Friday, July 26, 2013


The field is white, already to harvest.

At the MTC, they say the days are long and the weeks are short. There couldn't be a better way to describe it. Amidst a slew of sixteen hour days, I often find it practically impossible to keep straight which day is which. By the time lights out comes around, I reflect on the day's activities and am stunned by just how much happens in one day at the MTC: there are as many hours of class instruction as there were during the school year, as many hours of language study as I did homework every day, more time spent teaching progressing investigators than I did at Sunday morning mission prep, and personal study for approximately 4x the average before coming on a mission- all in one day! There's really no time to feel bored on a mission! Not to mention that there's no time to think about myself.
Anyhow, most P-days my mission (The Albi's) takes a shuttle up to main campus for things we need that can't be found at West Campus. For example, we went last week to get our hair trimmed at the barber shop, pick up some things from the bookstore, and eat main-campus cafeteria food. The West Campus is currently under construction, but in one week's time should have its own bookstore and cafeteria. We presently eat meals at the Raintree Commons clubhouse, which is much too small to accommodate the now 400+ missionaries at West Campus. Likewise, there is very little refrigerator space, so we have meals that don't require heating for breakfast and lunch every day. And the variety is very limited: breakfast is the same every morning: donuts, cereal, muffins, bagels, and bananas; and lunch is the choice between salad a and sandwich b, every day. A lot of missionaries complain about the food, but I for one love it. Sure, there's not a ton of variety, but it's incredibly tasteful (especially the morning maple bars- they're irresistible!) And those missionaries that murmur will have their wish in just a week, hot food three meals a day.
Aside from the food, which isn't even that bad, I am soooo lucky to be at the West Campus. I enjoy a quarter-mile walk to and from Raintree 3-4 times a day, the atmosphere is much more calm, I see Day Elder and Sisar Schellenberg EVERYWHERE, and a fair portion of our day is spent outside in the beautiful Raintree Commons. I am seriously privileged.
Well, I think I'll try to focus my attention on the language this week. Shqip (Albanian, hence the title) is probably the strangest language on the earth right now. And yesterday my language instructor told us that Albanaina will be extinct in 100 years or so- so few people speak it (really just Albanians and Kosovars) and the new generation of Albanians are learning English and Italian, and will probably not teach their children Shqip. So I suppose we'll see, down the road my fluency may be rare and even valuable.
The language makes me laugh- sometimes it sounds like I'm speaking Spanish because of the way we roll our double R's, other times it sounds french because of the vowel pronunciation and flow, and other times it sounds Chinese because of the selection of nouns and consonant abundance. So betwixt the confusion, I am appalled by the beauty and unique nature of the language.
So do you remember before how I said that Albanian has no traceable origin? I couldn't have been more wrong. I'm confident I've cracked it. It is my theory that Albanian stems directly from theTower of Babel in Jaredite times. At the time of the language confusion, I think God selected his most intelligent  children and gave them the responsibility to speak the most difficult language on the earth. It's seriously that hard. That beautiful. That strange.
So, in English we conjugate verbs. In Albanian, however, we conjugate verbs, nouns, adjectives, pronouns, demonstratives, articles, and prepositions. So I've committed to memory about 50 or so grammar charts. And there are so many exceptions to each rule that my brain hurts. bad. Furthermore, to add to Albanian's uniqueness, we have a language principle called clitics, which is specific to Albanian only- no other language in the world has them! And they are oh so difficult. They vary with case, noun definity, object-verb relation, plurality, and sentence structure. In example, in English when you'd say "I gave you a dozen donuts" in Albanian you'd say "I them to you gave a dozen donuts to you". I don't expect you to understand any of this- just hope that you appreciate it's tough.
And the Albanian alphabet is strange as can be: in addition to the 26 Latin letters we have, Albanian also has a c-tail and e umlaut. And no W. And 9 more consonant clusters that make the strangest sounds. For example, XH makes the j sound, as in Jenna. Weird, right?
Well, because you're probably bored of my linguistic nonsense, just know that the language is no barrier for me. It's more of a high school girl's height steeplechase hurdle. And I could hop those all day. That doesn't go without mentioning the sweat I exert, however. And really, all the credit deserving recognizing should be attributed heaven-ward. The Gift of Tongues is oh so real. No doubt. I pray in Albanian. I bear testimony in Albanian. I teach 5 40-minute lessons each week in Albanian. And yesterday I spoke Albanian the entire day. Ship happens. 'Nuf said.
I love you more than time permits me to mention. 3 weeks down. 101 to go.
'Til we meet,
Elder Benson Gunther

...yes it does
A small portion of what I've learned.

