Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter in Durres

A sign on someone's door telling them to go away. :)

Rice with octopus!

The Easter decorations we sent. Elder Gray and he put them up to make their apartment feel a little "Eastery".
Hello there! I hope you are all having a great Easter. Welcome home to Grandma and Grandpa Stewart!!

Well things are going well here in Albania. We had a good Easter. They don't do to much for it here. Elder Gray and I decorated the apartment with those sticky things that you sent mom. They are pretty cool! I hope that you can kind of see them in the picture. This year was for sure the most I have ever been focused on Easter. I read the story and stuff in the bible on Sunday night before bed. It was a good Easter. Elder Acheson made us Currie rice for dinner on Sunday. We take turns cooking Sunday Dinners.

Easter in Albania is a lot different than in Canada or in the States. It isn't commercial, and honestly you could probably miss it if you weren't thinking about it. However on Sundaypeople were a lot friendlier than normal. People had very kind spirits. People were willing to talk to us. They wished us Happy Easter and were very respectful. There are a lot of really nice people, and I think they all felt Christs love on Easter. I was very impressed by the Muslims who acknowledged the holiday to us. To me that is true class.

Kristi our 18 year old investigator came to church with us on Sunday. He truly is amazing. He recognizes blessings from God and points them out to us. He is our age, and we can just relate to him so well. I think we would have been really good friends if we had grown up together. He likes school, and swims for fun. He also speaks understandable English for the msot part which is cool, although.. I will say more about that. He has a very bright future as a member of the church. We are going to take it slow with him now. He has to have a solid testimony. Here in the mission there tends to be a go go go attitude.. which makes sense considering we are only in an area for 3 months, but ward members have told us to take it slow and make sure these investigators have solid testimonies, and are willing to commit. Our church is a bit different than most. Once you are baptized you have to be actively engaged. We can't just coast. Here in Durrës we get 80's attendance out of our 340 members. Maybe all wards are like this, but this is troublesome, and many of the members have brought up this concern. When a person is baptized they become the wards job, and that can be very tough if the person is not prepared right from the start.

This week we started soccer with the Young Men. It is awesome. They bring their friends, and we all play together. We have a spiritual message at the start. This week it was raining, and the first week, so turnout was not fantastic. We had 4 on 4 on a small field. We had one investigator come with one of the YM Roni. I think I mentioned him last week, but him and his brother Rej (Ray) 13 and 11 are totally awesome. They are super solid in the gospel and just model citizens. Super mature, smart, funny. I like them a lot. Their dad and sister are also fantastic. Their dad has been through a lot, but he is amazing. Soccer was certainly a highlight. We hope to get some investigators from it.

This week we visited a partmember family. A mom and dad who have been members for the past two years, and their two sons (9 and 2). The goal is an eternal family, but somewhere in life they have kind of lost their testimonies. They feel God.. if there is a God.. has abandoned them. They are having a rough go. He is out of work. She is stressed. They live a long ways from church. They feel that for them becoming an Eternal family is impossible. A long gone far fetched dream. We are going to work really hard on them because the reality is they can.We just have to rekindle a little fire.

This week we experienced a little sickness. Elder Gray was out of commission for one day. I was just one night. Went to bed fine, terrible night, and fine in the morning. While reading in Exodus (I am trying to read the bible because I want to be able to answer yes when people ask me if I have read the entire bible. It doesn't happen often, but I just want to read it) I found a verse that I feel relates to our situation "Exodus 3:8"

Also Elder Acheson took us out to one of his favourite lunch places. I am not a huge seafood person, but I had rice with octopus and a bunch of other seafood. It was actually pretty good.

The gift of Tongues is in full effect. This week as I mentioned above I have been communicating well. I can understand and respond to almost everything. While I am not good, I am doing well. Elder Gray is doing good too. We have both improved a lot here in Durrës. Everyone is always surprised when Americans and Canadians have learned their Language.

Have a great Easter Break! Take Buddy on Walks, and more walks because I forgot to remind you last week!

Thanks for your prayers and support!

Love, Elder Stewart

Monday, April 14, 2014

Durres Week 2!

This week has been really great week. I love it here in Durrës. We have been getting it all figured out. It is amazing to be on the coast. It is quite the feeling for me as I am used to being completely landlocked. Missionary work here in Durrës has been a blast.

This week we started English Course. It is a great way of finding people. We have found a few investigators so far. The two who show the most potential are two university girls named Benisa and Denisa. I think it is funny how they have almost the same name. It is super hard to keep them straight. Hopefully Durrës will prove to be a great place for finding. Tomorrow the plan is to show the restoration to our class at the end. Many converts have said that is very powerful so hopefully some people will feel something. I really like teaching English Course, but it is more fun teaching the Gospel! The agreement for English is 45 min English 15 min spiritual. It works well, and there are a decent amount of converts who have been found through it.

