Monday, April 26, 2010

Week something....

Well, the more you get into the work and the less you think about yourself, the faster time goes by. You're all probably tired of me saying that, but sheesh, it's already another Preparation Day. And my 3-month anniversary was on Tuesday. I celebrated by chewing some gum. It was great!

The work continues to move along slowly but surely. Every time we meet with our investigators we try to help them get closer to Christ, our main goal being to help them help themselves. We are working hard to show them how to get personal revelation so that they don't need us anymore.

We try to balance street contacting with tracting so that it doesn't get too monotonous. We watched a production (heh, I sound educated) called "Ensign to the Nations", chronicling the church's growth throughout the world. It made me realize that you can't realistically expect the church to explode and become well established through the efforts of one or two missionaries. It's going to take many, many years of the church being in the country before it really takes off, like in South America and other parts of the world. The growth of the church is exponential (ok, that's enough big words for today). I'm just happy to be working in these early years to help lay a solid foundation for the future.

The weather continues to be wet some days and hot the rest. I've sent a picture of the street outside our house during a particularly heavy rain. The water was only a few inches deep, and it drained within the hour, but it's still pretty impressive for a 20-minute storm. We heard through the grapevine about some volcano in Iceland causing problems for air travel. All I can say is that I'm grateful we got here just in time. I don't think we're feeling effects from it here; the air is sort of very polluted already. If an ash cloud the volume of Jupiter floated down, we wouldn't notice it. There's a lot of exhaust coming from the tailpipes of cars and the lungs of people. I heard somewhere that Albania is the most smoking-est country in Europe, and I wouldn't be surprised if it were. Oh well, I'm used to it now, and thankfully it doesn't bother my lungs. Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, eh?

Today we went to a big "treg", I don't know what the literal translation is, but I'm pretty sure it would be close to "grotesquely large market place". There's hundreds of little stores in about a half-square-mile with about 4-foot wide walkways, selling almost anything you can think of. It's like an upscale flea market, I guess. About 80% of the stores are clothing places, selling shirts, jeans, track suits, suits, socks and tons of other stuff, some of it actually good quality. I ended up getting a short-sleeved shirt in a very deep blue. I also got two ties for $5 each, and I need to be very wary of going back there with any amount of "loose change". The pull of beautiful ties at a cheap price is almost too much to fight off. I was considering a pair of white jeans to compliment my deep blue shirt and forest-green striped tie, but that will have to wait until I've figured out my pant size in European. I'm color deficient, by the way.

Until next time, remember to pray always and drive safe!


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Week 2... or something close to it

Wow, another week has passed by. I think the flow of time has accelerated since I got in the field; I thought it would slow down! Every day is work, work, work. We have our morning studies and then we get out the door, usually to a lesson at the church. We usually tract in the evenings, and in between all that we either just stand on the street and talk to people or set up a little table with the Book of Mormon, a few first presidency declarations (The Living Christ, The Family) and a couple of pamphlets. People are pretty nice, they return your greetings and keep on moving, and if someone does a double-take or stares an extended amount of time at the table, we try to talk to them more. It usually goes something like this:

"We're missionaries from America, and we're talking to people about our church and this book. Have your heard of our church/this book?"
"All right. So are you a believer?"
"I'm Muslim/Orthodox"
"Ah, so you believe in the word of God, right?"
"Of course, of course!"
"Well, this book contains the words of God revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith..."
They spend a while looking at the book and leafing through some pamphlets while we explain more, then they kind of lose interest and make an excuse why they can't stay and talk, or they politely decline and move on, but in most cases express they have respect for us and and wish us luck. What's really fun are the people who don't understand who we are and think we're Jehovah's Witnesses no matter how hard we try to explain that we're not. Sometimes those people can get pretty mad... But all they can do is yell at us in their confusion, and after they leave, it's a net gain: we're back to talking with normal people and that's one less person to sift through to see if they're interested.

The last few days have been pretty dang wet. When it rains in Tirana, it really rains, fluctuating in intensity throughout the day. There was only a light sprinkle this morning, but now it's almost a downpour. It's all good though: I've got good shoes, a good coat and an umbrella. The weather is one thing that won't stop the work from progressing.

