Monday, October 28, 2013

#7 WEEK IN TIRANA, ALBANIA

Family and Friends,


This week has been an excellent week. Our English course has been picking up and our investigator pool has been growing. The other Elders in our branch had a baptism for a man named Timo, with whom they have been working for about three months. Timo, over the course of his introduction into the gospel, has developed a powerful testimony. It was a group triumph to see him baptized this past Friday. We were able to take our investigator Krenar to the baptism and have a lesson with him about baptism directly after. Krenar is progressing and we have already offered the baptismal covenant but he is waiting until he knows personally with assurety. 

As far as big events this week there haven’t been any landmark, heavens-opening-and-spilling-miracles-upon-the-people-of-Albania things going on. This week has held many small, progressively faith-building moments that will lead to sweeter, completer blessings.  We have received several small promptings that have lead us to talk with more people and elicit more frequent testimonies of truth. It has been interesting and will take some time to see the fullness of the Lord’s plan in several areas of our lives as missionaries right now. 

My companion Elder Wagstaff and I have been doing great together as a companionship. We have been able to work together and have fun while doing it. Elder Wagstaff is the brainiac of our mission… well… was the brainiac of our mission until I arrived :) He and I share the trait that we have vast libraries of seemingly random information stored in our head. We, in our down time, challenge each other in games of 20 questions to see who is the better random knowledge knower. So far, we are pretty equal. He almost got me on Phedepides, the name of the runner from the Battle of Marathon and I almost got him on the origin of the Black Plague. But he does know the scientific name of the plague… that I didn’t. Well anyway…

I would like to briefly describe a couple Albanian people I have come to know while being in Albania. The Branch Mission Leader Bujar is one of my favorite people. Bujar is about 60 years old and completely bald. Bujar typically wears a leather jacket and dark sun glasses and if you didn’t know he was a teddy bear, you wouldn’t be surprised if he were a hit-man. He is one of the most sincere and loving people and it has been a blessing to have him serve as our mission leader.

Motra (or Sister) Ballallari is our nënë (or mother). She feeds us… a lot. She has been a member for about 7 years and has a daughter who is 19. We have done some yard work for her and she is just awesome. She is a professional cook and the food that she makes is amazing. She is always looking out for ways to help the missionaries. She even tried to hook me up with opera tickets when I said I love the opera but I’m a missionary and I have to wait a bit before I can do those types of things.

And finally I would like to talk about Alfred Abdulari. I have spoken of him before but he is just a gem. He joined the church in August and has a wonderfully strong testimony despite the hard hand he has been dealt. He is so willing to serve. He does everything from lending out his gardening tools to helping a young missionary pronounce his "q" and "ç" which sound almost identical to English speakers. As mentioned before, he has been having interesting challenges with his grandfather's property but he knows that in the end, the important things of this life consist of following the teachings of Jesus Christ and doing good unto his brothers and sisters on earth. Additionally, Alfred's 88 year-old mother is absolutist hilarious. She loved the totalitarian regime of Enver Hoxha, the communist dictator. She said essentially "everyone had to be nice to everyone else. You could leave your doors unlocked in the middle of the night because if someone broke in, they would have a public trial, shaming, and execution. Everything was safe! Very strict, and strict is good." I love her cooking as well. 

Today for P-Day, we went on a 2-mile hike to the Cave of Pëllumbs or Doves. There weren’t any doves but there were goats and bats. The hike was beautiful and it was a great opportunity to get out of Tirana and see the countryside of Albania. There are some wonderful contradictions such as old wrinkled farms driving mule-driven carts of hay chatting on cell phones.
I love you and thank you for your love and support. I hope you all have a wonderful week!


Elder Acheson

#8 LETTER FROM TIRANA, ALBANIA

Family and Friends,

This week has been an interesting week for us here in Tirana.

at the Cave of Pellëumbs with Elder Wagstaff

After a beautiful hike to the Cave of Pellëumbs mentioned last letter, I had a noticeable increase of back pain I had been experiencing as a result of tracting. Never fear, the problem is being addressed. I set up an appointment with an American physical therapist working with the ABC Clinic here in Tirana. I set the appointment on Wednesday, the funny part of the story happens on Tuesday.

An Elder in my district, Elder Lee, while we were eating lunch after district meeting on Tuesday, bit on a piece of bread and broke his tooth. It is not that bread here in Albania is rock hard (it’s not, it is wonderful) but Elder Lee broke his tooth while doing pull-ups in the MTC and got a temporary fix done in the States. The repair expired just then. The combination of my physical therapy appointment and his emergency tooth repair warranted an unexpected exchange. Elder Lee came to my area and I got to be the senior companion for a day of medical needs. It was an excellent opportunity to lead in our lesson planning how we go about our day as missionaries. Additionally it was a great opportunity to get to know Elder Lee. Elder Lee is from Minnesota and just one of my most favorite people ever. He is one of the most sincere pray-ers I have heard. When he prays, he is communicating with his Father in Heaven. I learned a lot from my short time with him.

