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.

Monday, August 28, 2017

August 28th

Përshëndetje familja!

Well this has definitely been the craziest and busiest week of my mission so far, so I'll just get into it.
To start with the biggest news first. We got transfer calls this Saturday! As expected I will be leaving Durrës, and I will be white-wash training in Vlorë! Because of some of the interviews I had had with President Anderson I was pretty sure I was training, but I can honestly say that I was not expecting to go back to Vlorë. I'm super excited for this opportunity though. It's definitely going to be hard, but I'm really looking forward to the challenge. My trainers have had a huge influence on my mission so I just hope that I can carry that on. I've learned a ton on my mission so far and I'm excited for this opportunity to work with a new missionary, we're going to work really hard. I love the members and the people in Vlorë already and was sad that I had to leave so quick, so I'm excited to go back to them. Other transfer news, Elder Ellsworth will stay here in Durrës. He'll be with Elder Jakaj, and two more Elders will be coming, Elder Benson and his trainee. Elder Harris will be going back to Shkodër and he'll be training there. A ton of people from my MTC group will all be training.

Other exciting experiences, Kristi got confirmed yesterday! He actually came early to church! It was a good Sunday and he's continuing to get along great with the members. Now he's on his way to receive the Aaronic Priesthood. It's sad that I have to leave so soon after his baptism, but we have Stake Conference in two weeks here in Durrës, so I'll get to see him soon enough.
We also had a super fun service opportunity this weekend. This Saturday there were two weddings at the church, so we got to go set up, clean up, and talk with all the members and non-member friends and family members that came! It was a super fun experience, but it was crazy seeing how stressed everyone was about it, luckily I still have a while before I have to deal with that! Funny coincidence, the first wedding was a member named Xhoni from Vlorë so a few of the members came up for that and it was a lot of fun seeing them again. I was talking with the bishop from Vlorë about how I had a great time and he asked me when I would come down and visit them all, so I said I'd try to go down for a P-day, but I guess it turns out I'll be seeing them sooner than I thought!

Besides that, we've also been working in Shkodër, Lezhë, and Laç. We've spent over 12 hours driving this week, and had to fill up the car twice. But it's also been super cool working up there. There's a recent convert named Amadeus in Shkodër who was baptized two weeks ago and we've been working with him whenever we went up. He's super smart, loves studying the scriptures, and is really good friends with one of the members. He's basically golden. Also while we were up there we've gone to Lezhë for a family home evening activity. There are only 3 members in Lezhë, and they usually come, but for some reason they didn't show up. So we just got some some consolation ice cream(10 cents a scoop) and went off to have a lesson in Laç. There's only one member in Laç and she's a recent convert. She's the sister of one of the missionaries, Elder Jakaj, the one who is taking my spot in Durrës, and she's super cool. She was away on vacation for about a month, so she hadn't been in church for a little while, but she started the Book of Mormon over and has read all the way through Jarom and understands everything super well.
We also had a really cool experience on Friday. President Anderson was coming back from Germany and on the plane ride he met a member from England who is coming to stay with her friend in Durrës. The friend has gone to church a few times in England but can't always go because she's in work, but she's interested in learning more. So they called us and set up a lesson at their home today, and they came to church yesterday. They also invited President Anderson, so we get to teach a lesson in English with our mission president, it's going to be awesome!

Then in the rest of our time we've had apartment inspections and then had lessons with Kristi and Ergita. We had a lesson with Kristi about pioneers and we watched part of 17 miracles with him. It was a really powerful lesson and now he wants to get all the church movies he can so that when he's bored from all his studying he can still learn and feel the spirit. Then with Ergita we showed the restoration film and then we read the Book of Mormon with her. She gets really into the book and she always has a ton of questions, but it's cool to see that as she reads she finds the answers by herself! She also wants to get her brother to read the Book of Mormon because she knows it would help him so much! 
Durrës is doing really well right now, and I know that with the new missionaries coming that it'll get even better!

That's all from me for now. There will be pictures to come too!
Mirupafshim, ju dua të gjithëve! Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner

Also that's crazy that you met up with Elder Mero! Did he have like a welcome home party or something? That's a great picture though, my mission dad and my real dad in the same picture!

Pictures by the Sea

 Mosque in Durres
 City Center Durres

 Elder Wilson and Elder Ellsworth, the tripanionship!

Monday, August 21, 2017

August 21

Përshëndetje familja!

It has been a very busy week here in north Albania.

