Monday, November 20, 2017

November 20th

Përshëndetje familja!

First off, we got transfer calls this weekend. Surprisingly, Elder Larsen will be leaving Fier and Elder Draper will be coming. It's really sad to see Elder Larsen go, it's really been a pleasure serving with him. But on the bright side, I am also super excited to work with Elder Draper. Elder Draper is from Oklahoma and was in my MTC group and we were good friends back then and he's a super cool guy. So this should be a really good transfer, I'm really looking forward to it.

So other fun things. We went and did a service project with the Weidmans. We unloaded a bunch of refugee supplies from a van for the red cross. Hopefully they all go to a good use!
We had a ton of time out of our area, but it was still a good week. Church was really good this week. We had less people than normal, but it was more reverent than it's been in a while. We had a high counsilman come and give a talk and he did a great job. Elder Larsen also got to give a testimony because he's leaving and it was super good. He had a very good mix of testifying and inviting the members to take their testimonies and to begin to take the branch and support it on their shoulders. We also taught second hour for all the adults and talked about service. We tried to get the members to list specific things they can do to serve others because most of the time when we talk about service everyone just talks vaguely and doesn't change anything. But this time at least some of the members took the lesson and then actually applied it!

We also met with Redi a couple times. Right now he just needs to make the decision to focus more on the gospel and do the things necessary to receive the blessings. He seems like he has a ton of desire, but he's just distracted and busy by the other things going on in his life. So we had a good lesson about Alma 32 and what he needs for the seed to grow. But then he didn't come to church again on Sunday. So hopefully we can help him decide to take the step of faith to act more.

Other than that, I went on an exchange in Elbasan on Friday. It was the day of the branch family home evening activity so I got to see a ton of the members while I was there. We even got to do a lesson with Lindis and some other recent converts. It was super fun and great seeing everyone again, especially getting to see how well everyone's doing. 

We also got to go to Vlorë to do some baptismal interviews.Two kids got baptized and they both did good on their interviews, and they might have another baptism this week. The kid who might get baptized this week was someone I taught when I was there and he's super cool, so I really hope he gets baptized. But I'll have more on that next week.

To answer your questions...I'll still be a Zone Leader. Also I forgot to mention Thanksgiving. We will have a mission conference on Thursday in Tirana and they'll give us some form of Thanksgiving lunch, it should be good. And no, I did not see president Owen. He did an activity with the youth, but the missionaries weren't invited. 

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

Elder Gardiner

November 13th

Përshëndetje familja!

So sorry that this is coming out late, we've had a bit of a crazy day. Normally we would be proselyting at this time, but we ended up having to go to Tirana for a doctors visit and got permission to email tonight instead. We don't have a lot of time, but still better than nothing.

We've had a fun week with some cool experiences. First and foremost, we went on a two day exchange starting Thursday night in Pogradec and ending with Saturday in Korça. It was a ton of fun getting to serve in those cities. The people there are so awesome. Right now those are the two fastest growing areas in the mission! Also bonus I got to be with Elder Lords and Elder Schneider who have been two of my favorite companions. We got to meet some of the members which was super fun. Elder Wilson(the one I served with in Durres) was one of the missionaries who opened Korca so I've heard a ton about these people so it was a lot of fun actually getting to meet them, and turns out they are just as awesome as Elder Wilson described!
So other than that, we're still meeting with Redi. He's super great and we've been working with him on prayer and scripture study with the purpose of getting an answer from God. Unfortunately, people at his work have found out that he goes to church and are trying with everything they can to stop him from going. So these past couple weeks he hasn't been able to come on Sunday, but we've still been having some great lessons.

We also have a new investigator named Rexhepi. We met him street contacting and he said he was interested in learning more about our church and the Book of Mormon. Then yesterday we had a super good lesson with him. Turns out his brother in law is a strong member in Vlore and he's talked with him a bit about our church. He doesn't have much of a religious background, but he said he's excited to learn more and see where this takes him. He even accepted a baptismal date for the weekend before Christmas!

Also yesterday, we had a really fun lesson with a woman named Drita. As we were walking to her house we just couldn't quite figure out what we needed to teach her, so we decided to just try our best to follow the spirit. So after a bit of conversation we got on the topic of angels and what do angels look like? So we felt like we needed to read the testimony of Joseph Smith from the beginning of the Book of Mormon where Joseph talks about meeting Moroni. She was so amazed! After every sentence she read she would gasp and just say "wow, this is so true!" then at one point she looked at us and said "I know that your church is true". She still has a way to go before she'll be ready, but she wants to start meeting more now and will hopefully come to church.

So that's about it for me. I'm doing great. I'm all better after the whole being sick thing last week. We've got a super busy week coming up including transfer calls this weekend, so I should have plenty to talk about next week. I love you all, sorry if I made you worry!

Mirupafshim, Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner

Here are a few pictures from the past week. I have a couple more on my camera, but I don't have that with me for the moment.
These two are from our time on the news with Redi.

Austin speaking parts are at 7:38, 25:40, and 37:15.

November 6th

Përshëndetje familja!

Well this has been a pretty interesting week here in Fier.

First off, I was on the news! The Lewis', Elder Larsen, and I were all on Redi's morning show. I didn't talk a ton because Elder Larsen was in charge of translation, and probably spent most of the time looking awkward on camera, but it was still cool. We got to talk about our missionary work and our beliefs and spread the word. Hopefully some of the people watching will be interested in learning more!

