday morning Motra Leit and I took Motra Korita home to Tirana. She is just at her house with her family for about 10 days to rest her leg and see if it gets better, but she is still a missionary and left all her stuff here, so we'll go back and pick her up next week I guess. It is kinda weird just being two of us and we miss Motra Korita alot and call her everyday, but the work goes on here and Motra Leit and I have continued to rock-it-up and make the best of it!

Probably the highlight of the week was the baptism of Rinald, a young man who has been learning from the Elders for the past month and a half or so. He is about 16 years old, and the craziest, coolest kid ever, who was a referral from one of the members in the branch.

- Elder Wallentine, Rinald, Me and Motra Leit at the baptism

He heard about my girl Aurora's baptism in the ocean, and so he totally wanted to do the same thing, even though it is November (which in Albanian language means "way to cold to go in the ocean"). So a few weeks ago our District took a walk down the ocean and found a gorgeous beach spot below a cliff, which provided privacy, and was perfect for this baptism. It even had an unfinished building right next to it, to serve as a changing room.
Our only worry was that it would be a cold, rainy day, but thanks to our answered prayers it was a beautiful sunny day on Saturday afternoon when we showed up for the baptism. The only problem was that it was terribly windy, so the water was super high and the waves were out of control.

Elders trying to baptize in the waves!

Elder Wallentine came down from Durres to do the baptism and I think he was equally wet as Rinald by the end of it because the waves were so rough and they could hardly stand up out there without losing their balance. So it took a good 15 minutes and a few tries before they finally got it right.

Elder Eckel and I were both standing on the beach praying for the waves to calm down and right then there was like 2 minutes of no waves. It was awesome! The Lord truly answers prayers and can calm the seas (Mark 4:39)!

Oh also, because the crashing waves were so loud and crazy, the other two Elders that were witnesses had to roll up their pants and wade out a ways also to hear and see. They also were pretty soaked by the end of it, but they didn't have dry clothes to change into, oops!

And did I mention that the turnout to this baptism was huge: 33 people (14 of which were non-members/investigators), and of all those people that came only one was an adult, and he was the member that originally referred Rinald. The rest were ALL youth! It was really a special day for everyone present!

So there is actually another quite eventful thing that happened at the baptism, which was an additional testimony builder for all those present. Because this beach we were using for the baptism was a ways out, it was necessary for everyone to carpool out there. One of the member boys was doing multiple trips in his car, and on the last trip back as he arrived he was going too fast and when he braked the car went sliding on the gravel and went full speed into a huge metal telephone pole. Luckily they were all okay inside, but the bigger miracle was the fact that they hit the pole, because if they would have been just one foot over more and missed the pole they would have gone right off the cliff into the ocean. All of us below on the beach saw the whole thing happen, and on fast Sunday yesterday in Church, one after another the youth of the branch kept getting up and bearing their testimonies on how God blesses us and protects us and loves us, and of course they referred to this experience as an example that had strengthened their testimony of that.

Denisa, Soraja, Motra Leit, and I with Eva in the front! Denisa and Eva are two sisters learning, who are awesome.

One of the amazing young girls that we are teaching, Alseda, got to go to the baptism and she thoroughly enjoyed it. She is the one that I mentioned before said she wanted to change her life.

When we met later that afternoon after the baptism she asked us what she had to do to get baptized and we discussed it and then set a date with her. I love it when people come to us asking to be baptized! Anyway, the even cooler thing though was she said that she heard from some of the other girls something about not having multiple ear piercings (because she has a whole ear lined with earrings), and before I even explained anything she just said, "I'm sorry I didn't know about this before when I got my ears pierced, but I can take them out no problem!" I was shocked at first at her response. It's not everyday I hear that kind of dedication and willingness to be obedient to whatever is asked, but Alseda really has felt it and she wants to do whatever it takes to have the spirit be apart of her life and be part of Christ's true church. This same girl said after a meeting at the church earlier this week that, "this place is so peaceful, I don't want to leave."

