December 15, 2014

Last week was a crazy week. We went to Kosovo again, so that was awesome... and crazy, hence the lack of email last week. I've attached some photos of the drive up and the city. 

This whole He is the Gift initiative from the church has been just amazing. Being able to testify that Christ is the meaning of Christmas and the ultimate expression of God's love for us has been a testimony building and incredible experience. I feel a sense of urgency to tell everyone about this message and we have never worked harder. It's been so fulfilling, so wonderful. So many little miracles.
A cool thing, some missionaries translated the video clip themselves because it wasn't one of the languages the Church translated into. Some others also designed pass along cards and made giant posters. And the coolest thing! We also have little clips of the video playing on the giant TV billboard screens in 5 different cities, one of which being Tirana in our own little Time Square :) It's amazing to see it all over the place! It's so exciting! It's so great seeing all the missionaries take this initiative and run with it with so many wonderful ideas. It's been bringing so many people closer to Christ. 

Can I just mention that my mission president is incredible? We're doing twice a week Christmas devotionals at the church and inviting anyone that wants to come. About a half an hour before, we go out and street contact and try to get as many people inside as possible. Last night, President Weidmann came to our devotional and was street contacting with us. He talked to everyone he could. He is such an inspired man and an incredible example. Wow I love our President!

I heard something from our President that I really liked and thought I would share...
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your spirituality? How frequent would you say you have the Spirit?
Now a question... what's stopping you from having a 10?
It really made me think. What IS holding me back from having the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost? What IS stopping me from enjoying all the blessings I'm entitled to in this life? 
I hope you're able to think about that and make any necessary changes to make it that 10. Especially at the start of a new year so soon... what a worthy goal to be closer to our Father in Heaven.
I also hope that you all are enjoying the wonderful spirit that comes along with Christmas. Christ is truly a gift from our loving Heavenly Father. I know that He came to this earth so that one day, we could go back home. 

Much love and many prayers,

The drive to Kosovo and some shots in Prishtina. That city shot, the little white box in the distance is one of the screens that our clip was showing on :)

The big screen in Tirana!

Bad english, my favorite :)

Chickens being sold on the side of the road, totally normal thing to see...

December 1, 2014

Oh man! So much to say, so little time! 
This last week was just awesome. Thanksgiving was amazing. Definitely one of the best Thanksgivings I've ever had. We had a special mission training (basically a conference just called a different name haha). We planned how we're going to use the He is the Gift initiative in our missionary work. I am so excited that I get to be a missionary at this time. It's incredible. Being able to testify of Christ and how He is the true meaning of Christmas and a true manifest of God's love for us is just amazing. It brings a different spirit. A stronger spirit. It's truly incredible and has already strengthened me so much. Christ truly was the first gift.
Afterwards, we had an amazing Thanksgiving dinner made by the senior couples in the mission. I was so grateful for their service to us! They did so much and I felt their love for us so strong. They spent so much time making turkey and mashed potatoes and homemade rolls, etc... so that we would all have a good Thanksgiving. It was such an act of love that I was so grateful for. 
Then we had a talent show! And wow, did I laugh or what! Every district had a talent for the show. Most of the districts did funny skits and some of them were just hilarious. Our district did a skit making fun of how we get ready in the morning. Exercise, getting ready for the day and breakfast. Sister Boettinger and I did the breakfast part. One of the elders in our district was giving instructions as a short of narrator because he's super funny and was telling us how to make a disgusting breakfast... then he said we needed to add protein ... ?? ... and walked up behind us... and dropped a RAW GOAT HEAD into the bowl!!!! Eyeballs and everything! I screamed and ran away, this was definitely not planned in our skit. Apparently it was really funny, I don't remember, I was in the corner trying not to throw up haha
We also did district pictures of everyone and I had the awesome privilege to be able to take all the pictures of everyone! It was just... so nice haha... I miss photo a lot. And I actually really liked doing group photos at weddings. So it was a great experience for me! Everyone had a lot of fun, too :) President said I have to fly out and do it again next Thanksgiving he he, done ;)
Speaking of taking photos, I told him I wanted them to look nice and edited.... soooo... he let me come over to his house this morning and edit all the pictures on his imac! Oh man... talk about a shot of happiness, it's been over a year! I was so happy to have a good photo edit session. And not only that, it was in the company of my mission President and his wife. Um, amazing. Can I have that always? I was especially happy that I got to use one of my talents, that was a blessing for sure. 
So yes, Thanksgiving was so wonderful. And so full of love. I am so grateful that I get to be out in Albania serving as a missionary. I have never felt more fulfilled or happy in my entire life. It's been an absolute miracle. And I am so blessed.

