Last night I (Greg) had the privilege of having coffee (Albanian: kafe) with a Roma believer named Beni. He told us of his exploits living in Greece for many years as a bumper car operator for a local carnival. He eventually met a woman, got married, and made his way back to Albania. He now has five (Albanian: pesë) kids and sells womens hosiery for a living making only minimal money. He professes a faith in Christ, but doesn't seem to show any fruit and needs discipling. Will you please keep Beni in prayer.
There are also a few local Albanians in our neighborhood that we have befriended these past few days: Ganie (a government security guard), Chi Chi (a butcher), Goni (a local landlord), and Llana and Nicku (our landlords). Not sure if they are believers or not, but please be praying for them too.
Today was our kids first day back to school after a 6-week reprieve. They now go to a local private Christian school, grades K-8 taught in English. Both older kids came back from school elated and have already met many new friends. Coleman has plugged right in and met two boys with very similar interests as he (computers, electronics, and reading). Speaking of school, Marcella began her first language lesson today. Her private tutor is Yona and is also a Christian. Tomorrow, Greg (Albanian: Gregor) will meet his language helper and have his first language lesson. Please pray that we both pick up the Albanian language quickly, but efficiently.
Most of the day today was spent touring the city of Tirana. We were shown around by a fellow team member named Jen. She showed us some local shops, took us around to get documents copied, notarized, and taught us the ropes of utilizing the public transit system.
We are still jet lagged and trying to get used to this vast time difference. Please pray we get some rest and accustomed to this time change.
We spent the last two days traveling from the US to Albania, spending one night in London. Yesterday, we finally arrived in our new home in Tirana. While flying on the plane from London I was immediately struck by the Albanians desire to learn more about truth. What is truth? Two men seated in the row in front of us were having an intense conversation about God (Albanian: Zoti). One gentleman in the row next to us was reading a book entitled, "The Rules of Life: A Personal Code for Living a Better, Happier, More Successful Kind of Life". Albanians, after having been oppressed for many years void of religious expression are hungry to know what Truth really is.
After having been picked up at the airport by our Team Leader, we made our way to our neighborhood, but first stopped and had some coffee (kafe) with some local Roma. By the way, never say "cheers". It's a bad word in Albanian. When we finally arrived at our apartment, we were greeted by our landlords, Lana and Nick. They have kids about our same age and our kids have already made good friends with them.
Overall, it's been a wonderful experience so far. We have met many new people (mostly local nationals). We're trying our best to learn small phrases and words as we adapt to this new culture. However, we are a tad bit tired from the jet lag, and because the apartment has no central heating, we are trying to make do with the two space heaters we have to stay warm while at the same time trying hard not to trip the circuit breakers. Today, we unpacked, relaxed, and took a walk in the neighborhood. The kids have been playing non-stop with the Albanian kids and Marcella and I are preparing for our official orientation and tour of Tirana tomorrow while the kids start their first day of school at GDQ. We also have our introductions to our language helpers tomorrow and our first lesson plan.
Please continue to pray for a smooth transition and rest as we learn to serve God and others here in Albania.
As I write this blog update, we are less than 9 hours away from flying out of DFW airport as we make our way towards Albania. This past week since we've been home from Colorado has been a time of many goodbyes and last minute errands. Our shipping container is packed full and now on it's way to our new home. We are officially homeless, carless, and within a few hours, we will be phoneless as we transition to Albania. Last night, our family spent a lot of time in prayer, and time in reflection over the past year. There are a lot of mixed emotions. We're sad to be leaving our friends and family behind, but happy to be joining a new family of believers in Albania where new relationships will be developed.
We leave in about 9 hours. We arrive in London and have a 1-night layover. We hope to do some sightseeing, but have an early morning departure the following day. If all goes accordingly, we should arrive in Tirana on Saturday at 1:30pm. We'll keep you posted on our travel updates and the next time you hear from us will be from Albania. In the meantime, please pray that we stay strong as we say our goodbyes to close family. And, please pray for our family who are left behind. Lastly, please pray for safe travels with minimal or no delays.
