DURRES, Albania The morning dawned bright, warm and inviting in Durres for the open house of the first LDS meetinghouse in Albania, held Nov. 16-18.
An estimated 2,000 people came to view what 18-year-old Matilda Pajo called "a place of peace. We finally have a spiritual place that is truly ours."
Streamers were strung from the parking lot, up the walk and across the doorway in anticipation of the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Many community dignitaries were invited. Three national television stations attended with camera crews. The Prefect of the Durres District, the mayor of Durres and the Islamic Myfti, leader of Islam in southern Albania, participated.
District President Leonard Tako presided.
About 50 special quests were shown the building and given family home evening manuals and copies of the Family Proclamation. National news teams interviewed the prefect, the mayor, the myfti and Branch President Stavri Risto about the new meetinghouse while each stood in the crowded cultural hall.
At the conclusion of his visit, Myfti Eler Vokshi voiced his feelings about being invited when he said, "Today, you have respected the Muslims. We will respect you."
The building seemed to be a magnet for neighborhood children. They watched construction for the past year and were eager to see it. President Risto gathered groups of 10 or 12 visitors in his office for an explanation about the Church. They emerged reverent and respectful.
Success of the open house, said President Paul Clayton of the Albania Tirana Mission, came about because of months of planning and tireless work by Elder Dell Argyle and Sister Sheila Argyle, a missionary couple from Huntsville, Utah.
For the Argyles, added joy came late the night before the open house when two sisters in the branch shared their appreciation with a hug and with tears streaming down their cheeks. This building is a blessing in a country where so many have so little, Elder Argyle said.
A member of the Albanian Foreign Ministry remarked that "the setting was so quiet and peaceful." His comment stemmed from his surprise to see the building located in a park-like setting, landscaped with grass and trees, a setting not often seen in Albania.
With the news coverage of the first day, missionaries could not walk down the streets of Tirana, located about 20 miles east of Durres, without receiving questions about the new meetinghouse.
Attendance the second day of the open house exceeded the first day. A steady stream of families from the area came all day until the open house event ended.
As the sun appeared to slip into the Adriatic to end that Saturday, exhausted branch members, missionaries and the welcoming neighbors worked together to prepare for the next day.
When Church meetings began Sunday morning, this branch, where attendance had never exceeded 100, had 218 filling the new building. Primary had 50 attending, with another 20 visiting. Some visitors also stayed for choir practice.