The next day was Albania's Independence day, that was pretty cool. Definitely different from America... I wore my red dress on accident, I was basically a walking Albanian flag. But in all seriousness, I kept hearing people commenting on how I looked like a flag haha

I also got a wonderful text from the sisters in 2nd ward that a sister that Sister Z and I had worked with was getting baptized and wanted me to speak at her baptism! I was soooo happy!! It was such an honor and I felt so blessed. I was so happy that she was finally able to get baptized. It has been such a gift to still be in Tirana and still be able to see those I love. 

On that same note, it's been an interesting experience still being in Tirana but serving in a different ward. Last transfer Sister Z and I worked our tails off and not much that we were able to witness happened. Sometimes it was hard to not let it get to me when we were being so obedient and so many others were having success and we didn't feel like we were making much of a difference... I then heard a quote that really changed my perspective. I don't remember the exact quote or who even said it, but the gist of it was... Don't be so faithless that you have to see the fruit of your labors... 
That really impacted me. I knew I was following the spirit and doing what the Lord wanted me to do and just because we weren't seeing the fruit of our labors, didn't mean that the Lord's work wasn't being accomplished. The amazing part is that I'm still in Tirana and even though I'm not working with the same people, I have the opportunity to see from a distance the fruit of our labors after the trial of our faith. Three families have been brought into Christ's loving arms through the covenant of baptism from the work that Sister Z and I were privileged enough to be able to participate in. It has been such a testimony builder to me that sometimes God asks us to do things and have no idea why... and when we do them, we still may have no idea why... but there's always a purpose. God's hand is in our lives, He cares for His children, this is His work and it will progress. 

Don't forget to share the message of the true meaning of Christmas with those around you! You never know who it will bless! Much love!

Thanksgiving, Dita e Flamurit, the mom we worked with on her baptism day. 

Matchy matchy in her Albnaian colored dress. Didn't think of that when we made it.

Chocolate...my worst enemy that I love so much.

Another beautiful sunset

The used market where you can buy cheap stuff

November 24, 2014

Another week gone by. Times moves too fast on a mission.

We did an object lesson of finding strength when we're filled with the Spirit of God by using an empty water bottle versus a full water bottle. We told the 7 year old to crush the empty water bottle. First off, I've used this analogy before, the lid is on tight, so it's tough to crush it but totally possible. Most adults will just squeeze it and say, yup, it's possible and then just stop there. But this 7 year old, he was one zealous little kid! He took that water bottle .... and he destroyed it. As in, it was completely pancake flat ... from the vertical direction hahaha I was, needless to say, quite impressed. And then I gave him the water filled water bottle hoping that he would realize it wasn't possible. Welp, that didn't stop him! hahahaha it ended up exploding all over him and me.... oops haha

We had a crazy thunder and lightening storm this past week, it was nuts! Flooded the streets and lit up the sky like nobodies business! We were planning while it was going on, we kneeled down to pray, I was praying, and I took a deep breath to concentrate and was about to start when a GIANT crack of thunder exploded in our ears and I literally screamed out loud it scared me so bad! I looked over to see my companion curled up in a ball under the desk because she was so scared, soooo funny hahaha

