Monday, November 28, 2016

November 28th

Përshëndetje familja, ju dua shumë!

So this week I'll start with one thing that I will definitely be talking about in my next few emails, #NdriçojeBotën! So as I'm sure many of you know the church has released a new Christmas initiative and it's awesome! So it's called Light the World, or Ndriçoje Botën in albanian, and it focuses on things that normal members can do to share the light of Christ through the world. There is a new video that I'm sure you've either seen or will see soon but also there is an online calendar of simple activities that people can do to make the world a better place. Also one focus of it is missionary work, especially member missionary work, and it really focuses on being a good example to everyone around you and sharing the message with them. So I would really encourage all of you to participate in this initiative and I'm personally super excited for it!

Also today and tomorrow is Albanian independence day! That doesn't really change a lot for us but Elbasan is covered in Albanian flags which is awesome!

Now on to Thanksgiving. So we all got to go up to Tirana on Thursday and it was so much fun! It was so awesome getting to see all my friends from the MTC, especially Elder Schneider! So we basically just started with a big meeting where all the departing missionaries gave their dying testimonies which was really cool and the spirit was really strong in that. Then we had a briefing on Light the World which as I've already said is super awesome. Then we had the big Thanksgiving lunch, so we had the Steven's center in Tirana cater which was awesome because it was real American food and there was a lot of it. So then after the lunch every district had to perform a skit. So we were supposed to start working on that a while ago and have it all planned out long in advance, but as you can probably guess none of us had any ideas, so we ended up deciding what we were doing on the bus to Tirana that morning. However, Elder Maurer is really funny so it actually ended up being pretty good. There were some really good skits though, the Prishtina Elders performed traditional Albanian wedding dancing which was super cool, one group did Missionary Bop 2016 which was really funny, and then Elder Mero ended up telling the story of his banishment which was funny too. But the coolest thing was when President Weidmann came. He's been recovering from back surgery recently so he's been in Switzerland but he ended up being able to come for like a half an hour and he shared his testimony for us. He has one of the most powerful testimonies I have ever heard and whenever he speaks the spirit comes into the room so strongly. While we were in the MTC we listened to a talk from one of the twelve apostles, I can't remember which, and he said that often times the reason that a missionary gets assigned to a specific mission is because they need to be put with that mission president, and President Weidmann is definitely one of the mission presidents that people can really learn from. Every morning he sends out a text to all the missionaries with a Spiritual thought and it's always such an amazing and powerful thought. But yeah, Thanksgiving was so awesome! I didn't get any pictures with my camera but Elder Schneider got a ton of us and of the rest of the new missionaries so I'll send you those when he sends them to me. Just to end that, I just want to say that I'm so grateful for all of you and for everything that you've done for me!

Also we were up in Tirana the day before too getting my residency permits done, so hopefully we don't run into any problems with that again. 

Another fun thing is that the night before Thanksgiving and the night of Thanksgiving the Korça elders, Elder Wilson and Elder Holding, stayed at our house with us, and that was a party. 

So other than that it's been a pretty normal week. We had a lesson with Tauland on Monday and Tuesday and those were really good. He said that he had been reading the Restoration pamphlet over the weekend and we were able to finish the Restoration with him. Then we gave him a Book of Mormon and he read out of that too! We weren't able to have a lesson with him after that because we were in Tirana Wednesday and Thursday, and then Friday was Elbasan independence day so he ended up going to Librazhd early. But hopefully he's been reading and praying and we should have a lesson with him either tomorrow or Wednesday depending on when he gets back for school. But he does seem to be doing well and I have a lot of hope for him! Then we just have English course, we usually have 5 or 6 people, half of which are members because we teach the advanced course. We always end with a spiritual thought and that's usually really good!

