Greetings from Albania!
Golly, I don't even know where to start. The last few days at the MTC were pretty crazy just trying to learn lots of last minute stuff and pack everything up. I had SO much stuff, and I got really lucky. Elder Castro-Guzman only brought one suitcase on his mission, so he let us check another bag in his name. We found a broken pink suitcase in the trash so all of us sisters filled it with our stuff that didn't fit in our suitcases, like all our books. It was great!
Our flights here seemed to take forever. I slept most of the way but that is because we obviously didn't get much sleep the last night in the MTC. All 8 of us in my MTC District traveled together and it was a good time. We had a few delays, but nothing too major. When we got to Tirana, Albania we were greeted by a beautiful, humid day. I guess the weather has been extremely warm all winter so far, so I didn't even need a coat. President and Sister Neil and their two assistants were waiting to pick us up at the airport. We sent all our bags to the Mission Home in a taxi and then the assistants took all of us, except Elder Castro-Guzman, to the US Embassy to take care of all our registration stuff. I'm so glad I don't have to drive here, because it is crazy! If you drive aggressively, then you can't get anywhere. As for pedestrians, we just cross the street or freeway whenever. If you don't look at the driver or make eye contact then you can just walk across the street, but if you let the car know that you know that they are there, then they won't stop for you. It is pretty exciting. Don't worry we are careful too though! :)
When we got back to the mission office we did more paperwork stuff and then President started doing interviews. While I was in my Interview the assistants took my whole district out contacting on the street or to an appointment. So I guess I missed out on the scary first day street contacting experience that everyone talks about, but I did get to talk with a recent convert that night when he came to the Mission Home. I was surprised how much I actually understood him, and I was able to talk back a little.
Our second day here we had a little trip up to "The Monument of the Heroes" which is where Elder Oaks dedicated Albania to missionary work. I think President should have sent you a picture from that trip. We then had some training, and then we were assigned our companions and sent right out. My trainer is Sister Evette Bentley from Sandy, UT. My area is half of Tirana, and then another companionship of Sisters (Sister Peatross and her trainer) are in the other half of Tirana. And Sister Yourstone went far away to Vlore with Sister Highland. President and I talked quite a bit in my interview about who should serve with Sister Highland because she has only been in Albania for 3 months, and since Sister Yourstone probably knows the language best of us three sisters, I recommended she be with Sister Highland, plus she is probably the most easy going person ever. My trainer has been here for 6 months and Sister Peatross's trainer has been here 9 months, so they have quite a bit of experience, which I am grateful for.
When the Assistants found out Sister Bentley and I were together they just laughed and said we were going to be one crazy companionship. Sister Bentley is awesome and totally outgoing, so we fit together great. Plus, she goes to USU too, which is a pleasant change from all those Cougar (BYU) companions I've had. Haha, JK!
Our apartment is just right in the middle of the city on the third floor of this apartment complex. It is great, and one of the biggest apartments in the mission I've heard. I have my own bathroom, and we have an empty room that is used just for laundry. It's a good thing I am so exhausted at night and I just fall right asleep, otherwise it is a pretty noisy place with firecrackers, cars, and kids all out in the streets making noise.
The city of Tirana is pretty similar to most of the European cities that I've visited before, but of course it is special because it is my city. It is pretty busy and it is pretty dirty, but I still love it. It is always wet here, and it seems the rain sometimes never stops. But since it hasn't been super cold, I'm not going to complain.
The people here are pretty nice in general, and they often just yell stuff at us in English. Not mean things just random things to prove that they know English, it is pretty funny. And everything else they say to us I usually don't understand, but Sister Bentley just laughs and we wave and continue on our merry way.
I haven't been tracting yet (knocking door-to-door) because we have had so many teaching appointments. Most of what we teach is Retention lessons, which is to people who have recently joined the church in the last year. Usually Members do these, but apparently here in Albania the missionaries are in charge of it. It was actually nice to have my first lessons to people who had already been baptized, so that I didn't say anything too stupid and scare them off. As far as investigators that we have there is a young man, Kastriot, who wants to get baptized but his family said they will disown him, so he is trying to figure things out there. And then we also teach a family with two young kids. They are super nice and are really close to baptism as soon as the Dad, Dashi, is ready. Then last night we inherited an investigator from the Zone Leaders. She is an 8 year old girl named Gledis. Her parents are members but kinda inactive, but she has a baptism date for the end of the month.
Rumor got around to all our investigators and members that Sister Bentley has a new companion fresh from Amerika, so everyone has been excited to meet me and have us over for a lesson. My very first lesson was with Vera, this crazy funny old lady. She had us over and taught us how to make pizza (it really wasn't anything that impressive just mix water, yeast, and flour, put sauce and cheese on it and cook it). She was so funny making sure I put cheese on every single spot of the pizza, and whenever I missed a spot she would point to it and carry on in some Albanian that I didn't understand. We practically got her oven on fire with cheese overflowing from the pan, but she just thought it was fabulous. Then she made us eat the whole thing! And she was so excited to show me all the Halloween decorations that she still had up that Sister missionaries before me had made for her (no, Albanians don't celebrate Halloween, which is probably why she thought it was so awesome). Anyway, she is just a total hoot. We are meeting with her again tonight, so I'm sure I'll have lots more good stories.
Sister Bentley and I are over 2 branches, so we go to a lot of church on Sundays. In one branch the Zone Leader Elders are in, and the other there are two sets of Elders, one of which is Elder Castro-Guzman, so I get to see him a lot. In both Sacraments they had all the new missionaries in the branch come up and bear their testimonies. So I got to speak to both branches, twice in one day. Woohoo! It really wasn't that bad, except for the old lady in the front row who was trying to correct my Albanian and finish my sentences while I was bearing my testimony. It was kinda funny I guess. One of our branches is pretty small with less than 40 people, but the other one had great attendance of about 75 or more people. There are actually lots of young adults here who have joined the church and they are really strong and have a great Institute program that a senior couple from California is over.
As for the language, well I mostly just listen really hard and pick up a few words I know, but usually I have no idea what anyone is saying and I just smile and say "mire" which means "good." I'm not too frustrated yet, because I can teach in lessons okay, I just don't know what they say back to me when I ask questions to them, but Sister Bentley has been super to help me so it is all good!
I love it here so much, I think they are going to have to handcuff me to make me leave! I'm so excited to share the gospel here and help strengthen the members that have already found the joy in the Gospel. I know that I have a message to share with people that will change their lives in ways that they could never imagine. I know the church is true with all my heart! I know that Heavenly Father really hears our prayers and will help us in everything if we put our trust in him. And I know the Jesus Christ is our Savior, and that he truly understands all our hardships and sorrows, and he can give us the strength to do anything!
I love you all! Hope you have a fabulous week!
Greetings from Albania!