This past week I threw my back out really bad. Everything was painful haha I don't even know how I did it. I sat down to study my scriptures and could feel it start in my back and thought... oh no... I know what's happening... I immediately put ice on it and took some ibuprofen to prevent more damage from swelling, it didn't do much though, it had past the point of no return. From that point on, moving... didn't really happen haha ... Sister B had to do my hair for me because I couldn't lift my arms over my head. She also had to carry my stuff for me because I couldn't carry a bag. I was just a mess. I couldn't sleep that night either because every time I moved, it would wake me up. Bad news bears. So the next morning I got a priesthood blessing from the elders in my district. I know my back, it's gone out often and when it's this bad, it takes a long time to heal. So I knew I was looking at limited movement and pain for a while... which is not convenient for missionary work. But almost immediately after my blessing, my back healed to the point that it didn't hinder my work in the least bit. I mean, it's not 100% at all... but it healed faster than I have ever before even come close to experiencing. It went from sharp pains with no movement to an ache with barely limited movement, I could do my hair again, I could street contact and not want to die hahaha ... in all seriousness, it was an incredible testimony builder of the power of the priesthood and I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to be blessed by God's power and authority on the earth today. It know it is on the earth again to bless the lives of God's children.

Much love,
Motra Russell

poor sister B terrified of the storm and hiding under the desk hahahaha

a self portrait in the window

Some cool clouds

a crazy soccer game being watched that we walked by

and a beautiful view from a recent converts apartment before a crazy storm hit.

November 17, 2014

This last week was just excellent and also pretty insane. We had mission conference and Elder Dykes was there which was so, so great. I'm excited about his trainings that he gave and implementing them into our missionary work. 
The mission conference was also in my home sweet home of Durrës! So that was pretty awesome. Driving through, it honestly felt like I hadn't been gone a day. It was a pretty weird feeling actually. It definitely has not changed a bit. Because it was mission conference, all the missionaries in the mission were there. Which meant that the missionaries outside of Albania needed a place to stay for the conference... which also meant that we got to have a little sister party in our apartment with the Kosovo and Macedonia sisters staying with us in Tirana! ....Which also meant that I got to spend a good day and a half with the one and only Sister Zollinger :D Happiness right there, I love that sister so much. So yes, it was really wonderful! And the conference was just so fulfilling. .... having to schedule lessons for multiple companionships, exchanges between 3 different wards, pick ups and drops off at 4am (which actually was at 6ambut the assistants told us wrong... we didn't get any sleep that night haha), and food and bed arrangements for a house of 6 ... was the part that was pretty insane... but I like being on my toes, so it's totally okay :) haha

Oh, a funny side note story... we were supposed to be at the mission conference a half hour early at 9:30am. We left on time, but got stuck in traffic and also had to fill up the car that wasn't ours and no one had told us it was empty... so we're about a minute late and one of the assistants calls us and asks us where we are, we say we're about a minute away from the church. And he says, "okay.. because, no pressure, but literally the whole mission is waiting for you right now..." We pull up to see, literally, the entire mission standing outside the church ready to take a group photo with all eyes on us as we pull into the parking lot... not to mention the mission president and a 70 and their wives... talk about walk of shame! Lesson, don't be late... ever... even if it's only 2 minutes hahahahaha
The best part, no one was upset and we didn't get a talking to or anything like that because the moment we pulled into the parking lot, everyone saw that Sister Boettinger was driving ... the overall reaction... ooooohhhhhhh... that's why they're late! ... She has gotten a reputation for being a very slow driver :P 

I really love one of the scriptures that President Monson shared in this last conference from Proverbs 4:26 "Ponder the path of thy feet...."
I think it is such a beautiful scripture. It also made me think of a quote from Elder Holland where he says, "An old proverb says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, so watch your step."
I think it's so important that we really are pondering and counseling with the Lord in the choices that we make in our lives. It can make such a difference later on down the road.
So that's the challenge for the week, ponder the path of thy feet :) Where are your choices going to take you in life? And is it where you want to go? And most importantly, is it where the Lord wants you to go?

Have a wonderful week!