Our District- yeah we think we're pretty cool!

I guess that is most of the excitement for the week. Just a few additional random things that I've discovered this week that might be of interest to you:
1 - Plain yogurt mixed with Nutella makes an amazing fruit dip!
2 - Playing Twister in a skirt is pretty difficult, but can still be fun!

I love and miss you all and hope you have a super duper fabulous week! Thanks for everything!

November 1, 2010

Happy Belated Halloween! So to answer the big question about if Albania celebrates Halloween...no, not really. Of course the word is getting out more and more though, so some people have private parties...like us. Yep, we helped the Institute YSA's plan a little Halloween party for Saturday night. Of course the word got out though and all the younger kids from the ward showed up too, so we just moved it downstairs and had a big dance party together. It was a good time!

Me and Eva!

So the excitement this week included multiple visits to the Vlore Hospital, better known as the Tower of Doom. I guess after killing so many old Motras the past few transfers, I kinda got confused when I was assigned to train new missionaries, and I started walking Motra Korita to death. We were just thinking that the stiff walking regimen that we Motras have here in Vlore was just something that she would get used to as she got into shape, but I realized once Motra Korita's ankle started swelling and she started limping, that maybe that wasn't the case. So we decided to go check out the local hospital...if you can even call it that.

I don't have time to go into any detail, but just a quick summary of this place: no information desk, no check-in/secretary, no sanitation, no waiting line, no signs, nobody knows where any of the Doctors are or when they will work, no privacy, and the list goes on. We wander our way onto the floor for rheumatism because that is what some lady from church told us the problem was. We ask for the Dr. that deals with that problem and they send us down to his office. No Dr. Spiro. We ask if anyone has seen him, and they send us down another hall. No Dr. Spiro. We ask again, and they send us back to his office. Still no Dr. Spiro. We ask if anyone has his number. Nobody has his phone number and the hospital doesn't keep his number on file either. We ask someone else, they think maybe he left early to go drink a coffee or have lunch. We leave. The next morning we go first thing to the hospital. This time we call our boy Genti, who is a nurse at the hospital and was on shift. He personally escorted us to the other Dr. that deals with rheumatism and gets us right in to see Dr. Valbona. We might have cut in line in front of all the old people who were also waiting for the arthritis specialist Dr. Valbona...oops. Dr. Valbona tells Sister Korita that it might be arthritis and that the excessive humidity in Vlore is what is causing this bad swelling and reaction, but that she'd have to get some tests. So we then got to go visit the Frankenstein Lab where she got a foot x-ray. It was only $5 and afterwards they just handed us the black foot x-ray, which we then just carried around in our hand the rest of the day...very official!
Her tests also included a blood test. Luckily Motra Leit stepped in on this one and held Motra Korita's hand for the blood test, because as you can imagine, I was on the other side of the room curled up trying not to look or think about it. We returned two days later for the results, and the blood test was positive for rheumatism, so Dr. Valbona prescribed Motra Korita over half-a-dozen prescriptions and a no-salt diet for a month. After getting all the drugs we called Sister Neil, who looked into the prescriptions on the Internet and with our Dr. in Germany. Turns out like one of the drugs is so bad it is banned in like most European countries, and all the other ones were pretty useless too. As for the no-salt diet, Motra Leit and I are trying to be supportive and also eat all healthy. It is super hard!! I confess that when Motra Korita isn't looking Motra Leit and I sometimes sneak a little salt for our food. So that basically is a summary of our little hospital experience this week. Of course Motra Leit got an awesome secret video documentary of the whole experience, which maybe you can all see someday if you're lucky. It is pretty funny!
As I said to President this week, "As you know we spent a fair amount of time at the hospital this week, but we tried to talk to everyone we could while we were up there. We only hope that maybe our cheerful smiles made someone feel a little better than any ridiculous prescriptions that the Doctor would have given them." Anyway, don't worry my companions already know that it is better to ship me home in multiple pieces than to take me to that hospital if I'm dying.