We also had a branch Halloween activity which was really fun. We had games and food and like always traditional Albanian dancing. A lot of people came and everyone seemed to have a good time!
We didn't end up having our exchange in Elbasan, but we did do one in Vlore. I got to work with Elder Murray again and we met with some people that I was working with when I was there. It was really fun, and great seeing the people again.

Unfortunately not all things were great this week. Yesterday I either had super bad food poisoning or the flu. So I spent all Saturday night throwing up and then Sunday not feeling well. Unfortunately I wasn't feeling well enough to go to church either, luckily everything worked out at church still, but not fun. I am feeling better now though.

Also, Redi didn't get baptized. He says he just doesn't feel ready yet, and that he wants his parents to support him in it, so he'll get baptized soon, but not yet.

But all in all it was still a good week. We got our car back(it hasn't been repaired yet though) and we should be going on an exchange to Korça and Pogradec this week which means I'll get to work with Elder Schneider for a day, so I'm super excited.

I love you all, and hope you're all doing well! Have a great week!

Mirupafshim, Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner

October 30th

Përshëndetje familja!
Another good week come and gone. Not a lot happened this week, but we still had a few good experiences nonetheless.

First off, Redi. He should hopefully be baptized this week. We still have to go through the baptismal interview questions with him and have the interview, but other than that he's totally ready! He's had the book of Mormon for a long time and usually he just opens to a random page and reads something, but now he's decided to read it start to finish. He's so awesome!

Also this week we finally had a district meeting. They're supposed to be every week but due to random things popping up it got pushed back until now. But this week it was super good. President and Sister Anderson, and the APs came and gave trainings, and our district leader gave a great training about working with ward leadership to bring back less actives.

Church was good this week. It got a little crazy at some parts and people weren't the most reverent, but we had a lot of investigators and less actives who showed up. We're trying to teach the members how to learn and study, because most still know very little about the gospel, and that's been going pretty well. We're trying to focus on getting people to turn to the scriptures when they're asked a question instead of just giving the basic answer they have memorized. Hopefully it actually works, but I guess we'll see.

We had a few first lessons and met some new people but for now there's still nothing too promising. We will have a Halloween activity tomorrow though, so hopefully we get some people coming to that.(I did get the Halloween package too, and it was super awesome! Thanks!)

We had a few good lessons with Xhoni this week, but my favorite one was yesterday where we taught him how to learn. We talked about listening and waiting to hear an answer from the spirit instead of just talking, and the lesson went so much better from then on. He's a super smart kid so now if he'll just keep listening he'll learn a ton really fast.

Other fun/random things, we had daylight savings yesterday and now it gets super dark super fast. I'll probably be going on an exchange to Elbasan this week, so I'm really excited for that. The bishop from Durres is in the Liahona magazine for this month, so you should all go check out the pictures, he's an amazing person. And lastly, I still need a lot of practice with the whole piano playing thing.

I love you all and I hope you're all doing great! Have a fantastic week! Mirupafshim, Zoti ju bekoftë!

Elder Gardiner

Here's a picture from last p-day when we went and played risk and frisbee in Lushnje with some other missionaries.

October 23rd

Përshëndetje familja!

Things are still going great here in Fier! It's been a pretty calm week, nothing too exciting, but a good one nonetheless.
First off, Redi. He's still doing great. We taught him the word of wisdom and the law of tithing and he was super ready to accept it. There's still a few more things we have to go through and clear up before his baptism, but for now he's doing great!

We had a few fun experiences with members this week. One day we were walking down the road looking for people to teach and ended up running into Motra Gjika. So we asked her if there were any members that need a visit and she told us that she wanted us to come over. So we had lunch and a bit of a lesson with her family. Her husband, Vëllai Gjika, was the branch president for 10 years(he only got released a few weeks before I got here) and they're an amazing family. He lost his left arm years ago from a work accident and it would have been really easy for him to become a really negative and bad person, but he decided not to do that. He's one of the most positive people you could ever meet, I don't think I've ever seen him without a smile, he has a super strong testimony and knows a ton of doctrine, and he's also is super into running and cycling. They're a super awesome family and they've been members since the beginning so they know all the members and they help us out a ton to find and help members who have fallen away. 
We also got to bring the sacrament to some members yesterday. They're a super funny older couple and they were so nice. We brought the sacrament and had a lesson and then they made us lunch. It was super good, but they gave us so much food, I felt so sick afterwards. 

I also met a super cool guy on the road this week. He's Christian and loves the Bible, and he's a school teacher and he wants to help all the kids he teaches have faith as well. He said he didn't have time to meet or a phone number, which usually means that we'll never see them again, but I gave him a pass along card and invited him to church if he ever wanted. And then this Sunday he actually came! He stayed for all of priesthood session, which is what we watched for second hour(church here is only two hours) and then after I talked to him and he said that he had gone online and found the Book of Mormon and started reading it and really liked it. We gave him a physical copy and he said he'll try to come again next week, so hopefully he reads and studies the Book of Mormon!

That's about it for me, I'm still loving serving with Elder Larsen. We get along really well and he's a great missionary.
Fun bonus, yesterday was Lindis' one year baptism mark, he's no longer a recent convert! I got to talk to him a little last night, and later this week I'll actually get to go on an exchange to Elbasan, so I'm super excited!

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

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