Friday, August 30, 2013

Flight Scheduled for Albania!

The Official Flight Schedule: SLC, Washington DC, Munich Germany, Tirana Albania. Leaving Tuesday morning for the Airport @ 4:30. Flight leaves 8:30. I'll be in the sky for a little over 18 hours.

Well, Albania, though 5,000 miles away, is no farther than just around the corner. 9 weeks has passed awfully quickly. Whoever made the statement "Time flies when you're having fun" must not have understood the life of a Mormon missionary. Because time F.L.I.E.S. when you are serving the Lord full-time. Even that is an understatement. 

In other news, I finished my consecration week today. Straight Albanian 7 days in a row. It was probably the most helpful catalyst in my learning of the language. I'm still far from comfortable in speaking or carrying out conversation, but let me tell you, it is coming FAST.

Well, I love you more than my time, which is about to expire, presently allows me to tell you. I wish you only the best of success in school and whatever pursuits you may choose. T minus 22 months and counting.


Elder Benson Ryan Gunther

 Evening snacks make for good naps.

          Probably the worlds most holy leaf-bug. It's on the Lord's campus.

The concluding picture of companions Elder Braden Richards and Elder Benson Gunther. Props to Elder Richards. He is a first-rate missionary.

   Another picture with me pointing at a map. I know it's cliche, but it's just what's got to be done when you're a missionary. 'Nuf said.

 Us and the bus. The preferred (only) mode of transportation at the MTC.

   I love to see the Temple. But I'd love even more to see a Temple in Albania. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Missionary Moments

The last of the awkward pictures with my dearest cousin, Sisar Schellenberg. She happens to be in a land far distant presently. Namely, Finland. She and I had a great comradry at the MTC West Campus. Notwithstanding that we couldn't do more than a handshake, it was fantastic to see her as often as I did. We were even in the same zone, and had lunch together on many such occasions.

It would be sinful to ignore the picture by the 'big map'. It's sooo cliche, but it was something needing to be done. Likewise, we made the trip to main campus for a photo. Yep. That happenend.

Tuesday night devotionals at the Marriott Center are unmatched. First, we walk about 1 mile to the Marriott Center from Wyview. Next we sing in the MTC choir, consisting of about 1,500 missionaries from everywhere, going everywhere. Then, some incredible speaker addresses us. And finally, the American Fork High School alumni meet at Portal C to mix, mingle, and linger longer.

This week's random landscape-filler-picture consists of a full moon. And that's about the entirety of it.

Vellai Eckel is (was) one of our language instructors. He took leave to resume school in his pursuits of Optometry during the fall semester. He is seriously the greatest teacher of Albanian on the face of the planet. So we were most blessed to have him for 7 of the 9 weeks here. I hear that we'll be having a native Albanian replace him for the last few days. We'll see how that goes...

Day Elder and myself got to host missionaries this week. It was pretty exciting, if I do say so myself. It was an ocean of 'dork-dots' (orange stickers indicating first day fresh missionary status) that swarmed the West Campus. We walked them to their apartments, dropped luggage, and threw them without hesitation into language instruction. Kind of neat to be a part of a missionary's first day.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

You've Got a Friend in Agim

My head hurts.  Albanian is tough!

Dear Family,

Unless I mention otherwise, just assume I´m doing well. In my letters home, I´ll try my best to skip the muha-betë (small-talk), because quite frankly, it's very routine and mostly uninteresting to write. So when I jump to whatever my weekly subject is, don't worry: I'm alive and the church is still true.

As a highlight of my week, I made contact with my first Albanian, or rather he made contact with me. His name is Agim, and he happened to come across my blog. He is a member from Albania who's presently on vacation in Florida, and he sent me a letter on Monday. It was probably the funniest thing I've ever read: He begins by addressing me, "I dashurplaku Gunther", which equates to "My dearest old man." Then he proceeds to tell me what his story is and how he found me. Next, he tells me his impression of me, which translates to "You seem to be learning the Albanian language well, but you appear to me to be prideful." Yep. That's an Albanian for you. They speak their mind, 100% honest and straightforward to even strangers. Well, the letter was written entirely in Albanian, which includes the absence of punctuation. And he must have been from the North, either Tirana or Shkoder, because it's part of the northern dialect to drop the second half of most words. So I had an Elder Calhoun moment as I read it aloud, "Elder, what language was he speaking? . . . 'Cause that ain't the language they taught me in the MTC." My language instructors mention at least once daily that if I happen to serve in the North, I'll be speaking, comparatively, the New Orleans rendition of English. And to finish, Agim expressed his individualistic love for me. Well, from this I drew an extraordinary enthusiasm to serve the people of Albania. 3 weeks couldn't be further away.