To start with the biggest event of the week, Kristi got baptized! It was an amazing experience and the baptism was great! He chose me to baptize him, and that was really special. I've sent some pictures from the baptism. We had a good amount of members and even some investigators that showed up too. On the other hand though, he was supposed to get confirmed yesterday. But he was late for church and didn't come in a white shirt and tie, so he'll get confirmed next week.  But he's still doing great, he was a little sad that he couldn't get confirmed then, but he talked to bishop about it and even set up a time for an interview so he can get the priesthood, so all's well that ends well! 

Well that was definitely the most exciting thing that happened this week, there were still plenty of other great moments. As I kind of mentioned last week, we're now working in Shkodër, Lezhë, Laç, and Durrës. On Wednesday Elder Mero, who was serving in Shkodër, went home so now we picked up his companion Elder Harris. Elder Harris was in my MTC group and he's super awesome. He's actually the one we met at Tucanos on the day I went into the MTC. We're super excited to have him and it's been a blast so far. So on Friday we decided to go to the other cities. We had a lesson planned in Lezhë and then we were going to go to Shkodër for a lesson, then on the way back stop by a recent convert in Laç. But then the traffic turned out to be super bad, so we had to cancel our lessons in Lezhë and Laç. But we'll go back up tomorrow and have a full Shkodër day tomorrow. It's kind of funny though, the sisters that are serving in Shkodër right now are the same ones that were with us here in Durrës, so we got our district back. 

We finished English course this week. Most of the people had stopped coming, but there's one girl named Ergita who seemed really interested to learn more about the gospel. So now we have a lesson set up with her for tonight, she's already had most of the lessons she needs for baptism through English course. We just need her to understand why now, it should be a great lesson. 

We also had Zone Conference this week! We also had interviews after that so we were in Tirana the whole day. Zone Conference was so good though, president has put an emphasis on accelerating the work we're doing and rescuing less active members and it was cool to see that emphasis reflected in the trainings. Our leaders really emphasized the worth of souls and the idea that even if we can only bring back one less active, which may not happen in the time we serve there, that our joy with them will be so great in the last day. President and Sister Anderson are so great, they are so excited to do the work here and they love involving us in everything. I'm excited to see the work keep going forward under their inspired direction.

Other exciting news, transfers are coming up this week! It's so crazy to think that I've been here in Durrës for almost 6 months now, it feels like I just got here yesterday. I'll probably leave, but honestly I have no idea what will happen. The APs were at Zone Conference and they told me that I'll never guess what's happening to me at transfers. So whatever happens it's bound to be exciting. I've loved it here in Durrës though, the members are so amazing and having a chapel is so special. The spirit is so strong there and there are so many great people here, I'll definitely miss it a ton whenever I end up leaving.

Well that's about it for the unusual things. We've had a few other lessons with Zubide and other people, but nothing too interesting. We've been super busy so we haven't had a ton of time for finding, but all in all we've definitely been blessed to have as much work as we do.
And in regards to heat wave lucifer, it's still been super hot but it is cooling down. It rained last night and might rain again today or tomorrow which would be great. And we didn't come up with that name, we were just at lunch one day and the news came on talking about it.
I've been having an amazing time here. I love my companions so much, and we've been having so much fun together. 

That's about it for me today. Next week should be a pretty crazy week too, so be prepared for next Monday!

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

Last time with Elder Mero
 View from apartment in Durres
 Baptismal Font in church at Durres

 Elder Gardiner with Kristi at his baptism

 Elder Ellsworth, Kristi, and Elder Gardiner
 Fatjon at Kristi's baptism

​​This is Eqerem. He's super funny, he's been a member for almost 20 years and loves the members, but I'm his favorite right now because I'm from Utah. He's so great, and he reminds me a lot of grandpa Ott.

Monday, August 14, 2017

August 14th

Përshëndetje familja!

First order of business, Kristi passed his baptismal interview!!!! This week we taught him all the commandment lessons. We started by teaching him the word of wisdom, which he had already learned and was already living, so we decided to read D&C 89 and he said that he felt the spirit testify to him that the word of wisdom is from God and that it really will bless us. I can honestly say that's the first time I've heard an investigator say that. Then later when we taught him about tithing he said that he isn't in work, but that he had 2000 leke with him and wanted to give us 200 right then. Of course we can't do that, but now we showed him how to pay tithing and he's really excited to pay that every month. Then after his interview we played a round of chess and talked about the gospel, he made a super cool analogy about how we're like the pawns in chess. At first look they aren't really that dangerous, but as they get closer and closer to the other side they progress and then when they hit the back they transform into exactly the piece you need and become really powerful. So that's like how we progress in this life, and then if we've done all we need to do one day we will all be resurrected and become like our Father in Heaven. We've invited a ton of people for his baptism on Saturday, and I'm super excited!

