Monday, October 16, 2017

October 16th

Përshëndetje familja!

Well now I'm here in Fier and I'm loving it! Things are going super well here!
First, we had a baptism on Saturday! The kid's name is Xhoni and he's super awesome. He's 11 years old but he talks like and adult businessman. Elder Larsen baptized him and he was so happy. Every day we met him he would just talk about how excited he is for his baptism, and then after it happened he talked about how happy he felt. He gave his testimony at the baptism and he did a super good job, he wrote it out and it was honestly better than most of the talks I've heard in church recently. I'll attach a picture at the end of this email with him.

Next, we have a super awesome investigator named Redi. He's famous. He works for a tv and radio company here in Fier doing some sort of news show and he's won the Albanian version of the Pulitzer Prize. He's super prepared, we've had a bunch of lessons with him this week and they've all just gone perfectly. It's kind of funny though because all the members know him and look at him like a celebrity. He has a baptismal date for the 4th of November and he'll totally be ready.

My companion, Elder Larsen, is super awesome! He's from Texas and will be going to BYU this winter semester. He used to run track and will study for chemical engineering. We get along really well and we've been having a lot of fun together, he's super funny. He goes home in December so I'll probably be his last companion, and we'll make the most out of the time he has left. We also have a senior couple here, Elder and Sister Lewis. They're from California and both super awesome too. He's the branch president so we do a lot to help him out. There are also a ton of super cool members here. Some of them I've mentioned before and sent pictures home with them, but I'm sure I'll be sending more eventually.
Church was kind of crazy though. Fier is a branch and we usually have like 25 people in church, so basically we have to do everything. So on Sunday I was the piano player for sacrament meeting, I gave a testimony, and I passed the sacrament, plus we had Xhoni's confirmation in the middle of all that. It was a little crazy but it ended up being great. I definitely need to learn how to play the piano better because none of us actually know how to play.

Other fun things, the Vlore Elders crashed our car so that'll be getting repaired for the next two weeks, which really stinks because we do a ton of traveling. We went to Pogradec on Thursday for a baptismal interview. Elder Lords is serving there now so it was a lot of fun getting to see him again. The people both passed their baptismal interviews and got baptized this weekend too! This week I'll be going to Berat on an exchange and I'm really excited for that.

So as for your questions. We're the south zone leaders so we cover the cities of Vlore, Fier, Lushnje, Berat, Elbasan, Pogradec, and Korça. And we basically just make sure the missionaries are all doing ok and doing their job. We go on exchanges with each of the district leaders every transfer and we do the baptismal interviews for people taught by the district leaders. As for proselyting we just cover Fier and all the villages that are around Fier. So far everything's going fantastic!

I love you all, have a great week! Mirupafshim, Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner

Monday, October 9, 2017

October 9th

Përshëndetje familja!

Well I don't have a lot of time today so I'll make this quick.

So big news that I don't think I mentioned last week because I didn't think it would apply to me, we had transfer calls this weekend. Big surprise, I will be leaving Vlore! I'll be going to Fier serving as a Zone Leader. I wasn't expecting that at all, but it'll be really good. I'll still be in the same district so I'll be coming to Fier every week but it also means that I'll get to do exchanges in Elbasan as well. I'll be serving with Elder Larson. I'm really excited!

So because of that, I've had a few goodbyes and a lot of pictures for you. It's a little sad to be leaving so soon because the people here are awesome, but I'm really glad that I was given the opportunity to serve here as long as I did.

This week we also had Zone Conference. It was super good, there were a lot of amazing things that we learned there, but due to time I won't really get into it. A lot of missionaries are finishing their missions this Tuesday(including Elder Maurer and Elder Ellsworth) so we got to hear their testimonies and they were really powerful.

So as for Vlore we had some cool experiences. We had a great lesson with Manuel and his sister Erisa where we watched the restoration film. They really liked it and understood everything really well. It's so cool that we really do have a prophet in our days, and that's so important. We also started a mission prep class this Saturday. It was so cool because a returned missionary here named Xhoni taught the class and did a great job at getting everyone excited to serve.