Other than that we've mostly just been working with Lindis and other members and then doing a lot of finding. We had a meeting with President Karanxha and he went through the branch list with us and gave us advice for which members he thinks would be good to work with which was really helpful. We brought Vëllai Dhamo the Sacrament yesterday again which is always awesome! Then we've been working a lot with a member named Marvin who is super cool, he has a problem with smoking, but he's working super hard to conquer that and it's been really good working with him, he even came to church on Sunday!
So all in all things are going great here! Elder Maurer is super awesome and it's really fun working with him, but also really hard and I'm really working on wanting to work harder, especially when it comes to talking with other people, which is still hard for me, even without a language barrier. But there are so many really cool people here and I love it here! It started raining again here and I think it's going to be really cold here for a while, so I definitely need to buy a coat today.

Just to end, I love you all! Have a great week back at home and keep being awesome!
Also I know that we do get to do Skype, but I don't know any details other than that. And so today I'm emailing earlier but I might have a little more time later, we'll see.

Mirupafshim, ju dua!
Elder Gardiner

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

November 21st

Përshëndetje familja, Ju dua!
So this week has been really good but not super exciting.
Elder Maurer is super awesome and we work super hard. By the end of everyday my feet are super sore but it's all worth it, but I'll share more stories later.
So to answer the big question first, Thanksgiving. So what we do for Thanksgiving is that we are all going up to Tirana on Thursday and having a big lunch together and we all have to perform a skit. So far we have no idea what we're going to do but I'm sure we'll figure something out, kismet. I'm super excited for that because it means that I get to see everyone from the mission! Also because it's Thanksgiving this week that means that Christmas time has begun, because we have to look forward to something of course, so we have decorated the house and it's pretty awesome. 
So now for more stories. So on Monday right after we finished emailing we got a call from a random number who turned out to be a member from Durres. So she ended up actually giving us a referral for this guy named Tauland who is from Librazhë but is currently a student here in Elbasan. He's about Mason's age and he's super awesome! Every lesson we've had with him he's brought a friend with him and he loves reading in the lessons. We gave him a Book of Mormon today and he really seems interested to read it. But that's all with him for now but I'll keep you all updated.
Another cool experience that we had this week was that we ran into this guy named Arjan while we were on our way to a lesson with Lindis. So we started talking with him and he's super cool but turns out he's not from Elbasan, he's also from Librazhë but he's living in a fshat near Durres. So we asked him if he had like 20 minutes that we could do a lesson with him right then and he said he did. So we took him to the center and had an awesome lesson on the Restoration with him and he seemed really interested, and it was super cool having Lindis help us and see how excited and ready he was to help share the gospel. So at the end of the lesson we committed him to baptism and then told him that we would give him the number for the missionaries in Durres and then we gave his number to them. So I don't know if anything has happened with him since then but it was a pretty awesome experience.
Then we had another guy who we had a lesson with that we met right outside the center. He's named Artan and he was really cool too. He said that he had actually already met with the missionaries before and that he has a Book of Mormon that he reads every once and a while. So at the end we committed him to baptism too which was awesome. We then told him about church and told him to come with us to that. Unfortunately he didn't show up though. Also he doesn't have a phone which makes it a lot harder to contact him but he did show us where he lives. However, he lives clear out in the outskirts of Elbasan like half an hour away. So we tried visiting them once but no one was home, but we'll keep working with that.
Then we also had another lesson with Vëllai Dhamo which was so awesome. He's so fun to listen to and he has the best laugh ever. He loves the missionaries so much and it's really funny because he knows all the stereotypical missionary jokes and he always talks about the time he got to go visit the missionary that converted him in Utah. Also we had the opportunity to bring him the sacrament yesterday and that was super cool. One thing that really sticks out about Vëllai Dhamo is how devoted and caring he is about the gospel, the first question he always asks us is whether or not there were people in church on Sunday, and then he always just tells us about how much of a blessing the gospel has been in his life.
Also on Saturday we organized an activity where we invited the members to come play soccer at the church and then afterwards we cleaned the church. The people here are crazy good at soccer, and let's just say I'm not the greatest soccer player. But it was still super fun nonetheless. None of the members ended up being able to stay and clean unfortunately though but it was all fine because we're used to just cleaning the church ourselves. But Ervis, who is one of our friends from English Course, came and played and then even helped clean up, which was awesome because we got to show him around the church. I'm super glad that we have a church building here, even if it is forever away.
Fortunately the weather has been awesome this week though! It's actually been really warm here and the sun has been out every day. I don't know how long that'll last but I'm definitely not complaining. 
Just to end with a little about Elder Maurer. He's ultra-obedient which has been awesome. Also I'm pretty sure the apartment we live in has never been cleaner and never been better organized which I've loved. Also we actually eat three meals a day and we have food in the fridge, most of which makes a balanced diet, excluding the baklava, which has been a bit of a change after my time with Elder Mero where we basically just lived off of sufllaqe. But honestly Elder Maurer is one of the hardest workers I've ever met and he's super sensitive to the spirit and he's just all around super awesome. So, so far I'm still loving serving with him!
So all in all things are still going great here and I'm still loving serving! So until next week, I love you all and I hope you all have a great week!
Love, Elder Gardiner

