Monday, January 27, 2014

#5 WEEK IN ELBASAN, ALBANIA

January 27, 2014

Family and Friends,

Outside Elbasan, Albania
This week we had two opportunities to travel just outside of Elbasan to teach people who live in nearby fshats or villages. On Thursday we headed to a small town called Qukës about 40 minutes out of Elbasan to visit a member family with a daughter getting ready to submit her mission papers. The Guri home was situated up in the beautiful mountains to the south of Elbasan and was a good 20 minute hike through the mud. We (Elder Price and I), the Tooley couple, and President Kashari (the Elbasan Branch President) went to their home (except the Tooleys because they were slightly sick) and shared a spiritual message with the family. We took the final mission paper page and headed back down the mountain.

The Toromani Family with the Elders
The other opportunity we had was when we visited the Toromani family near Tregan to the West of Elbasan. The drive up to their home was beautiful and we received an equally beautiful reception into the home. The elder sisters, Elona and Florida, have a baptismal date and are our bridge into teaching the rest of the family. We brought a message of the gospel into the home… along with fudge. We taught them and they were wonderfully receptive.

Well I would love to relate the history of Albania according to Elder Acheson. I love this country and I believe that all should love this country. But as all good stories, we should start from the beginning.  
Is he as bright as a "sky full of lighters" or is he the "best hip hop dancer"??

First there was darkness.

Then God said “Let there be light.”

Shortly after, He said “Divide the lands from the waters; pay careful attention to divide Albania from the rest of the world.”

The angels under God’s direction were at a loss to keep separate from the rest of the world and so they decided to place Albania in the crossroads of every culture so that it can take on aspects of every culture and thereby be different from all others.

Albania, or Shqipëria as you will soon be calling it, is an ancient remnant of the Illyrian Empire who contended with the Greeks and others. Their empire used to encompass Ukraine to the Alps. Over the years they were forced down to where Yugoslavia used to be and what Albania should be. The Romans then took them over and assimilated them into the culture. So much so did they assimilate them into the culture that Illyrian blood seeped into the Imperial Family. Emperor Adrian’s first language was the ancient form of Albanian.

Anyways back to the interesting stuff, the Albanian people, after the fall of the Roman West and East Empires, came together and formed into a tight nit herding society. They had picked up both the Catholic and Orthodox strains of Christianity (because of its proximity to the center of Catholic influence, Rome; and the center of Orthodox influence, Constantinople and after its fall Greece). Anyways fast forward 1,000 years and the Ottoman Turks (Muslim) invade Greece and push their way up into Albania. They make it in and kill all of the adult members of the noble families and take the children and take them back to Constantinople renamed Istanbul. BIG MISTAKE!

Meet Gjerg Kastrioti, otherwise known as Skëndërbeg. He was one of the noble children abducted by the Ottomans to be trained as a Turkish Muslim General. He was raised as a Muslim and as a Turk. In all appearance, he was a useful tool in the hands of the caesaropapic Sultan. But what the Sultan didn’t realize was that they trained Skëndërbeg too well and didn’t brainwash him well enough. At the head of the Sultan’s armies in Greece, Skëndërbeg took a couple of his most trusted men and destroyed the remaining portion of the Sultan’s army. He then returned to Mother Shqipëria and rallied his fellow countrymen and created an army made-up of goat herders and berry-gatherers and under his charismatic leadership he was able to defeat the largest and most professional army on earth at the time.

Skëndërbeg was, in all reality, the Savior of Christianity. Mind you, not the Savior of Mankind (that’s someone else) but the Savior of Christianity. As part of his betrayal, he renounced Islam and returned to Christian religious practices. Up until this point, the Ottoman Empire was unstoppable and without intervention, would have rolled through Europe and made life a little different than that as we have it now. In the dozens of encounters that he had with the full might of the Turkish Army, he was the victor every time; always out-manned, always under-equipped, always the winner. It took his peaceful death to allow the Ottomans finally to retake Albania but at such an expense that they could not proceed in their conquest.