As missionaries we have a couple of hours set aside everyday for studies. We have 1 hour of personal study used for scripture study, Preach My Gospel study, and other things that help us prepare spiritually to best serve our investigators. We have 1 hour of language study so that we can better communicate with the people here and better address our investigators’ needs. We have 1 hour of companionship study so we can prepare for lessons with investigators and so that we can improve as a companionship. Then as a trainee missionary, I have 1 hour of training where we have topic-specific study out of Preach My Gospel or watch specific segments of The District.

The thing I want to share is that I have had some wonderful experiences in my personal study. My companion Elder Wagstaff gave me some guidance for a way I can go about my study that has really opened my eyes to a whole new horizon of study. Elder Wagstaff suggested that I take my patriarchal blessing and go through and annotate it, looking up items mentioned in the scriptures and writing references down and essentially expanding the blessing. I have had some completely revelatory experiences that have opened my eyes to things I had missed. I would give my full recommendation to using your patriarchal as a guide for personal scripture study. 

I had an opportunity to reconnect with my MTC group this week. We got our Leje Qendrimi (Permission to Stay) affidavit from the US Embassy. We got to chat for a brief moment and I learned that everyone is having tremendous success. I am so proud of everyone in our group. They are some of the best.
Members of my MTC group on our way to get our Leje Qendrimi (Permission to Stay)
 affidavit from the US Embassy. 

Our fledgling English course is picking up speed. We had 6 potential investigators show up.  They are all with-it and willing to learn. They all stay when we share a spiritual thought at the end of class and we plan on placing copies of the Book of Mormon in their hands next time so they can have that contact and hopefully they will take them home and read. We pray always for their growth.

We had a great branch success this week. Every once in a while, a “Golden Investigator” shows up and streamlines through the conversion process and is a solid convert. Our zone leaders Elders Ferguson and Pierce just baptized this past week a girl named Tefta. Tefta is about 25 and is as golden as they come. She is a real flirt but has developed a solid testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Church within the first two lessons the Elders had with her. She reads the Book of Mormon out loud with her sister in the apartment and she will be getting baptized soon. When Ferguson and Pierce took her to Institute after they started meeting with her, she would say things like “we, as members of the church, need to…” before she had even had her baptismal interview. But Tefta had her baptism on Friday and she was radiant. She was confirmed on Sunday and is going ahead at full speed. She is already pumping out referrals and has been bringing her sister to church. 

We have had some tough times this week. We are no longer teaching our investigators Krenar or Pëllumb. Pëllumb told us he is headed back to England which is great because that is where he feels safe and happy. Krenar had to leave Tirana because he does not have work and his family situation is not conducive to stay any more. We pray for them and hope for their success. 

We have been doing some hardcore finding this past week. We have been talking to everyone and knocking on all the doors we can get at. Luckily, we live in one the more densely populated parts of Tirana and have access to a lot of doors. The communist regime likes building Pilats or apartment buildings that can accommodate a lot of people. Thank you to them, we don’t have to travel very far to reach a lot of people.

In my mission, we are so blessed because we have met with everyone from all walks of life. We talk with hardcore communists, diligent Muslims, faithful Orthodox believers, solid Catholics, impoverished Roman gypsies, and dirty money mafia types every day. We actually got “escorted out” of a really nice pilat after coming to a floor with badge-less men in suits standing guard out of a door. The whole situation was screaming mafia with the man sitting outside of the door reading the newspaper and everything. Even though there are some problems, Albania is growing positively and is doing better every day. I am just grateful to have the opportunity to speak with so many people and have a taste of their lives and learn how I can grow and help them. There are so many good people here and are ready to be happy.

I thank you for your support and prayers. I feel you love all the way over here and I thank you all. I wish you all the best.

Your brief Albanian thing for the week is how you say I am sick in Albanian. “Jam pa qef” which literally translates to “I am without fun.” I think that is awesome because when I am sick, I am totally without fun. :)

Love you all,

Elder Açësoni

PS I am pleased to report that as of today, I have lost 10 lbs. At this rate I should lose 120 lbs over the course of my mission. Keep your fingers crossed :) 



Elder Thomas Chase Acheson

Monday, October 14, 2013

#6 LETTER IN TIRANA, ALBANIA


At the Baptism of Maliq

Family and Friends,

This week has been another excellent week in Albania.

This week I had an exchange with the Assistants to the President in our mission and I got to see what their role is like in our mission. I had a great time with them teaching, finding, and eating at one of the best traditional Albanian restaurants in the country called Mish Helli’s. Albanian food has acquired for me a very reminiscent taste evoking images of old, wrinkled goat herders and log cabins. But really it is wonderful. If you ever have the opportunity, I suggest Tavë Dheu: an excellent dish consisting of scalding hot kos with lamb chunks.
Tave Dheu, a favorite dish in Albania

Elder Wagstaff and I ran across the best Tre Leche place in the country the other day. Tre Leche is an incredible dessert that isn’t sold generally in the United States except in a few select locations. It is essentially cake, cake soaked in milk, sugar, and sin. It is then covered in a Carmel-type sauce and served with a contract with the devil. It is so good that there must be some transgression involved in its consumption. The best part about it, the best place to get it in the country is a 5 min walk away from where I live.
Tres Leche, a wonderfully sinful dessert

