Monday, April 4, 2011

My Last Email

Hey Everyone,

I'm just e-mailing you all because this isn't going to be very long. This is SOOOO weird that I'm e-mailing you for the last time from Albania. Yesterday morning I literally went crazy. And I'm not even joking. I could not sit still because I think it finally hit me that things are coming to an end. Eventually Elder Holmes just suggested that we go to the church so I could play the piano for a little while before people got there ha ha. That really helped. =)

This last transfer has been really good. Elder Holmes is super awesome and helped me out to do what we felt like we should do. Xhovani Veizaj was baptized on Saturday and was confirmed yesterday in church. I feel like that was a good way to end. It was a really awesome baptism.

I love this place. I love these people no matter how much they drive me insane sometimes. I have loved my mission. I have grown a ton and, even though I still have a ton of weaknesses and shortcomings, I feel like I'm more ready for life now. Thank you so much for all the support and love you gave me. You guys are awesome. All of you.

See you soon--really soon.


Elder Swenson

I am so grateful that we have been able to share in Elder Swenson's mission. Thank you all for all of your love and support and hopefully we will see most of you at Erik's homecoming, April 17th, 11:00am, Alpine Stake Center, 98 E Canyon Crest Rd, Alpine, UT. We would also like to invite everyone to our home afterwards to visit and to enjoy some food.

With love,

Jeanne Swenson

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

This week really turned into an insanely busy one.

Hey Mom!

This week really turned into an insanely busy one. We weren't planning on that, but somehow it ended up that way. We had tons of random stuff we had to do along with a couple trainings and then finishing off the week with a baptism in Elbasan (one of Elder Holmes' old investigators got baptized). By Thursday we had only taught three lessons ha ha. But we rebounded somewhat and ended up having a pretty good week.

Thursday we had a specialized training about the role of the Holy Ghost in Revelation and how we can teach investigators what kind of environment they need to feel that more often. It was really a pretty good training and we got some good ideas. Whenever I talk to investigators about the Holy Ghost and how it feels, I read 3 Nephi 11:3-7 with them. It talks about a voice coming from heaven and how, even though they didn't understand it, it pierced them to the center and made their hearts burn. I love that description and I know I have felt that. It also helps them understand that they might not understand it the first time around. Or the second time. The people that heard the voice only understood the voice when they opened their ears to hear and turned their eyes towards heaven. We really have to be looking for an answer and putting ourselves in places that the answer can come. Mainly prayer, the scriptures, and church. But President also talked about how, in order to get an answer, we have to be constantly searching. We really have to want to know. I loved the way that Elder Griffith put it. He said that we can read the scriptures and then pray about it, but if we leave our house and put the ipod right in, we're not really "seeking" an answer. We have to be open to the spirit. We have to open our ears to hear and turn our eyes towards heaven.

Then we played frisbee. =)

Probably the coolest experience of this week was last night. It's always on a Sunday, I'm tellin' ya. We hadn't found a new investigator at all this week and we were pretty upset about that. Yes it was true that a ton of other random work came out of nowhere, but finding zero new investigators in one whole week is just unacceptable. Especially since last week we found nine. We had gotten back from Elbasan at around 6:00 and hadn't eaten. We went home, ate, and then left straight to a meeting that ended at a little past 7:30. Usually we go in at 8:30 for language study so we didn't have much time. We went tracting. Yay tracting. In the apartment building we went to, nobody was really answering their doors which was kind of discouraging, but lo and behold at 8:15 a door opens! And an older man named Xhaxhi Dini invites us into his home. He was quite the chatterbox, but at the same time a really wonderful man. Basically just the type we're looking for to lead the Vlorë branch. So we got in as much as we could about the Book of Mormon and how he could find answers himself from God. It was a pretty long meeting. . . .but a good one! And we're going back on Wednesday to discuss what he read. Him and his wife were our two new investigators for this week. I know they're not many, but they're more than zero. I'm grateful for the Lord's help in achieving our goals.

I love you. I can't believe we're going to give each other big hugs in a little more than a week. That's really weird. I'll see you soon.

-Elder Swenson

Monday, March 21, 2011

This week was kind of a roller coaster.

Hey Mom!

This week was kind of a roller coaster. We lost a lot of people that we're teaching and had a lot of dissapointments, but at the same time we had a lot of good experiences finding. We found new investigators almost every day and by the week that added up to nine total! We tried some new tracting ideas. We played the vocab game again where we pick words that the other person has to use in their door approach, but then we also took a more visual approach to it. We each printed off small pictures of Thomas Monson, Joseph Smith, the Salt Lake Temple, and the first vision and laminated them. As we were tracting we could show the picture to them and it would be a good way to get people's attention. The idea was actually given to us by Elder Causse when he came here. I guess one of the other missions in our zone has a first vision pass-along card that they used for it.