Then today we had a great activity where we went to the beach, had a barbecue and played some games with some of the members. It was a fantastic way to end my time here. Then tonight we'll finish saying our goodbyes with the members.

That's about it for me, love you all! Have a great week! Mirupafshim! Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner

With the bishop and his wife

 Panorama of the beach, another picture of me by the sea, our barbecue fire

Monday, October 2, 2017

October 2nd

Përshëndetje familja!

This has been an awesome week so I'll get right into it!

First off, our new friend Manuel. Last Monday the young women's president invited us over for a family home evening. So we went over and she said that a kid from her city(she's from Himara) would be living with them this school year, and he had just gotten there that weekend! So we decided to teach the restoration. It was a great lesson, he didn't have a ton of questions but it was easy to see that he was thinking about it. And then we gave him the Book of Mormon and he promised to read it. Then throughout the week he came to some activities, the baptism, conference on Saturday, and church on Sunday. He's been reading the Book of Mormon and he said he's really enjoying it so far! He's an awesome kid, he's super polite and really funny. Him and I get along really well and he says that we're like brothers now. He said he wants us to come with him to visit his family in Himara when he gets a little more settled in! And to make it even better, his sister came this weekend too and will be living here a well. And to top it off, they seem to get along really well with the members too!

Another amazing experience was general conference. We got to watch it live with translation, and this time it actually worked. We only got to watch the morning sessions because the afternoon sessions don't even start until 10 pm here, but the talks that we did see were so awesome! 

Also, the baptism on Saturday was great! The kid was super excited, and his mom and siblings came too! He got confirmed on Sunday and he gave a very short but great testimony. 

On Friday we had a lesson with Meli and she really wanted a blessing. So we taught her about blessings, what they are and how we get them and then gave her a blessing. It was a really cool experience, and I really hoped it helped her!

Elder Murray and I have been getting along really well this week. We've been really busy and we've had a lot of good lessons. It's been really cool to see how much of our work has come from members. Without them this work really doesn't work! 

That's about it for me, I love you all! Have a great week!

Mirupafshim, Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner 

September 25th

Përshëndetje familja!

It's been another fun week here in Vlorë.

To start out with some fun news, we'll be having a baptism here on Saturday! The other Elders have been working with a less active, part member family and they've started coming back to church! The youngest kid was too young to get baptized when the others did, but now that they're active again he wants to get baptized too. So hopefully we can get some members and investigators to that!

Other than that, we had a good lesson with our investigators Ana and Meli. We taught the plan of salvation and the gospel of Jesus Christ and talked about how we can get to the Celestial Kingdom. They understand the plan really well and they said they really want to go there and are working to do everything they need so they can get that. They didn't accept a specific date to be baptized, but they said they want to and are planning on doing it, they just aren't ready yet. They have a ton of potential and are reading from the Book of Mormon too!

We're also working with a super cool part member family. The daughter, Tejsi, was baptized about two years ago but the parents and her brother aren't baptized. We ran into them on the road and said they want us to come over and do lessons with them. So we had a good lesson with them, they want us to teach Tejsi a little bit of English every time we come over and then have a gospel lesson. It was fun because they had us teach her how to pray in English, and she did a great job! Now they want us to come over more often. The dad even brought both of the kids to church this week too! 

Last week on P-day we planned a lesson with Amarildo and he ended up bringing his friend Luçiano too. Luçiano is a member and he usually comes to church but he and his family have been a little less active recently. He's a really cool kid, but I'd never really gotten to know him. So we ended up having a really good lesson with them about Christ where we all shared our favorite stories from his life. Then after the lesson we only had a little bit of time left before it was time to go back home so we decided to stay and talk with them for the rest of our time. He's in a music high school for cello, which he's played since 1st grade, and he loves orchestra and jazz music and video games. So from of my time in band and jazz band, plus having Mason as a bass player in orchestra and jazz, and the fact that I've played a lot of video games we had a lot to talk about, and now we've become super good friends. So now because of that he's come to more activities, and we've been able to talk about the gospel a lot more with him! It's simple little miracles like that that really make missionary work fun. Those two have also been fellowshipping Jani too, so bonus!

