Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sis Tooley's Reports on Elder Stewart!

Editor's Note: On Jan 21, we got the best surprise on Facebook. Sis Tooley, a Sr Missionary serving with Parker, sent us the following. We were delighted and so grateful for she and her husband looking out for Parker and the other missionaries in Elbasan.

I just wanted to let you know that we are the couple serving with your most wonderful son here in Elbasan. You did a good job as a parent from what we can see. He is sooo good. We were in the MTC at the same time that your son was. We just left in Nov. and your son and his group arrived here in January. He was assigned to our area and we are thrilled to have him. I want you to know that if I were you I would want to know how my child is doing. You can rest assured that Elder Tooley and I watch over them very carefully. We teach with them very often, eat lunch often with them and every Sunday we feed them lunch/dinner after church.

From our very first teaching discussion with him and his companion, he was speaking rather good for being so new out.

I have watched him on the streets and he is NOT shy about walking up to people and speaking with them. What a good young man and he represents the Lord well here. We love him a lot. If you have any worries or concerns or just anything, feel free to post on my timeline anytime. We are in the internet every day. Thank you for sending out such a good boy.

By the way we served our first mission in the Canada Vancouver Mission. We told your son that we are very partial to our Canadian friends.

Editor's Note:Then a week later, she sent another one, after having them over for Sunday dinner. Her husband made homemade peanut butter for them. Parker told us in his letter how much he loved it!

Sister Stewart I just want you to know what a good missionary you have. I would describe him as fearless, confident and certainly not intimidated in any way. He is fun to watch in action. He and his companion are teaching a 14 yr. boy and this boy really has linked up to your son. To watch them interact with each other you would think they are best friends. Our young Elders out here are such good examples in how they look, how they live and how they treat people and your son is no exception. There are so many homes without fathers and I have no doubt that these young people here in Albania see that role modeling done here by the lives of us as a Sr. Couple and our young Elders.

Yesterday at church he taught the Priesthood class and from what my husband told me, he did a super job and all in Albanian (Shqip).

We fed the Elders yesterday and your son is generally the last to leave the table. We have no idea where he holds it all. When he was done he sat on the couch and was so sleepy he could hsrdly keep his eyes open. I made him put his feet up on the couch and lay down. They all are so very tired as they walk all day long with the exception of when they go with us or when they teach. I tried to care for him as I know you would.
Thank you for sending such a thoughtful, well equipped young man spiritually, to serve the Lord in this part of His vineyard.

Never a Dull Moment...but some Interesting Ones!


I taught yesterday for my first time in Albanian! Elders Quorum went well. There were only two Albanians, Elder Tooley, Elder Acheson, and I. They understood most! Elder Acheson helped me out a lot! We are going through the  Joseph Fielding Smith Teachings of the prophets book! They just came in so yesterday was the first lesson on the nature of God. I have never been to Elders quorum in Canada, but I figure you are probably studying from the same manual! If you have any insights on lesson 3 throw them in an email because I will be teaching that one in two weeks! It is good language study preping and teaching the lesson because the manual is in Albanian so I have to focus in!

I am happy to hear you connected with the Tooleys. They are a great couple! They probably made me sound way better than I actually am because they are just that kind of people! They fed us a great meal of french toast casserole yesterday! They make the most amazing delicious things! Today brother Tooley taught me how to make peanut butter! Way good!! They also help us out with lessons all of the time! It is sometimes hard to get members for lessons with sisters, and just for lessons in general but the Tooleys are great! Anyway they are on their fourth full time mission! (His fifth) He had zero money as a child. He said we would be tough to find an Albanian here who has less than he did... which is crazy because I have met some very poor Albanians! Anyway he rose above and was very successful in a number of endeavors, retired at 47 and here they are! It is quite the story that very few people know, once again because they are just that kind of people! They chalk it up to tithing, prayer, and their willingness to serve the Lord if He blessed them with the ability!

