Hello from Vlorè!
I think there is this movie or book- a little mouse visits the big city or something like that. Well I feel exactly the opposite…city girl moves to small town by the Adriatic Sea. The funny thing is Vlorè is actually the second biggest city for missionaries in Albania, but after being in Tirana it seems so tiny and cute here. On our way back from Tirana on Tuesday we had to drop the Elders off at the neighboring town. Elder Moyes in fact was headed there, and apparently it is really small, so I can’t complain. They only have 7 members in their branch and Elder Moyes just became a counselor in the branch presidency, since his companion is the branch president.

My first night here we had to walk on the beach to get to this little shack where we had a lesson. The sun was setting and the water was gorgeous, and Motra Hiland was picking up seas shells as we were walking, and I decided I think I can love this place! This morning we went down to the beach and played sand soccer with our district and had an awesome time. I enjoyed the additional factor of keeping the ball out of the water!

Since Vlorè is smaller, lots of people kinda live outside the town and so we get to walk to their homes on dirt roads that are flooded. I don’t think I’ve ever been so muddy in my life, but I’m just getting used to it. I actually think it is quite entertaining! Another factor of small town life…Tuesday morning while I was making Motra Hiland breakfast (I’m such an awesome companion, haha, it actually turned out pretty gross) I could hear a cow mooing outside while it was getting slaughtered. I had to laugh! By now I’m assuming it has already been someone’s dinner and it is probably now flowing in the streets with the rest of the sewage. Sorry, a gross thought I know, but likely true! It is no uncommon occurrence to pass by as an animal is being slaughtered and hung in the store window. I’m so glad they have meat-less Greek Salads here for me to enjoy!

As for the branch here in Vlorè it is actually pretty strong. In church on Sunday there were probably 50-60 people. The branch President is Elder Snow. He and his wife are the senior couple here and they are just fabulous. They love us missionaries, and Sister Snow is an excellent cook, so we are well taken care of! Anyway, since the branch is still kinda small though, we only have two hours of church here (don’t be jealous!). So for the second hour Motra Hiland and I are in charge of the
Primary. I guess she technically is kinda the Primary President, but it seems more like a glorified baby-sitting assignment. We have a pretty good time singing primary songs to a CD player and talking about faith as a seed.
Also in church on Sunday I got to give a talk as some kind of welcome to the Branch/ Vlorè I guess. I decided to go all out and actually write my own talk, unlike my last talk in Tirana were I mostly just read from True to the Faith because it was already all translated into Albanian. I thought it was a pretty cool talk, but I don’t think any one else really appreciated it. I related finding faith in Christ to a pirate finding hidden treasure. And among the various comparisons I talked about how a pirate never gives up even when his crew is drowned and his ship is sunk, he still gets in a raft and keeps paddling for treasure island, and how we must likewise endure and never give up. Either nobody here knows about pirates, or they don’t think they are allowed to smile in church, I’m not sure which. Haha, anyway, I enjoyed it all!

We have some great people we are teaching here and I’m excited to get to know them better. One family that we have been visiting a lot is the Isufi’s. Their daughter Hajdi is about 13 years old and President Neil asked me if I would teach her piano lessons as a service project because she already plays a little and it would be nice for her to learn hymns so she can play in church. I’m excited to do that again! Especially it will be interesting because music notes are slightly different here. Instead of notes being called “a,b,c,d,e,f,g” they are called, “do, re, mi, fa, so, la, si.” Kinda interesting I think, but it makes sense here in Europe because the alphabet isn’t the same for all these countries. Anyway, the first time we were visiting with them they always love to know about us and our homes in America. I had the hardest time explaining that we raised sheep and sold lambs to kids so that they could then raise them and sell them for money. Brother Isufi was so confused and shocked that we don’t milk the sheep and use them for milk, and that we actually buy milk when we have perfectly good sheep in our yard. Interesting to see those kind of cultural differences! I did get to see Barney playing on the TV in Albanian at their house. Quite impressive, I didn’t know that Barney knew Albanian, or that he even still was alive!

Here in Vlorè there are four other Elders serving. Our District Leader, Elder çelaj is actually an Albanian, but he speaks perfect English, so it is nice to have him as a resource when I have language questions. Also, one of the Elders, Elder Skousand is from Mesa, AZ and his Young Men’s leader growing up was Mark Mabry. He got to be an angel in one of the new photos for the second Reflections of Christ photos (I think it is called Another Testament of Christ, or something like that.) I’ll have to try and send a photo of our District so you can look for him in the Mark Mabry photos!

My new companion Motra Hiland is awesome too. It is very different being with a companion who is also pretty new in the country, especially because there still is lots of stuff that she doesn’t understand when people are talking to us, but we make do and are having a great time. She is from Oregon, and has only served here in Vlorè, but she is a great missionary.

This week for our District Meeting we had a homework assignment to write 200 things that we are grateful for. At first I thought it would take me forever, but it went really quick and was so fun. It was amazing to see how blessed I am and also kinda entertaining to think of even the little things that make life so awesome that I’m grateful for. That can be all of your homework assignments for the week too. I dare you to try to make a list, you’ll be grateful you did!

I’ve realized missionary work is awesome no matter where you are. Here we don’t have nearly as many people to teach so we spend more time out on the streets just talking to random people, but it never really gets old to me. I just love talking about the gospel and sharing my testimony. I know that the church is true and that we have a loving Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ is the son of God and our Savior and Redeemer. I’m so grateful for his infinite Atonement! I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is true! I love being a missionary!

Thanks for all your emails and letters! I love and miss you all!

Motra Hall