Then yesterday we had the scariest phone call of my mission. President Anderson called us while we were in a lesson and we totally thought he was calling to transfer one of us out of Durrës. So we called him back and he said "this is a transfer call" and we were both devastated, but turns out what will actually be happening is that Elder Harris will be transferred into a trio with us. Right now he's serving in Shkodër with Elder Mero, but Elder Mero goes home this week. So he'll come down with us for the next two weeks. Now our area technically covers Durrës, Shkodër, Lezhë, and Laç, which is like a quarter of Albania. It's going to be super fun though, Elder Harris is super awesome and we'll be super busy.

We met with Zubide again. We read the Book of Mormon with her and helped her understand the basic story of it with her. She loves meeting with us and has a ton of faith, but it's going to be really hard to get her to come to church. But we'll keep working with her and just try our best. 

This week we also had a lesson with the bishop and his family. They're super strong members and they're an awesome family. We talked about being a light for the world and how we can share the gospel in a ll times and places. They're super funny and really good at testifying to other people and sharing the gospel through service.

Then we also met with Vëllai Paja this week. He's such an amazing member. He was baptized in Italy and has a super cool conversion story, then he decided to come to Albania to help grow the church here. He was doing super well in Italy, he had a great job and didn't have to worry about money, but he had a prompting that he needed to come back to Albania even though it would be harder because the church needs him. Now he's trying to get his sons ready to serve a mission and trying to be a good example for them. They're a great family and it's awesome having such strong members that just really understand the gospel. 

I got my dental work done. They did a good job, and it was probably one of the nicest buildings I've been in on my mission. It felt like an actual American dentist office. Also, the new car looks super nice. And the package came this week, it was super good, I really liked it! I really like the new tie!

It's been so hot here in Albania. We're in the middle of a heatwave called heatwave lucifer. Here in Durres it got up to 110 degrees and in Tirana it was even hotter. But then it rained yesterday! So now things are a little better

Well that's about it for me, it's been a great week and it went by super fast.
Love you all! Have a great week!
Mirupafshim, Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner

PS One cool thing about Kristi, he was taught by missionaries about 2 years ago but he wasn't ready and ended up going to Italy. One of them was named Elder Stewart, so it would be really cool if we can find him and let him know about Kristi. 

Also, I've started getting really good about taking care of my teeth. I brush twice a day, every day, floss every night, and have even started using mouthwash. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

August 7th

Përshëndetje familja!

Well, it's been another great week here in Durrës. 

To get right into it, Kristi's back! We were able to meet with him last Friday and we had an amazing lesson. We had Vëllai Cani(ex Elder Cani) help us in the lesson and the two of them got along great. It had been a while since we had met so we decided to go over the plan of salvation again and he understood super well. In the lesson Cani asked him why he keeps meeting with us, and he immediately responded that it was because he knows that our church is the only true church and the only one he could even consider joining. So that was really cool, I really felt the spirit when he said that. So now we have a baptismal date set for him for the 19th of August, and he'll totally be ready. He also came to church on Sunday and really participated and enjoyed church. He made a super good impression on all the members and is starting to have friends at church, which is so important. He's basically the perfect example of a golden investigator.

Then we've also had a couple lessons with Zubide this week. We went back on Tuesday and she was super excited to have us back over. Her daughter has had a big scab on her head ever since she got in the accident 6 years ago, but this time when we went over it was completely healed. Also she rents out part of her house to people visiting for vacation every year, but this year no one had come, then this Saturday we came back over and 3 families had come and were renting from her. So that was really cool to see that as she took the initiative to learn about the restored gospel that God has blessed her in all aspects of her life. When we went over on Saturday we brought Klaudia and Motra Agaliu to help her have friends from the church so she feels more welcome. They did a great job and they also really helped us teach, their testimonies are so strong and they're able to relate to the people so well.

We also were able to start teaching a family this week. We've been meeting with a guy named Selim for a little bit and then this week we asked if we could teach him in his home and teach his family with him. He said we could come and we had a good lesson with them. They've had some cool religious experiences in their lives but they don't really practice any religion, like most Albanians, so we decided to talk about prayer and the Book of Mormon. They all accepted a Book of Mormon and said they'd read it. We should be going back some time this week, so hopefully they've actually read.

We met with Artur again last night and talked about the church's self reliance program. He's a really nice guy, but he just has no hope in his life and for the moment he doesn't really want to look for it. He's had a really hard life so I understand that it's hard for him to believe that there really is hope, but it's still so sad when we give people the one thing that can truly change their lives and they just choose not to accept it. So hopefully one day his heart will be ready to accept the gospel.