We had a lot of success this week despite some hurdles! This week has been kicking our butt as far as investigators showing up for lessons! They tell us they are coming, and then they just don't show up. One day we had seven lessons planned for the afternoon, five last minute bailed or no showed and we were left scrambling! Kinda frustrating, but it was fun! Missionary work everywhere has its troubles! Makes for a good laugh! The baptisms we had are called off for permission reasons and Aliens who took our 64 year old man. We have no idea where he went haha. We have a ton of investigators in church. Most of them ranging from 17-21! (Missionary ages really are no surprise when you look at the ages of the majority of investigators. Investigators over 30 and under 10 are pretty rare unless you first get one in that range and they bring their family) Parental permission is certainly an issue! Espescially for the girls! Guys tend to do what they want which can be good and bad for teaching haha. We definetly stand by the families, but even then it seems guys get permission easier, and are less protected. Thats probably how it was for Matt and I! All those times of riding the bus by ourselves when we were like 5 and taking Buddy for walks around the neighbouhood by ourselves, but the girls always got rides and needed supervision on walks haha. Am i right matt and mom?? :)   
(Editors note: This has been a long standing joke in our house, but I'll have you know they had to take walkie talkies when they walked Buddy and they never rode the bus at age 5!! There were those who criticized us for that! Can't win! :)  )

One investigator Jorgo is a serious potential. The others are certainly hopefuls! He first came to a YSA activity! He is very smart and outgoing! He is just a couple of months older than me. I am confident that we would have been great friends had we lived on the same continent and spoke the same language!  He soaks up everything and keep commitments! He shows up to all of his lessons! We have had some great Albanian YSA members helping us out! He has a really sad background. Both his parents have passed away. he is an only child living with his grandparents, but he is leading a lot of his friends to the church where I know they will find peace and happiness! There are some solid YSA and "Dry YSA" meaning would be but aren't allowed. YSA is kinda a loose term because is includes Priests and Laurels usually, and occasionally even gets 15 year olds. They all really like it though! I also had the opportunity to meet Denis! He is a 14 year old boy! We became fast friends! We met at the English classes that we teach! We teach beginners English on Tues and Thurs by the way! Anyway Denis is super cool! He is taking church lessons too, and we sometimes hang out at the center before and after English class and play ping pong or something! He has a lot of friends as well, but often he is alone when he comes and hangs out with us! His parents are muslim. He loves futball! We are really similiar! It is awesome!

We had our interviews with President Ford this week! They went well! He and his wife are very cool! I enjoyed talking with both of them! They brought  up our mail too! Thanks for the Valentines package! Thank you for the dear Elders Carolyn! Thank you for the kind Christmas Card Kami and Mark Drew! I think it was sent to the MTC, but somehow we missed eachother, and they sent it to Albania! Funny! It has had quite the journey, but I appreciate the thought and the picture! I have all of the pictures I received for Christmas up on my shelf at the house! It makes for a nice touch haha! I think there are 8 so it is very nice! I started opening that hearts card in front of Sis Ford and then thought better of it! She is a talker, and I didn't want to give her a reason to turn the conversation on me! Can you research our new mish president pres Weidmann?

This week we also had a sleepover with the other Elders, but not for a fun sleepover reason! We had a roach infestation at our house, and mold all over the bathroom. Anyway... an exterminator and a whateveryoucallit came over and did some work leaving us without a house for 24 hours. We had some major cleaning to do after that because Albanians don't clean up after themselves sometimes! It was gross.. and poisonous, but I am still alive!

It has been an awesome week! I am still loving it! I may be driving my companion nuts because I am a go go go all of the time, not necessarily all useful energy.. you know the way dad and gramps are... anyway its how I was raised!

Take Buddy on some walks!!

Love, Elder Stewart

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Work is Exciting!

I have been realizing the problems that come when you are a quiet kid It is very important for me to speak as first and foremost I am a missionary, and second of all I am trying to learn a language that takes a lot of people a lot more than the time I have had to learn! Anyway conversations (like just general  talking in group stuff in Albanian) and I think to myself what should i say? How can I contribute to this conversation? And then the ultimate question is what would I say in English? That answer is usually.. I would say nothing! Dang haha! I should have been more of a talker!

We have met with some new people this week, and are trying to follow up and get more than one lesson! Sometimes it is hard to get ahold of people or to get them to commit to a time to meet! The culture here is just so relaxed! One of our Golden Investigators dropped of the face of the planet! We are hoping to find him while street contacting!