As another note, Richard G. Scott addressed us at Tuesday night's devotional. It was beyond awesome. He is beyond awesome. This gospel is beyond awesome.

On Thursdays, in 45 minutes, actually, we do what's called the TRC (teaching resource center). Basically what happens is you go and teach members who aren't playing a role, but just being themselves as members. And the entire 40 minute lesson is in Albanian. It is much more difficult than teaching pretend investigators, because you've got to change your approach and vocabulary for individuals who know gospel principles already. So I'm stoked. But mostly afraid. And I'm hoping to see Albert Behling, because he promised to visit the TRC while I was here, but I haven't seen him yet. So we'll see how things play out. And also, I really just want to serve in Shkoder or Kosovo. That was totally unrelated. But I had to get it out there. I'm a fan of the northern Gheg dialect. So if you would, pray that I get sent to where God needs me most. Because the areas in Albania are so diverse. And I have preferences already.

Well, missionary work thus far has proven to be the epitome of boring and the climax of happiness. 16 hours of daily exhaustion would only ever be satisfactory if this gospel were true. And it is true. Jesus Christ is the Savior. Thomas S. Monson is the Prophet. God is the Father. Missionary service is the grandest adventure. And 'happily-ever-after' is more than a fictitious finale to a fairytale.

I. Love. You.

Elder Benson Ryan Gunther

Shqiperia (Albania) - It literally translates to "Land of the Eagle People".

Thanks for the Reese's Puffs.  I thoroughly enjoyed them

That there is one nice leaf

The Hope of the Adriatic States ( Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia)

Me and Shoku im (my companion) Tuesday Night Devotional.

Weekly Sunset Picture - Sunsets are great as a missionary.

Thanks Elder Day.  You caught me at the peak of my best smiles ever.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

P-Days and a Game of Pride

My recent obsession -  buying copies of the Book of Mormon in languages commonly spoken throughout the now 3 countries of my mission.
(Turkish, Italian, Slovenian, Greek, Croatian, Albanian)

Dear Family:

All is well in the MTC. Thank you for your prayers on my behalf. You wouldn't imagine how close to you I feel at times, and it's more than just the 15 or so miles that separate us. I wish that I could expound upon every moment, miracle, and otherwise magic that happens as a missionary. But then I realize how bland and boring autobiographies are; so I'll write, instead, a collection of short stories accompanied with pictures to keep your attention. Please excuse my poor English- the majority of my speaking is now about the level of an Albanian 6th grader, rather than the former English university student. As a side note, you know your language skills are coming quickly when you struggle to remember an English word but know the Albanian equivalent instantly. I'm at that standard often, actually, as of late. And please don't think I'm bragging- I don't even deserve half the credit anyway.

Well, P-days are anything but what I'd expected before coming to the MTC. Thursdays, my scheduled preparation day, begin at 4:30am. I get up and get to work on an unreasonably long check-list. I have an average of 15-20 letters to write, of which 100% are merely responses to letters I've gotten throughout the week. Next, I do two loads of laundry; sweep, vacuum, and straighten my apartment; do 1 hour of Zone-wide service; iron shirts, shine shoes, change sheets; make a trip up to main campus; get a bite to eat, then back to work. Though not every item I mentioned is outlined as a rule by the missionary handbook, I know what needs to be done, I do it. Some missionaries confuse the word preparation with relaxation or naptime, but I for one choose it to be more synonymous with W.O.R.K.

As I'm reading over what I've written, and the remainder of what I plan to write, I get the feeling that my entries are largely a list of complaints. So I apologize if I sound whiny.

Something that's been weighing on my mind lately is the subject of pride. As a missionary, and as my mission plaque scripture states, "He who is ordained and sent forth, the same is appointed to be the greatest, notwithstanding he is the least and the servant of all." (D&C 50:26) Often times I shrug off the latter. Especially when it comes to language competency. With 13 others trying to learn Albanian along side me, I feel subconsciously threatened, as if it were some sport or something. I like competition. I like to win. So I get a little too excited during language instruction and study. And especially with my supposed expectations: In the language game, Sisar Schellenberg is distantly leading the Finnish. And Day Elder is uncontested amidst the Hungarians. So I feel this inner hunger for fluency with unjustifiable cause. And then I get over the top and lose the spirit for my selfish intentions. In short, I am not a perfect missionary. But I'm trying to be a good one. So with the help of the periodic reminders and constant availability to repent, I might turn out all right. You'd be surprised at how much upheld missionaries are by the Atonement. Namely me.

