Monday, November 25, 2013

#12 WEEK IN TIRANA, ALBANIA

Family and Friends,

This week a number of things of interest have happened.

President Russell T. Osguthorpe
On Wednesday, the Church’s General Sunday School President Russell T. Osguthorpe, the Second Counselor in the General Young Men’s Presidency Brother Randall L. Ridd, and Second Counselor in the European Area Presidency Elder Timothy J. Dyches came and spoke to members here in Albania. The Tirana and Durrës missionaries had a special meeting with them this past Thursday morning.

They shared with us some absolutely wonderful messages about how we can improve our missionary efforts.  President Osguthorpe shared with us an adorable video clip of his granddaughter Molli (aged 2 or 3) learning how to buckle herself in to a high chair. She struggled for a couple of minutes with her parents encouraging her. When she finally buckled it, she exclaimed “I did it” (The video clip had the Albanian subtitles “E bëra!” for the convenience of non-English speakers). The lesson was that we could help our investigators learn and develop but they have to be the ones developing testimonies in Christ and faith in the Father’s plan. They shared this and other wonderful lessons with us.



Congressional Palace, Tirana Albania
On  Friday, our district participated in the City-wide service day. Groups all over Tirana picked up garbage and helped clean the city. We picked up garbage around the Pyramid, along Rruga Papa Gjon Paul II, and around Palati Kongreseve or the Congressional Palace. The day of service was much needed because the typical street in Tirana is littered with candy wrappers, cigarette butts, and bottles of beer. We saw a marked improvement in the city the next day. There is still a very big job left.

Elder Thomas Chase Acheson
Something unique about the Adriatic South Mission that I would like to discuss is that we and the Sierra Leone Mission (I believe, I could be wrong on the specific mission but in that area) are the only missions with a majority population of Muslims. The majority of people that we speak to are Muslims. I want to talk about what my experience has been thus far teaching and conversing with Muslims about religion has been.

Most of the Muslims in Albania are cultural Muslims, meaning that they are Muslim because their parents were, there aren’t very many converts. Because of the communist regime, many people don’t actually practice but say that they are Muslim. There are Xhamis or Mosques spread throughout Tirana and the Call to Prayer is played 5 times a day but I have never seen anybody get down and pray in the streets. I have only seen people pray within a Xhami.

There are many women wearing Burkas and men wearing conservative clothing with beards. There are people that we have stopped on the road who have given us very sincere testimonies of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. It is a very interesting because the things that we hear every day and are common to us are not very common outside of our mission. “Ka një Zot!” (there is one God) is almost of ‘end-all’ conversation piece that many Muslims use on us every day.
Good Deed Doers: Acheson and Wagstaff

The concept of the relationship between God and us differs greatly between Muslims and Latter-day Saints. They believe that humans are the creations of God designed purely to worship him. There is no concept of progression. There is a concept of heaven and reward if you apply the commandments of Allah. The heaven concepts have varied from person to person that I have spoken with.

If you are a LDS missionary assigned to the Adriatic South Mission, read the Qur’an. You don’t need have the thing memorized and don’t let it get in the way of your study of the Standard Works, but at least be familiar with it. In Albania, you get Bible-Bashed and Qur’an-Bashed. The important thing to realize is that Muslims believe that the words written in the Qur’an are the Words of God. Not the inspired words of Mohammed but the literal words of God taken by dictation. A Muslim is as likely to Qur’an-Bash as a Baptist is likely to Bible-Bash.

The hard working and super cool Tirana District
With very few exceptions, most of the Muslims that I have spoken to are incredibly polite and kind people. They are very rational and productive members of society. Our Pronari or Landlord is Muslim and they are wonderful and friendly. They left a plate of Baklava on our table for Small Bajram. Many of the members we have in 3rd Branch are of Muslim origin are perfectly wonderful Latter-day Saints.

This is Elder Acheson’s opinion on Muslims: The religion of Islam is a wonderful and beautiful institution that directs people to worship of God and service to their fellow brethren on the earth. Just as in all religions and means of identification, extremism is a very sad and unfortunate thing. Christianity has a history fraught with inter-denominational wars and persecution. Islam, just like Christianity has a small, out-spoken minority that taints an overall peaceful and service-driven people. All of the true believers I have met are good people and want to do their best to worship God and I am thankful for the example of those faithful Muslims I have met.

I am ever thankful for the blessings and prayers that have come from you. I now that you will be blessed according to your faithfulness to the commandments of our Heavenly Father. I have gained a testimony that daily reading of the Book of Mormon sets the tone of the entire day and can provide an unshakeable base that no problem can dislodge. I know that from that, your life will improve and that you will feel good and secure in the knowledge that you are a loved child of our Heavenly Father.