A haircut at the Main MTC Campus

I decorated my apartment balcony.

I can see my future home from my present home.

Me and Elder Gunther

Me and Elder Baldwin

The Provo Temple

Me and my companion Elder Richards

All 14 of us "Albi's"

Friday, July 19, 2013

Wow... Week #2 at the MTC

It feels like it's been an eternity since I last wrote you. So I'll do my best to fill you in. And before I forget, because it's no longer my first week as a missionary, my correspondence has been limited to p-days only. The Brethren have asked that missionaries communicate with family and friends only on preparation day. As my call letter states, I am "Expected to devote all my time and attention to servin the Lord, leaving behind all other personal affairs." At first this rule to write home only once a week caused me a lot of worry because I receive many thoughtful letters from friends and family, and I think it would be inconsiderate not to reply. Nevertheless, I've found a way to be obedient whilst still managing my fair share of writing. So I woke up at 4am this morning to tackle the large load. And I'll strive to do my best to write home as much as time and rules permit

Because my time is so limited, I'll focus my letter each week on one aspect of my missionary service. I don't think I could discuss even a hundredth of what happens, but I figure that piece by piece you might get an idea of what it's like to be a missionary.
6:00am- Arise, Pray, Shower, Plan/Prepare
6:45- Eat breakfast in former Raintree Commons club-house
7:15- Class instruction for three hours (language and teaching fundamentals)
10:15- Language review/study
11:20- Lunch
12:05- Class instruction for three hours (language and teaching fundamentals)
3:05- Language review/study
4:20- Dinner
5:25- Gym time
6:15- Shower and prepare
6:45- TALL (Tecchnology assisted language learning)
7:45- Personal Study
8:45- Additional Study
9:30- Daily Review, write in journal
10:15- Quiet time
10:30- Lights out
This is, in a nutshell, what happens pretty much every day aside from Sunday (because it's the sabbath), Tuesday (Devotional @ Marriott Center), and Thursday (P-day). Pretty dang exciting, huh?
Anyhow, this work is the happiest and most satisfying on the face of the earth. The days are remarkably hard and long - 16 hours of straight sacrifice - but I wouldn't have it any other way. I love that I'm beginning to find myself - Ironic, though it may be, because I'm not really looking. I'm already nervously anticipating the flight back to the United States. I don't want to leave this service. Not now. Not ever. I love you! I miss you more than you'd imagine.
Elder Benson Gunther

Me and my companion Elder Richards
My apartment - #19
I am on the second floor

The 4 Room mates:  Elder Gunther, Elder Richards, Elder Ostergaard, Elder Acheson

Apartment living room

Apartment Kitchen

Apartment Hallway

The Raintree apartments are used for our classrooms

Class room filled with Elders from my mission

This is our classroom!
Even the bathrooms are MTC-ized

Elder Day and Elder Cox have class in the classroom next door to ours.  They are both AF alumni

Raintree cafeteria
Typical MTC lunch
Typical MTC breakfast
Enjoying our lunch outside.

Typical MTC dinner

I love getting packages from home!
Missionaries from the Adriatic South mission out for a Sunday walk

I ran in to my good friends Elder Ty Young and Elder Braden McLelland at the Devotional on Tuesday.

Rules are tight - can't even touch Sisar Schellenberg (my cousin)
Elder Day and I still enjoy seeing each other daily

We sing in the choir for Tuesday Devotionals

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Benson's First Week in the MTC