I realized how beautiful that picture really is. It carries an awesome message with it. We can receive direction from Heavenly Father. He even wants to give us direction. We just have to ask for it like Joseph Smith did. We met with a new member named Donald this week and talked about the Joseph Smith History for one of his Duty to God requirements. It was a really powerful lesson for me. He shared with us how God showed him that it was actually true and we shared with him how God had shown us the same thing. He asked some great questions and above all I felt the spirit. I love feeling the spirit and up until these past few days I've had a little streak where I haven't been feeling it as much as I should. It is so important and without it you just feel so worthless. I love feeling the Holy Ghost.

The week ended with our District Conference. It was an incredibly uplifting meeting. It will be President and Sister Neil's last and they both shared their testimonies about different things. Also the District President Kashari spoke about feeding Christ's sheep. His talk really hit me. And before that, two returned missionaries from our branch and a young woman from 4th branch who was recently baptized shared their testimonies. Especially the testimony of the young woman was INCREDIBLE. The huge concert hall that we met it was completely full with the spirit that she had with her. It was just such a good lineup that you couldn't go wrong. I absolutely loved it.

This next week we are going to continue working hard and trying a couple new things. Tazz inspired me. Or should I say Elder Tasso inspired me with his preaching on the bus story. That takes guts. That is so hardcore. And I realized this week, "When have I ever done anything like that?" So, we've got a couple things that we want to try this week that are a little bit more bold than I have usually been on my mission. I've got to show myself that I can be like Tazz. I can be bold. So I'll let you know next week how that went. I'm scared out of my mind, but I'm sure it will at least make for a good story. =)

Anyway, that's really all I have right now. I hope you guys have an awesome week! I love you so much! See you way too soon.

-Elder Swenson

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

“We rebounded this week"

Hey Mom!

Well, in the words of Elder Holmes, “We rebounded this week.” We actually did have a pretty good week. Like I said last week, I really wanted to start focusing on involving the members more in our missionary work and I believe we met that goal this week. Basically for any lesson that we had that wasn’t tracting we had a member with us. It made for some interesting moments, but there were also some really incredible moments.

Ha ha one of my personal favorites was with one of our investigators named Sajmir. We invited a member named Genti to come help us teach the lesson. Genti is a really good YSA in the Vlorë branch. We figured that he would be good for Sajmir because he’s around his age and he’s just a cool guy. He says it like it is and he’s not afraid or ashamed of what he believes. We had planned on talking about baptism with Sajmir and hopefully setting a baptismal date with him. As we were talking about baptism with him, he really wanted to know what you have to stop doing when you get baptized. Sajmir is a DJ and so I figured that he was worried that he might have to quit that and just study about church stuff all the time. Some people think that we’re asking them to become just like we are and preach the gospel all day every day. So I explained to him that back home I was a musician and it’s not like I can’t do that and still be a member of the church. He said, “Okay, but what else?” We told him that there were some commandments that we’d teach him in later appointments, but he was really insistent that he wanted to know them right then. And I could tell that Genti just wanted to tell him everything so finally we just let him do that. It was pretty funny. He started out with the Word of Wisdom and luckily Sajmir didn’t have a really big problem with that. But then he got to the Law of Chastity. After he had explained it, Sajmir was like, “Oh?. . . .that seems kinda weird to me.” You could tell that that was a hard one for him to take. We explained to him that we knew it seems weird, but if he would try it he would see the blessings of it. He still didn’t really like it and said again, “That just seems really weird to me. . .” Then Genti came back in and told him that if Genti could do it then so could he cause apparently Genti was a big smoker and drinker before he became a member. Then Sajmir said, “No, for the alcohol and cigarettes and stuff I don’t have a problem. It’s this other one that’s killing me!” We all had a pretty good laugh about that, but Genti was able to testify about the power of it in his life and how much prayer has helped him as he has tried to keep that law. It turned out to be kind of a crazy lesson, but because of the testimony of a member, Sajmir said he’s willing to do an experiment and give it a try. If it was just us teaching him that, there’s no way that he would have agreed to it. But since Genti was there, it became real for him and not something really out of this world.