I love you all and hope the best for you,

-Elder Açësoni


Elder Acheson putting his shoulder to the work with Elder Pierce


Monday, November 18, 2013

#11 WEEK IN TIRANA ALBANIA

Family and Friends,

It has been another interesting week in Albania.

A big piece of news took place in Albania this week. As missionaries, we cannot watch the news, sometimes we find ourselves swept up in it. It was the intention of greater powers for Albania to store some of the Chemical weapons taken from Syria in Albania. On Thursday, our district was along the main thoroughfare of Tirana “tabling.” Tabling is where we set a table on the sidewalk and display posters about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and have stacks of pamphlets and copies of the Book of Mormon. When we started catching momentum in our contacting efforts, I glanced down the street and what did I see, an angry mob marching straight toward me.
Protesters against Chemical Weapons
A large group of protestors were marching from the Foreign Ministry building to the Prime Minister’s Palace protesting the placement of the Chemical Weapons in Albania. We were located at the Pyramid, right in the path of the protesters. We gathered our things and got out of there fast as possible.
The Tirana Albania Pyramid


The debates over placement have been affecting Albanians here. In multiple lessons, the majority of some prayers we here from our investigators we focused on asking God to not let “America, our greatest ally, make the mistake of ruining our relations forever by putting the poison here. We don’t want it. If they send it here we will no longer be friends.” But not everyone was antagonistic to the idea of letting the weapons in. Some said this would be a great opportunity for Albania to show the international community “that we are ready to take on responsibility and join the world on international issues of great import.” This week has been very interesting in that regard.

Handsome Elder Wagstaff attracts a crowd of lovely Albanian Young Women
This week also we had an exchange with our zone leaders. I went and stayed the night with Elder Pierce and Elder Palmer stayed the night with Elder Wagstaff. Elder Pierce and I had a great opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper spiritual level. He conducted a “Walk Through the Woods” with me. It is one of those psychological exercises that help you project your subconscious into a more readable and understandable medium. It’s a lot of fun to hear about other missionaries “Walks Through the Woods” and compare the various aspects of each others’. My “Walk” was a great learning experience.
Elder Acheson street contacting in Tirana, Albania

It was great fun to be with Elder Pierce and see how other missionaries work. Elder Pierce is a fantastic missionary and is a great teacher. We taught a lesson with Denisa, the sister of one of his recent converts Tefta. Denisa is on a path straight toward baptism. Tefta was one of the quickest people to progress to baptism and full, emphatic activity. Elder Pierce and Palmer are solid missionaries.

So my companion has twin brother serving in Lithuania. He and his brother have had a competition about meeting an Albanian in Lithuania and a Lithuanian in Albania. The Lithuanian Wagstaff met his Albanian sometime ago but just this past week the Albanian Wagstaff met his Lithuanian. We were walking on the street late at night coming home and we said “Përshendetije” or hello to a couple walking on the street. The woman jumped back startled (it was late at night so I don’t blame her) her husband told her in English that we just said hello and so we started talking to them. The woman had an accent and I asked her where she was from and she said Lithuania. Elder Wagstaff got really excited and practiced all of the Lithuanian he had learned from his brother. She was pleasantly surprised and had a good experience with LDS Missionaries.

Team Wagstaff and Acheson Preparing for the Ping Pong Championship of the World.  Check out our ties!
Things here in Albania are going well. We are preparing for Thanksgiving in the mission. We will have Mission Conference and dinner where we will have a talent show where each district performs. Updates will follow; I can’t give any details because it is a secret what we are doing. It will be the best.

I love you all and I thank you for your support. It means a lot that so many of you write. I thank you very much.

All the love I can muster,

-Elder Açësoni


Monday, November 11, 2013

# 10 WEEK IN TIRANA, ALBANIA


 November 11, 2013

Family and Friends,

Another great week in Albania.

It began off with Zone Training held at the District Offices given by our Zone Leaders Elders Pierce and Palmer. It was an excellent experience. We averaged 20 more total lessons than last month which is an excellent increase and indicative of great growth. Elders Pierce and Palmer challenged us to talk to 10 people throughout each day independent of our scheduled finding activities which is going to be a challenge, but do-able.

Elder Acheson's tongue and his lunch of goat tongue!
Directly after, some people in our zone went to lunch at a restaurant called Fiore nearby the district offices. I have made a personal resolution to try as many different foods as I can while in the country and so Elder Lee from my district ordered goat tongue for me to eat. Tongue, for the first couple of bits, could have been described as perfectly fine tasting roast beef. Tongue, after the first couple of bits, could have been described as squid dragged through the mud and seasoned with the contents of a pig sty. Despite the poor taste, I will be able to tell my children “I ate grosser things than your mother’s casserole on my mission, eat up!”