Normally we play soccer once a week as a finding/ward bonding activity, but recently no one has been coming so we decided to play ping pong and card games instead. And this week we had Kristi, Artur, and one of the members, Norikson, all come. It was a lot of fun and now Kristi and Norikson are friends, so that was awesome. It's great how even simple activities that aren't necessarily spiritual can be used to share the gospel. 
It's been super hot here in Albania. Durres isn't quite as bad, but it's still been about 100 degrees every day. It's pretty funny, the first year of my mission has been both the coldest winter and hottest summer Albania's had in over 30 years. I guess the Utah weather must just be following me.

But other than that everything's been great. Normally in the summer there is very little success in missionary work because people just don't want to go outside, but we've actually been keeping pretty busy. We have some great investigators, and we've even finally had a little success working with less actives.

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

July 31st

Përshëndetje familja!

It was kind of a slower week here in Durrës, but a good one nonetheless. 

We have a new investigator! It's been a little while since that happened, but this one is really cool. Her name is Zubide. The sisters found her a long time ago and we've been trying to meet for a while but things kept popping up that kept pushing it back. She's a great person and she's so positive, which is a miracle in her situation. Her husband was hit and killed by a drunk driver right outside her house a few years ago, and 6 years ago her daughter, Nërtila, was hit by another drunk driver and has lost almost all mental function. So now she works and takes care of her daughter all day. She loves the idea of the resurrection(she's probably the first person I've heard that from since I got to Albania) and doesn't blame God for her situation, but has a ton of faith that God will help her in her situation and one day heal her daughter. We had a really good lesson with her about the plan of salvation and she really liked it. She's me with the Jehovah's Witnesses before, but she read the pamphlet we gave her and felt the spirit, so now she said that she knows that we have the truth! So we went back and reviewed the plan of salvation again, and gave her a Book of Mormon and she was super excited to read that. 

We also met with Artur again. We had a good lesson where one of the returned missionaries from the ward helped us teach him about real intent and faith. We talked about how when we do our part to learn and obey the commandments God blesses us in every aspect of our lives. Also he came to church this week! He only stayed for the first hour, but he did seem to like sacrament meeting. 

Also we got some awesome news this week. Our investigator Kristi has been super busy with school recently so we haven't been able to meet in a couple weeks. He told us that he couldn't meet until he finishes his tests because he doesn't want to learn about the gospel half-heartedly, he wants to dedicate all his time to it. He said that his last test would be some time in August, so last week we called him to keep up contact and he said that he finishes his last test on August 1! So we'll be meeting with him again this week, and he should be getting baptized super fast. He's probably one of the smartest people I've ever met, and he's super prepared, so I'm super excited to meet with him again.

Other than that, we've been trying super hard to work with less actives. But so far all the ones we've tried have either not answered the phone all week or are in Italy. I've written down a list of potential people to work with that I'll ask members about, because addresses don't exist in Albania so finding them is almost impossible. 

We've tried working with Fatjon, but apparently he has not been doing super well recently. We tried to talk to his mom at work, but she was pretty busy so we didn't get to talk a lot, but we'll try again this week.

Then we've also had our English Course. We have a lot of awesome people coming to that, and the gospel course that we do afterwards. It's been super cool, a lot of the people get really involved and ask a ton of great questions in our gospel class. We've gone over the Restoration, Plan of Salvation, and Gospel of Jesus Christ now, and a lot of people have been there for all the lessons. So now we just have to set up other lessons with them!

We've also been trying to work with a lot of the members to strengthen them too. We had a lesson with the Dragoti family, they're the one's that sent you the picture on facebook. They're super awesome, and we're trying to work with the dad of the family, who isn't a member, but for now, he just isn't ready. Then we also had a really cool lesson with the Agaliu family too. We decided to share a conference talk with them, so we went to and chose a talk, but then we felt like that wasn't the one we needed to share. So we chose another one, and the same thing happened. So we went back and the talk from M. Russell Ballard from this past conference about goal setting stuck out to us. So we went and talked about that, and they said that they had just decided that they needed to work on goal setting, and that talk was just what they needed. So that was a really cool experience about how the spirit directs us to what other people need.

Then with the rest of our time we've done a ton of street contacting. We've met a lot of cool people, but also had a lot of people not come to lessons that we set up. So hopefully we'll be able to actually meet with more of the people that we meet.