Albania remained under Ottoman rule until its peaceful movement for independence in 1912. With Independence came Mbreti Zogu i Parë [King Bird the First] and with the Fascist Italian Invasion in 1933 left Mbreti Zogu i Fundit [King Bird the Last]. And then came 2 decades of guerilla warfare which was ended only by WWII.

Albania’s fate, meaning whether it would be under communist rule or part of the American-backed Western Bloc, was determined by the Big Three at the Tehran Conference of 1945 as Churchill and Roosevelt while getting a drink during a break from discussing who gets what after the whole “Hitler Problem” was resolved. Roosevelt questioned Churchill and Stalin by shouting across the room “What happens with Albania?” Stalin, after having the translation whispered into his ear, sits silently drinking his bourbon. Roosevelt and Churchill receive their answer: Don’t touch Albania.

What ensued was one of the more violent, yet effective communist regimes established at that time. Enver Hoxha, the man himself was more of a Stalin than Stalin himself. Thousands died under him and he made sure to run the country thoroughly into the ground. Although my favorite Hoxha story is when he went to a Communist International meeting in Moscow in I believe in 1961. But at the meeting he stands up and calls the current Russian Leader Khrushchev a “revisionist, counter-revolutionary, and traitor to true communism!”A gutsy gamble, calling the most prominent communist leader an anti-communist. It give Hoxha a lot of attention at that meeting, especially he received attention from another ambitious leader from another backwards running country. The only real difference between Hoxha and this leader was that Hoxha only staved and killed people Albania in thousands; Mao Zedong starved and killed people in the millions.

Hoxha’s manly move gained him the favor of Mao because any public stab against the Russian hegemony helped give Mao more ability to squeeze his way out from under the looming Russian thumb. In return for the international move, Mao gave Hoxha tons of Chinese help in improving Albania’s infrastructure. Much of Albania is powered by the dams that were built by the Chinese and the help meant only the greater ability of the regime in enforcing its reign.

Missionaries in the field
From a missionary perspective, the Hoxha regime was not helpful. Along with rations, forced labor, and an absolute lack of freedom came taught atheism. Along with the hunger, despair, and hopelessness came believed atheism. People here in Albania, though stemming either from the Muslim or Christian tradition; have a difficult time seeing God in their lives. Some people have found faith by turning back to the traditions of their fathers and many others have been open to hearing new truths and opening their minds to new perspectives now available to them. It is a beautiful thing.

Well I love Albania and I hope that with greater understanding can come greater love.

Know that I love you all and I wish you all the success that can be afforded on your behalf.

Love,

Elder Açësoni

P.S. Any dramatization or inaccuracy in the history of Albania is totally Elder Acheson’s fault.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

#4 WEEK IN ELBASAN, ALBANIA

Elder Acheson smiling for the camera
Elder Price


 January 20, 2014



Dear Family and Friends,

This has been another wonderful week in Elbasan. We have had another successful week with the work and I would like to share one of our successes.

We have an investigator named Elona that met with Elder Price for the first time the week before I showed up in Elbasan. She got a hold of our phone number by talking to a girl that she had seen with the missionaries before. She got the number and asked if she could meet with missionaries. She came to church the first Sunday I had in Elbasan. The next week she brought her sister Florida to church and as of this Saturday they share a baptismal date. This morning we met with Florida and she brought us a gift… literally a Gift. She brought her new friend named Dhurata which literally means “gift.” We taught Dhurata and she is very interested in learning about the church. Florida’s testimony about the Book of Mormon was the factor that I believe gave fire to Dhurata’s desire to progress. I am so proud of our girls here in Elbasan.

We started up English class this week and had stellar attendance. We have enough people that both sets of Elders split up the advanced and beginning speakers. Right off the bat we had people interesting in learning about the gospel from the first class. Elder Price and I feel so blessed.