Five weeks. This is how long we have been here at MTI. We can't believe how quickly the time flew by. As they say, "time flies when you're having fun!" And fun, we truly had. Our first three weeks we went through SPLICE (Cultural Immersion), and our last two weeks we went through PILAT (Language Acquisition). It seems we have learned more about cross-cultural missions in these last five weeks than in our entire lives. We gleaned a lot of good information that we will take with us to Albania and utilize just about each day. SPLICE and PILAT will truly be an experience we will never forget. And, we sincerely appreciate all of those who helped get us here, both financially and prayerfully.
Tomorrow (Friday) we head out and drive back to Fort Worth. We will once again stay overnight in Amarillo and arrive "home" Saturday afternoon. On Monday our container will be packed with all of our household goods, including our van, by professional packers. And then the container goes bye-bye. Theoretically, we should see our container a month later in Albania. After a few days with family next week we finally board the airplane for Albania on Thursday.
This is our last and final week here at MTI as we complete our language acquisition training. Because this is our last week here, this past weekend was also our last weekend in this 5-week program. So, as a family, we capped off the weekend with a leisurely drive up to Pikes Peak. We had ourselves quite an adventure. Let's just say the road was not quite ready to be driven on yet. As we approached the 12,000 ft point they had just opened up the gate to go up to the summit. Unbeknownst to us, an industrial sized snow plow was coming down toward us on a small two-lane road. As we passed the plow, we suddenly found ourselves facing a sheet of ice on a steep road leading to the summit. We had no choice but to turn around and make our way back down the mountain. Making a U-turn 12,000 feet up in the air on a narrow road with no guard rails made for interesting conversation in our van. Needless to say, we made it down the mountain safe, perhaps a little jittery, but eventually made our way home with no problems. We've resigned to the fact that God gave us a brief glimpse of the adventure that we will likely face while on the mission field.
This week at PILAT, we will continue to learn more language learning methods, how to shape our mouth, twist our tongue, and position our lips to learn new and foreign sounds. Marcella and I will continue to learn more Russian (apparently the closest thing to Albanian they have to offer here). But, we are more excited about learning Albanian soon. In the meantime, please continue to pray that we grasp these new language learning methods and that God gives us the stamina and energy to continue along in this program.
Perestroika and glasnost. These are the only two Russian words I knew when my Russian language learner asked me today if I knew any Russian words. I remember the days when Russia was going through a huge change back in the late 80s/early 90s as it transitioned from Communism to Democracy. My instructor told me she remembered those days too and reminded me that perestroika means "democracy" and glasnost means "free speech" and were the words most often chanted just prior to the fall of communism. What a blessing it was to meet a young woman who survived the oppressive life of communism and is now a born-again Christian helping teach missionaries to become better equipped for the mission field.
We learned a little bit of the Russian language today, not to learn the language itself, but to obtain methods of language learning. In most part, the methods that we are being introduced to are helpful. The method is quite different from what we are all used to in a classroom setting during our high school years. In the classroom, we were forced to learn from a teacher and only memorize what we needed in order to pass a test and receive a grade. In language acquisition, the learner takes control of the learning style and is not so much focused on pronunciation, definition or grammar, but comprehension. In other words, first start out by obtaining a general understanding of what word is associated with a person, place, or thing; and worry about the details later.
Aside from Russian, we received a primer in Pidgin, the native language of Papua New Guinea and other south Pacific islands. This again, was to help us understand how to engage a national or language helper in obtaining some basic language from them. Pidgin was fun, and it sounded much like how the character, Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars talks. Here's a sample: "Orait, mi lukim yu bihain. Gude". In English: "Alright, me look at you behind. Good day". No, this is not some cheesy come on, but the Pidgin way of saying "I'll see ya later. Good day." Thus, you are seeing "behind" the person as he/she departs from you.
We look forward to learning more Russian tomorrow and perhaps a little more Jeh and Pidgin too. Who knows? Everyday has something new in store for us. Gude.
Today was our first full day at our new 2-week program here at MTI called, "Program In Language Acquisition Techniques", otherwise known as PILAT. Already we are being taught how to make new sounds and noises with our mouths that we did not know we were capable of making. We're learning such technical terms as: bilabial and velar fricatives, aspirated and unaspirated stops, glottal stops, and nasal consonants. We're learning how to make sounds with and without our voiceboxes; and other noises only through our noses. We use tiny little mirrors to look at our mouths and see how our tongues are curled and lips are positioned. We also use paper aspiration meters to determine how much breath comes out of our mouths for certain sounds. One coach called all of this "calisthenics for the mouth" as we stretch our lips, mouth, tongue, and jaw.