That's about it for me. I'm loving serving here with Elder Ellsworth! He's a great teacher and we get along great! He loves the Lord of the Rings, so we've spent a lot of time talking about analogies and references in the Lord of the Rings about the gospel, it's been fantastic! Also he's super good at ping pong. We didn't have anything planned for p-day today and had a lot of extra time, so we went and played a lot of ping pong, it was a ton of fun. It's been a great transfer so far.

I love you all, have an amazing week! Mirupafshim, Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner

Monday, July 24, 2017

July 24th

Përshëndetje familja!

We've had kind of a slower week here this week, but it's been good still.

A few highlights from the week; we're teaching a free English Course and that's going super well. We have a one hour class twice a week and then after that we invite people to stay for a small presentation about the gospel. The course has been going for about three weeks and there are a few people that have been coming that seem super interested. On the first day we talked about the restoration and gave copies of the Book of Mormon to whoever wanted one and there's one girl who took a copy and since then has been reading and asking questions about what she read. Last time everyone who came stayed after and we were able to teach and testify about the plan of Salvation, and people seemed really interested. So that's been a really cool experience, and it makes you realize how complicated English is.

Other than that, it was one of the members birthdays this week so we went out to lunch with him. His name is Enea and he's a stud, he's got a super strong testimony and helps us out with lessons and stuff whenever he can. We've become super good friends in the time I've had here in Durrës. So we took a picture and I'll send that to you.

Also this week, Regjina moved back to Elbasan so we gave her the number of the missionaries over there and she said she knows where the church and teaching center are so hopefully she keeps meeting with the missionaries over there. Then the Gjergji family dropped us, so that was a little sad, but for now I guess it just isn't their time. Hopefully some day they'll be ready. 

So we also have a friend who we've been meeting with, his name is Dhimi. He met the missionaries a long time ago and then we ran into him on the street once. He's not really interested in learning about the gospel, but he's really funny. He ended up giving us a paper that he wanted us to translate, so we decided to do that for language study, and it's probably the best letter I've ever seen. It talks about how God came down and directed him to the top of a communist war bunker where he found a special rock in the form of a boat with sails, and now his job is to share it with the world. He wrote letters to Discovery channel, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, the queen of England, Leonardo DiCaprio, and the Nobel Prize and made some pretty hefty demands. Unfortunately, he wouldn't ever really sit in for a lesson though.

So that's about it for me, kind of a boring week. We've been trying to work with a ton of investigators and less active members, but no one is answering their phones or willing to meet, so we've done a lot of contacting. We've got a bunch of numbers now and plenty of people to work with, so hopefully this next week is a little more exciting.

I did bring my camera today so I have some pictures to send.

I love you all, and I hope you have a great week!

Mirupafshim, Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner

​​​​Elder Mero and I from our trip to Shkodër.

Our day of ping pong with Elder Cani.

Special American yogurt flavors for the 4th of July.

​​Elder Ellsworth and I with Elder Lesi and the Collins at the best ice-cream place in Albania.

Monday, July 17, 2017

July 17th

Përshëndetje familja!

So this has been a very busy week with a lot of amazing experiences.

To start, our new mission president is super awesome! His name is President Anderson and he's from St. George. He has 6 kids, worked in investing, and served a mission in Taiwan. He is so enthusiastic about the gospel and he loves missionary work. In the years since his mission he's been able to help teach people living in China and loves inviting people to be baptized. On Wednesday we had a meeting where we met him and his wife and got to know them a little bit. One really cool thing about them is that Sister Anderson is Mr. Birrell(one of my favorite teachers of all time)'s sister, so that was a really cool connection. We had a zone conference this week and we received a ton of cool trainings  about how we can bring the work further even faster. President Anderson has given a lot of focus on getting people baptized and giving them then gift of the Holy Ghost while also increasing retention and activation by working with the less actives. I'm really excited for the opportunity that I have to work with him for the next year. 

So as for our work here in Durrës, we have some new investigators with a cool story. So one day we were out street contacting, so a guy and a girl passed and I said hi to them, they kept walking and then stopped and talked to each other for a little bit then came back. Their names are Regjina and Ferdinando, and turns out she used to live in Elbasan and was taught by the missionaries there, has been to church, and wants to learn more and get the Book of Mormon, whereas the guy is her Italian friend that she's translating for, he's cool but he doesn't speak English or Albanian so all communication has to go through Regjina. So we set up to meet them for a lesson the next day. They came, but they didn't have time so they said we'd meet later that week, but they don't have a phone number. So we went but they never showed up. So for they next day I kept praying that we would meet them again. Then later that night we were out on the road and we found them! This time we were able to show them where the teaching center was and give them a Restoration pamphlet. Then they showed up randomly another day at the same time we were at the center and we set up another lesson. So this week while I was on an exchange in Tirana Elder Schneider and Elder Ellsworth had a lesson with them and it went super well. Regjina said she really feels the spirit when she reads the Book of Mormon and they both had read the restoration pamphlet we gave them before the lesson. So I have a lot of hope for them, they're super great!