Let's see... Ah! Eating! We usually have Muesli cereal for breakfast, or occasionally a few fried eggs. That cereal is heavenly, I hope I can find it back home. So far, Apple Hazelnut is my favorite, but Chocolate Banana and Raspberry Blackberry are pretty good, too. We then have a 2 hour lunch break from 2 to 4, wherein we have a few of our favorite places to go eat. Somedays we feel like a suflaqe, which is pita bread, assorted vegetables, french fries and veal covered in some kind of tasty sauce, I don't know what it's called or what exactly it is. Other days we go order a pizza for each of us and wolf it down. There's this sausage-sandwich type thing that's delicious, and then one of my preferred meals is good old rice and beans. Now that I think about it, the rice and beans is probably the only healthy lunch we have. We've eaten at a member's house once, and it was some kind of noodles with a fried broccoli/cauliflower cross breed vegetable that was really good.

We have that 2 hour lunch break because in Albania, lunch is the main meal of the day. Most places shut down and everyone takes a nap. In the summer, we'll start waking up half an hour earlier and taking 3 hour lunch breaks because it gets so hot. I'm not looking forward to the heat... especially when we walk everywhere and average about 5 miles a day (that should burn off some of those extra calories from the less-than-ideal diet). But heck, I'll still work as hard as I can, and who knows? Maybe I'll develop a liking for hot temperatures.

We haven't run into any "thugs", and I'm doubting that there are even any "thugs" in this whole country. All the bad guys you see in the movies ('Taken') are Albanians who've moved out of Albania to make an illustrious crime career. All the bad apples have moved out to find better opportunities in the big world. That's my theory, anyway. The worst things we run into are kids who half-heartedly say "bad words" after we've passed by, and most of the time they don't even say it right, which just makes it funny.

Well, it's almost time to go. Even if it weren't time to go, we could afford to linger, it's only 70 lek (about 70 cents) an hour to use these computers. Man, we're blessed as missionaries that we can afford to eat out every day. The most expensive restaurant we've been to, where we got a big salad and a big bowl of delicious pasta, was about $6 for the whole meal. Food is very cheap here, a loaf of bread is 50 cents. Even the raw ingredients of our Sunday lunch (chicken, potatoes and broccoli) are cheap. Good for us, I don't know if it's good for the country.

It was only in the past 5 years that most of the roads in Tirana were paved, and back then you wouldn't see all these shops along the street. There's probably 20 pharmacies and 20 internet cafes per square mile, and that's not an exaggeration. All the young people are wearing the latest "fashions" that are popular in Europe (kinda weird if you ask me), lots of businesses have LCD TVs showing the news or sports, and about every 5th car is not a Mercedes. I don't know where all of this money is coming from, and I'm worried that they can't actually afford all the stuff they have.

Thanks for all your prayers and support, us missionaries need all we can get.

(l to r) Elders Warburton, Johnson & Weaver

Monday, April 12, 2010

Greetings from Albania!

Wow, I'm here. I'm glad that on the flight schedule they changed the times to reflect the destination, so it wasn't actually 29 hours of travel time with a 15 hour flight, it ended up being only about 18 hours travel time with an 8 hour flight, so it wasn't that bad! The Salt Lake to Denver was in a tiny Canadair regional jet, pretty bumpy. The Denver to Chicago was a lot nicer in a big 'ol B777. The Chicago to Frankfurt was in a B777 too, I think. I tried to catch a few z's, I think I got like an hour or so. I'm really proud of my iron bladder; I never got up from my seat the whole 8 hours. I guess I should've moved around a bit to get the blood flowing, though: when we got to Frankfurt my foot started hurting a lot, but that worked itself out pretty fast. Frankfurt to Munich was pretty uneventful, and so was Munich to Tirana. We got there and pretty much just showed our passport and went right on through. We were picked up by the President and his wife and the assistants to the president.

Driving in Albania is quite an adventure. The goal seems to be to accelerate to 50mph if you have more than 10 feet of clear road ahead. Pretty much, you're responsible for everything in front of you, honking if someone tries to move all up in your business or if someone's backing into the street. I'm glad I won't have to drive unless I'm an AP. It's also fun walking around. You get missed by inches all the time, but that's ok: everyone is very aware when they drive, and they have pretty good maneuvering skills. 

