Hello my Wonderful Family!!
Sometimes I sit down and have no idea where to even begin because so much has happened but I have the hardest time knowing where to begin. I guess the beginning would be a good place to start, eh? We went to the beach for P-day and I found a lot of really beautiful shells. It actually looks a lot like the beaches in Mexico except they might be cleaner in Mexico to tell you the truth. The last couple of weeks have been a weeks of great growth for me, especially with the opportunity I had to listen to General Conference and fast/attend fast and testimony meeting. I am always amazed at how much more in tune to the Spirit I am when I am fasting and focused on those questions I want answered and desires I have to be fulfilled. Every question I had was answered, whether through the promptings of the Holy Ghost or through the words of one of his servants during conference. While growing up, fasting is something that we did every month but the blessings and answers I have received while serving have been multiplied ten-fold since entering the mission field. How grateful I am for this blessed opportunity to serve and grow stronger!
For a couple of weeks I was having a lot of personal doubt because I was not been seeing the success and change I was expecting to receive when entering the mission field, but slowly my faith and patience are increasing. I have more patience with myself and am more able to cope with disappointment in regards to my investigators. As much as I want to see progress with them and help them make the decisions that will bring them the greatest happiness, they choose to do otherwise. For instance, this last week was a bit of a disappointment because our investigator Valbona fell through with her baptismal date. We were so excited for her, and she was progressing so well and then so had problems with her family. They have something here called blood wars which I will now explain.
Valbona lives in a house with four other families and the other parents have been telling her husband that when she is supposedly attending church, she is actually going to spend time with her lover. So, here husband has been abusing her and such. Now that the accusations have been made, and if her father and brothers decide that they are true, they have the right to kill her. If they decide that she is telling the truth, then they have the right to kill her husband. It is so sad to see the power that Satan has. We are hoping that this week we can help her see why it is so important to keep working through the hard times- and to help her understand that trials are for our learning and benefit. We also are going to help her understand why it is so important to have a baptismal date- a goal which we can all work to together, but she is afraid to talk to her husband about it, which is understandable. It is so sad to me because she is so ready, but is no longer progressing and we don't know what to do to help her anymore. Please keep her in your prayers.
In contrast, this past week has been full of many miracles and faith building experiences for me. Like I said before, I was doubting myself but was humbled to realize that everything is in the Lord's control and will work out in the end.
For weeks now we have been praying for a new investigator but we have had nothing, until this week. We have spent quite a lot of time doing door approaches, street-contacting, and table finding but nothing has been fruitful until now. This past Tuesday we set up a table right outside the Center (a place where they hold Seminary, Institute and have the Family History Center) we have here in Durres and began to talk to people as they walked past. We were literally standing there for less than thirty seconds when a woman walked up and started speaking to us. We promptly went up into the Center, sat down and began to teach her about the Restoration and Book of Mormon. She is wonderful, basically the perfect investigator to have, if that is even possible. Her name is Mira which literally means "the good" in Albanian. She has been so prepared to hear the message of the Restored Gospel and Plan of Salvation. She is so accepting of everything we had to teach, and has such a great desire to learn and grow and bring happiness to her family, and has a baptismal date for the 4th of May!! We were actually able to have her come and attend the baptismal service that we had here in Durres on Saturday, and she was able to see what it is like and she got really excited to be able to participate in the same thing for herself. The smile on her face was so big, and she just kept saying how beautiful it all was. It was a wonderful service and I am excited to help her prepare for her own in the next couple of weeks!
It is precious to me to realize that I am not doing my work here, but the Lord's. She had been prepared by Him to our message and now she is well on her way to being baptized. It is humbling for me to realize that all of my success is predicated on the Lord's will and my faith- we did not find her, but she found us by His guidance and she is constantly testifying of that truth to us.
I have also been blessed this week to realize how just how grateful I am for my companion Motra Gebhart. Since she is the Sister Leader Trainer, we do exchanges once a week with the other Motrat in the mission (two weeks ago we were actually able to go to Kosovo and I got to spend some time with Motra Forte again!! It was so beautiful there!!) This past week I spent some time with a sister named Motra Weelock. To say the least, it was just a big reminder to me of how wonderful my companion is. You never truly know how grateful you are for something until it is gone. It is more difficult to take the lead with the lessons without my companion, but it is a good time for me to stretch and grow in my confidence with the language and speaking with others. There is always room for more improvement but I can honestly say that this week we have grown together the most and I am so thankful for that! I am truly blessed to have Motra Gebhart as my companion! My only wish is that she would speak the language more with me, but hopefully that will come with time.
Okay and now I would like to share some random/funny things that I have learned while here in Durres about Albanians and their crazy culture:
-Did you know that Mother Teresea was Albanian? Also I have this theory that the english word "nun" came from the Albanian word "nen" (pronounced the same) which is the word for grandma. The best part is that all of the grandmas here dress in black dresses with white hat things so they literally look like nuns.
-In regards to the language, there is this crazy thing called noun declentions with Albanian that make a word definate, indefinate, plural, etc. and they all change for the different cases (there are five). So basically there are twenty different ways to say one noun, and that doesn't include the 20 different articles that have are used in accordance to the different declention. It's crazy stuff. For example the word bird is zog and if you want to say "the bird" it is "zogu". But then if you wanted to make it plural it is "zoqt" and plural is "zoqtat", and that is only an example of one case. This makes speaking fun, especially when you have to be wary of the 10 different tenses (including an awesome wishing tense!!) for conjugations, formal and informal, the 5 different moods and all of the slang shortcuts make it hard to understand, but I love it!
-Even if the weather is like 75 degrees here, everyone still wears at least three layers. It's like they all think they are going to freeze to death or something. Even when the weather is perfect it is like a cardinal sin to wear short sleeves or walk around without tights. All of the nenas tell us that we are going to catch a cold, when we walk around in short sleaves. Luckily the weather has been nice lately, enough that we don't have to wear tons of layers (I'm even starting to look human again and might have a bit of a tan...finally!!) Oh and another weird things is that since the water here is so unclean and full of metals and such, it is actually turning my hair blond-ish. Every day it gets lighter and ligher, more and more blonde.
-So there is this family in our branch, the Cenolari family (the "c" makes a "tseh" sound) whose father passed away last week and we were able to attend his funeral. The way that they go through the mourning process is so different than in America. Instead of taking food and talking, they have what is called the 40 Days of Open Door. During the 40 days, anyone is welcome to come and visit the house, but no one really speaks. You just walk in, shake hands and kiss everyone in the room, and then sit in silence for half and hour watching the family members sob and mourn, and then you leave. It was definitely a new experience for me, especially the funeral at the church and burial afterwards. The best part was we were able to stay and witness the dedicating of the grave after the funeral. How comforting the message of the Plan of Salvation is- the message that we will get to see and live with our families again. Oh how I wish we could have shared this with the 70 family members that attended (Did I ever mention that family is a very big part of the culture here??)!!
Well, other than that, the work here in Durres is pretty much the same. Hopefully next next week I will able to tell you about our baptism with Mira (and Valbona if we can get her to commit!!) Have fun and don't forget to smile family!!
With a Heart full of Love,