For other investigators, Kristi is super busy with school right now so we haven't been able to meet recently but he said he's still reading and praying. He should finish up with all his tests at the beginning of August and then he'll get baptized super fast. Fatjon has been super hard to get into contact with. We've called him a ton and he's answered a couple times, but still no lessons so far. We've started teaching the Gjergji family again, the lessons have been ok so far but it's hard to get both of the kids in the lesson at the same time. We also are teaching a guy named Nick and he's super cool. He's from Durrës but he moved to England about 14 years ago and now works with the British Navy. He used to go to our church here and he was really close to getting baptized before he moved, now he just wants to know if it's still something that he wants to do and he wants to establish a stronger relationship with God. He came to church on Sunday and really liked it, he said it was just like when he was a kid.

Other than that, Elder Cani is back! He's been living in Italy for the past few months but now he'll be back in Durrës for a while. Elder Ellsworth has also served with him so we went today and hung out with him for a while, that was a ton of fun. Also we had transfer calls on Saturday night, Elder Ellsworth and I will be staying together here in Durrës! So I'm really excited to stay here, I'm loving it so far and really enjoying being serving with Elder Ellsworth. Also Elder Schneider and Elder Lords will be staying in Tirana so our district probably won't change either, which is great because this is the best district ever.

I have a few pictures to send, but I forgot my camera cord at the house so I'll probably send those next week. But if you remember about Alex from my last email, he took a picture of me in the church so I'll send that to you.

Thanks for being so awesome, it's great hearing from all of you!

Ju dua shumë, Zoti ju bekoftë! Mirupafshim!
Elder Gardiner

Monday, July 10, 2017

July 10th

Përshëndetje familja!

Well I don't have a lot of time to email this week, but it's been a great week here in Durrës.
So for a quick update on our investigators. Kristi is doing great. He's understanding everything we teach so well and he applies everything to something that he had already learned before. He's so smart and he's studied a ton of different religions. It's cool because for a lot of things we teach him it's something that exists in a different religion, but we're the only one that has the whole truth. We had a lesson about Joseph Smith where we watched the movie about his life, then at the end we were able to testify about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and the Spirit was there so strong, then after that he said that he feels like he has received enough of a spiritual witness that he could testify about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon too now. He also wants to teach people in Italy about these things now too.

Fatjon is in Tirana for now just visiting his cousin, so we haven't been able to meet. But he did call us and talk for a little bit so at least we were able to keep contact.

We've met with a ton of members this week, it was great. The members here make great food, and they give us soo much, I've eaten way too much this week! With us being gone for a week all the members decided that they needed to have us over, so that's been great because that's helped Elder Ellsworth to get to know them a little better and they've given us a lot of advice for what we can do to improve the work, and we've had some powerful lessons with them too. Now we have even more appointments for this week.

We also were able to meet with Andre again this week. He's here with his wife and baby daughter as refugees from Crimea. We had a cool experience with him too, right now he's applying to renew his permit to stay in Albania but he was having a lot of problems with it. For some reason they just kept delaying and not accepting parts of his application. So we met with him and said a prayer together to help him, then the next day he called us and said that the first step of his residency permit just got approved! Now he has to go to Greece to go to the embassy to work on it more, and he was so happy that he invited us to go with him, which we unfortunately had to decline, for obvious reasons. But that was a really cool testimony for the power of prayer.

Another cool experience, we were at this one pasta place that we go to a lot and pretty much every time we go we run into other foreigners. So this time we went and at the table next to us there was a guy with super long black hair who didn't speak Albanian. So we got talking to him and turns out he's here as a freelance photographer, he's living in Australia, his parents are French and Iranian and he's grown up in a bunch of different countries throughout the middle east. So he's a super interesting guy and he ended up asking if we have a church here, so we told him where the church is and he said he would love to come. Then Sunday came and sure enough he came, we had someone translate for him and he stayed for all three hours.

Then today we went up to Shkodër and played some ping pong and pool with Elder Collins, Elder Mero, and Elder Harris. We had a ton of fun and it was great getting to hang out with Elder Mero for a bit. Then we went out to lunch with all the Shkodër missionaries. It was a super fun P-day trip but it took a long time to get there and back. I took a couple pictures with me and Elder Mero, but I don't have time to send those this week. 