Some pictures of Tirana and me playing a game because I hardly ever take any pictures of me... so yup :)


November 10, 2014

Oh my goodness, there's this little boy behind me singing to the music that's playing in the internet cafe, he's gotta be 6... but it's an american song and he clearly doesn't know english so he's trying to sing along and it's just so stinkin' cute, priceless! hahahahahaa

This last week was a good one :)
I went on exchanges with the fabulous Sister Bizës! (I definitely do not remember how to spell her name in english....) She's wonderful and it was so great to get to know her better. Her mama should be proud ;)

You meet the most interesting people when tracting sometimes. We ran into a guy who kept telling us that he was the living prophet today, not President Monson and then asked if he could kiss our foreheads, but I didn't catch what he had said until he had already kissed his hand and was putting his hand to my forehead like 3 times... strange old man. He sure made me laugh though! 

One of the sisters in our ward, her husband was in a serious accident and was in critical condition. The assistants told us about it and we drove to the hospital together to offer support. It worked out perfectly though. He was in surgery and in need of blood and no one had the right blood type. We pulled up to the hospital just as they called to ask us our blood types and I had right type so I was able to donate to him. It's amazing how the Lord's hand is in our lives. I definitely know I was supposed to be there for a reason. It was a great testimony that the Lord's hand is in our lives if we only just look for it.

We were listening to conference this morning for our studies and I loved the talk from Elder Robbins "Which Way Do You Face?". There was a part that really stuck out to me when he said, talking about Christ,
"He was so perfect in representing His Father that to know the Savior was also to know the Father."
I really thought about that. How the Savior had so perfectly aligned His will to His Father's will that to know the Savior was like knowing God. I thought about that in my life, especially having been baptized and having made a covenant with God that I would take the name of Christ upon me always. And also being a missionary, a representative of Jesus Christ. I am supposed to live in such a way that my life should be perfectly in line with the Savior's will. When people meet me, when people are with me, when people talk with me...  they should better come to know the Savior because I have become like Him. 
It was an interesting way to think about my baptismal covenant that I had never thought of before and I was grateful for the new perspective.

Love, love, love, love and singing :)

"Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;"

We spent time with this fantastic couple who are leaving this week :( We're gonna miss them sooooo much!
Also, a pretty sky from our apartment.


November 3, 2014 One Year!!!

Guess what? As of this last week, I have officially been a missionary for a year. That went by incredibly fast. I can't even handle it. I still like being a missionary, so I'll take that as a good sign :)

I'm also really enjoying being able to go on exchanges with the other sisters and get to know them better, that's been a really fun experience. 

We had the best surprise this past Tuesday! While we were studying that morning, we got a call from the mission president. Of course, our stomachs dropped and the first thought was, emergency transfer?! did someone die?! along with a bit of panic... but, thank goodness, no emergency transfers and no one died haha He wanted us to take one of the members who had gotten set apart as a sister missionary that morning to the airport. I then found out it was one of the sisters I had worked with a ton in 2nd ward and was SO excited! It was such a tender mercy! Being able to take her to the airport and say goodbye was such a blessing. I love her so much. She's going to be an excellent missionary.
Oh, I also had to drive. And I thought I was going to die. But... I didn't! Hurray! haha Happy year mark to me, driving AND not dying :)

We were given a number this last week for a sister who had gotten baptized in Australia and had moved back to Albania and couldn't find the church. We called her and helped her to find the church and all the info she needed. It was such a special moment. Turns out she had been home in Albania for about 3 months and had been given a wrong address that had led her to a church of another faith. She was so confused and knew that it wasn't her church because the service was so different than what she was used to. But she didn't give up and kept searching... 3 months later, we were able to help her find it. I wish I could share the look on her face as she stepped into the chapel. It was like someone who was coming home after a long time away. She was so happy. Beyond words happy. 
When she came to church this last week, I got to sit by her and she just cried. She was so happy to be back. Her faith was so strong and it was so beautiful. It also reminded me of the scripture in D&C 52:14 when the Lord says, "I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived..." I thought about how she knew the other church was not her church because it was not the same... and then I thought, as she sat next to me taking the sacrament and so strongly feeling the spirit of the Lord, how all of this must be so familiar to her. I thought about how the Lord works in patterns so that we can always recognize His hand and so that we can "not be deceived". I thought about the pattern of prophets since the beginning of the world and how we have a living prophet today and the pattern of how God always blesses us when we prove faithful to Him. These patterns are such a blessing to us to help us and to guide us. God has given us so many tools to help us find truth and find our way back to Him because He loves us. He is our Father and we are His children. 

