September 13, 2010

Happy late September 11th!

It was definitely an interesting week here, which made me so grateful for the freedoms we enjoy and the wonderful culture that we have in America! I guess I'll just get the cultural tidbits/sad news out of the way right now. So every September the Albanian saints have their temple trip to the nearest temple, which is in Germany. This year Elder and Sister Smith (our couple here in Vlore) get to accompany them and so we have been able to help them a little in getting everything ready to go because they leave tomorrow. It's a lot of stuff! Anyway, we had 22 members signed up to go, but then the biggest difficulty comes...visas. I'm not sure how much I've talked about it, but it is close to impossible for Albanians to get visas to leave their country, and it is a huge process that requires lots of documents.

Well, we barely found a couple days ago that 4 of the people didn't get their Visas, and so of course if one member of the family doesn't get a Visa, then the rest of the family has no point to go get sealed without them - so our group of 22 just dropped down to eleven. Included in those that didn't get visas was Redi ├želaj (my former District Leader) and his fiance, who were going to get married. So now they have to wait another year to go to the temple, or figure out a new plan. Anyway, it has just been super sad. And it made all of us realize how blessed we are in our country and all the freedoms we enjoy. It's so crazy to think that I could just grab my passport and get on the plane tomorrow to visit most any country I want, but the people here could spend a lifetime applying for visas just to go visit somewhere for the weekend, and may never get it. Anyway, I'm super grateful! Enough of the sad news...onto our awesome week!

As always Motra Bentley and I found ourselves in all kind of interesting situations this week. One of the first was an extremely interesting lesson we had with our investigator Genti and a less-active member. We made the mistake of thinking that maybe we could kill two birds with one stone and re-activate this young man by letting him help us in Genti's lessons, plus they both are about the same age, etc and it seemed like a good idea... it wasn't.

First he disagreed with us about drinks that were allowed in the Word of Wisdom, and so our investigator, Genti, had to correct him and tell him that we don't drink that stuff. Then when we asked him to share his testimony on keeping commandments all he could tell our investigator is that "you shouldn't make the same mistake I did and get baptized." Luckily after the lesson Genti told us that he really didn't like that kid and that he didn't want to meet with him again because he was a loser. Dang our investigator is awesome!

So Vlore just got the biggest blessing ever...a returned missionary! Our branch here in Vlore had two missionaries out serving in the two Italy missions and they both were scheduled to be coming home in December. Well sadly (gladly for us), one of them, Marcel Hoxhaj, broke his arm playing soccer over there and had to come home a few months early. He has only been here a week and is already been super awesome for the branch and for us missionaries. After our bad lesson with the loser member (mentioned above) we started using Marcel with Genti and they totally hit it off. Sometimes they just go off talking about the Gospel in Italian (most all Albanians speak Italian) and Motra Bentley and I just sit there and smile and let them go at it.

It was funny, the first day after he got home Marcel just randomly showed up at the church and found us missionaries and begged to help us with work, so the Elders took him out tracting all day. I think he is pretty impressive, I mean, of course I want to help the missionaries at home when I get back, but I think the first week or so I'm back I'm probably going to be hanging out at the lake with the boat, not going tracting everyday and chilling at the church...I'm just saying, I'm not that righteous!

A photo from our YW activity this required much patience. We talked about individual worth and how we are all beautiful in our own ways and we don't have to try and show that off by wearing immodest clothes (which luckily it was a rainy day so they were all dressed well.) From left to Right: random boy, Soraja (she's like 5-we teach them young), Motra Bentley, Anxhela, a friend of one of the girls, Samantha, Marjana, me and some little girl.

It's interesting- I think in the past 2 or 3 weeks of my mission I've had more dinner and lunch appointments and been fed more by people than in my whole mission combined. I don't know what it is, but people are trying to pack it on us...which Motra Bentley isn't too happy about since she is about to go home, and we all are always worried about fitting into those old pre-mission jeans. Anyway, I think yesterday was the big whammy (I know that is stupid to say, but I can't remember any good English vocabulary to say), we had two lunch appointments, one right after the other. The first was with a less active woman and her husband, who went all out with the typical Albanian meal which I talked about a few weeks ago. They didn't let us leave anything on our plates though, in fact the husband kept telling us that we had to eat at least as much as the "man of the house."
I thought I was full...and then we had our next appointment, which was cooking lessons with Genti's mom. He arranged this for us, but didn't even come to the meeting. So it was just her and these two stupid, helpless little American girls who have no education on keeping a home and cooking because of our advanced culture (those are her words of course). She also sat and watched us while we ate every little bite of the meal she cooked. I say she cooked it, because even though it was our cooking "lesson" we just watched her because she wouldn't let us touch anything. It was pretty entertaining!

So one more final Albanian culture fact for the Albania it doesn't even matter if you live on the 8th floor of an apartment building, because walking outside to the trash-can takes sooo much time (approx. 45 seconds or less) it is completely acceptable and normal to just chuck your garbage bags or scrape the scraps from your dinner plate out the window. I can't tell you how often we see this! As much as I love this place, I just can't embrace this practice, but Motra Bentley and I did have to kinda put our own version of this custom to work this week. See, we found a little bit of an ant infestation in our new apartment, so one morning Motra Bentley tried to sweep all of them up and I put them in the dust pan and the only good thing we could think to do with them was chuck them off the balcony (yes we have a sweet balcony...lunch break sun-tanning anyone?) from our 4th floor apartment. Good thing nobody was out that early in the morning or they probably would have thought it was raining ants! By the way...we found some raid so we don't have to throw anymore ants out the window!

Well, sorry that is all the good stuff I have for this week. Obviously we had some awesome missionary success too though. In fact Genti set a baptismal date this week, as did one of our our investigators, Eva, so we are all working hard to get them prepared and ready. It is so awesome to see their progress, especially Genti. When we met with his family, who aren't even members or investigating the church, they were thanking us so much for helping Genti with his smoking program and for all that we have done for him. We tried to explain that it was nothing we had done...truly it has been Genti's own desire to change and the help of the Lord! It's like I have free front-row-seat tickets to Heavenly Father's miracle show. I love it!

Love and Miss you all! Have a great week!