I went on my first exchange this week! I have been surprised so far on my mission! Change was a real big deal for me before my mission! I hated it, and I probably still do, but it hasn't worried me or bothered me while being on my mission! Right from the start at the MTC I haven't really been scared or worried! It is a blessing! I spent the night and a day in Lushnea! It is a small town! Smaller than Elbasan I think! It was a zone leader exchange! i was with Elder Foster! He is exactly like Uncle Mark! Everything about him! He was tall! Kinda quiet, but outgoing! He drove.. fast, but always in control, and we never had any reason to worry! First thing he did when we walked into the apartment was line up all of the coins on the counter, and make sure they were in neat stacks. He slept with earplugs in! There were no ticking clocks in the room! He worked hard the day I was with him! Anyway.. all of those things reminded me of Mark! We got to go out to some villages because the Zone Leaders have a car, and the Lushnea branch is spread out! It is amazing here how the language changes! I could understand a lot more clearly the majority of the people we met with! I can't really comprehend why the language is so different from town to town! Apparently it changes a lot more! I haven't even been north of Tirane, or to Durres yet!

Hannah asked about driving. My companion and I do not drive. There are only a couple of cars in the mission! Only high up leadership positions and some senior couples drive. If I ever become a zone leader or AP I may get the opportunity to drive in Albania! Drivers here are crazy! Rules equal Zero! You can drive as fast as you want and park wherever you want and there aren't really stop signs or road lights. You put your nose in and hope for the best! On top of it people walk all over all of the roads. There aren't crosswalks... you just walk! While traveling we usually take forgons. They are big vans that we pile into!

This week we also went to Tirane for a day! Elder Austin had District Leader Training! I went on a day exchange with Elder Jorgenson while his companion went with Elder Austin! We took a forgon to and from, and one bus while in Tirane. Elder Jorgenson was very nice! We mostly street contacted! I took his spot in Elbasan, so he told me a lot about his experience here, and about some people we should visit. It was very helpful because we are whitewashing so even still there are a lot of inactives we do not know! He was trained in Elbasan. He is one transfer ahead of me so we were able to relate pretty well! 

This week Elder Austin and I are fasting on Sat-sun for one of our investigators who is trying to get parental permission to get baptized. She is  in her 20's.  It is really tough on her because she knows it is true. I don't want you to fast haha (In fact the white handbook says that that is a no no), but continued prayers for our investigators are always welcome!

I have received a lot of questions about the food! I like it! There is a lot of fresh fruit because it is so hot and humid! Also there are a lot pasta and other grains! We eat local food from restaraunts most days for lunch. They serve a lot of deepfried meets and pastries! Some is a lot less healthy than others! Byrek, Suflace, Bugace, Petula, and Trilace are some very Albanian dishes. Of course there are pastas and pizzas as well! (c's make a ts sound and the e's on the end make an eh) We don't really eat at members house.. in fact I haven't had a meal yet haha! It would be hard to accept though just because they are so poor!

Thanks to everyone who continues to support me! I appreciate all of your prayers! They make the work here easier!

Take Buddy on some walks!!

Love Elder Stewart!!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Elbasan Week 2

Hey All!!

Elder Austin is a great guy! He loves to talk so he makes up for me being pretty quiet in the apartment or while in cars and things! He has lots of stories! He is into music and stuff. He has written a couple of songs on the piano. He can cook a little bit which is nice! So far we have made meat, pasta and eggs mostly. Most days at lunch we eat traditional! It is very good! I love byrek, and suflche, and the pizza, and a couple other dishes that I can't remember the names of! It love the food here! Also they have this cool cereal stuff that I eat every morning for breakfast! It is almost like granola! It is very very good! Anyway, Elder Austin is a pretty smart thinker. He is good with spacial games like chess, and 3D puzzles, and the rubics cube. I figured out the 3D puzzle, but I can't complete a rubics cube, or beat him at chess haha. He isn't much into physical activity. He says the air outside hurts his lungs when he runs. He is a sit-ups and pushups kinda guy! But I am going to keep working on him! :)

