A couple of years ago, Elder Jonah Pingree was asking himself the same question almost any new missionary learning, say, Korean or Finnish or Cantonese or perhaps even English:
“How will I ever learn my mission language?”
For Elder Pingree, the language vexing his tongue was Albanian — an Indo-European language with a variety of challenging verb tenses, grammar rules and sounds.
“During my first couple of days in the Missionary Training Center, I couldn’t remember any of the Albanian words that I had just studied or even what they sounded like,” he told the Church News a few days before leaving the Adriatic South Mission to return home to his native Utah. (Elder Pingree recently completed his mission and was visiting a few of his former areas with his parents, Mike and Jenn Pingree.)
But, as Benjamin Franklin taught, energy and persistence conquer all things. Evidence of that statement was on display recently when Elder Pingree was interviewed in Albanian on a popular television show in Pristina, Kosovo.
For almost 15 minutes, the young elder — dressed in a familiar white shirt, tie and wearing his missionary name badge — conversed with the show’s host about his cultural experiences as an American living in Kosovo, the challenges of learning Albanian and his favorite local food dishes.
The host did not focus her questions on religious matters, although there were references to the Church, according to Elder Pingree.
“I said the name of the Church and that I was a representative for the Church of Jesus Christ,” he said. “And then I also talked about the family and how we help families to be happy.”
Answering questions on television in a foreign language, he added with a laugh, “was definitely intimidating. I was scared, but it was fun.”
Elder Pingree’s companion, Elder Lindis Marra, is a native Albanian and watched the interview off-camera. Their mission president approved the television appearance, and Elder Pingree even received some tips from public affairs specialists from the Europe Area office prior to the interview.
“Elder Pingree’s interview was excellent,” wrote Adriatic South Mission President Paul Burdon in an email. “He represented the Church very well and spoke fluently in Albanian. His friendly and happy personality came across well. I am sure that viewers could not help being impressed by him and that this will have reflected favorably on the Church.”
There is little public awareness of the Church in Kosovo. Only two cities, Pristina and Gjakosva, have branches.
“This TV appearance will have helped to raise awareness,” noted President Burden. “Our missionaries often get mistaken for representatives of another church, so it was pleasing to see that Elder Pingree got the opportunity to talk a little about why he was in Kosovo and that his badge with the Church’s name on it was clearly in view.
“This was great publicity for the Church and its missionaries.”
The mission president added that Elder Pingree “is an exceptional missionary and one of the best speakers of Albanian in the mission.”
Missionary work is limited in Kosovo, a country with a Muslim majority. There are only a handful of missionary companionships serving in Kosovo.
Elder Pingree’s interview came about after a reporter at the Kosovo television station learned of the Pristina-based Latter-day Saint missionaries, who were posting and connecting with people on a popular community Facebook group page.
The reporter contacted Elder Pingree via Facebook and invited him to join her for an in-studio interview.
Given his understandable challenges learning Albanian, the missionary marvels that his skills have developed to the point that he could conduct a lengthy interview. It was gift from the Lord, he said.
The interview has more than 23,000 YouTube views “and I got a lot of comments from random people and Church members who were complimentary of my Albanian,” said Elder Pingree. “But I hope it also helps people understand what missionaries do and learn more about the Church.”