Shumë love!

"It is significant that of all the titles of respect and honor and admiration that are given to Deity, He has asked us to address Him as Father."

I got a birthday package from my family!! It was so sweet of them! except they made one mistake, that number 6 candle was actually supposed to be another 2.... eeessshhh, mother forgetting her daughter's age, aaawwwkkkwwarrrddd..... ;)
A couple pictures of painted buildings in Tirana. Some birds. Caged birds are everywhere here... it's a superstition thing, they're supposed to keep off bad spirits or something, don't quite remember :P


October 27, 2014

I went hiking today and shot with my film camera. mmmmmmm happiness :)
Also, accidental bushwacking, just excellent. It was like I was at home with my papa, ha! 

Oh man, so... some rockin' investigators. It had been over a month since we'd seen them (I say we when I actually mean the last sister in the area because I actually had never met them :P) and we were thinking of dropping them because we couldn't get a hold of them. Anyways.... after some promptings from the spirit to be gutsy and contact them another way (background info to that that I don't have time to go into, but they basically asked us not to contact them this way... oops haha), we ended up getting a lesson with them and have been meeting with them all week. And can I just say... wow... powerful lessons. If this young family gets baptized, the Lord has some great work planned for them because they are incredible. They're the kind of people that we walk away from their lessons walking on clouds... best feeling ever. I think we may get more out of their lessons than they do! The spirit is so enlightening and so powerful and so wonderful. I am so grateful that miracles happen when we follow the spirit, even when it can be scary.

Lately I have developed a slight obsession with the book Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage. How have I never read this book before?! I have no idea. It's blowing my mind. I can never put it down when I start it. It's just so incredible. Did you know he wrote it in the SL temple? Can you image the inspiration he must of gotten from writing it in the temple? It's a beautiful work, I would highly recommend you to read it if you haven't.... But seriously.
There's a part that I read this morning that I especially loved. It talked about prayer... 

"It is well to know that prayer is not compounded of words, words that may fail to express what one desires to say, words that so often cloak inconsistencies, words that may have no deeper source than the physical organs of speech, words that may be spoken to impress mortal ears. The dumb may pray, and that too with the eloquence that prevails in heaven. Prayer is made up of heart throbs and the righteous yearnings of the soul, of supplication based on the realization of need, of contrition and pure desire."

I love this because I've thought a lot about prayer my whole mission. I'm convinced that there are so many incredible blessings that can be unlocked through prayer that I have not even begun to understand yet. Wonderful things happen when we learn how to truly pray.... not just say words, as we learn from this quote that words so often fail us... but when we pray with our soul and heart and really, truly connect and communicate with our Father. That kind of prayer is a gift, a connection that brings enlightenment and revelation, peace and purpose.... we cannot progress as we need to without prayer. Prayer is work and if we could get ourselves to pray as we should always.... what spiritual strength we would have! I think the most powerful missionaries I have ever seen who were able to have incredible miracles in their mission were who they were because they knew how to pray...
If you're just going through the motions and not feeling enlightenment and connection with our Father when you pray... take a chunk of time, kneel, completely focus with your mind, heart and soul and pray. If you pray slowly, listening to the spirit and enjoy the closeness you can have with our Father, I promise... it will bless you.

Love you all,

Shots of the hike. An amazing old nëna with her cow. She was very happy that I was taking pictures of her beautiful old cow and was smiling up a storm. She was even smiling when she told me that it would kill me if I got to close... thanks nëna haha
The fantastic kids who got baptized last week. Loooooove them more than words.

More awesome kosovo pictures.

Pictures from Kosovo! They really like America... this is the Bill Clinton statue :) haha

A giant catholic church being built in the middle of a muslim city, made me laugh with the irony :P

An amazing old nëna with her cow. She was very happy that I was taking pictures of her beautiful old cow and was smiling up a storm. She was even smiling when she told me that it would kill me if I got to close... thanks nëna haha