After we dropped our stuff off at the mission home, we went to the US Embassy to get our permission to stay certificate or something like that. Here, you don't need a visa, you just pay some money and get a document that says you can stay for a year and you're good. We'll have to renew it later, but it's a pretty easy process. We went back to the mission home and from there split up. The other Elders went out and street contacted a bit, and I stayed back and sat in on a lesson. It was a teenage boy who had committed to baptism and we were just reviewing some lessons to get him ready.

We stayed the night in the mission office, then woke up early and played a game of basketball with the office elders, the APs and president Niel. Later that morning, we had a bit of training and orientation, then lots of other elders came over and we all had pizza. The pizza had some kind of Kosovar sausage; pretty tasty. Then we found out where we were going. I'm in Tirana Third branch, being trained by Elder Seevers! He's a great trainer. He's only been out about 6 months, so neither of us are masters of the language, but it's all good. As long as our language skills are good enough to get the people to feel the Spirit, the Lord will take care of the rest.

Yeah, the language is pretty hard. I can pick out about every 5th word at the speed people speak, and I have a general idea of what they're talking about. So far, my most common phrases are "Sorry, I'm new in Albania" and "Yes, very good!". But I'm working at it, talking with people every day and praying for the Gift of Tongues, and you know what? The Lord is helping, and I'll be fine. It will come in time, and eventually I'll be good enough to be independent in talking to people. In the lessons we're giving (we usually have 2 or 3 a day) I give my testimony on one point or another and Elder Seevers does most of the talking. Even though my skills aren't the best, the Lord can still work through my limited vocabulary and help people feel the Spirit. We went to the baptism of a family recently, and the cool thing was that after they got baptized and were bearing their testimonies, I could understand every word.

Ah, the people! I never really felt comfortable talking to people back home, and I'd get nervous giving talks or lessons. Lo and behold, the Lord is helping out a TON with that: my voice doesn't get shaky when we talk to people, I can smile and greet people on the street, and I wink at the younger generation (don't worry, it's the cool thing to do, like the head nod back home). In lessons when I give my little part, I can speak clearly, and even though I make mistakes, my heart isn't racing like it usually would. Something about knowing that the Lord is with us makes all fear go away.

The people of Albania are pretty neat in my view. They've been held down by that darn Chinese Communism (by their own choice, strangely) for years, and they're just now emerging from that. You can see the strength of the people in the way they carry themselves, and how they deal with one another. They don't have much to be happy about and not much money, but everyone we've met has been kind and respectful to us, especially when saying "no thanks" to our message. They're very open about religion and very tolerant of one another, it's awesome to see.

We went tracting for the first time on Saturday. Our area is called Ali Demi. Our house is about half a mile from the Church building (the first 3 floors of a rented out house/small apartment place), and our tracting area is about a mile from our house in the opposite direction of the Church. This presents a problem. Usually we invite people to meet us at the church building to teach them; because of communism people are reluctant to give out their address. If we wait for someone at the church and they don't show, we can't just decide to go tracting because the tracting area is about a 30 minute walk from the church. By the time we get there, we can only knock a few doors before we have to start heading back.

Anyways, we walked a pretty long ways to get to these "Pilates" (communist-era apartments). It's in kind of scary territory ("the Bronx of Tirana", as my companion put it), where if there's a group of more than 3 mean-looking people we stop talking until we've passed them by. But really, the only danger from them is they'll try out their "English" on us and see our reaction, nobody's really harassed us yet. If someone does stick around trying to get us mad, I'll just say stuff in German and they'll apologize and leave. The Lord definitely walks with his servants.

Here's a few pictures of Tirana from the Memorial of the Heroes monument overlooking the city. I didn't get that good of a picture of the monument itself, but you can probably find pictures of that floating around if you really wanted to see it.

If you'd like to write me, the best address to use would be:

P.O. Box 2984
Rruga Qemal Stafa, Vila 1
Përballë Postës Nr. 22
Tirana, Albania

I'm in Tirana, so I'll get the letters semi-regularly.