On a happier note, I've been working on my acting skills this past week, in preparation for my starring role in The New Testament film after the mission. Since our little boy, Kristi, is having a hard time remembering the Book of Mormon stories we have been reading together, I thought we'd try and make it a little more exciting by acting them out. Up till now, I've starred as Lehi three different times in our lessons, and I'm pretty sure me standing on a chair trying to prophecy to the wicked people (hymn books) has made a lasting impression in his little memory. I also played a key role as the wicked people in the "great and spacious building" of Lehi's Dream. Thanks to my excellent acting skills, I think this kid is going to keep a pretty tight hold on the iron rod!

Another memorable moment this week that made me think, "I'm in the coolest mission in the world," was when we went and helped the Rrokaj family this week as our service project. They drove us up to some of their property in the mountains and we spent the morning picking olives from their small little vineyard, so that they can make homemade olive oil. I mean talk about putting the scriptures into action, Jacob 5 where Jacob quotes Zeno's allegory of the tame and wild olive trees, will never be the same for me again. Mostly because every time I read it I will remember climbing up an olive tree picking thousands of olives...

while looking out through the branches at the ocean,

with 60-something year old Brother Rrokaj laying down on the end of a tiny little branch that is bending to the max to reach the furthest-out olives another five feet above me. Yep, it was super awesome and we made a pretty huge dent by picking about 400 pounds of olives for them.

As for other missionary work, it couldn't be better. The Elder's kindly gave us some golden young ladies from their English classes, and they couldn't be more excited to be learning the Gospel. One of them already has a baptismal date, is meeting with us faithfully each day as well as attending all church activities, and is trying to prepare herself to have a calling as a teacher in the branch. She always brings her equally amazing little sister to everything with her, and she is also reading the Book of Mormon and praying daily. The little sister's name is Eva, and she is the coolest little 7th grader ever!

Oh, and a quick note for other events this week is that we had some of the Tirana Motra's down for exchanges. Motra Hiland and Motra Halabuk came down with their mini missionary Motra Sullollari. Motra Sullollari actually is leaving in a couple weeks for her full time mission at SLC Temple Square, so I was excited to meet her before she left. Now when I go to get a tour at Temple Square after the mission I'll have two Albanian friends there to show me around! Woohoo!

Anyway, it was a good exchange, but it is probably a good thing that we don't usually have 6 Motras living together always, that would be kind crazy!

Well I love you all and hope you have a rocking week!

October 25, 2010

In case you haven't been keeping track, this week marked one year that you all have been missing me! Dang how the time flies!

As always it was a fun, exciting week with us 3 Motras here in Vlore. I guess I'll just start giving you the list:

We went back to visit an investigator that Motra Bentley found while tracting right before she left. Her name is Irena and she has a newborn son and a super cute little nine year-old daughter named Sabrina. I told her she has the same name as my little sister, and that basically made us instant best friends. She is super funny and really smart, and really does remind me of Sabrina when she was that age, just like fitting her way right into the adult conversation (and doing a much better job of it than I was in Albanian). Anyway, we were going for an unplanned visit and as we started up the stairs of the apartment building I saw two old Jehovah Witness Lady Missionaries standing at the door talking to Irena. I was just thinking, "oh great" / "this is really awkward." Luckily she kindly told them "no thanks, I meet with other religious girls." As we passed them on the stairs we just smiled and said hi, and then they just kinda stared at us as we then went and started chatting it up with Irena. I kinda felt bad for them, but what do they expect when they are competing with Jesus Christ's only true church?!

Service Project cleaning up Children's playground- the push mower was a pain, but fun!