This week has been great! We have found some new investigators, and some of our others are progressing! One girl is bringing here whole family into the church! She has read the Book of Mormon, and prayed about it. She told her parents, and they got curious. We are meeting with them weekly! We really hope the realize the gospel is true!! They are a great family. We have quite a few investigators around my age, and a little bit older! They were all very curious about why we were living by ourselves in their country! They come from all different family situations! It should be interesting! We hope that they will continue to meet with us! Here in Albania it is pretty easy to "never be found again" if they choose to because of the maze of roads and appartment buildings! We continue to hold most lessons at the center just because it is so much more effective! Another investigator that we have has been attending young womens for quite some time! She loves church, and she has read and prayed. He parents have given her permission to be baptized, and she was very excited about that! We were very excited for her! She then talked to her Grandpa who is a muslim, and he scared her really bad. We are trying to work with her, and so are the senior couple here! I will tell you about them in a second! Another person we found was at the book store! Some of the Elders wanted to buy some more language materials! I really had no reason to buy anything so I started talking to the Lady at the till. She was very nice. Being in a book store she was very curious about the blue book I was carrying! I told her what it was, and long story short she has it, and we are going to go back to the store and talk to her about it! Another investigator we have is an older man! He knows a ton about the bible, and he told us that he believes the Book of Mormon is more true than the Bible... not sure what that means, but we are just hoping it means he has a testimony of the Book of Mormon. Elder Austin commited him to baptism on a park bench on our first contact with him. It was crazy! Hopefully he progresses! Last investigator that I will tell you about we met today while contacting! We talked with him, and Elder Austin carried the bulk of conversation like he usually does... because He is much better at the language that I, and he is inclined towards talking lots, and he is really good at dealing with people! I threw in my two bits here and there, and then at the end of a decent conversation he said I want to meet with you again because you shine to me he said... pointing at me! It was honestly a pretty crazy experience, but we are meeting with him again! I am confident that there are a lot of people helping Elder Austin and I from the other side.

We have 2 hours of companionship study every morning! Elder Austin is a good teacher! he is helping me figure out the ropes to full time missionary service!!

The toolys are the senior couple in Elbasan! Sister Tooly takes great care of us! She is so funny! She reminds me of Grandma Stewart! Elder Tooly is also hilarious! he makes the funniest comments! He is doing s great job of directing the missionary work, and in many ways the branch! The toolys are very actively involved in the teaching efforts! Often they take one of the young women in the ward! There is a very well running young womens program! In many ways the young women are what hold the branch together! They gets friends and families to church, and a couple of them speak english so they are very useful for the toolys! Sis tooly is the young womens president! Oh and I for got to mention that I am now an Elders Quorum Teacher! Elder Tooly and I rotate weeks! When Elder Tooly teaches we have to translate! The Toolys feed us every Sunday, and they often come to lessons with us so i know them quite well! I also met them in the MTC which is pretty cool!

Albanian is still very hard, but it is coming! One of the hardest parts for me is thinking like an Albanian. Their sentences are built differently, and they say strange things sometimes. One example of something that threw me of is... I will be there in 5 minutes. When said in Albanian it is... I came in 5 minutes. Little things like that throw me off!

I hope winter camps go well! They must be coming up! Snow Caves all around! Everyone will love it! They beat tents and cabins every winter! Good luck on all exams!

Take Buddy on walks!!!!

Love, Elder Stewart

Lunch one day this week. He said it was delicious!

A family in Elbasan with a Canadian bear given to them by another missionary from Lethbridge.

The remnants of a passalong card they handed out. "Guess they weren't as interested as they said!"

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

First Email from the Field - Elbasan!

I made it to Albania, and dang it is awesome! Everything is great! it is so cool to finally be out in the field teaching the gospel to people who don't know much about Christ! The Jet lag was minimal due to Dads great plan! It's awesome that you got those pictures from sister Andrews. She said she really liked talking to you mom!

Imagine mongolia... and then imagine Italy... now mash them both together, and you are pretty darn close to Albania. It is definitely Europe, but it is dirtier. They are really trying to progress! People here are very friendly, but oh so poor. A lady we vizited last night works ten hour days 364 days a year for 58 cents an hour! Stuff is cheaper here, but not that cheap. It is very sad, but despite that all most Albanians are very happy. Many are very willing to talk! They live a much more relaxed lifestyle than over in America! One thing they do is every night everyone goes foe a long stroll. They meet up with friends and family, and everyone walks, and sits on benches, and talks! It is great for contacting! We have been able to find many people interested! We have a lot of telephone numbers, and some appointments! Albanians can be hard to pin down, and to find but so far we have been having sucess, and have been able to schedule lessons throughout the days! It is pretty amazing considering we are whitewashing an area, and the last missionaries didn't leave us with much! The Lord is helping us out!! The church is true! We have two baptismal dates set. That doesn't mean they will necessarily be baptized, but we are sure hoping. They need to come to church, and continue reading.