So all in all we've had a great week here. I love you all and hope you have a fantastic week!
Elder Gardiner

Monday, July 3, 2017

July 3rd

Përshëndetje familja!

Well I'm finally back in Durrës! It's been another crazy week but things are going great!
So to start, my last few days in Tirana were really good. We met with a lot of really cool members. One of the ones we met was Vëllai Gjylameti, he's one of the stake high counselors and he's so cool. He met the missionaries when they were helping with relief for the Kosovo war, which if you know about Balkans history that was a horrible event, he talked about how there were a lot of people and religions who came to help but that our church did more than the others. So that was his first contact with the church, then later he started meeting with the missionaries and was an investigator for the next 10 years. It took him a long time to get over smoking and alcohol and to decide that he needed to be a member of this church, but then ever since he's been super strong.

Then we got back to Durrës on Wednesday evening. I enjoyed my time in Tirana but honestly it feels so good to be back. It's still super hot but here in Durrës we have the sea which gives us a nice breeze. Also it's so awesome seeing all the people again. We had a pretty nice welcome back, on Thursday we had a baptism! A girl who was taught in Tirana but lives in Durrës on the weekends got baptized here. On Thursday it was super hot and humid, and well it was so hot that the AC at the church lit on fire. So that all got fixed up but we didn't have AC for the baptism so it was super hot but it all ended up working out fine. President Weidmann came down and baptized her, Sister Weidmann gave one of the talks and then Motra Xheka gave the other, then at the end President Weidmann bore his testimony so that was a super powerful spiritual experience. 

Other than that we've done a lot of street contacting and met with a ton of members. We had a lesson with the Paja family and they're super awesome. He told us his convesrsion story and that was super cool too, he talked about how he was so prepared for the gospel and that he was always looking for the truth. Then one day while he was living in Italy he met the missionaries who were his next door neighbors and he had so many questions and all of them get answered perfectly by the gospel. Then a little while later he felt like he needed to go back to Albania to help establish the church here. He's an amazing member and it's so cool seeing how converted he is.

Fatjon (turns out I've been spelling his name wrong) showed up to the baptism on Thursday and he loved it. It was great seeing him there. We've set up other lessons and invited him to church but he's been asleep every time that we were supposed to meet, but hopefully we can meet some time this week. 

We also met with Kristi again. He's doing well, he read a little from the Book of Mormon, but didn't come to church. But after our last lesson with him he promised he would read more from the Book of Mormon because it teaches us the truth. He's the one who is a free mason and he accepts everything super well and loves learning, we just can't meet super often because he's really busy busy with school. 

Then yesterday we had one of the craziest lessons I've had on my mission. We met with a 15 year old member who said that she needed a lesson because she's been feeling bad spiritually and needed help. So we met with her and she talked about how she's engaged but her family doesn't accept her fiance and that she knows that God doesn't want her to marry the guy but she's going to do it anyway. So we tried to tell her to follow God's will even if it's hard, but I guess we'll see if that actually worked. All I have to say is thank you so much for being such a normal family.

This week we're going to be super busy. We have meal lessons and or ward activities every day this week and a TON of potential investigators to follow up with. So we definitely have plenty to do to keep us busy.

Yesterday church was super good. Since it was fast Sunday we had testimony meeting and the stake president came, he lives here in Durrës, and basically all the strongest members went and bore their testimonies and it was super powerful, then at the end president Mema bore his testimony and that was super inspiring. He talked about our eternal covenants with God and talked about the talk "the purifying power of Gethsemane" by Bruce R. McConkie which if you haven't heard I would definitely recommend watching.

Then today a few missionaries from Tirana came down here to Durres to visit Klaudia, one of the members here, for her birthday today. So we all went out to lunch and then to the pier and had a fun time. Also I got to give her a blessing this week because she was really sick, and it was a super cool experience. I can normally speak Albanian pretty well but I still have to think about it and sometimes figure out how to say what I want, but in the blessing all the words came so naturally and I could feel the power in the words.

I have not met the new mission president yet. We were in Tirana when he got here but we had a lesson planned in Durres that we had to get back to so we didn't have time to stay and meet him. 

Elder Ellsworth and I get along great! He's super organized and works hard. He's super good at teaching and he's traveled around the whole mission. He was my zone leader when I was in Elbasan and Vlorë so I already knew him and had done exchanges with him. He's already deep cleaned and organized the teaching center, the car, and the house which is pretty awesome. He came into the mission 3 months after Elder Wilson so he has about 4 months left in his mission. He's and awesome missionary and I'm super excited to get to keep working with him. 

