Monday, March 31, 2014

First Transfer - Off to Durres!


This week we had that challenge to teach all of our lessons outside of the YSA center. I think it was a really great challenge because i prefer that anyway. We taught our lessons in the homes of investigators, members, and inactives. Each lesson had a story. We were able to get a lot more members involved this way as well. It was especially good to get lessons with investigators in the homes of inactive members. In these cases the inactive members always felt the spirit as well. Also we had them testify of their conversion story, and many of them came to realize the testimony that they had forgotten they had, My favourite lesson this week was at Sister Ferrecakus house. She is an inactive lady in branch. Herself, her husband and her two sons were all baptized a number of years back. Since then I am not sure in what order but they went inactive and her son died. We brought two boys to her house. 17 and 18. The 17 year old was interested right from the get go, but the older one was not. As the lesson developed he began to open up. Sister Ferrecaku really related to them. They grew to respect her. She told them both that they would get baptized and live happier lives as members of the church. Both boys seemed very intentful. I hope that they both grasp onto the truth. Hopefully these lessons in homes will lower the risk of us losing our investigators after one or two lessons. That has been a reaccuring problem throughout the transfer. We are still trying to work out the bugs. I can kind of talk now, so that helps haha.

We received our transfer calls this week. I will be spending the next three months serving in Durres! I am very excited to move, but at the same time I am really going to miss Elbasan. The area I am currently in will be training again. Elder Austins area in Tirana before he was here got erased to make the Area I am going to now in Durres. I will be whitewashing with Elder Gray from my group (tall skinny, black hair, glasses) You will find him in my MTC pics. (Editor's note...So to summarize, this area will be started a new by two elders who have only been out for 3 months each...WOW! Glad it's him and not me. :)   ) There used to be 1 set of Elders and 2 sets of sisters in Durres. There will now be 2 sets of Elders and no sisters.  My District leader will be Elder Acheson. He was in Elbasan with me for the first half of the transfer. He is training there. I think it will be awesome serving with another very young missionary. We will have to get better at teaching because we don't have any experience to fall back on. 

Elder Austin will be serving as Zone leader in the north. They north just got packed with missionaries like I told you last week. Elder Price is going to train and be district leader in Vlore. Elder Richards will train and be district leader here in Elbasan. District leader meetings are going to be wild because the group above me makes up all of the district leaders in the mission so they will all be MTC reunions! Elder Holm, and Elder Eliason from my group will be together in Vlore. Elder Baldwin will be serving with an Albanian companion in Fier. I have heard he is struggling with the Language so I guess President decided baptism by fire! I hope he does well! The other three guys from my group are up north with older missionaries. I don't know where the sisters went yet, but I will find out tomorrow on moving day.

As you can see by the descriptions on the photos it is going to be hard to leave because we are getting a lot of people close to baptism, and they just need to fall over the brink. (Editor's note again...I did not include most of the photos for privacy sake, but he sent about 20 today. It must be hard to leave the people when you have such a connection with them...) We came into an area with not much going on and really stirred the pot. I just hope it yields some eternal families in the end. There are others too, but i only got pictures with some.. the ones I remembered.

Have a great week! I will be in Durres next week, and I am not sure how they do email over there. Wish me luck!

Take Buddy on walks! I hope you are all doing well! I miss you! (In a non-trunky way don't worry)

Love, Elder Stewart

Elder Austin and Elder Stewart - We sent Elder Austin the Canada t shirt for his birthday and the parachute men to both of them for Easter - in case they needed an adventure... :)

Elder Stewart found a Canada t-shirt for sale in Elbasan. How cool is that?

The Elbasan Branch

Elder Stewart, Elder Austin and the Tooley's.  Their names are all spoken with gratitude in our home.

Elder Stewart and Branch President Kashari. He was taught the gospel by a friend of ours from Canada a number of years ago and now serves as Branch President where Parker is a missionary. So neat. The Lord's work is amazing!

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Great Week and Big Changes Coming!

This week has been as awesome as ever! I am loving it out here! The Work is moving along and I am having a fantastic time doing it!

