First things first.
When I was in 1st grade, my teacher told us about the Utah "Big One". The earthquake that was doomed to hit and destroy the whole world (or so my young mind thought). Since that day, I've been terrified of earthquakes. Just the other day, we were out to lunch as a district and were talking about how if there was ever an earthquake, everyone would probably die because the construction is so sketchy. ...Well... This morning, I was eating breakfast and there was an earthquake!! Are you kidding me!? It was a baby earthquake, only a 4.3... but still, our apartment was rocking and the cupboards were rattling and then there were 4 more! Man alive.... I thought I was going to die. Either by cement blocks landing on my head or from a heart attack. Either or, death. Bah. Anyways, after the adrenaline stopped surging, it was pretty funny :)
I haven't talked much about Albania so let me share some of the fun and crazy (mainly crazy) Albanian things that I've noticed up to date.
First. There is an electric current in our apartment water. So when there's a cut on your finger, good luck washing your hands. Ouch. And when someone is touching the water, if you touch them, they're vibrating haha
Food is ridiculously cheap here. It's kind of a problem. And there are fresh bakeries everywhere. Not cheapo, bad bakeries. Legit, good bakeries. Let me give you an example of how cheap they are. Motra Heathcote and I bought a giant loaf of fresh baked bread, a good chunk of pretzel bread and two giant, eclairs for... wait for it.... 2 dollars. Literally 2 dollars. Bah! You can buy a full sized meal at a restaurant for 3 dollars, easy. I'm gonna get fat here haha It's all so good! Pretzel bread (or bread with salt how they call it) is so good, I'm addicted. I can't even handle how good it is. It's stupid how good it is. The amazing kind of stupid.
Shaking and nodding your head is backwards here. You shake your head for yes and nod your head for no. It throws me off every time! Especially when street contacting... "wait, you want to hear about the gospel and how it can change your life for the better?! ...oh, you meant no..." haha :)
There is no concept of lines. You crowd around what you want and whoever is the pushiest gets served next. Drives me nuts. My type A personality lights itself on fire and runs around screaming and flailing it's arms, I hate it haha
The xhaxhi's here (old men, said ja-jee) are the sweetest men ever (or at least most of them). And they always dress so nice in their hat, their button up shirts and slacks. While we're walking, I'll just smile at them and ask them how they are and they'll stop, look at us, get the biggest smile, shake our hands, tell us we're just absolutely wonderful and lovely, usually compliment us on how nice we dress, wish us something (it's a thing here, wishing someone stuff, you conjugate the verb different and everything) and then say goodbye with a firm handshake and walk away. Makes my day every time! :D
I think the traffic has rules, but I'm not sure, I haven't figured them out yet. AKA, it's madness here. 
My only experience of public transportation has been jumping onto moving buses.
Carpet does not exist. What is carpet? Tile. All is tile. Except the occasional rug.
When we get home at the end of the day, I smell like I've been chain smoking. That's fun :) Don't worry, I'll probably get lung cancer from second hand smoke, no big deal haha
Albanians are incredibly hospitable. When you go to their home, they always give you food. They don't offer it, they give it to you. Usually it's candy and a drink but the older generation practically gives you a meal and then commands you to eat haha Even when we tract into people that aren't interested in our message, so many times they'll still give us candy and send us on our way. Stranger danger rules have officially been thrown out the window here.
Okay, my email is getting way too long. Time to wrap it up. Sorry folks. 
One last thing.
I love the branch here. They are so rockin'. Especially the youth. They have my heart wrapped around their fingers. I LOVE the youth here. There is a fantastic group of young women that I absolutely adore more than words. So many members here have the most moving stories of how they've come to be members of the church. Many of them joined before the Book of Mormon was even translated into Albanian which I think is the most amazing example of faith. The history and hardships of this country and what so many of the members have been through here astounds me. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to be here and for a brief moment, be a part of their lives. Serving as a missionary has been incredibly difficult, but it is so rewarding. The first week I got here, I never thought that I would ever say it, but I love serving. I love being a part of this great work. I love this people. Someday I'll love this language ;) he he.... The gospel is true, if you haven't figured that out yet, it's okay. Just ask God, He'll tell you :)
Much love!!
Motra Missy
Garbage river

Add  The statue in Tirana where the mission was dedicated. caption

One of the beachs in Durrës where we eat suflaqes.

The view from my apartment.


Surviving Albania!

So, Albania is still crazy Albania. PS- I'm in Durrës. It's palm tree weather here, wasn't expecting that! Everyone said it was cold in Albania, they are full of lies, it's 60 degrees.
The branch here is great, I really love the people and they have a good number of fantastic youth which is so excellent! I feel like I'm already so close to so many of them, that's been a blessing. Thinking about the people that I love gets me through the tough days. Which let me assure you, there are many tough days. Man oh man, I'm glad I have the Atonement to pull strength from because otherwise I would home right now sitting on my comfy couch or walking down a clean street, talking to people in a language that I understand.
I made a street contact and got a number! What!? Okay, she spoke english. haha.
Oh, a quick story! So, we were trackting (spelling?) in sketchville (let's be honest, it's all sketchville haha) and we found an amazing women! She was so kind and asked us to come back to talk more about the Book of Mormon, we didn't even have to ask her. I am so excited about her! She kept laughing everytime she asked me a question that I didn't understand... because it happened a lot haha she thought it was hilarious when I tried to speak Albanian, she said I was cute. Hey, I'll take it. If I can get into people's hearts by sounding like a 3 year old, I'll do it.
Being here on a mission has been incredibly difficult for me. More so than I ever anticipated. I was struggling to point of trying to convince myself by the minute not to come home. I don't think I've ever felt so empty and so surrounded by darkness. But I can testify of the reality of the Atonement and the priesthood. It has gotten me through every minute of every day here and I am grateful beyond words. Turn to the Savior, He died so you could overcome every challenge you face. I know this is true. I feel it every day.
I love you all!
Motra Missy


In Albania!!

Yup. I'm here, alive and well and safe :)
Albania is unlike anything I have ever experienced. There has definitely been some culture shock. And not knowing the language is super rough. But I keep telling myself that this is where the Lord wants me and it's got to be for a reason. So I bite my lip and keep on smiling and pray that I'll know the language soon :)
I just want to say that the Lord knows us and He knows our path. And though our path may be a rough one, He is with us and He loves us. Trust Him and your life will be blessed for the better. Even if the path to better is a rough one.
Love you all,
Motra Missy


January 2, 2014

Dear Missionary Family,

Your daughter, Sister Melissa Russell, arrived safe and sound at the Mission Home last evening.  She will be serving in the Durrës Branch.  This will be in the District of Tirana.  Her companion will be Sister Melissa Heathcote.

Sister Ford and I are so pleased to have Sister Russell as one of our missionaries and look forward to getting to know her well. We know that she will be able to contribute much to the missionary effort of teaching the people of Albania about Jesus Christ.

Missionaries absolutely love to receive mail and can be contacted either by email or by sending letters through the post office to:

Sister Melissa Russell
Albania Tirana Mission
PO Box 2984
Rruga Qemal Stafa, Vila 1
Perballe Postas Nr. 22
Tirana, Albania

Sincerely Andrew Michael Ford
President Albania, Tirana Mission
Sister Heathcote
Pres and Sister Ford