Until next time!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Elder Weaver's First Assignment

ear Brother and Sister Weaver,

We have had the wonderful opportunity of spending more time with your son and getting to know him a little better.  Your son is still functioning in another time zone, but jet lag will pass quickly for him.  Elder Weaver is doing well with the language and is talking to people in the street already.  This morning, we took all the new missionaries to the Mother Albania Statue and Park, a memorial to the heroes of Albania, overlooking the city of Tirana.  This is where Albania was dedicated for the preaching of the Gospel in April of 1993 by Elder Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve.  The attached photo show his MTC group at the Memorial with Tirana in the background.

We had a short service there where we read together the dedicatory prayer, which is beautiful and becoming fulfilled in amazing ways.  After prayer and thoughtful consideration, we have assigned him to work with Elder Seevers, who is District Leader in the Tirana 3rd branch. (The second photo is of Elder Weaver and Elder  Seevers in the mission office.)  Your son’s companion is a great missionary who has earned the opportunity to be a trainer by his dedicated service here in Albania.  I am sure that your son will be able to learn much from him.  He will also learn to rely on the Spirit to guide him daily.  He will grow in ways that you can’t imagine.

The church requests that we use only the email service and that your son communicate only with family members via email.  For all others he should use the normal postal service.  He will be blessed for incurring the inconvenience of writing via post but being exactly obedient.  You can also write to him via the pouch at church headquarters if you write on one sheet of paper and fold it and seal it without an envelope.  Address your letters to your missionary in care of:

Albania Tirana Mission Pouch
P.O. Box 30150
Salt Lake City, Utah  84130-0150

Other materials can be sent via regular US mail to:
P.O. Box 2984
Tirana, Albania.

All other addresses shown on the letterhead of this email are descriptions rather than an actual address.  There is no mail delivery in Albania other than post office boxes, so our Office Secretary goes to the post office twice a week to pick up the mail and packages.  DHL or FedEx delivers the Church pouch to us once a week.  For packages, we have found that US Priority mail is the least expensive and fairly rapid option (around 2 weeks).  Multiple smaller packages seem to come thru a lot better than large packages, and should be addressed:

Fondacioni Liahona
PO BOX 2984
Tirana, Albania

You can also use US Express mail service and the packages are actually delivered to our doorstep (more expensive) in a week or less.  For these courier options use this address:

FONDACIONI LIAHONA                                                    
P.O. Box 2984                                                          
Rr. Qemal Stafa, Vila.1                      
Perballë Postes Nr. 22)

Again, thank you for raising such a fine son.  Sister Neil and I love the Lord, we love His church, and we love His missionaries, and will do everything we can to support and sustain your son so that he can accomplish what he came here to do.  We know he will have a wonderful mission, and will accomplish much good in this developing land of generous and kind people.


President John M. Neil
Sister Elizabeth Neil

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Elder Weaver has arrived!

7 April, 2010

Dear Brother and Sister Weaver,

As you can see from the attached photograph, Elder Weaver arrived safely here in Tirana. He is a bit tired, wrinkled and overwhelmed by the cultural shock of landing here. But other than that he is excited to get to work and to be assigned to his new companion. He has already been out meeting and contacting people (with great success!). We will assign him tomorrow afternoon to his trainer, a special dedicated missionary called to that important position. But rather than wait until then to let you know he arrived safely, we thought you might be anxious to know that he didn’t get lost in transit and that he did arrive and that all is well. Earlier today, I had a wonderful interview with him and we got him registered with the American Embassy. We just had dinner, and he and his companions are off to get some rest. We will send you another short note tomorrow with contact information, the name of his companion and his first assignment, and any other information that will hopefully make you comfortable about his status.

Please also know that we already love your son and are concerned for his well being. We will do all in our power to make sure that he is safe and that he has a wonderful experience serving as a missionary. We can say without question that he has come to one of the finest missions in the world. The people are kind, the members are so loving of the missionaries, and the other missionaries are the finest young men and women in the church.

Thank you for sharing your son with the people of this country. We know that your family will be blessed as you share in his experiences.


President and Sister J. Martin Neil
Albania Tirana Mission