One of the best aspects of working in Elbasan is that we have a senior missionary couple dedicated to helping the Elders teach. Elder and Sister Tooley are the senior missionary couple assigned to Elbasan and they are absolutely awesome. The Tooleys have this natural gift for missionary work. Their 3 previous couples’ missions might have helped them prepare but I am sure they were endowed with the gift of missionary work before that. The Tooleys serve in an YSA strengthening function but they are an invaluable missionary resource. Elder Tooley serves as the 1st counselor in the Elbasan Branch Presidency and Sister Tooley is the Young Women’s President. They have a gift of touching the heart of people that we simply don’t have. Sister Tooley has a way of attracting the girls to her in so much that she has to pry them off sometimes. But arguably the best part of having the Tooleys is the accompanying food. Elder and Sister Tooley both have quite the touch with good ol’ homemade American Sunday meals to ingenious homemade peanut butter. We are so lucky to have to the Tooleys.

Elder Acheson at a castle found underground in Elbasan, Albania
I love you and have been getting your mail and cards. I need to share a brief experience. I opened my mail received Tuesday at the center we have in Elbasan and my investigator Susana, whom I wrote about last week, looked at a Christmas card I got from my cousin Rachel Orme and her family. Susana looked at Rachel and said “Wow, she is really hot.” That made me smile.

With all of this I wish you an excellent week and leave you with

Kalofshi këndshëm (May you pass deliciously),

Elder Açësoni 




Monday, January 13, 2014

# 3 WEEK IN ELBASAN, ALBANIA


January 13, 2014

Family and Friends,
"He that hath clean shoes and a pure heart"

I am reporting from wonderful Elbasan and wish to bring you the wonderful news from our neck of the woods.

Elbasan, as it turns out, is the best place to serve in the best mission on the earth. The people here are absolutely wonderful in just about every aspect. People love talking to you and love following up on the commitments they make with missionaries.

I would like to talk about some of the people that Elder Price and I are working with right now.

Denis, 12, is one of Elder Price’s baptisms from last transfer. I first met Denis when we were street contacting and he brought one of his friends up to us and said that his friend really needed a lesson from the missionaries. Denis is the type of kid to show up and clean the church with the missionaries for 2 hours on a Saturday morning. He is solid and on fire with the gospel. He is eager to share what he calls the 5 commandments (Faith in Jesus Christ, Repentance, Baptism, Receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and Enduring to the End) with everyone that he meets. He is a newly ordained deacon and excited to serve out his priesthood duties by passing the sacrament in church last Sunday. Denis is a little ball of energy and excitement for the gospel that I am trying to emulate.

Susana, 15, is a soon-to-be convert who has been meeting with the missionaries for the past couple of months. She is simply waiting on parental permission to be baptized. Susana is also one to come and clean the church on Saturdays with the missionaries. Susana has been going with the Tooley Senior Missionary Couple and visiting less active members. She gives amazing testimonies and is rock solid in lessons. Susana is the type of girl to ask for lessons when she knows she needs a spiritual pick-me-up. Elbasan has been blessed by wonderful members and wonderful soon-to-be members.

Elder Price and I have had just a solid missionary work week. We have adjusted to each other’s teaching style and we are moving forward with teaching and finding. I have been immensely blessed to be with companions who are so hard working. We have tried being like the missionaries that you see photos of on the internet and try and teach where ever we can.

So this P-Day we were walking in the Castle of Elbasan looking for food and we came across a beautiful orthodox church the Church of the Saint Mary or something after that manner.
Inside the little church
We looked inside and where in admiration for the beauty of this small church. After looking around we were about to head out when the priest stopped us and invited us into his little room to sit and chat. He asked about our missions and was well informed on who we were. He went on to describe to us his work and told us about his mission. He is the leader of the Albanian-lead Albanian Orthodox Church in Albania. He has been working to oppose the political aspects of the Greek Orthodox Church’s presence in Albania. He had several political connections in the States and had baptized the children of a US Congressman. He went on and described some of the interviews that he had with BBC and other things along those lines. He was very cordial and asked me to say something “beautiful.” I told him that as followers of Christ we should all work together and not fight; without emphasizing our differences we should work and bring the light of Christ into the world together.  
Elder Acheson with Father Nikola Marko
Father Nikola Marko was very fun to speak with and we plan on dropping in on him some P-Day in the future.

