(January 10th, 11:38pm……2019)
It seems, just a moment in time, our mission ending. A moment filled with emotions of a lifetime. We laughed, we cried, we suffered, we rejoiced, and then it was all over….. ? What did we loose or give up to have this experience? What did we gain? I’m not sure the answers are definitive in a set time frame. I think it is an ongoing story, that at times will seem to conclude but then begin a new. Certainly we will look at things differently now and hopefully it will be through the lenses of wiser and more appreciative couple. In one of my first blogs entitled, “The Last shall be First”, it now reverses again, as we go to our last Sunday meeting, take our last look of our beloved city, “Fier”, get my last haircut, take my last walk to the church, eat my last “suflaque hapur”, drop my last coin into a Roma beggars hands, feed our last group of missionaries……..etc. In that blog, all the “firsts” that occurred as we arrived here in Albania, which are now our “lasts”, is different. We won’t be going back to “firsts” in America, as we have experienced those all before, but they will be different………I think.
I have lived most all my life in the suburbs and to have lived the last 18mos. in the city, has been for the most part quite a unique experience. Sights, sounds, smells, congestion, and people, always people everywhere. I wouldn’t want to live in this environment forever, but knowing it was temporary, has made it very enjoyable. By nature I’m a very observant individual, so for me all the goings on has thrilled my senses. I love stopping with all the other old men, standing around watching the construction crews work on the major renovation project of the city. I love all the hundreds of shops, and veggie stands dotting every corner and in between. City life has agreed with me.
Today, Sunday, I was released and a new Albanian Branch President was sustained. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the chapel, especial mine. We hugged, kissed, and cried together, then hugged some more. We knew we created this bond which was felt deep in our hearts. The Stake Presidency wished me a safe and good life, and thanked me for my service. Then it was real that in essence it was all over. At times I questioned our service, mostly through times of discouragement, but after today, I felt the Lord was pleased with our efforts, and isn’t that the most important result. I had asked the Lord to give me a sign or perhaps to let me know, for what purpose were we called here to Albania, for truly we were directed by him to come. I was hoping that I might know when I had done something or met someone that I was sent to know or do. Today, I can’t say that I received that answer. I believe it was just a culmination of many experiences, all rolled together to form one answer. Maybe there was that one reason why we or I was sent here, but only the Lord knows. When we arrived, eleven people were in church. The last few Sundays we have had 40 to 43 in attendance. We owe a lot to the other missionaries along our journey and couldn’t have done it without them. Adding extra chairs to our small chapel is quite rewarding. Now, I relinquish the “keys” to this building, chapel and experience. I stand as a witness the Lord truly lives.
In our farewell testimony to all the other missionaries of our zone, as all missionaries are required to do when departing, my wife gave her testimony and some departing advice of dealing with discouragement to these younger missionaries, I gave these thoughts, which is why it may never be an ending story. Most of this you will not understand, but I think you will get the gist of the feelings.
Fond Farewell Thoughts by Elder Lewis (given at mighty south zone conference)
The next time…..Somebody kisses me on the cheek…….I’ll just smile, and remember……..
The next time…..I see meatballs and sour cream together……I’ll just smile.
The next time……I see a turkey cross the road……or a dumpster diver on a tricycle……I’ll just smile.
The next time I run out of toilet paper or paper towels in a public restroom or for that matter anywhere….I’ll just smile
When I hear the names of Boston, Massachusetts or Philadelphia….or see trash all over the ground or trip over uneven sidewalk….I’ll just smile.
The next time…..I see a reflector on the end of a stick or hear a unusual whistle….I’ll just smile.
If I ever see a bicycle on the highway, or a horse, or donkey, or a motorbike going the opposite direction or if a black Mercedes passes me like I’m standing still……I’ll just smile.
The next time……..I see French fries with mustard, ketchup and mayo on them and someone says that’s a gyro, I’ll say, “no, that’s a suflaque”.
The next time…….a skinny homeless dog goes by, I’ll instinctively look for the tag on its ear, I won’t smile but I bet I won’t see more than one.
If I ever see an older man wearing a three piece suit walk by holding a piece of cardboard in his hands, I’ll smile and say to myself, “I know where he’s going” and then with respect I’ll say, “Xhaxhi”.
If I ever see a person pulling a two wheel metal shopping cart behind them…..the question is, will I smile thinking of an old lady dressed in black or mumble to myself, “J- dub”.
The next time…..A person cuts in front of me in line or in traffic or The phone cuts off while I’m calling someone, will I get angry or ……just smile.
The next time…….Someone approaches me on the street, trying to sale me something or tell me something, I’ll give them all the respect they deserve.
The next time…….. we go on a mission, it will have to be a place we are more familiar with or heard of before ,…. but if not,…….. we’ll….. just smile.
Our fondest memories are the times we’ve spent with missionaries we have worked with. Remember that as you serve with these senior missionaries. That someday you might be their best memories. Have patience. Love Elder Lewis
May we encourage all of you senior missionary possibilities, to come and serve. The church is in desperate need of senior missionaries, part time or full time, at home or abroad. “Therefore, if ye have desires………, ye are called to the work. For the field is white already to harvest……he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might……bringeth salvation to his soul”. D&C 4
In parting, I must say that I don’t think I ever really understood the vital role of “leadership” and how it plays out in the lives of the members of the church. As I served, it became apparent that “leadership” is so intertwined with the membership, maybe more so in the position of Stake Presidents, as I witness and now feel, how, as they hold the keys of the priesthood, their faithfulness, their devotion and time, and their ascending and descending connection to and from the Prophet, as well as those who share that responsibility and load with them, is so needed. This vital mantle of “leadership”, from President Mema here to President Witt back home, I give thanks.
Now on the lighter side, the answer to the contest of last months blog is……..I am in my car which is in an elevator, descending or ascending, as I experienced my first ever parking car elevator in the big city. I even left a ticket fee on the dashboard, that you might better understand what was going on.
On an even lighter side, I close with some of my more humorist photos and their captions that I have enjoyed in Albania.
The Ocean: Longing…………… Styling……………….. Cheating!
You think Elder Thomas has a “shoe fetish”?
What driving in the car does to her,……………… what scripture reading does to me.
The Boulevard: Afternoon………………………………………Evening