Jani has been helping us in a few lessons this week and he's been super excited to do missionary work. He helped us in our lesson with Ana and Meli and again in our lesson with Kristi and he did great. He has a ton of desire to serve a mission and I'm sure he'll do a great job. Our lesson with Kristi was great. We were originally planning on just talking about callings, because she just got called as the gospel principles teacher, but I felt like we needed to ask her to share her favorite scripture from the Book of Mormon. So she opened up to 3 Nephi 9:18 which is where Christ says "I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end." So we had an amazing conversation about how no matter where we are and what we do Christ is a part of us. He created us and we all will go back to him. And then she shared how much her life has changed because of the Book of Mormon and prayer, and how she's trying to help all of her friends to get that too! 
Another fun experience, today we went and had lunch with Amarildo. We decided that we would go to a restaurant that's farther away because we had time, and we ended up randomly running into two members from America. They served in Austria like 25 years ago when Albania got opened and Albania got put as part of their mission. They were super excited to hear how much the church here has grown from when they were on their missions. 

All in all, it was a great week, and this week we have general conference! Usually we walk it a week after it happens in America so that they can get all the translations done, but this time they're doing it all live. They tried it last conference and it didn't work, but hopefully they've got it all figured out this time!

That's about it for me, love you all! Have a great week! Mirupafshim, Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner

Elder Murray, and Amarildo, we got some tennis rackets to play tennis with some members this week! 

September 18th

Përshëndetje familja!

Well this has been a week of ups and downs, but full of miracles!

First one. So missionary work is hard here in Vlore, people are more closed off and less willing to talk so recently we've been having a hard time finding new investigators. But this week we were out street contacting one night, we had been out for a couple hours and no one was willing to listen. But we kept going and just kept trying, then two girls and their mom walked by, saw us, and then stopped and walked over to us. So of course we started talking to them and they asked us if we could meet on Friday! Turns out they had met with the missionaries for a while before but for whatever reason had stopped. We had a lesson with them and it went great, their names are Ana and Meli. Ana is the older sister and doesn't really believe in God and spiritual things, but she's willing to read and pray and find out if they are true. Meli has a ton of faith and said she prays a ton. They said they were busy on Sunday and wouldn't be able to come, but that we can meet again next week and they'll come to church.

Second. We had a meeting with the ward mission leader, Xhoni, and he told us to go through our area books and try calling past investigators. So we looked through ours and found the teaching record for Aulon. He's an investigator that Elder Lords and I taught while I was here 6 months ago and he was super golden, but he ended up moving to Tirana and wasn't able to continue meeting with the missionaries. So I decided to give him a call, he said he was back in Vlore and that he'd love to meet. So we met him, had a great lesson and he said he would come to church next week. We read 2 Nephi 31 with him and talked about the gospel of Jesus Christ and he said that it makes sense that God has a set of rules that we need to follow and that he is ready and willing to follow them. He'll be moving to Tirana to start a two year training to become a national judge at the beginning of October so we we won't be able to keep teaching him for too long, but he said that he doesn't have school on Sundays and will go every week in Tirana.

Third. A super awesome guy named Arber who's been taught for a while just got back from being in Tirana for the summer showed up to church this Sunday and wants to keep preparing for baptism. He was an investigator with the other Elders before and he said he really wants to get baptized he just needs to get his family on board. He'll be coming to English Course and church every week too!

Fourth. We decided to call a random person we didn't know off the member list which got us a meeting with Vëllai Kapllani. He was super nice and loved talking with us. He hasn't come to church for a while but he loves the missionaries and the ward members and the Book of Mormon. So now we'll go visit him at his house and hopefully start teaching him and his non-member wife!

Fifth. Last night we had a similar situation to the first experience from this email. We had been out contacting for a long time and having no success. It was almost time to go back in but we decided to just keep going as long as we could. Then a couple walked by and stopped to talk to us. They asked when we got here and said that they usually come as their whole family to church, but haven't been able to come for a few weeks. Their 10 year old daughter is baptized, and they have another young kid who they want to get baptized when he's old enough. We asked if they would like for us to come over and they said they need us to come visit! They're super great and I'm excited to get to have a lesson with them this week!