In other news, Montenegro has been removed from the Adriatic South Mission and aligned in the Adriatic North boundaries. Kind of a let down. But who else can say they're serving in 3 countries? Well, I love you all and wish I had enough time to tell you each individually. My mission is 5% over in about 12 hours. Time flies. Don't blink. I'll be home in a shutter of an 


Elder Benson Gunther

P.S. The number of pictures seems to be following a pattern of exponential decay. And they're not professional nor hardly related to my letters home. I'm trying my best to keep on top of it. But nonetheless, please enjoy them, keeping in mind I am an amateur photographer.

The Snack Shak - aka Wyview Creamery

Doing Laundry on P-day

Provo morning sunrise.  It's best when you're a missionary

Picture with Sisar Schellenberg and Day Elder.  Two of my closest friends- still awkward not being able to hug Sisar Schellenberg (cousin)

Limitless cereal in the new cafeteria.  The bane of my existence.

Also, varieties of juice in the new cafeteria.  Including POG.

Furthermore, soda.  I weighed myself yesterday - 151.
 I was 128 after my tonsil surgery.

(Cousin) Elder Jackson Gunther and Benson Gunther.
 Final farewell for two years.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Already August?

Clouds 'n Sunrise.  Same one you see every day.

Is it already that time again? I don't check my watch except to label journal entries. Dates mean little more than a frame of reference for my approaching departure date.
Today marks my 30th day since coming to the MTC. I can hardly imagine what's happened at home in such a seemingly extensive period of time. While it's been long here, it feels hardly more than one 16-hour day that's been stretched longer than most could handle. Oh, the work is so monotonous: wake up, get dressed, language study, scripture study, language study, scripture study, exercise, scripture study, bed. Repeat. It is the same EVERY DAY, but every day is a new best day. I wouldn't change it a bit. Funny how exhaustion could ever  be fun.

Sunday marks the half-way point of my MTC stay. Yikes! Will I be ready? I guess there's nothing I can do to stop September 3rd from coming. So I'll run full speed towards the tidal wave.

Because the majority of our work as missionaries is teaching the gospel, we devote a fair share of time to role playing. Day 2 we had our first lesson entirely in Albanian, and of course we used notes, but every lesson since we've taken no aid but our noggans to teach in the language. Presently, I teach two 'Progressing Investigators', Alma and Sidi, who are really my language teachers acting a role common to a typical Albanian. We teach them all principles of the gospel in the sequence they appear in Preach My Gospel, and have already committed both Alma and Sidi to baptism. I know that it's only pretendbut I've never been so thrilled in my life to hear 'Po' (yes). As of late, our lessons last a full 40 minutes, entirely in Albanian.

In case you didn't catch my last message, Albanian is sooo weird. Ne Shqip ( in Albanian) there are twelve ways to say any one noun. English has 2 (Plural and Singular). We have hosts of flow charts, for which each has its exceptions, and there exist exceptions to exceptions, even. Nouns have genders in Albanian (masculine and feminine), then you have to consider if it's definite or indefinite (i.e. the man vs. a man), then decide how many there are, then predict which case it's in (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, ablative), and check to see which category of preposition it follows, if any. Then you conjure up a half-confident guess to find it's wrong because of some rule in the fine print. And that's just nouns. Don't even get me started on verbs. Without The Gift of Tongues I would be a 6-year-old on Wall Street.

Anyhow, I want to thank everyone for the thoughtful letters and packages. They're 95% responsible for my sanity. They really do make my entire week. I'm a kid in a candy shop when we make our mail-getting excursions.

Missionary life is unprecedented. Amidst ceaseless work, your eyes feel like they're hefting sandbags, your confidence is comparable to oranges being ground into a pulp, and you stress in tenfold that of graduate students on finals week. Then, every once in a while, heaven sends one of those moments that rekindles your passion and gives you a glimpse of Godliness. Miracles happen. Lives change. And with each new day comes a chance to do it again.

I want to leave my testimony of the weighty significance of missionary service. It means so much more when you're actively involved with making it happen. You all have the same chance as me, though perhaps not yet full-time. Every member a missionary. Stand up. Speak out. Do something good. You might make someones day- change their life- I know that you could.

I love you all from the MTC.


Elder Benson Ryan Gunther

Look who I found at the Tuesday Devotional?  Cousin Elder Jackson Gunther who is going the the Cape Verde Mission.

We gathered together as many missionaries as we could find from American Fork High School at the Tuesday Devotional.

Still no touching Sisar Schellenberg (cousin and dearest friend)

       Packages are 95 %   responsible for my sanity.

I love you.  I miss you!