All of this is in preparation for learning a second language. We found out the English language has 44 sounds, while some other languages, such as Albanian, use slightly more sounds; sounds that are completely foreign to us. The discovery of these new sounds and how to create them will help us become better equipped to learn the Albanian language. We look forward to what the rest of PILAT has to offer as we continue to be introduced to new sounds and new learning methods for acquiring a second language. Please continue to keep us in prayer as we are being challenged each day in learning more about cross-cultural ministry and language learning.
Today was more or less the last day of our SPLICE training program. Tomorrow morning we say our final goodbyes to the community of believers that we have shared our lives with for the past three weeks. Then, everyone will depart and go their separate ways. However, our family will be one of two who will remain behind at MTI for our next training course, PILAT (Language Acquisition).
Today was perhaps the hardest day for me (Greg) personally. We had to write down the names of people and memories that we will be saying goodbye to before leaving for the mission field. Suddenly, I found myself overwhelmed with a wave of emotions that I could not contain as I looked back over the past 10 years at our home in Euless, TX. This was the home that our newborn babies came home to from the hospital. This is the home that all of our kids have grown up in, had numerous family movie nights, wrestling matches, birthday parties, and sleepovers in. This same house comes complete with measuring marks etched upon an obscure doorframe each year our kids grew an inch taller. Yes, we will be leaving behind some close friends and family, but there are a lot of good memories that I will forever miss. I will miss the Saturday mornings for the past 10 years I have taken my kids to go get donuts and drive to the airport to watch airplanes take off. I will miss the bike rides up and down our street and on our driveway with the kids. I will miss the countless hours spent in our backyard swimming pool during the long and hot Texas summers. I will miss playing catch and swinging the bat on our frontyard lawn with my kids. I will miss taking my kids to school just around the corner and picking them up each day. This not to mention 10 Christmases, 10 Thanksgivings, and 10 Easter Sundays spent in our home.
I know there will be new memories made in Albania along with new family traditions. But, thinking back at the past memories will never be replaced, instead will forever become the very fabric of my being. I look forward to the new adventures, the new vacations, and our new home in Albania along with the joys and hurts we will all experience. I'm sure there will be new etchings upon another obscure door in our new home as our kids enter into their teens. There will be more sleepovers, more bike riding, and more opportunities to not only play catch with my kids, but kids from our new neighborhood. I look forward to this new chapter in my life, but I know I will occasionally take a peek at the previous chapters of my life spent in a little white house in Euless, Texas.
As we wind down our last week of SPLICE, we look back at the past few days and the issues that were covered relevant to the mission field. On Monday, we covered the topic of moral purity and the importance of maintaining it. Missionaries are not immune from falling into immoral activities, relationships, and sin. Therefore, remaining in God's Word, prayer and accountability is imperative. On Tuesday, we talked about grief and loss. Our instructor gave all of us an opportunity to revisit past hurts and losses to properly grieve what we may have not finished grieving. A lot of people expressed their hurts to one another, but more importantly to God in the form of laments. A lot of healing was accomplished on this day, and as a result, a renewed passion and vigor for God and for serving on the mission field. Today, we talked about the exploits of being a Missionary Kid (MK) and Third Culture Kid (TCK). A panel of former MKs and TCKs were present to address questions and issues relating to these special and unique kids.
Over the past few weeks we broke into small groups and talked about certain issues close to our hearts. Yesterday, we addressed our strengths and weaknesses to one another. And today, we topped off the time together by encouraging and praying for one another.
Tomorrow we begin to wrap up things and say our goodbyes. Just as we got to know one another in this wonderful little community, we suddenly find ourselves saying goodbye and parting ways. Parting ways physically perhaps, but certainly not in spirit. I am preparing myself for some tears to be shed and hugs to be shared. And I know some day, we will all meet again as we reverently bow before our Holy God and singing praises to our King!