But for real business this week I took on the Elbasan Challenge! 2 Bugace in one sitting. To our knowledge only one other Elder has done it before. We all wanted to try it though so we went out to th Bugace place for lunch. I have to start off by saying that I really don't like bugace. It is an Elbasan thing. Elbasan is the only place in the mission that has it. Bugace is this massive bun filled with byrek and all of it is soaked in butter. Half a Bugace is a good meal. They weigh a ton. We were joking about lifting weights with them. They are that big. Anyway the four of us Elders went there. Elder Richards pulled out right off the bat said he wasn't feeling it and only got one. The other three if us went for it. Elder Austin and Price both quit after one, and kept the other one for later. I wasn't about to quit though. I stuffed them both down! Champion! They called up Elder Palmer (the other missionary who did it) when I was at one and a half. He has a lot of overall size on me so he was amazed. He gave me some inspirational words and I took it down. Surprisingly I felt alright after too, and we went tracting up and down stairs. It was sweet!

We have a baptism set for this Saturday. His name is F. He has been investigating for about a transfer and a half now. His cousin has her mission papers in so she has had a really big effect on him. He is 25. We dropped him a while back, and then picked him up again on a fresh note. He comes to church every week though, and now he is just ready to progress. I think the drop helped.

This transfer is quickly coming to a close. There is a lot of open ended business here is Elbasan still. Some of our investigators are very close, but very far. Same type of thing.. if they come to know for themselves that the church is true.. get parental permission.. or decide to commit... or all or some of the above a lot more can and will be ready for baptism and life as a member of the church very quickly. I guess missionary work goes in waves a bit. The other area here in Elbasan hit the wave two transfers ago when some people committed, and converts have been bringing others to the missionaries. The area that I am in now has been kinda dry for a bit. Only two converts in the last year before we got here. We had three and hopefully four, and then hopefully spark will catch and there will be a boom. That will be awesome when that happens! Elder Austin and I along with a lot of other missionaries have put a lot of work in. The great thing is that there are some great families. I cannot wait for them to finally understand the gospel is for them. Missionaries and ward members can only do so much. They have freedom to choose, and some things just take time. The members here are really great though!

But with the transfer ending I get my new assignment this weekend. Elder Austin and I have no idea what will happen. One of us will for sure be moving. There is a very real possibility that both of us will be moving just because the mission is going to go crazy. There are 14 Elders coming into the mission and one sister. That means 14 Elder spots need to open for training. Also there are leadership spots opening right away, and Elder Austin is up for grabs for a Zone Leader or AP. Also Kosovo is expanding from 4 Elders there now to 16 Elders and 2 sisters. The President is shaking things up right before he finishes off at the end of this next transfer. Elder Austin and my future is totally unknown.

I don't know what else to tell you.. We have continued to get into a ton of homes for lessons rather than meeting at the church centers. It really changes the feel of our lessons. Pres Ford challenged Elder Austin and I to try and go a week without using the church buildings today. I am very excited to start. I love a good challenge. I am not sure if it was a mission wide, zone wide, district wide, or just companionship challenge, but it doesn't matter we are gonna try and do it! It will be sweet! 

I hope you are all having a great time! Congrats again to Dillon on his baptism.

Take Buddy on some walks!

Love, Elder Stewart

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Another Great Week!

Hello Family!

Another great week! We are working hard! This week has been a highlight. It came a little late in the transfer, but I can't really complain. It has been awesome.

It kinda started on Wednesday at Zone conference. Monday and Tuesday were pretty normal. On Wednesday we had a Zone Conference. It is like a Zone Meeting on steroids. We all travel into Tirana instead of to Lushnea where the Zone leaders are, and with that the Fords are also present. in a Zone Meeting the highest leadership present is the Zone leaders and Sister Training Leaders. President Ford delivered a great message which included hastening the work continuing to work hard, but it also came with a couple of challenges. He has heard from many of us around the mission, including our companionship, that getting second lessons is sometimes hard. We aren't positive why. We have had very spiritual lessons with some peopla and then never seen them again. So he gave us two challenges. The first was choosing the venue for lessons. The second had to do with choosing the people for lessons. The third had to do with daily contact. The ones that we have really seen make a difference so far are the first and third. 

Elder Austin and I made a goal to act on his goal. We really put it into affect. We have been into five of our investigators homes this week. Usually those would have been done at the church building because it is convenient and they prefer it because they don't like showing us their homes because they are poor. As we have strived to keep these goals we have realistic baptismal dates. We have seen miracles. Actually we have seen lot of them in the last four days. We are getting into homes we never ever thought would be possible. We have been given excuses to not to for so long, and then this week the walls came down.