Thank you for everything! One funny thing that's been going on recently that I've talked about a little bit before is how I talked about how no one can pronounce Gardiner here, so a lot of people here have started calling me Elder Garden so that could end up becoming my name for the rest of the mission. Also everyone is still convinced I'm Chinese, which is also pretty funny.

I have a theory about the Chinese thing.  All your pictures you are smiling so big that your eyes are basically slits.   So, I'm guessing you are just so happy all the time that you are smiling and your eyes are non-existent.  But, you are basically as white as can be.  Your ancestors come from England and Denmark.  :)

Haha that's what I tell them all, but they never believe me, especially this one guy we talked to who was just absolutely plastered.

Monday, November 14, 2016

November 14

Përshëndetje familja, ju dua shumë!

So this has been a pretty crazy week but a great one none the less.

To start with my new companion. His name is Elder Maurer and he's from Boise Idaho. He's been out on his mission for a year and he's so awesome! He served the first 6 months of his mission in Durres and then he has been in Gjakova for the past 4 and a half months. We've been working crazy hard and things have been going great. We're really focusing on visiting members a lot more and we've met some really cool people! One thing that I've really learned from my new companion is that the best times of the mission come when your trying your hardest to be exactly obedient in every aspect. That's one thing I've really been working on with him and the rewards have been huge. One fun thing about Elder Maurer is that because he has been in Kosovo for the past four and a half months is that he still speaks Gheg. Through this week he's been returning to Tosk but it's been fun to hear.

Some other fun experiences this week, on Tuesday we had transfers up in Tirana which happened to be the day Tirana flooded. Luckily we were all safe but I can honestly say that I have never seen that much water. The canal that goes through Tirana ended up rising so much that it went up onto the road in many places and at one point we drove through almost knee deep water. The south zone leaders actually ended up getting stuck and had to drive onto a roundabout and saw other cars with water up to the windows get stuck. So that was a lot of fun but luckily everyone was completely safe.

Another thing from Tirana, I went to the classiest KFC I have ever seen. Because of the flooding a ton of the missionaries ended up being late so those of us that were there decided to all go out to lunch. It was super good and it was the first American food I've had in months.
Here in Elbasan there was a bit of excitement because Albania played Israel in the Elbasan stadium. They ended up losing 0-3 but it was really cool seeing the city all decorated for the game.

Also winter is definitely coming. The sun sets at 4 o'clock and it gets dark super fast. Also it has rained every day this week except today and yesterday. I have a few sweaters but it looks like I'll definitely be buying a big coat sometime soon. Luckily it probably won't snow hear but when it rains the roads end up turning into more river than road.

Also this week we ended up having a lesson with one of our friends from English course and Andiol. That was a lot of fun and he really seemed to enjoy it so we'll try to get another lesson with him this week.