Other excitement this week included our Law of Chastity lesson with the little boy Valerio. We decided that he probably needed to hear this lesson since he is madly in love with Motra Korita and always is trying to kiss her. Don't worry he really isn't a threat considering he is like 10 years old and less than 45 pounds, but we figured we'd just get that lesson out of the way. As you can imagine it is like my least favorite lesson to teach, but I don't mind at all teaching kids about it because they are more on my level. So we read him the story about Joseph and Potiphar's Wife from the children's picture Bible. We kinda adapted it to the situation though and said that Joseph had to run away from her because she was trying to kiss him, and that he was a good boy and was waiting to grow-up and get married before he would kiss a girl. It was all Motra Leit and I could do to keep from laughing aloud in that lesson, but I think it went well. Valerio was feeling pretty embarrassed/disappointed after we read him that story and he just sat there with his head hanging down, but he got over it pretty fast when all his buddies showed up.

Another memorable lesson this week was with Ana. I'm not sure if I have ever mentioned her before, but she just started coming to church and activities with her friend and finally after like a month and a half we decided to try and start meeting with her for the missionary lessons. Her mom has also come to a few activities and church and showed up with Ana for her lesson this week. Now her Mother is an interesting women...she appears very upper class and intelligent (she says she has a degree in Business), but really she is just a ding-bat. Sorry that isn't very nice to say, but well it's the truth. Anyway, in our lesson we asked Ana if she remembered who the first people on the Earth were. Her mom piped right in, "Well everyone knows that we came from monkeys." I doubt I've ever mentioned this before, but that is what they still teach in schools here. Luckily Ana remembered about Adam and Eve from a previous lesson we had and answered the question correctly. We kinda laughed about it later, but at the same time it is super sad that religious education/any education is so pitiful here. Anyway, I could probably go on for another page on some of the funny things Ana's mom has said and/or done, but I'll save those for another time.

Me, Motra Korita, Motra Leit- Service project cleaning up children's playground.

While I'm on this roll of sharing funny lesson stories, I'll tell one last little cute story from last night. Our group of little boys showed up at the church again last night for their lessons, so we did the usual teaching strategy of one by one. This time a tiny little boy came for the first time. His name was Denion, and he actually ended up being in 3rd grade and was an awesome little reader. He read better than any of the other older boys, and he told me that he wanted a Book of Mormon. I told him if he was good and came back next time for a lesson and had done his homework (to pray every night) that we could get him a book. At the end of his lesson he said the closing prayer and he asked if he could just say it in his own words. We told him of course, and then he said this cute little prayer asking a least twice in the prayer to be a good soccer player, and then at the end of his prayer he said, "good night" to Heavenly Father. It was super cute! I can't tell you how cool it is to teach someone how to pray and see their excitement as they realize they have this long lost Father who they can talk to! It's the Good Stuff!

Useless things I've learned this week from my awesome Danish companion:
-In Danish the word for a "backhoe" (those tractor machines) is translated as "digging cow."
-In Danish the word for "goose bumps" (those bumps we get when we're cold) is translated as "ant boobs."

As a final, slightly more inspiring note, we had an awesome visit out to see Eva, our investigator that lives up in the mountains like 1.5 hours away. We haven't really heard from her in the last couple weeks since we committed her to stop smoking, and obviously we knew that her avoiding us was because she wasn't able to give up the smoking. Finally we just felt like we would make the trek out to her house and just pray that she was home. We found her in her house, with a huge pile of cigarette butts in her living room, and she was simply at her wits end with stress and problems. Not only was she trying to deal with her normal problems, but also just minutes before had received news that her closest sister was diagnosed with cancer. We were able to be there for her at that moment as comforting friends, rather than a couple church girls who showed up to check on her smoking status. It is just amazing that Heavenly Father directed us to visit her at that very moment when she needed someone the most. It was a humbling and special moment to be instruments in the Lord's hands!

Well, I guess that is all I got for this week! Hope you all have a rocking week! Love and miss you all tons! Thanks for Everything!

Motra Hall

October 11, 2010

Greetings! Hope this finds everyone swell and loving life, because I sure have had an awesome week and am loving life! As you know I received my two new companions this week, Motra Leit and Motra Korita, and they are both SUPER AMAZING! We all get along great, and I'm gaining lots of cultural insight from both of them!