We got a visit in M's home, and we taught about family and the proclamation, and eternal families. Sister Tooley came with us on that one. M was fasinated, and we will be going back. We got a visit in A's home this morning. He finally caved and let us come over. It was amazing. He has told us for a very long time that he believes the church is true but he hasn't acted. He has now commited to act. He told us today that in his heart he knew that when he was baptized before it was not with authority. Tons of walls came down for him. He did not commit to a specific date, but he has given us a very open invite to teach more lessons in his home. An was a very special case. We had a lesson with her at the center before driving to her village with the Tooleys. In the lesson we had a very big scary bridge to cross.. baptism in the Orthodox Church. We had no idea how she was going to take it. We were very scared that we were going to lose the appointment with her family at her house, but we felt like we needed to teach it before we went out there so that we weren't hiding anything. We got to that point in the lesson, and explained authority from Jesus Christ connecting it back to Joseph Smith. And as it just so happens she said "yeah I need to be baptized again. When?" So the date got set for a few weeks down the road. We went out and met her family. They were all super nice, but kinda shy. They gave us tons of food and drinks. I hope the lesson touched them. It was pretty simple on the Plan of Salvation. They didn't participate much, but they appreciated the fact that we traveled all of the way out there. Another visit we had was with E and his wife. E is a less active recent conver from last transfer. I am not sure what happened, but obviously that is the worst kind of recent convert. Anyway we got an appointment in his home with his nonmember wife, brother, mother in law, and nieces, and his sons. That lesson also went very well. They are fascinated by eternal families and temples. All of them a Muslim, but not practicing. Overall it went very well, and we hope to see them all join the church. If that is the case I see no reason why E will remain inactive. Other house visits were also good. And we have some people who have commited to live lives as members of the church and be baptised. We have also seen a lot of sucess in contacting investigators daily. I felt like we were being an annoyance, but it seems to be working.

On the not spiritual side Elbasan has been a huge party! We have had the Summer Fastival, Flower festival, and Ballakume (cookie festival). It has been wild. We haven't celebrated much, but i have seen lots of stuff. The streets were super crowded. The pic of the concert thing is in the boulevard. Usually it is pretty empty. You have seen a pic of it before. This pic is taken from the same spot as my one from the beginning off the castle wall.

Also on a not spiritual not.. actually not even close to spiritual note.. I tried Alcohol for the first time this week. At A's house one of the drinks was alcoholic. One sip and it burned all the way down my throat. Needless to say we did not continue drinking that drink. They assured us it was not alcoholic and brought out the bottle. Sure enough the drink was alcoholic. It was wild I was totally drunk for like a bunch of hours, and couldn't remember anything.. haha jokes.. but it was wild!

Also I took a picture by the McDonalds sign here in Elbasan. I'm not sure if it is a joke or if they are actually trying to claim affiliation with McDonalds. It is super greasy like McDonalds food. But there are roaches crawling all over the counters and I am sure McDonalds is more sanitary than that ;)

The work is going well! I love it!

Have a blast and take Buddy on walks! Best of luck to Matt in Basketball Provincials!!

Love, Elder Stewart

This is the concert he referred to in this weeks letter.

A store named after his sister - doesn't really look like her type of store though! :)

A cookie from the cookie festival. Elder Stewart told us they are really good and about as big as his face!

Elder Stewart and Elder Riber. Elder Riber has just completed his mission.


A bakery full of cookies for the cookie festival - Ballakume.

Cookies for sale on the street. Editor's not: I think I would REALLY like it there!!:)   )

Elder Stewart - cookie stand in back.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Albania Becomes a Stake!

This week was awesome! The excitement and energy was high. We became the first Albanian Stake. Elder Kearn and Elder Charles came to set it up. On Sunday morning we woke up and went to catch a bus to Tirane. The District had organized for a bus to bring in all of the Elbasan people. A ton of people turned out to head to Tirana. So many that we had to call in a second bus. We filled two buses with Elbasan people. Members, missionaries, less actives, and investigators were all very excited to be a part of the making of the first stake. The ride there went really fast! The road isn't great espescially on a bus so one person got sick, but other than that it was great. When we arrived we all walked over to the big congress building in the middle of Tirane. The church rented it out for stake conference! Elder Austin and I got stationed by some directing missionaries so that we could direct traffic. Team Elbasan beat most people to the building. Elder Austin and I stood out on the sidewalk. We were the first two missionaries from the bus station. It was a fun job. I met a lot of people from around Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Buses came from all of the centers. I met a lot of members, a couple of investigators, a bunch of missionaries, and some RM's and their families here for the creation of the stake. The energy level was very high.