We also had a lesson with a member here named Vëllai Dhamo. He's so cool and that was a really fun lesson. He's like 70 years old and he can't walk to the church but his testimony is so strong. He showed up pictures of the missionaries who converted him and the trip he took to visit them and go to the temple. He was the branch president here for 8 years and he really liked that we came, but he did say that we came too late because we came at like 6 or 7 so next time we'll try and visit him earlier. He also really wants us to find a car that can take him to church but unfortunately there's not really much we can do about that. So we are going to try to get Lindis to come with us and we'll take him the sacrament every week. Also he's missing most of his teeth and he is extremely hard to understand but I love listening to him talk.

Also speaking of Lindis, he's the best! This week we've kept meeting with him every day and we always read with him and then check where he is in his reading. Right now he's at the end of the Book of Helaman which is so awesome! He reads every day and he reads a ton! It's so fun having lessons with him and really getting him to participate because he's not super eloquent in his explanations but you can really see the emotion in it and that he's learning from the Spirit. This week there is a youth activity in Durres that goes from Friday to Sunday and yesterday he told us that he talked to his dad about it and decided that he's going! That's going to be super cool and I think he'll really learn a lot from that. Also President Karanxha assigned him to give a talk the week after so we'll be helping him with that and he'll do great. Also he's been blessing the sacrament every week and he's so good at it! He's definitely better at it than I was.

Another story from this week. We went out to a fshat(villiage) near Elbasan on a furgon(a van that they stuff people in and drive around like a bus) to a lesson with the sisters and gave the person they were teaching and her husband a blessing. That was a lot of fun and it was super beautiful out there. But then after that we ended up walking for forever trying to flag down another furgon but there just were none coming. After like 30 minutes we got to a bus stop and just ended up waiting for a bus but that was a lot of fun. I did get a picture while we were out there because the Albanian country side is beautiful so I'll try to send that today.

Also I did here about Trump, that's basically the question every Albanian asks us when they find out we're Americans. All I have to say about that is at least I'm gone for the next two years.

I'm glad Annaka's primary program went well, that sounds like a lot of fun. Also I'm glad that I could help!

Also I have seen the moon but I was not aware that it was a supermoon. It is super pretty though.

And yes I do still hear from my friends, we have a group email thread and it's so fun hearing from them. I truly have the best friends ever and I'm so glad that I've had their awesome examples in my life.

That's all I can think of for today but I still have another hour so if you have any questions let me know!
Mirupafshim, ju dua shumë!
Elder Gardiner

So I have a picture of Albania that I took on our rainy walk back to Elbasan. And the other picture is a picture of sufllaqe just because I figure I talk about it enough.

I still don't love tomatoes but I do always force myself to eat them and I think I'm building up a tolerance. They eat tomatoes in everything here by the way. Also we eat crepes like 3 times a week here, it's great.  For meals, they have dessert crepes with like nutella and banannas and meal crepes with like cheese and meat and tomatoes. And we don't make them because we don't have a crepe maker or time to do that, but we do get them a ton.

Monday, November 7, 2016

November 7

Përshëndetje familja! Ju dua shumë!

So to start out with the big news that I alluded to in my email last week. I'm not going to Kosovo. However Elder Mero is getting "banished" to the north. So the reason I said last week that I could be going to Kosovo is because due to visa issues Elder Mero isn't allowed to serve in Albania anymore and we didn't know if I would be going with him or not. So on Saturday night we got a call from President Weidmann where he told us that Elder Mero is going to Gjakova and Elder Mower(I'm not sure if that's spelled right or not) will be coming here to Elbasan and finishing my training. It's sad that he has to go and I'm definitely going to miss him, but everything happens for a reason and I have no doubt that Elder Mero will accomplish Miracles in his new area. I've heard that Elder Mower is super cool too but I'm sure I'll tell you more about him next week. But for now we're just doing our best to work until the exchange tomorrow.  I'm glad I'm staying in Elbasan, I feel like there's still work for me to do here, however if I had ended up going to Kosovo I wouldn't have been disappointed. 