Last night we had the opportunity to go visit Xhiovani’s family for the first time. It was awesome! We took Arti Hodaj, our young men’s president, with us to the lesson. It turns out that Arti is like 2nd or 3rd cousins with Xhiovani so his family already knew Arti. We had a short lesson about the doctrine of Christ and how we knew that the things that Xhiovani had been learning at church not only would strengthen him, but could strengthen their entire family. We committed them to baptism and they agreed! Now, I’m a retard and forgot to set a date or do basically anything else except for agree to be baptized so that will have to come in a later lesson, but hey, what can you do? But after we talked about baptism, we asked Arti to share his testimony about how the church and baptism has helped him in his family. As he shared his simple testimony, a different feeling was there. As foreigners and as missionaries, we can teach with the Spirit, but I’ll tell you what, when a member adds a simple but sincere testimony, it brings it to a whole new level. And I don’t know if the family even felt it or recognized it, but I sure did. I’m really grateful for the testimony of the members here in Vlorë. I’ve learned to appreciate them a lot more this week as we’ve strived to work with them.

I can’t forget Mrs. Potato Head. We brought a member named Ganjel to teach her this week. Ganjel is 18 or 19 years old and one of those people who is kinda the life of the branch. I was kind of nervous to bring him cause I was worried about how well he was going to get along with Liria, but when we got there and started teaching that feeling of worry just left. Liria loved him. She basically just wanted to talk to him instead of us. It was great! We really had a great lesson with her and I think Ganjel enjoyed it to. She had some questions that he was able to answer from the perspective of somebody who hasn’t been in the church their entire life. Like I’ve said before, she was baptized in 1944 into the Orthodox Church and she has a really hard time feeling like its okay to be baptized again. And we’ve explained everything we can about authority and the fact that there’s only one true church and all that good stuff, but she just reacted a lot better to someone that could relate to her.

Well I’ve definitely been blabbing for too long now. Holy cow. I hope things are going well over there. Sounds like you have some exciting things coming up! Man I bet Tim is looking forward to the Webelos thing. That’s right up his alley.

So was my room a beast to clean? It can’t have been easy after almost two years. Dad said that Bear was liking it. Bear’s not going to freak out at me, is he? He better not cause I’ll punch him right in the face. ;) You should tell him that. Sigh, I’m excited to come home, but at the same time not. There are definitely good things about home, but it’s just really hard to accept that I’m never going to be an Elder in Albania again. I’ve learned A TON while I’ve been here and it’s just weird that it’s ending. Really weird. I don’t like it. But I’ll try to focus on the positives when I get back. For right now, we’re just trying to work hard and get stuff done.

Anyway, I’m gonna go now! I love you!

-Elder Swenson

Monday, February 28, 2011

I did get a new companion this week

Hey Mom!

Funny that you ask about the weather. Apparently it’s been my worst enemy this week. The weather has been really crazy. One day it will be really nice and sunny and warm and then the next day it will be really cold and rainy. Well, that really threw my body for a loop. On Monday I felt a sore throat coming on and woke up Tuesday morning with a burning throat and really not feeling up to anything. Good thing I didn’t have to wake up at 5:00 in the morning and ride in a furgon for four hours to get to Tirana for transfers. Just kidding, I did. And I feel really bad for my new comp Elder Holmes cause his first week here he was basically inside all the time. I really don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve been that sick. It was a pretty miserable week. We also had to go to Zone Conference on Friday and if you look at our picture you can definitely tell I was a little bit out of it ha ha. At least I had a sweet tie, eh?

As I said before, I did get a new companion this week and I’m really excited to be finishing out my mission with Elder Holmes. He is a great kid and is ready to work hard. He’s from Bear Lake, Utah so I think I’m gonna have to take a road trip up there and say hi to his family. Hopefully he doesn’t want to murder me too badly because of our first week together. But we’re ready to get out there and hit the pavement this week.

One of the coolest things about this week was that we met Kujtim outside of English Course. He’s a really nice middle aged man that works as some sort of sailor or navy person or something of the sort. We’ve been really excited about him because he falls right into the category of people we’re looking for right now. We got to talk to him about families and how God has shown us how we can be together forever. We took it back to the five basic steps: faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. He accepted to be baptized on the 27th of March. We’re hoping to meet his family this week. I’ll let you know how it goes!

This other little stud from our English course is called Xhiovani. He is stoked on the Church for lack of a better way to say it. Last week he came to the church for the first time and was really excited to go to the temple! He kept asking us what he needs to do to go there and we said, “Well, we’ve got to teach you a few things and you’ve got to get baptized first.” After that he said, “So how do I do that?” We told him, “You go ask your parents if we can come over after English class and talk to your family about it and then we’ll show you.” This Sunday he came and apparently his family had invited us over whenever we’d like! We’re planning on going tomorrow if they are still up for it. Xhiovani really is awesome. He’s started to read the Book of Mormon and has really enjoyed it. He even gives answers and stuff in young men’s and all that good stuff. We’re really looking forward to working with his family.