I missed the first part of the conference because I was out on the street. But President Mema (the District President) was called again as the stake president. I don't really know him, and I don't know his counsellors at all. The talks were all really good. The theme to them all was that this is just the beginning. Keep pressing forward, setting high goals and working for them. It was mentioned that they were hoping to maybe establish another stake at the end of the next mission presidents term. That would truly be amazing. Albania has progressed a long way from where it was. President and Sister Ford bore their testimonies in Albanian! Sister Ford was extremely impressive. After the conference everyone talked for a while inside the building. There were a lot of very happy people! We then drove home to Elbasan. Elbasan will stay a branch because we are very small. Tirane all turned wards I think. 1st 2nd 3rd and 4th branches. Durres and Vlore also went into wards I believe. Those are all the strongest centers. We heard you need 6 wards for a stake? That is the word on the street anyway.

This week was also Sister Tooley's and Elder Austin's Birthdays. Elder Austin didn't want to do much for his. I "gave" him some stuff from my packages at home. The quotations are cuz we share it all anyway! He chose where we went for lunch. He wanted bugace so that is what we did. The Tooleys made him some really good cookies. It was for the most part a pretty normal day. It was what he wanted though. He is now 20. Holy cow! He is an old man!

Sister Tooley's birthday was on Saturday! We called her bright and early in the morning to wish her a happy birthday. We also bought flowers off the boullivard, and made a card. As well we volunteered to cook Sunday dinner! She loved it! We did good! We cooked a really good pasta and some chicken for the Sunday dinner.

It is party central here in Elbasan. They had teachers day on the 7th so everyone partied. It was crazy. They had Mothers day on the 8th. Again everyone partied! Next week is their spring festival and ballakume (face cookie) festival. More parties! I am not sure why all of those days equate to massive parties, no school, and a ton of festivities but I think it is pretty cool! Mothers day saved us because there were flowers on the street. Otherwise we had nothing for sister Tooley.

Today we went exploring with Elder Tooley! He drove us out a ways up a mountain where we went exploring. We checked out an old cement factory (or rather series of factories) It was very cool. We hiked around a bit. At the top was a chute where they pushed big rocks down to become smaller. Then a factory. Then more stuff. Another factory. A long cable and bins to carry the rocks. It was cool!

The work is going good here. We are teaching lots of lessons. Elder Austin is doing good. Lots of our investigators came to stake conference which was great!

Have an excellent week and take Buddy on some walks!

I love you all lots! Missions are super cool!

Elder Stewart

Sister Tooley on her birthday.

Elder Stewart, Elder Austin and Elder Pierce. Three generations...Elder Austin is Elder Stewart's trainer and Elder Pierce was Elder Austin's trainer.

Elder Stewart and two of his new friends/investigators.

Elder Stewart and Elder Eliason from the MTC. They met up again in Tirane when the stake was created.

Elder Stewart and Elder Tooley on their PDay adventure and exploring trip.

Elbasan from the hilltop.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Avash avash, pak nga pak - Slowly, slowly, little by little.

This week has been interesting. Here is how it went. 

"M".. is off the face of the planet. She was super strong, and actively participating, and excited for a baptismal date this saturday. She was almost ready as well. Anyway she is gone. Kinda weird.

"J" is going strong. He was at church. He has a lot of potential, but won't commit too fast. He is hesitant. To be honest if I were a convert (thank goodness I am not) It would take me a really long time to make a decision. He is reading and praying. he has felt the spirit in lessons, at church, and on his own. He has acknowledged it to us! That on its own is fantastic. He wants to finish reading the Book of Mormon before he commits. I think that is a very noble goal. His parents have both passed away so he has recognized for a long time long before us that something is missing in his life.

"M" dropped us. "A" is going through the lessons but not to much action.

"I" is doing great. She is already a super good missionary for her family. She shares the gospel like crazy. She has a lot of extended family there right now so we aren't allowed to teach lessons in the home. We have taught her and some cousins of hers a few times. Their family will join the church. It is a matter of time I am convinced.

Anyway.. I tried doing emails with investigator updates but I feel like it is pretty boring. Some Elders do it this way so I tried it out, but I don't like it. I will just tell stories instead.

At the end of this week, and the majority of this week we have been making a huge push to get male investigators. 90 percent (honest percentage) of our lessons this week have been with males. And it isn't as though we have't been teaching lessons. We have been finding males. The problem with male investigators is that we get dogged often and have to hunt people down. I am getting pretty good at emphasizing the importance of our message though haha. As soon as we have had one or two lessons and they have heard the truth I give it to em. The soft way wasn't working so I am trying the more straightforward approach. (They will thank me later) It hasn't worked all that great either to be honest, but they hear a very straight forward testimony and hopefully it will eat away at them for a little while.