I'm a little tired, especially this week. Just because it's been really hot and because we've been out late working every day, but I still love my mission and it's definitely a good tired.
Also it was cool, I got to call Lindis last night and talk with him for a little while. Our mission has a pretty big problem with retention, a lot of people get baptized and then leave, but Lindis is still super strong and he's been trying to help his sisters and other people stay active too. Now he's giving talks in sacrament meeting and giving priesthood blessings and it's super good getting to talk to him every once in a while. Also, he told me that he was going to call me last night to talk to me because he was looking at some pictures of us and other people from the branch, but he didn't have any minutes on his phone, but then right at that moment I called him.

Lastly, we had a lot of missionaries leave last week. A lot of us all went out to lunch before they left and then we all got to say goodbye. It was sad seeing them go because I've become such good friends with them, but I'm sure they'll do amazing things with the rest of their lives. It was especially sad seeing Elder Wilson leave, it was awesome getting to serve with him and I loved getting to know and work with him. Because we're still only 2 missionaries in Durrës now we're in a district with Tirana 2nd ward which means we'll be going to Tirana every week, but also now Elder Schneider and Elder Lords are in our district which is awesome because they're pretty much my best friends in the mission now. 

So I'm really looking forward to the next 9 weeks it's going to be a great time. It's kind of crazy though, I'm almost at my year mark. The time is really flying. But I'm definitely loving it out here, I'm so glad I still have another year.

I love you all! Mirupafshim dhe Zoti ju bekoftë!
Elder Gardiner

Monday, June 26, 2017

June 26th

Përshëndetje familja!

Well this has definitely been the craziest week of my mission so far. Albanian elections were this week. They happened on Sunday so church attendance took a hard blow, but what do you do. Just as a heads up, I'm writing you from Tirana. President Weidmann got a prompting and we all got temporarily transferred! The three of us all got put into separate trios in Tirana. I've been here in Tirana second ward all week. So even though getting taken out of Durrës stinks I actually got assigned to be with Elder Bowen(who is finishing his mission on Thursday) and Elder Schneider(my MTC companion)! Elder Bowen was in my district in Vlorë and he's super funny, but he only has a couple days left and he's very ready to be done. But serving with Elder Schneider has been so amazing! Elder Schneider is a stud and I loved serving with him in the MTC so this week has been great. We work super well together and it's awesome seeing how much we've improved in our teaching and in the language. Also this week we had two exchanges so I also got to work with Elder Anderson (who is also finishing his mission this week) and Elder Nielsen from my MTC group. It's been a crazy week and it still feels like I'm just on a big exchange, but it's been fun working here. We talked with President Weidmann today and he said that everything is fine and that Elder Ellsworth and I will be going back to Durrës on Wednesday. Unfortunately however, we'll have to do a lot of catching up on the work in Durres, and Elder Wilson didn't really get to say goodbye to any of the members or our investigators before he got sent to Tirana, but he's back in Korça for a day and he seems to be doing fine.

Some cool experiences from this week, we're teaching a 16 year old kid from Syria. His name is Ahmed and he's super cool. We teach him in English, but whenever we read from the Book of Mormon or do prayers he does it in Arabic, which is super cool.
We're also teaching a kid named Elio, he's super smart and he's super nice. We met with him twice last week and had some really good lessons. His uncle and grandma are members and they're really cool. They didn't come on Sunday because the uncle who usually drives them all to church was in Vlorë for the elections.

Also it's been like 100+ degrees this week and the humidity is killer. It's been pretty rough, but we've rearranged our schedule so that we're inside for the hottest parts of the day. We are actually allowed to take an hour nap during the day if we work for an extra hour.
So I'm not sure what else to say, we've done a ton of street contacting. That's been fun, but it's been pretty hard too. 

Well this week has been crazy but I've also had a lot of fun. It's nice having so many missionaries in one city, and we have an amazing district. When we go back to Durrës our district should be Elder Ellsworth and I, and Elder Schneider and Elder Lords and that'll be so fun because they're all like my best friends here.

I love you all, I hope you all have been having a great time!

I love the gospel and I'm so grateful for the opportunity that I have to serve a mission here. I love my Savior and I know that He lives and guides us in our everyday lives. We've had a lot of people try to convince us that the Book of Mormon isn't true, that the church is a lie, that Joseph Smith is a false prophet, but through this and through the power of the Holy Ghost I know that this is the true church, the kingdom of God restored on the earth. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and that through it we learn the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that every person who reads it and truly feasts upon it's words can not go astray.

Have a great week!
Elder Gardiner