So much has happened this last week, so forgive me if my letter seems incomplete. Furthermore, my mind has already begun the process of translating and encoding words ne Shqip (in Albanian) so excuse my language if it seems confusing. Additionally, I've done my best to photograph my Adriatic Adventures thus far, but I've not been entirely capable of capturing every event or relevant location, but please enjoy the pictures nonetheless. And thank you a thousand times over for the two packages you've sent me this last week! My heart races when I receive the little ticket to pick up a package, given to me by my district leader. Thank you for being so thoughtful in your letters to me, and mostly for taking the time and effort to fill me in on life at home. As a side note, paper mail works very effectively with my schedule. Because my computer period is so limited I don't have much time to read emails so that I can focus on replying and writing home. And I'm not sure how things work at your end, but the DearElder site letters are printed and delivered the same day. (I think) So if you would like to write me, paper mail works best with my tight schedule. However, email is great too.
So let me give you the run-down for Week 1 at the West MTC:
After I rounded the corner and walked out of your sight for the next two years, my Hosting Elders (the ones that walked me in) directed me to the big church building next to the Wyview Creamery. Inside I received my apartment information and key, my nametag with a bright orange sticker on it (indicating my first-day status), and met my companion Elder Richards. I was escorted to my apartment building (Building 19- located in the middle of North Wyview), and dropped off my luggage. I'd only been in my apartment for 30 seconds when we were wooshed away to the next activity. That's typically how it is as a missionary- one thing to the next with no time to review what just happened. We made our way back to the big Wyview Church where we met the MTC presidency and attended first day orientation. My first day was jam-packed with new rules, new people, and new purpose. It was all so foreign to me because it was far from what I'd anticipated. But let it be known that I enjoyed every moment that day and every day following. Anyhow, perhaps I'll review my life by organization according to subject:
My companion, Elder Richards, is remarkably like myself: We share similar interests, scored the same ACT score, ran nearly identical mile times, and both aspire to be surgeons one day. He is from Longmount, Colorado (near Boulder) and graduated this May, also like myself. I love him to death, and couldn't have asked for a better companion. He and I differ, but in ways that complement one another, and aid in strengthening our potential.
My mission consists of 12 Elders and 2 sisters, making fourteen in all headed to the Adriatic South. We are split between two districts (or language classes), myself being with Elders Acheson and Ostergaard, and the two Motra (Sisters). I couldn't have asked for a better district: they all have the funniest sense of humor, but diligently study the language and gospel.
A zone is essentially different languages grouped together. My zone we call the HAFE Zone because it consists of Hungarian, Albanian, Finnish, and Estonian speaking missionaries. So I spend a good deal of time with these missionaries, which, by extension, means I see Sisar Maddy Schellenberg a lot, as well as Elder Dallin Day (as of yesterday). Our zone has sacrament meeting together and shares the same Branch Presidency, whom I love.
I share an apartment with my companion and one other companionship (District leaders- Acheson and Ostergaard), making four Elders sharing one apartment between two rooms and one shower. I really enjoy my roomates because 1: they are the Elders in my district, and 2: they are the more calm of the Elders. My room is Y262 on the second floor, north side of building nineteen.
There is certainly much to explain when it comes to this subject, but I'll do my best to expound with the time I have. Shqip (Albanian) is likely one of the hardest languages in the world. There are so many concepts the language harbors that are foreign to English. I'll describe in further detail in the following emails. Anywho, I taught my first lesson in Albanian Saturday morning, having been in the MTC less than 48 hours. It went incredibly well, ironically, and we taught for nearly 20 minutes! So when I have more time I'll describe in entirety the awesomeness of the language.
In closing, because my time has nearly expired and I still have yet to attach pictures, I wouldn't trade my mission for anything. The work is unprecedented - it is sooo hard. But it is also the most satisfying and worthwhile effort I've made in my life. I miss you more than words alone could ever describe, but please don't worry, my longing to be home cannot restrain me from serving with all my heart, might, mind, and strength. And I will serve with all diligence. I'll love you forever! Only 722 days to go!
Elder Benson Ryan Gunther

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Benson's last day at home & MTC drop off

Callen was assigned Benson's temporary Jr. Companion after he was set apart as a full time missionary on Tuesday, July 2.   They have been so cute together as they have gotten up and had "companion" scripture study together, exercised together and prayed together.
Benson wanted to go to Daylight doughnuts one last time as a family before heading off to the Missionary Training Center.  He got his favorite doughnut, a peach bear claw.

We took our doughnuts to the park to eat them and then played one last round of "Lava Tag" as a family.

One final picture of our  family in front of our house.  Benson got all of his brothers and sister their own Albanian flag to hang in their bedroom.  He is already so proud to be an Albanian.

Dropping Benson off at the Missionary Training Center.

We had a tender ride over to drop Benson off at the MTC.  We all had tears streaming and his little brother Callen said, "Don't go, wait until next year"

Benson and his only sister Anna. Such good friends.  Always talking about life, relationships, and quoting silly lines from movies together. 

It was especially hard for Benson and Luke to say good bye.  Brothers only 15 months apart and best friends.  Luke leaves on his mission next year so they wont see each other for 3 years.

Dearest Friends:

Before I embark upon my mission I want to leave my testimony that the fullness of the gospel has been restored. I testify that Jesus Christ is the Savior, and that He lives. I know that God has a way for us to live 'Happily-Ever-After,' and that His plan is knowable through The Book of Mormon. I bear witness that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints contains the complete truths of eternity, and that it brings genuine happiness to those who live by its principles. I love you all, and will see you in two years!

Elder Benson Gunther