New companions (cupas!) Motra Korita (Albania), me, Motra Eit (Denmark)

At the beginning of my week I got Motra Bentley sent off back to Utah. As Motra Bentley was ending her mission here in Albania, there was still one thing on her "Mission Bucket List" that hadn't been fulfilled, and we decided to make it happen. It was to ride the old Albanian train system. So on our way to Tirana we stopped off in Durres and ran to catch this old rickety train!

It was totally like in the Harry Potter movies, and we had a blast in our one hour ride to Tirana. Our mini missionaries didn't think it was too exciting because it was so slow, and they probably thought Motra Bentley and I were crazy for being so stoked to be on an old dumpy train that only cost 70 cents, but it was like Christmas for us!

On the train...Motra Kapllani, Motra Beleshi and I (I'm wearing black in respect of the dying Motra Bentley!)

While waiting for my new companions to arrive, I got to spend a few days in Tirana with Motra Peatross and Motra Yourstone- It was like a little MTC reunion. We had fun talking about our experiences from the past year, and awing at how fast the time has gone! I also got to meet with all my old mini missionary companions (Motra Nonai, Motra Kapllani, and Motra Beleshi), as well as hang out a bit with Motra Korita the night before she became a full-time missionary/my official companion.

I decided to give my new little cupas a fun experience on their second day here...Friday night we had scheduled an appointment to visit the Isufi family for the first time. I started walking in the opposite direction of their house (but of course my companions didn't know that), and after a couple minutes I stopped and just stood "pondering" for a moment. I told my companions that I really felt like we should just go tracting instead right now. Motra Korita wasn't pleased about that, because she doesn't like knocking on doors at all, but of course they agreed that if that is what I felt was a good idea then they would follow me. So I "made a phone call" to cancel our evening appointment, and I'm sure by this point they both are thinking I'm pretty crazy to cancel a meeting to do tracting...but the trainers always right, right? So we turn around and start walking the other direction, and we walk about 15-20 minutes and I make sure to stop every so often and "ponder" for where we should go. While we are walking I inform my companions that I'm letting them do all the talking at this first door, so we practice what they should say. Needless to say, they both are feeling super nervous, but trying to be confident. We walk up a small street, but then I stop and turn around and walk back a ways and stand below a house just staring at it and "pondering."

Finally Motra Leit asks if this is the place, and I said "yes, I feel really good about it." So I open the garage door to this house and walk right in and head up to the private house door. Motra Korita is freaking out because I just walked right into this strangers garage without knocking, but I told her it was okay because I felt really good about this place. So I get both of them standing in front of me and they knock on the door. A young girl cautiously answers and then calls her mom to the door. The woman then comes to the door and is super grouchy and asking "who are you?" "Who said you could come into my garage?" "what do you want?" Of course on her second day in Albania, Motra Leit isn't really understanding anything this woman is saying, so Motra Korita is trying to calm the woman down and explain that we are missionaries, but the woman isn't having it. She starts yelling at us to leave and pushing us towards her garage door. As you can imagine my companions are pretty much scared to death, so when they are walking out the door and I turn around and go back to talk to the women myself and try and convince her, they were thinking that I'm super nuts and super bold. I spend a couple minutes trying to talk to this women and asking for just a few minutes of her time, and she is throwing out stuff like, "we don't believe in religion!" and "who is Jesus Christ?" Finally she agrees to let us come in for a few minutes. I practically had to drag my companions into the house because they were pretty freaked out, especially because the woman told us that she just got back from the mental hospital. When we got in her house she shook my companions hands and introduced herself as Motra Isufi. I don't think Motra Leit got it though, so it wasn't till we had all sat down that I leaned over and told her that it was all a joke and that this was the Isufi family's home from our Branch. Needless to say Sister Isufi and I were pretty proud of our awesome acting skills in this prank on my new companions. It took Motra Korita the rest of the night to forgive me, but we all are still laughing about it now. It was nothing short of hilarious! I know, I'm a mean trainer...but it is so fun!