I had my second Albanian house meal this week. We met with a member couple. Their two daughters are both married. One lives in Germany and the other in the States. They are a very cool couple. I have really enjoyed getting to know the members here in Durrës. It was like a spaghetti type thing. I hate eating their food because no one here has much, but it is very nice of them. Another member family we met with this week is a father two sons 13 and 11, and a 9 year old daughter. It sounds like the Dad has done pretty much everything on his own after the Mom left them. The active members here are solid. This family is absolutely fantastic. The dad is the Ward Clerk, and these kids know the gospel like nothing.

Elder Gray and I had a really fun time teaching youth Sunday School this week. After sacrament the Sunday school president came up to us and said that the teacher didn't come to church and asked if we would do it. He gave us the chapters in exodus, and we taught. It is really fun working with the youth and YSA here. We taught the story of Moses from his birth to their escape from Pharoah. The class seemed to like it. It was fun. Definitely a highlight.

We found a really cool guy this week. He is 18, and he is totally prepared. We found him in a street contqact last week, and left with his number. We gave him a visit card. Nothing came out of it, and to be honest we kind of forgot about him. We get a decent amount of numbers, but most of them end up being nothing, and his seemed to be the same. This week he gave us two calls one day. We were in a lesson and called him as soon as we got out but he didn't answer. And then a few minutes later he found us on the street again and asked us if we had time. (What the?.. that never happens) So of course we had time. We were close to the institute center so we decided to sit there and have a lesson. We started with a prayer and he said tell me everything you know. So we started with a restoration lesson. God loves us. He had a ton of solid questions. God gave us families. He had way more questions. God calls prophets. More questions. He has been looking literally everywhere for answers. Other churches, cults, and things. He has done a lot of stuff. He has been involved in some pretty crazy stuff. We explained Joseph Smith, and priesthood power. We explained Gods power. We explained Gods love. We explained the role of Satan. He told us he would read the Book of Mormon. Honestly I won't be surprised if he finishes in a few weeks. He didn't have a ton of time but we covered a lot. It was like a conversation. it was perfect. We got a return appt.

In his returmn appt the first question he asked was, "How do I become a part of this church?" Wow! We covered the Plan of Salvation. Baptism is right in the middle of it. He had a lot of knowledge about the pre-earth life and the creation. (Most of it was even true haha) He is on a baptismal date for May 3. I really think it will happen. I really think he is gaining a very strong testimony. He has found the light, and he has quite the past to contrast it with. He will be at church on Sunday. We will be meeting with him this week. Wow! I have heard about these prepared investigators, but wow we found a real one. God is super powerful. When one of his children is truely looking he will help them find it. This guy is a prime example.

We have continued to spend long hours knocking doors. Sometimes it can be kinda sad. We have had a lot of doors slammed in our face. We have had some good experiences and lessons though. Often times we will go a number of hours without getting in. It is tough but it makes us really grateful when we do get in. I really like tracting though. It is an adventure. Every door is a mystery. You never know what you are going to get. Girl, boy, young, old, clothed man, not clothed man (Yep that happened). I really appreciate the people of other faiths that treat us nicely. This week we met these two muslim University students. While their friends were slamming their doors they acknowledged us for who we were and gave us props. Although nothing really cam of it I did realize how much I like nice people.

The ward here is great. We had a really good time at church. They really aren't that much bigger than Elbasan. With time Elbasan will be a ward. President Kashari got released this week though. That guy is amazing, and he has done a ton of stuff for Elbasan. In other mission news the Tooleys are now in Kosovo. Wow. He is the group leader in Gjakova. Wow!

Have a great week! Love you all! Take Buddy on walks!

Elder Stewart

The Adriatic Sea off the coast of Durres.

The City of Durres

The City of Durres

In an old military tunnel. The pictures are paintings of the different ships to help them be identified.

In one of the military tunnels.

Elder Stewart and Elder Gray

Oh how beautiful!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Week One in Durres! A Few New Challenges!

Editor's Note: I asked him some specific questions and he answered many of them. His letter for the week is at the bottom. I think he's becoming a faster typist because their email time is very limited but we got quite a bit of detail this week. :)
Mom's questions

Where do you tract or meet most of the people you talk to?

We tract large appartment buildings called pattlats, and smaller buildings that are old communist pallats. Lots of people live in them. We tract all over Durrës. We pray and pick a group of buildings and then start at the top with a prayer and knock our way to the bottom.

Do you live with the other Elders or just the two of you?

We have an apartment all to ourselves. It isn't much but it is great. We really don't spend to much time there anyway. In Elbasan our apartment was a little ways from the seniour couples apartment, and the other Elders apartment but here in Durrës we are in the same building.

How does this apartment compare with the last one?

This apartment is very sparce compared to my last one. The last one had been lived in by a number of missionaries, but this one has only ever been lived in by one set of sisters. We have two bathrooms in this one though which is super nice for showering in the mornings. We have one bedroom, a drying\storage room, and a kitchen/living room. This apartment has blackout blinds which are super nice at night. My last apartment only had thin curtains.

How are your shoes holding up?

My shoes are still going. They definitly have some wear and tear, but they are very comfortable. I usually wear that new pair of sketchers that we bought right before I came out. They fit my feet the best.
Are there many Albanian missionaries in your mission?