At Zone Conference, we learned a lot about working with the members; something that I have struggled with my whole mission. So for this last little while that I have, I’m going to focus on getting them involved with missionary work as much as I can. Coming to lessons, inviting their friends, going on splits, training them, just everything we can do to get the Vlorë branch involved in it’s own growth. We’ve already started going around to different families inviting them to “set a date” for when they will have somebody prepared to hear the gospel. It’s definitely not going to be in my time here that there will be a huge improvement, but I’m hoping to really get a good headstart for them in that aspect. Because it’s so true, that the members are everything in missionary work. When they have ties with the members it becomes incredibly easier to help them progress and stay in the church after we’re gone.

Well I’m outta here! I love you! See you soon!

-Elder Swenson

Monday, February 21, 2011

Today is the first day of my last transfer. . . .holy cow.

Hey Mom!

How’s it going? That’s really weird that Jon’s home. Today is the first day of my last transfer. . . .holy cow. I don’t know how much I really like that. But I just listened to dad’s birthday present and it’s starting to look a little better. ;) Anyway, we go and get new companions tomorrow. I am going to finish my mission with Elder Holmes which is going to rock. He is an awesome missionary with 4 ½ months in the country. Pretty much ever since that group got in the country, I’ve wanted to serve with him or this one other elder so I think it should be a good last transfer. So just letting you know that. I was also really glad to here that the package finally made it there! I hope you enjoyed it. Those pupas really are super nice when it’s cold. Anyway, I’ll get on to the newsletter thing.

Hey Guys!

Well, the days are getting longer as my days here are getting shorter. Crazy. I’ll tell you what, though, we just had a complete turnaround in our area. Basically, last week I finally finished off the last of the investigators that were here when I got here. Not my favorite week in the world. But this week we actually found some really good prospects. Here in Vlorë, the branch is taken over by either young single adults or youth and it is crazy. There’s a real lack of direction and because of that, we’ve been focusing on finding someone who is not a youth and that could be a leader of the branch in the near future. This week at church, we had four investigators. Two of which were not youth and awesome! We are teaching this old lady right now that we call Mrs. Potato Head since she apparently sounds just like her. (I wouldn’t know, but that’s what Elder Knowles tells me.) And even though she’s probably 70-ish years old, she’s really sharp! You don’t find that a lot around here. She is really concerned about her daughter’s family in New Hampshire and in desperate need of comfort. It’s been great to go and teach her about the Book of Mormon and the Holy Ghost. Both of which give us peace and comfort. We were also able to discuss how the gospel blesses families and heals wounds within family relationships. She gave us her daughter’s address and we were able to send some missionaries to her house. I really hope that goes well because this lady is really the sweetest old lady ever. Anyway, so she was at church. And the other one was a large, jolly sailor man from our English course named Kujtim. He’s the nicest guy in the world and I got the chance to get to know him a little better at church on Sunday. I was basically just super happy to see him there because I figured that he wasn’t serious when he said he would come on Sunday. But he came and it was actually a really good sacrament meeting. We’re hoping that he has a family so we can go and meet them soon. This really would be just the guy we’re looking for right now. I don’t know if I should say that, though, cause I don’t want to jinx it. But I’m really excited about him.

You know what’s awesome? The Book of Mormon. It really is. I love it. I love the stories, I love the doctrine, I love the peace, and most of all I love my Savior. I am so grateful for the opportunity we have as missionaries to study the scriptures for at least an hour every morning. It goes by so fast now! I think that might be the thing that I’ve enjoyed most from my mission so far; learning more about the Book of Mormon and getting deeper into it. One of the members in the branch here, Sister Ruçaj, told us how, at her work, they make fun of her because she is religious and studies so much. They’re religious as well, but they tell her that, “it’s not necessary to study as much as you do.” I really liked her answer. . . . . . .and I actually can’t remember exactly what she said, but it was something to the effect of, “If we really love God then how could we not read those words that He has given us to learn more about Him and how to get back to Him.” I have definitely felt that the Book of Mormon has brought me closer to God. I’m really grateful for that. I honestly haven’t seen it have a huge effect on people’s lives here because most of the people that I have taught have just come and gone really quickly, but because of the effect that it has had on me I know that it really does bring us “peace in this life and salvation in the life to come.”

Anyway, I love you all. I really can’t wait to see you guys again! Have an awesome March!

“Oh, may thy soldiers faithful, true, and bold, Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old, And win with them the victor’s crown of gold!”

-Elder Swenson

Tuesday, February 15, 2011