On a more inspiring note, we had an awesome/interesting meeting with a women named Verde this week. Motra Leit met her on the airplane ride here and got her number so that they could get together if Motra Leit was ever in Vlore...and then conveniently that is exactly where she ended up! Verde is actually Jewish and from Israel, but moved here about 6 months ago with her husband for his job, and she opened up some kind of clinic of her own. Her native tongue is Hebrew (which we heard her speaking on the phone and it was ridiculously awesome), and she is in the same boat as us trying to learn Albanian right now. So obviously we just talked in English because she is perfectly fluent and even has all the slang and American expressions down - she is super fun to talk to. Also she and Motra Korita were able to talk a little together in Arabic, which was super cool to hear. (That is another story in itself about Motra Korita knowing Arabic...she used to be a full-blown Muslim, but I'll have to share that story another day). Oh and speaking of languages, Motra Leit prays for us in Danish sometimes too...all I have to say is that I'm super grateful that I'm learning Albanian because all that Danish and Hebrew and Arabic sound outrageously difficult!

I guess that is all I have time for today. I love and miss you all though, and I love being a missionary! It's not good, it's greeeeat! (Thanks Tony!)

Motra Hall

October 4, 2010

Greetings from a dark and shadowy Vlora!
We are hours away from another strike from the Vlore Assassin. This time I'm not just taking out one Motra, but three! I guess it takes a special kind of missionary to kill 5 companions in a row...I'm not exactly sure if that is a good thing or not?!
As you can imagine the past couple of days have been full of packing bags and lots of farewells. The big question of course is, who will be replacing Motra Bentley, Motra Kapllani, and Motra Beleshi?

Sister Bentley and I on our last day together. - at Vlore Castle overlooking Vlore.

We actually got transfer calls on Saturday with that information, and I can honestly say we were all a little shocked. I'm not sure if you all have been keeping track, but I now have 9 months in Albania, and even stupid people like me that never had health class know what happens after 9 months...yep, I'm training! But I'm not just training...I'm having TWINS! I'm not exactly sure if this is some kind of punishment for killing off the last 5 Motras, or what. President said that I am probably making mission history by training two missionaries at once...I guess that was supposed to be comforting or something!

I'm actually super excited about my two Çupas, as we call them. The first is Marsida Korita, which I mentioned a couple of months ago. She is from Tirana and received her full time mission call to Albania, which kinda threw off the traditional rotation of Sister Missionaries here, causing us to have an odd number, thereby causing one companionship of three (mine). She has already served a couple mini missions, so even though she won't be going to the Missionary Training Center she is pretty trained thanks to Motra Larson, and she will be a huge help to me. Our other companion is named Sister Light and she is from Denmark. Last night we were checking out some old General Conference talks translated into Danish...all I can say is I hope she knows English well, because I didn't understand any of that "Dansk." I think it should be pretty exciting though, and hopefully I don't ruin these new missionaries too bad!

My new Cupas! (companions) Motra Korita (Albania), me, Motra Leit (Denmark)

Moving on to all the excitement of the week: As a little follow-up on our little boy Valerio. Turns out even though he is 11, he has never learned to read and doesn't even know the Alphabet, so now in our lessons I'm trying to teach him how to read Albanian so that he can read the Book of Mormon. I know it is quite the undertaking, especially considering I can hardly read this language, but we just hope that for once he might find the motivation to learn. Also, Valerio has now told all the neighborhood boys about his church, so now every time we walk down the street of the church, if someone sees us they yell "they're coming" and then about a dozen little boys will come running at us and ask when they get to have their lessons. We tried teaching them all together but it can be quite chaotic! Plus each time they bring another friend or two, so we have to keep starting over from the beginning.