We have had some great lessons though. Preach my Gospel states pretty clearly that we are to teach by the spirit so that is what we have been trying to do. Although almost all first lessons are the B of M, Restoration, Prophets, and God loves you we teach it differently, and sometimes different parts and angles to our investigators. Lessons are like puzzles, and we have to put it together to meet their needs. It is fun. This morning we had a young guy (20s) come up and ask us for a lesson. That never happens. The Lord is blessing us. It hasn't turnued into baptisms or priesthood holders, or eternal families yet, but as the Albanians say. "Avash avash, pak nga pak" We will keep pushing them, but things don't happen in an instant.

This week we have been tracting a few times. Usually we don't, but this week we decided to try it out! We take the elevator to the top of huge appartment buildings, say a prayer and get all of the doors on the way down teaching lessons along the way. Many people here say they are Muslim, but the reality is most of them aren't practicing and they don't know what they are talking about haha. It is kinda funny. Sometimes when teaching we talk about Jesus being the Son of God and they agree with us. That most certainly is not Muslim doctrine. They are just kinda confused, and we are here to help them.

I had my first home cooked Albanian meal last night. Us the other Elders and the Tooleys were invited to go to the house of two member girls, and their non-member parents. The Tooleys wanted to go and give them condolences because their grandmother (who lived with them) passed away. They are both very close to Sister Tooley. We had a great visit with them, and the fed us a feast of Greek and Albanian. It was very good. I haven't experienced much liver or kidney before, but we had it for the first course and it was good. We also had chicken and deep fried potatoe things kinda like french fries. We then had a pizza thing, and black bread, and a greek salad, and a traditional chocolate cake brownie thing. I was stuffed. It was my second big meal yesterday because the Tooleys fed us after church. The night went well though.

We went to Tirane one day this week to get me all legalized! They told Sister Boettinger that we had to behave and be nice to the police men. Good thing too because we are pretty crazy and probably would have been thrown out of the country. Jokes!  Anyway.. It was pretty easy. I took all of the documents that Mom put together. The mission home has them all. We didn't have to do anything at all actually. We just walked up to the table, and they said that everything was good. We will be here for a year for sure, and then I do it again. Not much to it! Bro and Sister Andrews take care of things from here.

We drove into Tirane with the Tooley's, and they had to get their car inspected so we went with them to do that. It was a good thing we were with them because they wouldn't have made it without translation. Here is how the fun part went. A guy asked us for the 200 lek initial fee so Brother Tooley pulled out a loaded wallet and handed him a 1000 lek expecting change. The guy ran away with it, and then came back and said some stuff to Elder Austin. Anyway I guess it wasn't clear or something. A miscommunication between him Elder Tooley and the man happened. The man ended up with 2000 lek due to a second 1000. I am not sure what happened. Anyway that was ridiculous but Elder Austin and Bro Tooley thought it was the right amount. So we kept going. We went into the building and the real lady who actually is the one who we are supposed to pay informed us we were robbed. So I was mad about that, and Elder and Sister Tooley were flustered, and Elder Austin was feeling down because of the mistake. Elder Austin and I went out there to make things right. We told the security guard, pointed out the guy who was probably stealing from more people. The security guard hustled him down, and drug him in by the collar. We got our money back. Elder Austin then took us to a traditional Albanian place on our way back out of town to Elbasan. 

In March they have a festival here. It is either the 14th or 15th. i can't remember. Anyway for the festival they make these huge sugar cookies. They are the size of my face! And like two inches thick. They are everywhere right now. Everyone is making them and trying to sell them. They are certainly at an excess. But they are kind of cool.

This weekend we are getting together as a branch and being bused into Tirane for the creation of the stake. It will be a two hour meeting and then we will be bussed back. It is being held at a large rented center in Tirane. Everyone is very excited. The church is certainly progressing in Albania!

Anyway life here is still awesome! I love teaching the Gospel, and I hope you are all doing well.

Take Buddy on some walks!

Love, Elder Stewart

An electrical pole near their apartment building. Safe?

P Day adventure in the forest.

Selfie...caught on film by Elder Richards???

A train in Elbasan

Old Military tunnels

A lizard!

An Albanian village

Elder Stewart and Elder Richards on P Day overlooking part of the village.

The thinker??? :)

Albanian Countryside