Lastly, we're also meeting with a super nice old couple. The man's name is Kristaq, but I don't remember his wife's name. We had a good restoration lesson and today they called us saying that we can come again on Wednesday. They're some of the nicest people I've ever met and they love talking about their family. So next time we'll talk about the Plan of Salvation and eternal families, which I'm sure they'll love!
Other cool things: We talked with Jani this week and he was able to help us in a couple lessons. He's going to be a super awesome missionary one day! He also talked to his dad and invited him to come to church. So we'll try to start teaching his family this week, I've talked with them a couple times on the phone and they sound like amazing people. It was Amarildo's birthday yesterday and we'll go celebrate a little with him today. Also he just started work to raise money to save for a mission and was able to get Sunday's off!

That's about it for me. I'm loving it here in Vlorë, it's a great place. Elder Murray is awesome. And I'm doing well. I love you all and I hope you all have a great week!

Mirupafshim, Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner

Monday, September 11, 2017

September 11th

Përshëndetje familja!

We've had a good week here in Vlorë. Summer is over, we've picked up some work, and the rainy season has started. 

So, since we're still new to the area we decided to work with some of the active members and go from there. We've been able to work with Jani, Kristi, Amarildo, V. Pashaj, and M. Dervishi. I talked a little about Jani last week, we've met with him a few times this week and had some great lessons. He's super determined to be a strong member and he has a lot of desire to learn and understand the scriptures. So we've been able to answer a lot of his questions, and now he'll start helping us in lessons with other people as well. We had a good lesson with Kristi too, she talks super fast  so when I was here before it was still hard for me to understand her sometimes, but now it's really cool seeing how well I'm able to understand her. She's doing really well and wants to serve a mission, so we're going to start helping her prepare for that. When I was here 6 months ago one of the members we worked with a lot was Amarildo. He's a super cool kid with a lot of desire to come to church, but he used to have to work like 12 hours every day support his family, but now he's not working at that factory anymore and can come to church! He really wants to serve a mission, and he's about to turn 18 so we're working with him to get him prepared to receive the Melchizedek priesthood and keep preparing to serve a mission. On Saturday he came and worked with us from 9 in the morning until 8 at night to be a missionary for a day. He did a great job and gave us a ton of ideas for things that we can do better to help the people here, it was awesome!

We're doing and planning a ton of activities to get the ward more involved too. On Saturday we had a really cool experience. We decided to do a ward volleyball activity at 6, but then it started to rain super hard all morning. So we thought that we might have to cancel, but we decided to not to. Then at 5:00 the rain stopped and the sun came out and we were able to go and play! So even though it wasn't some crazy experience where we ended up finding a million golden investigators, we were able to have an activity with some members and investigators, everyone had a good time, and we got to talk to everyone more about the gospel.

We also had stake conference in Durres this week. It was a ton of fun getting to see everyone from my past two areas, even though I haven't been away from Durres for that long. The talks were all about family, how we can keep it sacred, how we can have a strong eternal family, and why families are important. There were a lot of awesome moments and I really learned a lot. One amazing quote was from the stake president who said "if we want true salvation, a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father is important, necessary, and unreplaceable, but it alone is not sufficient. The celestial kingdom can only be created through the sealing ordinances of the temple sealing all of us together. It is not something that can happen individually, it must be done collectively." So now we just need to keep working to create more unity and bring families into the church!

All in all, it's been a fantastic week. Still working to find some more new investigators. We'll have English Course starting this week so hopefully we get some new people coming for that! Elder Murray is doing great, we're both kind of quiet so still trying to get to know each other a little more. But we're working well together and he's doing a great job.

Love you all! Mirupafshim, Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner  

A couple pictures from stake conference. 
One is me with Lindis. It was awesome seeing him again.
The other one is me with Kristo from Fier. I served for an exchange in Fier for one day like 6 or 7 months ago and met him. He's an amazing kid, he memorizes the first, middle, and last names of all the missionaries he meets and is probably the strongest member in Fier. He was baptized by Elder Wilson so while I served with him I got to talk to him a few times on the phone, he's a stud and now we're really good friends.

Monday, September 4, 2017

September 4th

Përshëndetje familja!