I want to give some more background about the missionaries in my district.

Elder Pierce, my zone leader came from Utah and was my companion Elder Wagstaff’s companion in the MTC. Elder Pierce was actually the first missionary I met in the country after the APs. He took me out on the first day to do contacting after we got off the plane. Elder Pierce is one of the easiest people to get along with. He is so warm and accepting. He has a knack of just making you feel comfortable no matter what you are doing. He is very funny and just one of the best guys. He comes from a 12 kid family and, as everyone jokes, he will probably be getting married within 6 months of returning. I love him very much.
The Tirana District enjoying lunch together


Elder Pierce’s companion Elder Palmer is just as awesome. He just got transferred from Elbasan (not Lushnjë as I said in a previous letter) and is the new zone leader with Elder Pierce here in 3rd Branch. Elder Palmer is ridiculously hilarious. He has one of the driest and most sarcastic senses of humors I have come across. He will say some of the cleverest and spot on funniest things. I am glad we got him from Elbasan because he makes hard work seem very easy.

Elder Lee in 1st Branch and I must have been friends before this life. I love the guy. He is one of the most loving and understanding people I have met. He is from Minnesota and is the second son to serve a mission from his part-member family. Elder Lee has told me about his family and I can feel the degree of love he has for them. It is easy to work and relax with Elder Lee because he is just such a good friend. I really hope he and I become companions sometime down the road. He is in the group ahead of me and so we will be here in Albania during essentially the same time. He is the one who offers the most sincere prayers I have heard. He really knows that he has a direct and 2-way line of communication with his Heavenly Father. I love this man.

Elder Hallulli is Elder Lee’s companion. He is an Albanian from Durrës and solid as a rock. Elder Hallulli is so awesome. I first spent time with him when we went and hiked to the Cave of Pëllumbs or Doves and I have loved him since. He is such a sincere friend and is always willing to talk through problems. He is understanding and loving. He is the kind of guy to share personal jokes and be up front, one-on-one with. He doesn’t hesitate to extend his hand and assist with either the work or with the language. He is actually serving in the Milan, Italy Mission but we have been waiting for his visas for the US and Italy. But he will be leaving soon and I will miss him very much.

Sister Heathcote is one of the sisters who have served in our district. She and her companion Sister Forte have access to both 1st and 3rd Branch and can travel between them at will. Sister Heathcote is from Minnesota along with Elder Lee. She is studying music and plans on returning to study at BYUI after the mission. She is always willing to smile and laugh and make things easier. She has a talent for making people feel welcome and included in the group. She is trustworthy and capable.  Sister Heathcote is a great missionary and an even better friend.

Sister Forte is Sister Heathcote’s companion. She is incredibly fun and kind. She is one of the nicest people and makes people feel as though they are appreciated and wanted within the group. She is from Utah and is one of our mission’s examples of what an effective sister missionary can be. She can handle any challenge thrown at her and accomplish it with grace and talent. 

Elder Wagstaff hard at work preparing for a lesson
And finally, my companion Elder Wagstaff. I have been blessed to have one of the best missionaries in the mission as my trainer. He is the best in the language, obedience, work ethic, humor, and just being an all-around good person. He is my friend. I know some missionaries can’t say that about their companion but I can. I love Elder Wagstaff and I know that we will be friends long after the mission ends.
Elders Wagstaff and Acheson getting a good look at the work ahead of them in Tirana, Albania.


Well, I love you all and I hope to continue giving good news. Thank you for all your support and I can feel your 
prayers.

Ju dua shumë!

-Elder Açësoni

Monday, November 4, 2013

#9 WEEK IN TIRANA, ALBANIA


Elder Lee and Elder Acheson grinning for the camera


Elder Acheson looking dapper in his wax mustache he got for Halloween 


Dear Family and Friends,

An awesome week here in the Adriatic South Mission.

This past week we had “mini transfers” meaning that a small amount of missionaries were transferred around the mission. The transfers’ primary reason was to move “dying” missionaries in leadership out of leadership. This meant that Elder Ferguson, the zone leader in my branch who is ending his mission at New Year’s, is gone. That is sad because he is one of the best guys in our mission. We got Elder Palmer up from a city called Lushnjë.  Elder Palmer is absolutely hilarious and I am very excited to be with him. Additionally, the APs Webb and Anderson (there were 3 APs) are dying as well and President Ford moved Elder Hanks up from Vlorë as the new AP. Elder Hanks is solid as a rock. I am very excited to have him in our district.