Church is great here! It was fast Sunday as you know, so they had the new missionaries share their testimonies! It went well I think! I told them how I was excited to be in their ward, and how I was really looking forward to working with them all! I think they understood most of it haha! I didn't have one of those huge mess up stories.. fortunately, but who knows it is likely still coming! President Kashari.. the branch president... is a super caring man! He holds the ward together! He has literally nothing. He works long days, and devoted a ton of time to the ward.  He liked my Albania and Canada pin!

Oh I didn't even explain! The town I am in is called Elbason! There are two sets of Elders here! You can see it on Google Maps. The majority of my MTC group is in Tirana. Elder Baldwin is serving in the Tirana second branch. Elder Holm, and Elder Gray are in Vlore. Sister Boettinger went to Lushnea. One or two sisters went to Duress, and everyone else is in one of the four Tirana branches. 
My conpanian Elder Austin is great! He is quite good at speaking the language. He has a strong testimony, and is willing to work! I am taller than him haha.. kinda cool... probably the only companion that will ever happen for! We get along well! I hope Elder Baldwin is doing well! I'm sure he is!  The other two missionaries here are very nice as well! They are both on their second transfer! Their names are Elder Acheson and Elders Price! Saying their names reminded me that we had to order new tags with our finetic names because Albanians can't read these weird English names. I am soon to be Elder Stjyart. Kinda different. j makes a y and y makes an eew.

President and Sister Ford are awesome! They are both quite the characters, espescially sister Ford! I don't know them too well yet, but I have talked to them a couple of times. I had an interview with President Ford! He asked about all of you! He is very nice! I think I get to see them tomorrow as it is zone training in lushnea. 
Being here is awesome! I now realize why everyone says their mission was a great experience. It has been interesting adjusting to missionary life. THe Last missionaries at our apartment didn't clean it at all so we spent about an hour this morning cleaning everything like you said mom! It went well! Another thing that I realize now, but that had never really occured to me before is that as missionaries you kind of have to work to make work! Coming into the mission I thought it was just a big long list of stuff to get done, but its not we rely on the Lord to help us make the list. I guess that is maybe why some people get stressed out and frustrated because they want to work they just feel like they aren't getting anywhere. Anyway I'm not sure if that makes any sense. It probably would not have to me before actually getting here! 

The church is true! The book here is still blue! I know that Heavenly father is looking out for all of us! I know President Monson directs the church! I encourage you all to keep being missionaries at home!

Take Buddy on some walks!!

Love, Elder Stewart

Elder Stewart in Vienna, Austria. En route to Albania. The ironic thing is that he'd been here before on his LCI Chamber Choir trip in Spring 2011.
Elder Koegler, Elder Francis and Elder Stewart just before they parted ways at the MTC.
The city of Elbasan - from the balcony of their apartment.
Another view of the city from the balcony.
Elder Stewart on a castle wall near their apartment. 
The skyline. The temperature in Elbasan today when we checked was 16 degrees celsius. Much warmer than home!!! Perhaps he won't need the balaclava and Ottawa Senators gloves we sent for Christmas this winter! :)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

He Arrived in Albania!

After a 27 hour flight, Parker and 15 other missionaries arrived safely in Tirana, Albania. They flew from Salt Lake City to Chicago to Vienna, Austria to Albania. We had a great conversation with him by phone in Salt Lake City. He was so excited to get to the field! This was the email we received from his Mission President today.

Dear Missionary Family,
Your son, Elder Parker Stewart, arrived safe and sound at the Mission Home last evening.  He will be serving in the Elbason Branch.  This will be in the District of Tirana.  His companion will be Elder Joseph Austin.
Sister Ford and I are so pleased to have Elder Stewart as one of our missionaries and look forward to getting to know him well. We know that he will be able to contribute much to the missionary effort of teaching the people of Albania about Jesus Christ.
Missionaries absolutely love to receive mail and can be contacted either by email or by sending letters through the post office  to:
Elder Parker Stewart
Albania Tirana Mission
PO Box 2984
Rruga Qemal Stafa, Vila 1
Perballe Postas Nr. 22
Tirana, Albania

Sincerely Andrew Michael Ford
President Albania, Tirana Mission

Elder Stewart and his first companion in Albania,  Elder Austin.
Elder Stewart, Elder Austin and President and Sister Ford