So it's been another exciting week here in the ASM. 
First off, my new companion is Elder Murray. He's from Missouri and he's really cool. One cool thing about him is that while he was in High School he didn't like his classes and felt like he wasn't learning anything so he decided to drop out and go to community college. So that's what he did, he's done 2 and a half years of college and has an associates degree now. He's a smart kid and a hard worker, and he's doing great so far. Training is super hard but it's also been a great experience so far. Elder Murray and I got here on Thursday afternoon, put our bags in the house and then got to work. The previous Elders didn't really have any work and our phone was broken so we couldn't call any of the members to set up lessons (luckily that's been fixed now) so we decided to go do some street contacting. Since then we've done a ton of street contacting and tracting. This is my first time being senior companion so it's been weird being the one in charge. This has also really put my language skills to the test, Elder Murray is learning quick and working hard, but being fresh out of the MTC he still has a lot to learn, so I've had to do a lot of talking, translating, and explaining. It's been fun being back here in Vlorë and getting to see all the members, a lot has changed since I was here, but there's still a lot that's the same. This week we have some more people to work with and that should be a lot of fun.

On Sunday we were able to talk to a lot of the members, and we as the missionaries have come up with some ideas for how we can help things get better here in Vlorë. One super cool person we'll be working with is Jani. He was less active while I was here and I never got the chance to meet him, but recently he's come back and he's doing super well. He's 14 and recently received the Aaronic priesthood and understands the gospel really well. We also talked to Kristi in church and we'll be working with her again. She's also doing super well, and it'll be really cool seeing how much she's changed from the beginning of her time as an investigator to now being a recent convert. We also are planning on doing a lot of activities and member work to get the ward active and excited. So we should be having a fun time here in Vlorë.

Going a little back in time, we had a really cool experience last Monday night. Last week I mentioned that we would be having a lesson with someone that President Anderson had met on the plane. So we went over to have a lesson with a member from England, her Albanian friend Kristina, and her friends family. They also ended up inviting President Anderson and his wife, and Vëllai Paja, and a neighbor family. They made us a ton of food and we spent a lot of time eating that and talking with all of them. Then we got into the lesson and it was really cool. We had Elder Harris translate for President and Sister Anderson and we decided to talk about eternal families. So we shared our message about families and the Book of Mormon and were able to give out a lot of copies of the Book of Mormon. Then Kristina started telling her story of how she has been meeting with the sister missionaries for two years and is coming along slowly. She said it took her a long time to believe that Christ is the son of God, because she's muslim, but through reading and praying about the Book of Mormon she knows that he is. Now she's just working to ready for baptism, she knows she needs to do it and she says she definitely will, she just isn't ready yet. It was cool because there was so much switching between English and Albanian but I was still able to follow along perfectly. Kristina speaks English perfectly and she's been translating for her friend recently so she kept starting to translate for us when someone talked and the she would remember that we actually speak Albanian. It was a lot of fun and a lot of them are now investigators with a lot of potential in Durres.

On Wednesday we got to out and work with all the new missionaries right when they got into country. It was so fun seeing how excited all of them were, they are so brave and quick to talk to all the people. They're definitely going to work wonders here in the mission.
To answer a few of your questions, we aren't the only missionaries here in Vlore. There are two other Elders, Elder Thomas and Elder Percival. Elder Percival is in Elder Ellsworth's group so he goes home in 6 weeks. He was trained here in Vlore so he knows a lot of the members too. The car stayed in Durres, hopefully we'll get one in Vlore eventually because we're super far from everything, but we'll see. Our apartment isn't bad. It's meant to be used as two different apartment so the layout is kind of weird, and missionaries have had it for a long time so it's not in the best condition. But we're working on fixing it up a little. I did talk to Alyssa a little bit, she didn't recognize me at first, but when I said I was from Highland she knew who I was.

Things are going well here. The work is a little harder here, but we've started to make some progress. 

That's all for me. Love you all!
Mirupafshim, Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner

1. Elder Ellsworth selfie at the wedding
2. Settlers of Catan
3. Elder Ellsworth with our wedding refreshments. It was grape juice that had actual grapes in it.