So something that I did not know about myself has become apparent. According to my companion, I talk in my sleep… a lot. Elder Wagstaff described my most recent outburst like this “Hello… hello… hello… (Mumbled Albanian) ah… Flas Anglisht…” He said that he felt as though I was having a telephone conversation in Albanian and I gave up and said “Speak English” in Albanian. Apparently I have been giving speeches and chatting for quite some time. Elder Wagstaff said that he has tried engaging me in a conversation but to little avail.

Elder Wagstaff  taking his turn babysitting. Looks like he is a natural.
This week our mission president gave us permission to go to the baby hospital and hold the new babies! They are the children born to single mothers or children with disabilities. In Albania, single mothers don’t have babies. If they do… they don’t if you can follow my meaning. The hospital had a couple rooms filled with parent-less babies and we went and helped the staff by rocking and feeding the new babies. I am a little ashamed to admit, but not very ashamed to admit that I love babies! They were so cute and just so smiley and so happy and so clean and so adorable. I got to play with a little girl named Ella who is about 5 months old. She and I stood and we played and we sang and we danced and we had a bottle and then she went down for a 10 minute nap and then came back for some more fun. Oh my goodness. I love babies. We get to go back in December and play some more. I can’t wait.

It is finally beginning to almost cool down in Albania. Suit coats are still sort of intolerable. Despite it being the 4th of November we have roses about a week away from blooming, oranges to ripen in the next couple weeks, and mosquitoes continue to assault my companion (his blood is just sweeter than mine. He gets these huge allergic spots from the bites that have sent members running for the Albanian remedies [Albanian Raki or Vodka]). Our “pronari” or landlord, Dulla, had to cut down two fig trees in our yard because he is a diabetic and they were just too tempting. Someday soon the temperature will cool down… hopefully.

Ester, Sara and Jozefi Volgi with Elder Acheson
I want to talk briefly about a couple more members in the branch. The Vogli family consisting of the Arben (the dad), Violet (the mom), Ester (12), Sara (10), and Jozefi (9) are some of my favorite people in the world. They have been solid members since the existence of the church in Albania. Brother and sister Volgi have been sealed in the temple and their children were born in the covenant. They are willing to join in missionary work and have a powerful spirit about them. The kids are spot on with the doctrine and just fun as can be. Brother Volgi will come will us knocking on less-actives’ doors in the evening and has a vast mental library of gospel information. He is a professional sculptor and makes a living working with stone. He has learned English to better understand gospel literature and is solid as the stone he cuts. The kids are the life of the branch and vibrant. I love the Vogli family.

Another member who has stood out is Indrit Zeli. Indrit is 14 and the first time I met him I thought he was American. He has seen so many American movies and films that he has even the accent down. I thought he was from the Northeast of the US when I first spoke to him. He and his sister Ledi are the only members in their family. Indrit is such an inspiring example of standing for your values amongst a sea of opposition. I love Indrit and I know that he will be a bright light in the future of the church here in Albania.

We had a missionary training meeting this past week with all of the missionaries in training (my MTC group) and their trainers at the mission home. One of the things brought up by President Ford is the goal to have a Stake Organized in Albania. At this moment, the church is a District. If we reached the required number of Melchisedek Priesthood holders by the due date, we could have the Tirana, Albania Stake by the 8th or 9th of March 2014. It gives us missionaries a drive to get more investigators and more worthy men ordained as Elders. The idea is exciting that I might be able to see this dramatic growth of the church in this region of the world coupled with the completion of the Rome, Italy Temple. At the moment, Albania is in the Frankfurt, Germany Temple District. When the Rome Temple opens, it will only take a couple of hours instead of several days to go to the temple from our country. The Rome, Italy Temple is scheduled to be dedicated in 2015 before my mission is completed. Exciting events are taking place in this area of the world.

I want to share a brief spiritual experience with you. While Elder Wagstaff and I were street contacting last night along the “Unazë” or Ring (a main thoroughfare of Tirana) and we both felt that we needed to stop what we were doing and turn around. When we had turned around, we still didn’t feel right. Confused, we looked around and tried to find what we were prompted to look for. I saw a table in an incomplete restaurant with chairs and I decided to go over and sit down with my companion. As soon as we sat down, a man came around the corner and started coming toward us. I saw that he was working on the construction of this restaurant and I thought he was coming to kick us out but I decided to give it a shot and go for it. After expressing his shock that I had only been in Albanian for 2 months, he told me that he had read the Book of Mormon. I grabbed the conversation and we are meeting with him in one half hour from the moment I am writing the words.

I have to run off to meet with him but I love you all and I hope that you are all well. I am praying for you and hope that you are all well.

As we say in Albania,

Ju puth forte!

-Elder Açësoni