Yes we do have some Albanians in our mission. In fact Elder Baldwin is currently serving with one, as is Sister Boettingger, and Sister Maxwell all from my MTC group. Albania actually has a lot of missionaries serving around the world. I think we have 4 full time ones serving from Albania here in the mission. There are two male Albanians, and I hope I get to serve with one eventually. Also we have mini missionaries sometimes. Mini missionaries are Albanians who are testing to see if a mission is right for them. Often we get them when the mission is at an uneven number.
What do you eat for breakfast most days?

I used to eat muslie, but now I eat cornflakes, yogurt, toast, different fresh fruits. That kind of stuff. It is all pretty standard, cheap and good.

Do you find it quite warm?

It is ver warm here, and rumour has it that Durrës is one of the hottest places in the summer. It cools off at nights, but the days are starting to get really hot.

Was it hard to say good bye to Elder Austin and the people you met in Elbasan?

Yeah it was tough to say goodbye to a lot of people in Elbasan. There are a lot of really great people there. The branch is super great. With any luck i will be swinging back through there before the end of my mission. For some reason Elbasan has a really bad reputation with a lot of missionaries, but everyone who serves there loves it. Everyone always wants to go back! And I do as well.

Where is Elder Gray from?

Elder Gray is from Utah. He likes sports. He is really good at soccer and has scholarship offers. His team took div 3 state and they are a div 2 size. He is a hard worker so we should get along really well.

So this week  I am in Durrës. The week has been quite the week. It has been crazy but awesome. We got dropped off in Durrës by a couple of other missionaries. Elder Acheson our district leader took off to Tirana for a few days to wait for his trainee. We got right to work like always but the problem was Elder Acheson had our Area book in his locked room. We didn't have any way of getting around Durrës and no one to tell us. So the first three days were spent tracting for the most part. We knocked a ton of doors. I have to admit it is pretty fun. We took turns doing the door contact. There are definitely more effective ways of finding, but it gets the job done more or less. Our knowledge just kind of limited us. We tried to get a hold of members from our phone, and we talked to Elder Acheson and got a few from him. We called them up, and a few of them helped us with lessons. Some of the members here are just fantastic. They love to help the missionaries with lessons. We used a few of the young men to help show us around to different recent converts. and a few investigators. The bishop here set a new rule here that if we have a lesson with a female investigator we have to bring a female member. It is pretty tough because on top of that we need a male member due to mission rules. So we are left coordinating our schedules with our investigators schedules with a female members schedule with a male members schedule. It has proven difficult. We hope to meet a fantastic couple or something haha. All of our investigators  that we "inherited" are females, and most of them live out in crazy places. Needless to say we are still trying to figure out how to take down this monster.

Tomorrow we start teaching an English course. We have passed out 900 flyers for it. We are hoping to find a lot of cool investigators through the course. We teach 45 min English, and 15 min spiritual thought. I think it has a lot of potential. We don't have a very deep investigator pool right now so we are both really looking forward to it. Also we will likely be starting up soccer on saturday mornings. There are some great young men who have some non-member friends. We are looking forward to it. Durrës is going to be awesome.

The branch here is quite a bit stronger than Elbasan. They just have a little more depth. They have more families. It seems like a really nice ward. Apparently they get just under 100 out to sacrament on a regular basis. Elbasan was mid fifties. Our language skills have both jumped a lot in the last week as we no longer have our trainers to fall back on. Our area doesn't consist of a ton yet, but that is about to change. We are working with a few recent converts, less actives, and trying to find like crazy. The South Zone is going to be sweet I think. We have a lot of really great missionaries. Conference was really good. We got to see three sessions. Sat both and Sun Morning just because of time differences. It was in Albanian so I think I will probably learn more when the English magazine comes out haha. 

We have definitly seen miracles. I think we have begun to realize that often they are a lot less obvious than we think when we hear the word 'miracle' but I think that maybe the little ones might just be the best kind. Some things have just worked this week.. a lot better than expected. For Example after conference we tried to teach some lessons to females, and everything just kind of worked. People fell into place. Times fell into place. We found and taught in peoples houses. People felt the spirit. Elder Gray and I were speaking good Albanian. One of our investigators fathers was convinced to prove us wrong, and somehow we clmed him down. We had Albanians with us that could relate to us and them. I don't know why but for some reason God has helped us a lot. Another miracle was at a door. We knocked. All we said was hello and we were immediately being ushered into a great couples house. They had seen missionaries about 4 years ago. They had a Book of Mormon. They knew about Joseph Smith, and the whole thing had just been to big for them back then, but they really wanted to learn more. We reviewed the first lesson. We reviewed our purpose as missionaries.They took it really well. We will be going back there either tomorrow or the next day.

Durrës is great. We are going to give it absolutely everything. I am super pumped. Missionary work is great. This week has been good on me. I got through this one. I can get through anything. President Ford took a pretty big chance on us. Whitewash co-senior on a second transfer is pretty crazy, but it will be awesome.

Have a great week. Take Buddy on lots of Walks!! Love You!! 
Elder Stewart