The work is progressing. I gave a priesthood blessing confirmation to our investigator Maliq this past Sunday in Sacrament meeting. It was wonderful opportunity to give the confirmation in Albanian, nobody laughed loud at my poor Albanian.  I am really trying to improve.  I was able to correct a grammatical error  mid-blessing and it all turned out well.
We had our other investigator Krenar bring his two boys to church which was a huge success.  We have been working with him for a couple weeks now. President Ford has been telling us that church attendance is the most important “key indicator” for missionary use. We as missionaries use “key indicators” such as lesson numbers, church attendance, and baptisms to keep track of how effective we are as missionaries. Krenar’s attendance in church is indicative of his spiritual growth.

A local Xhami in Tirana
Today for P-Day, Elder Wagstaff and I went Xhami hopping. There are a couple really excellent Xhamis or Mosques in Tirana and we went around to the more major ones today. We went to a Xhami that we found out is the World Head Quarters for a branch of Islam called Bektashi. They are a more relaxed form of Islamic Worship and have some Pagan practices. We actually ran into the Leader of the Bektashi Order. His title is Dedebaba and is the equivalent in the Bektashi faith as is President Thomas S. Monson to the LDS Faith and Pope Francis I to the Roman Catholic Faith. That was fun. We told him we were missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were interested in learning about his faith. He said make an appointment and that he would personally give us a copy of the Koran.

An other Xhami or Mosque in Tirana


















Well my loved ones, the work continues and the Church is growing. Thank you for your support and prayers. I love you all and pray for you.

With great love,


Elder Acheson

 Studying the gospel and Albanian
I LOVE ALBANIA!

Monday, October 7, 2013

#5 LETTER IN TIRANA, ALBANIA

October 7, 2013

Family and Friends,

Albania has been excellent this week.

We had a baptism on Friday! Maliq from Korça got baptized and is ready to be a full-fledged member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Maliq’s baptism was held at the 2nd/4th Branch building in Tirana on Friday at 6 PM. My companion Elder Wagstaff played the organ and I gave my first talk in Albanian. It was a thrilling experience. I wrote the talk in English and then translated it. I was told that if it hadn’t been for my poor pronunciation, it could have been given by a real Albanian with correct grammar and good vocabulary. Another small victory. We had a recent convert named Alfred Abdulari baptize Maliq. Alfred and Maliq are both from Korça and are both around the same age. It has been awesome having Alfred with Maliq because they sit together at church and it is so funny to see them just sit and chat.

This week has been focused primarily on getting members and investigators interested and excited for General Conference. In Albania, we have Conference broadcasted to each of the meeting houses and shown on newly purchased flat screen televisions. Members who are proven translators go to the district offices and are given advanced copies of what the speakers will say and translate them. Then they listen to what the speakers say and translate based off of the text with the little changes that all people make while speaking. Some of the translators are our Branch President çuçi and the District Executive Secretary Gresi Mirëpesa.
So my experience with conference was awesome. It was difficult to understand but we received some very direct answers that were applicable directly after we left the meeting and went teaching. We had several investigators come and they had a great experience as well. I additionally was able to see my Aunts Bonnie and Betsy who sing in the Tabernacle Choir and point them out to the people in the Branch. Motra Balalari, a sister from the Branch said that my Aunt Bonnie’s hair was “bukur fare” or “totally beautiful.”
Aunt Bonnie Lee sings Alto II in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Aunt Betsy Lee Bailey sings Soprano I in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir



For this week’s P-day we had breakfast at the only American Restaurant in Tirana, the Stephan’s Center as a district, and then we headed to a mall called City Park maybe 25 min outside of Tirana. When I walked in, I felt as though I walked back into America, it was clean, organized, and just not… Albanian. I actually started feeling uneasy because everything was so clean. But the main reason why we were there was to ride the only mechanical bull in the Balkans, or as far as I am lead to believe. I have never ridden a mechanical bull even in the United States, but we have Elder “Texan” Ferguson in our district and we had to ride the bull. It was fun and I hope to be able to get the videos on the blog somehow. They are pretty funny.

Well my Albanian of the week consists of two Shprejes or expressions used in Albanian. The first kind of  makes sense. “E dua si kripën në sy!” or “I love it like salt in my eyes!” This is used when you hate something. The second makes no sense at all. “Lakuriq I natës jepi jui patës, Pata ngordhi, lakuriqi pordhi.” The translation is as follows: “The bat gave the duck water, the duck died, the bat tooted.” I’m sorry for the language but it is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard and I heard an Albanian say it. It was ridiculous.

I thank those of you who have been sending me letters. Don’t worry, your responses are coming. It takes some time to get to the states. I love you all and thank you for your support.

-Elder Acheson

Elder Acheson and his awesome district in Tirana, Albania


 
Elder Acheson street contacting despite  his broken Albania language skills