The best is when they either fight to be the one to say the prayer, or they try to teach the newcomers to pray and hit them on the head if they "mess up." We are still struggling to get the actual concept of prayer through to them considering right now most all their prayers consist of a wish list of blessings they want, always including "help me be the best futball player." We were pretty proud though when seven of them showed up ontime for church Sunday, and we even got half of them into white shirts and ties. We had to spread all of them out so they were sitting by missionaries and not each other, but they were quiet and stayed the whole meeting.
Although they all are nice (yet still wild) kids, there is one who is super special, Kristi. He was one who originally came with Valerio and this kids just feels it. He knows how to read, so in his first lesson we let him read a verse from the Book of Mormon. After he read he just sat there with the book in his hands staring at it. All his friends were teasing him and hitting him, but he just continued to quietly hold the book and look at it. We gave it to him and he has been reading from it ever day and meeting us on his own before school. We watched the Restoration film with him and he loved it. And when Motra Bentley asked him how he felt, after a really long silence he just said, "I think God is happy with me for coming to his church." He's so amazing! Tonight he invited us to come meet his family...we are super stoaked!

Little boy, Kristi, Mesi, and I in front of the church- September 2010

Saturday night Genti got baptized! We just had a small service with the missionaries, a couple of members that have helped teach him, and his family & two buddies. I thought it was super cool that our super cool 25 year old Genti invited his friends, parents, and brother. We are super tight with his parents (they feed us every Sunday), so it was really neat to have them come support Genti. Oh and speaking of Genti and how awesome he is...before he was even baptized we started taking him to a couple lessons to share his testimony of the Word of Wisdom since he did the stop smoking program with us like a month ago. So we took him out to see Eva (she's the one that lives like an hour away in the mountains), and he told her all about how amazing he has felt since he stopped smoking and drinking. He then helped us again on Friday as we presented and helped Eva to start the smoking program herself. The Good Stuff!

Genti's Baptism- his family, me and Motra Bentley - October 2010

Last quick story ...so I just want to say that Heavenly Father is pretty super amazing. I'm not sure if I ever mentioned this, but there is a girl named Lola who learned from the Elders last Spring until she got busy with her job and couldn't get baptized. I knew her from back in the spring, so when she randomly got a job at my favorite restaurant that we go to multiple times a week, I knew this wasn't some coincidence. That is when she asked us to start teaching her again, yet in the past couple weeks she has been busy again and hard to meet with. Then one morning this week I went walking out of our little apartment building, and in walked Lola, our new upstairs neighbor. Let's just say picking her up for church Sunday morning was less than simple! Yep, we're super blessed!

I don't have time to get started on General Conference, but we got to see the two morning sessions and I hope you all enjoyed then as much as we did!

I love and miss you all and hope you have an amazing week!

Motra Hall

September 27, 2010

Happy Monday!
I guess I'll start by explaining my "cliff hanger" ending from last week since you all have been waiting so patiently to know what Motra Bentley's and my future held...mini missionaries! Yep, Motra Bentley's mission dream was to serve with an Albanian, and now for the last two weeks of her mission she will have the experience. In fact we both got a mini missionary from Tirana, meaning I'm kinda training, yet we all four are living together....so awesome! We all knew each other from before too, because they both live in the Branch that Motra Bentley and I served in together in Tirana, so there was no awkward getting to know you few days because it was just like being with old friends. My companion is Elba Kapllani who was baptized last October by Motra Bentley (so they are super tight!) and Motra Bentley is with Brisilda Beleshi, who has been a member for about 3 years.

Our morning adventure to the beach- Bentley, Kapllani, Beleshi, me

They will both be starting back to University in a couple weeks, so they decided to put their last couple weeks of summer to good use. Motra Beleshi will be starting her second year of college and she is studying English, and Motra Kapllani will be starting her first year of college and is studying French, although she is also fluent in English. In fact, they both went to the same private language high school so they both can speak like Italian, Spanish, German, ...yeah they are amazing! And we have been teaching them lots of useful English expressions like, "what's shaking cracker?" since they don't get that good stuff in their schooling. :) It probably would be pretty funny for any outsider to hear us all talking in the house because I don't think one sentence gets said using just one language...they are always a mix of Albanian and English and sometimes whatever else those girls throw in! I love that it is a totally different experience from my last Albanian companion transfer too...it probably helps that Motra Kapllani and Beleshi are like the two coolest Albanian girls ever, and they actually love doing missionary work!