I thank you all for your prayers and support. I appreciate the kind emails that I have received and I wish I could express to you how much I appreciate everything you say.

Thank you and with all my love,

Elder Açësoni

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

#2 WEEK IN ELBASAN, ALBANIA

Dear Family and Friends,

It has been an exciting week in Elbasan.

Elbasan has been a nice change in pace from Tirana. People here move a little slower and are more willing to talk you. Though it is smaller, it is still an excellent place to be. The city has much wider and cleaner streets than does the capital. The boulevard at the center of the city runs right along the wall of the old castle which comprises a mosque and many homes and shops.
Elbasan LDS Chapel
The Church actually has built a beautiful church building about a 15 minute walk away from the center of Elbasan and rents a multi-purpose building just off of the boulevard.  


Elder Cameron Price and Elder Chase Acheson

Elder Price with LDS youth from Elbasan

I am very excited to be serving with Elder Price because he and I are from the same MTC group and have relatively the same level of experience and skill in the language. It is an excellent drive to really study the language knowing that you don’t have a senior companion who really knows the language to rely on. Elder Price and are I doing pretty well at the moment with keeping up with developing our language abilities. I have really come to enjoy translating actually. It is a good way of keeping you on your toes and pulling out passive vocabulary out of the library. It really has helped having to translate.

Ok a bit of background on Elder Price. Elder Price, with origin as Albanians say, is from California but his family has been living in Saudi Arabia because his father was working for an oil company there. He went to the BYU and will continue studying chemical engineering there when he returns. He and I actually had the same Political Science 110 class at BYU and probably interacted with each other.

Elder Price is just awesome to be with because I know that he is just as willing to work hard as I am. Not only does he work hard, he is really easy to laugh with. I have enjoyed every moment with Elder Price and I am very excited to spend this work period with him. I know that we will have a fruitful time together.

We also have a brand new elder to the mission in our district being trained by Elder Austin. Elder Stewart is a recently turned 18 year-old and a willing to work hard doing the work and studying the language. With him, our district is the youngest district in the mission. We have Elder Austin in his 3rd Transfer, Elders Price and Acheson in their 2nd, and Elder Stewart in his 1st. We will be hard working and we will enjoy every moment of it.

I am very excited to be serving in Elbasan with Elder Price and we are going to bring the whole city a message of joy and happiness like none other they have heard before.

With great love and gratitude for you all,

Elder Açësoni
Beautiful Elbasan, Albania

Around Elbasan, Albania






Wednesday, January 1, 2014

#1 WEEK IN ELBASAN, ALBANIA

January 1, 2014

Family and Friends,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!

Much has happened in the couple weeks that I haven’t been able to write.

First and foremost, I have been transferred and am in a new city with a new companion. I am in Elbasan, a city about an hour south of Tirana, with Elder Cameron Price from Saudi Arabia. More information will follow.

The Tirana Zone Christmas Missionary Choir
I want to talk about Christmas. As preparation for Christmas, the missionies in our district have been caroling in front of the New Year’s Tree in the center of Tirana to bring the Christmas Cheer. That may have not gone over as well as it could have… Albanians in general didn’t know why 12 Americans were standing in a circle singing songs they couldn’t understand. Oh well, it was fun.




Additionally, our Branch had a Christmas Party. The sad news is that Elder Açësoni wasn't there! His companion was, but Açësoni wasn't! I even heard that Baba Gjyshi (Santa Claus) showed up. I missed seeing Baba Gjyshi! I really wanted to see him but everyone said that he was great. The best Baba Gjyushi ever in the history of Baba Gjyshi. 