Another fun thing from this week was our family home evening with Lindis' family. So last Tuesday we asked Lindis if we could do simple family home evening with him and his family, so he said he'd ask his dad. The next day he told us that they'd love to do it so we set it up for Saturday. So then we went over on Saturday and his whole family was there! That was so awesome because we had met most of his family but we hadn't met his dad's girlfriend yet(she lives with them with her two daughters). So we gave our short spiritual thought about service from Mosiah 2:19 and then played some card games (mulan and old maid) and domino. Then we all ate the desserts we brought plus more that they made for us. And then they were like "we would really love it if you stayed for dinner" so we ended up doing that which was so awesome, they made us a ton of food. And then we were talking with them a little more and playing with the family when Lindis' dad started asking us some questions about the temple! He was asking us how long Lindis needed to be a member to be able to go, which I didn't know the answer to but luckily Elder Mero did. But so it turns out that Lindis has been teaching his family a little bit about the church and the things he's been learning which is so awesome, Lindis is the best!!! They seemed really interested and they loved looking at the pictures of the temple. Then his dad started talking about the Book of Mormon and how special it is for Lindis, he said that Lindis hasn't really been able to read books before because he has epilepsy but he's able to just sit and read this one which was so powerful! This really is a special book and I know that God wants for all of us to have the opportunity to read it. It was such a fun night and as we were leaving Lindis thanked us and said that they don't usually all get to eat together, but that it was really special for them to get to do that together. So what was originally supposed to be a short spiritual though ended up becoming a four hour meeting, but I loved it! It made me feel like I was back at home eating with my own family! It also made me wish that I had put more emphasis on having FHE every week and making it a really special time for us to learn together. But another good thing that came out of that was that his little step sisters both ended up going to church with us yesterday! So we're going to really try and work with all of them and I have a lot of hope with them.

Another cool experience I had last week was that one day we were contacting and I wasn't having a lot of success so I decided to say a quick prayer where I asked to find someone who was interested to learn more about the gospel. Then a little while later a guy and a girl walked by and I started talking with them and they seemed kind of interested but then they said that they were just getting off work but that their house was close by and they would come back in a little bit. So I kind of assumed they were just gone but then like 20 minutes later they actually came back, and they even brought another one of their friends! I was super surprised because that doesn't usually happen, but then I talked with them for a while and I got to share a little bit about the Book of Mormon and the church, then at the end the girl ended up saying that she believes in Christ and she has a friend who is baptized in a christian church and she really wants to learn more. So I tried getting their numbers but none of them had phones so I gave them all contact cards so hopefully something good comes out of that. 

One last thing. So there has been one person who has been coming to English course for a while and at the beginning he really didn't want to learn more about our church. But over time he's become friends with one of the members in the course and we've been trying to become friends with him and he seems to be really opening up. So last Thursday we made an announcement that we would do a "Special English Course" after branch family home evening on Friday where we would talk a little bit about the Book of Mormon in English and then give everyone a copy for free that they could read. So then Ervis, the guy from the course, ended up coming to FHE again and then he stayed for the Book of Mormon lesson and he accepted a copy! He also stopped by and talked with us for a while yesterday but we forgot to ask if he read the book so we'll have to check up on that tomorrow. But all in all that has been awesome and we're starting to be really good friends with him!

Regarding Mom’s question about proselyting with the Muslim people:  Our mission is different from a lot of others, we're totally allowed to teach muslims which is good because that's the majority of the people. However we aren't allowed to teach women. If we find a girl who wants to learn about the church we have to refer them to the sister missionaries. 

I got the birthday package during the week and that was a lot of fun to get! Also daylight savings happened for us a week ago so I understand the feeling of being in complete darkness, I'm sure it will be dark before I finish emailing. Also that daddy daughter date thing looked like a lot of fun, I hope they had a good time! Tell Annaka good job on her swim meet for me! And that's awesome that the cubs won!

So all in all I'm still loving it here in Elbasan so much! I'm having a lot of fun and everything's going great!

Love you all!
Elder Gardiner