So my first lesson with Motra Kapllani was with Kozeta, the English Professor. Of course we did our lesson in English, and my companion totally rocked it. She can teach the gospel better in English, her second language, than I can as a native speaker. And because she only has two weeks to do as much missionary work as possible she is totally motivated and not scared to just tell people how it is. I don't think we have had one lesson where she hasn't invited an investigator to be baptized or told a less active person that they have to come to church. At first when she started being bold I was freaking-out in my mind, but everyone took it really well and it got them thinking. You can't imagine the difference that it makes to have a native missionary with you teaching. They have such a stronger connection to these people and when they tell someone something, they actually believe them, unlike us Americans who "eat McDonalds every day and don't understand the hardships of Albanian life." It's great!

Our new roommates and mini-missionaries! Me, Motra Kapllani, Motra Bentley, Motra Beleshi

Let's see...other exciting moments from this week...we had a branch dance party which was pretty entertaining. I got to lead the traditional Albanian line dance where everyone holds hands and dances in this snake formation. I was so amazing that they Relief Society women were saying I could marry an Albanian man. I graciously declined.

Oh, and a random cultural tradition that we learned from Motra Beleshi...every full moon they cut or trim their hair here to keep it healthy. They honestly believe that if cut on the actual night of the full moon, not just once a month, it will be more healthy. She tried to convince me to cut it for her, but I convinced her otherwise after telling her that the last time I cut a companions hair it required two trips to the salon to get it fixed.

We have an awesome new investigator named Valerio (Messy for short) and he is 11 years old. Rudina (the short, kinda special women baptized back in March) invited him to church (like she does most everybody she talks to in the street) a couple weeks ago and he actually came and stayed. Then he came to the branch activity and then to church again. At the branch activity he asked me if I was baptized and I replied in the affirmative and then asked him. He said no, but that he wanted to get baptized in my church. Motra Bentley asked him when he was getting baptized and he told her "tomorrow." He is super cute and like the happiest little kid you could ever meet. We told him he needed to learn a little so that he could get baptized and he was totally down.

I figured he lived pretty close to the church because he is always out in the street around there playing with the neighborhood kids, so we just planned on running into him and catching him for a lesson some time. A few days later though he found us and asked when he was getting his lesson. We told him we'd meet up the next night sometime around the church. The next night Motra Kapllani and I found him playing street soccer with his buddies at the local school playground, so we stood there for a moment trying to get his attention. When he noticed us he came running over and said, "watch me!" and then went running back into the game and got super into it trying to show off for us. Then after about 5 minutes he came over to us and said, okay we can leave now for my lesson. All his friends were like yelling to him "where are you going? We still need you for the game!" And he just acted all cool and was like "I'm going to the church!" He acted as if going to learn about religion in a church is cooler than playing soccer with your friends, and he wasn't embarrassed at all. We told him he could keep playing and just meet us when he was done, but he said he wanted to go now with us. He even invited another little friend to come and join us for the lesson. We had an awesome, short little lesson about Heavenly Father, because he has absolutely no concept of anything, and then we taught him how to pray. It was super cute! Afterwards he wanted us to go to his house, which I figured was a good idea so we could actually get permission to teach him. It turns out he lives right next to the church, and when we walked up his Grandma greeted us and started thanking us for teaching Valerio and helping him to get baptized and get a little "education," as she called it. She told us that his father actually had passed away and his mother is crazy (we also met his mother, who I recognized and could vouch for the fact that she isn't all there), so the Grandma had been raising this little boy alone. All I can say is I think she has done a pretty good job with what she could, because Mesi is quite the impressive little boy. Everytime we go to the church now, he asks if he can come and have a lesson, no matter what he is doing or what friends he is with. I think we have a future missionary on our hands...woohoo!

Well, I hope you all have had a wonderful week and I didn't cause any high blood pressure or other physical ailments due to my last cliff hanger ending. Oh and have a great week this week too!

Love you all!
Motra Hall