Santa Claus and some very pretty sisters
Christmas Eve I spent with the Arben and Violeta Vogli Family and we had a wonderful spiritual thought. Christmas morning, all the missionaries in our district went to the Andrews couple’s apartment above the mission home and we opened our Christmas gifts together along with a big breakfast.
Even Elders need toys
Elder Wagstaff with his twin cookie (by the way Elder Wagstaff really does have a twin serving in  Lithuania)
Elder Acheson with his twin cookie (even with blue eyes)


Afterward Elder Wagstaff and I visited Alfred Abdullari and then afterwards Alfred and Deko Alushi. Then we had dinner with the Andrews and Skyped our families. It was wonderful to speak with my family but it was even more wonderful doing what we did right afterwards. There is a family in 3rd Branch the Ali and Liliana Vogli family and they have a son Roi on a mission in Leeds, England. The Volgi family is not computer literate and they needed help to work Skype. They hadn’t communicated with Roi and didn’t know when he would call. They had both taken off work and had been sitting at the computer since 10 AM. We arrived at 8 PM to help them. We worked frantically to get a connection with Roi and with the help of 2 miracles, we connected them with their son and they were able to chat with him for about a half and hour. As a sign of gratitude, they filled our already filled stomachs with whatever food they had in the house until the minute we had to leave. That was an excellent Christmas.

Elder Palmer, our zone leader had a birthday and officially turned 21 on the 27th. To celebrate we went to one of 3rd Branch’s fanciest restaurants Juvenilja. It has been thought that the Juvenilja in 2nd Branch was good; this one blew it out of the water with service and quality of food. If anybody says that 3rd Branch doesn’t have any good food, tell them to get their nose out of 2nd Branch and turn back. Elder Palmer’s birthday was an excellent end of transfer party as well.

We said our goodbyes to people in the branch on Monday. That was very tough. I have become very close to many people in our branch and I wasn’t able to say goodbye to everyone that I loved. I am just glad that I can see them in the future for district of stake conferences.

I
Saying goodbye to my AWESOME trainer
am very sad to be leaving Elder Wagstaff. I have really come to love Elder Wagstaff and love working with him. I have appreciated the patience and love that he showed to me while I was learning to become a missionary. He is fun and easy to be with and smarter than smart. He and I have shared a lot of stories together and we have promised to spend time with each other after the mission. He now is in Gjakova, Kosovo with Elder Rawlings and I am sure that he will be making just as large of a splash there as he did with me in 3rd Branch.

I transferred down with Elder Price to Elbasan yesterday with Elder Austin. Elder Austin is in the group ahead of me and Elder Price and will be our district leader. He will also be responsible for training of the new missionaries coming into the country. We will be the youngest and most successful district in the mission.

After establishing ourselves, we taught a couple of lessons and familiarized ourselves with the city. We had to inside before 4:30 PM yesterday because the New Year’s Eve celebrations have been dangerous in the past. It is a good thing I got a Book of Mormon character version of the card game War. At 11:00 PM we got up on the roof of our apartment building and watched fireworks all around us in the city. The fireworks were crazy.

Elder Acheson and Elder Price "Tracking"
Around 11:50 the fireworks started popping up and the show began. People were shooting fireworks out of windows, at other buildings, and all over the city. Our view on the roof was amazing. We felt the heat from many of the nearby bursts and we had a wonderful New Year. Unfortunately, we have to wait a bit longer for our next New Year’s kiss.

New Year’s Day is our P-Day for this week and we went to a building we saw in the distance on a hill bordering Elbasan. The building turned out to be an old Fascist-era Italian mansion/office building. It was derelict and completely awesome. It bordered some sort of military installation built by the fascists.

I am very excited to be in Elbasan with Elder Price. I have a feeling that this transfer will be an excellent transfer and I am very excited to be a missionary here in this country. A piece of exciting news is that a friend from my high school, Sarah Coleman, just received her mission call to the Adriatic South Mission and will be entering the MTC April 30th. We are very excited to have such a great addition to our mission.

Welcome to Elbasan
I love you all very much and I hope that your new year will be better than all the rest. Gëzuar Vitin e Ri!

Me shumë dashuri,

Elder Açësoni