Photo of the Roma ladje (neighborhood) by the river.
Yesterday, Dave and I visited a Roma home in mourning over the death of their father, who was also the oldest brother of eight and a grandfather to many. He was 75 years old and died rather unexpectedly. It is customary to visit the family, pay your condolences, sit and talk with the family over a cup of coffee, and leave a small financial gift (500 leke) underneath the empty coffee cup as you leave. Afterwards, we went down to the ladje (neighborhood) situated down by the river and visited with one of the baptized believers there. We had more coffee and talked about what was going on in the neighborhood and some of the injustices that are occurring amongst the Roma people. Just recently, some Roma families were burned out of the neighborhood they were squatting in by the Albanian government. These families and their belongings were destroyed by the fire and they have no place else to go. Before we left we prayed over this brave believer, his family, and his household.
Albania is desperately trying to become a part of the European Union. And, the United States is wanting to help Albania as well. But, Albania has some issues to work out before being allowed into the EU. One of these issues are human rights issues involving the Roma people. The US recently sent some money to Albania to help build a refugee camp with adequate shelter. However, the US and other countries are reluctant to send more money because of the corruption that occurs within the country, concerned that the money might be spent elsewhere. Supposedly, the Albanian government is now in the process of building adequate housing for the Roma community and a lottery is in place to determine a number of families that will move into the camp. We found out last night that one of these families is the believer we visited last night. He is now waiting to be notified by the government to move in.
This reminded me a lot of the plight of the African people of America. For many years they suffered under slavery, injustices, and had no civil rights. It was only in the late 20th century when these injustices began to overturn and the government stepped in to help African Americans get their feet firmly planted on the ground. I now see why many programs are in place and although it is an imperfect system, I am glad to see they no longer suffer the many injustices I now see here in Albania amongst the Roma people. I hope someday the Roma will be afforded the opportunity to have their most basic needs met (adequate housing, food, and healthcare). This should be a collaborative effort of both the government and the church. Sadly, the church is lacking and we need more Christian workers to serve here amongst the Roma.
Please continue to pray for the Roma here in Albania. Please pray the Albanian government will help provide a way for the Roma to begin having a better life. Please pray that any funds coming into Albania for the Roma will truly go to the Roma people. Please pray God will send more Christian missionaries to help serve amongst the Roma. More importantly, please pray that the Roma will see the true joy and happiness found only in Jesus Christ.
Greg standing outside of New Church in Amsterdam, now a museum.
"The extinction of religion". These are words I never thought I would hear. Yet, these are the words that describe the state of nine countries around the world. Based on census records, statisticians and researchers are now claiming that these nine countries are rapidly becoming "religious-free", in which people no longer care about religion*. It's not about being atheist or agnostic. It's about having no spiritual beliefs at all. Sadly, one of these countries is the Netherlands where our Albanian missions team has been spending the last week for our annual conference and retreat. Although the Netherlands, along with the city of Amsterdam is indeed very beautiful, it is also very spiritually dead.
Several days ago I visited a beautiful old church in Amsterdam that was built in the 15th century. It was stunning, very ornate, built in the Old-Gothic style of architecture, complete with a nave, spires, stained glass windows, and a large pulpit. It began as a Catholic cathedral, then changed into a Protestant church during the Reformation. And, now it has literally become a museum where worship is no longer allowed and Islamic art is on display. I was deeply saddened when I walked in and had to pay, not to see the church, but to walk through what is now a museum. In another part of Amsterdam another beautiful and ornate church sits near one of the many canals that wind its way through the city. Sadly, this church is no longer a place of worship, but has become a marketplace. I wonder if Jesus would have the same response today as He did when He walked into the Jewish Temple nearly 2,000 years ago. Enraged, Jesus overturned tables and drove out all of the moneychangers that had made a market out of the house of God as described in all four Gospel accounts.As I observed these things about the Netherlands, my heart was troubled and I asked myself if this could someday be America. One hundred years from now will today's mega-churches become tomorrow's grand museums and marketplaces? Will America, like Holland, once a light to the nations, become a candle with it's flame snuffed out?
I hope and pray that there will someday be a Second Great Awakening in Europe. A time when Europe will awaken from its religious slumber and once again become a place of religious fervor and renewal. At the same time, I also hope and pray that America will not follow in Europe's footsteps where religious expression will be stifled and nobody cares about religion no more. I hope and pray churches and para-church mission organizations will begin to readjust their target window and include Europe in the category of unreached nations before religion truly becomes extinct.
Please pray for the people of the Netherlands and the rest of Europe, including our mission field in Albania.* - Religion May Become Extinct in Nine Nations
With Roma father and his daughters. Greg is holding Marcella.
For the past couple of days I have made an observation about the people of Albania that has caused me to reflect a bit about the urgency of doing ministry here in Tirane.
Last night, my Team Leader and I went down to the lagje (neighborhood) by the river in the poorest parts of the Roma community. One man we encountered invited us into his home and we spent some time with his family in their tiny 8' x 8' shack. He was deeply concerned about the health of his 5-year old daughter, Marcella, but has no access to healthcare for her. She was unkempt, frail, and looked to be malnourished. She was one of the cutest little girls I have ever seen and my heart truly ached for her. At the same time, the man's wife was breastfeeding their 2-year old daughter, but sadly their was no milk. Her breast was dried up and the little toddler had nothing to drink. Hopelessness and despair.
Another man we spoke with was telling us how unhappy he was living in squalor for so many years. He exclaimed, "why would anyone live here!" He said he feels like he is living in a museum where the Roma become a spectacle to many people from the outside who come in and visit with empty promises. Many of the Roma go to the streets digging through trash in the dumpsters or begging for food and leke (money) at a nearby street corner. Just today I had a young Roma boy come up to me asking for a french fry to eat as we were having lunch at a local cafe. Hopelessness and despair.
Today, as I was walking to my language learning lesson, I observed Albanians walking along the sidewalk to and fro. Many of them seemed unhappy; lacking contentment, joy, and cheer that we often see in other parts of the world. Rarely do I see people with smiles on their faces or a swing in their walk. In fact, most people walk with their heads looking down and nobody dares to make eye contact with one another. Nobody says hello, good day, or even a courteous nod. Hopelessness and despair.
I suppose much of this hopelessness and despair stems from many years of being oppressed under Communist rule. But, I am certain that this same hopelessness and despair comes from not knowing about a loving God who truly loves them so much that He sacrificed His one and only Son for them on a cross in order for them to have life, a life more abundantly. When the Holy Spirit dwells within a person, hopelessness and despair seem to disappear. Instead, that person is filled with an unexplainable joy and contentment like no other. Being reconciled to a holy and loving God for all eternity... in a life that starts here on earth. That's why they call it the Good News.
In order for us to share the Good News with Albanians and the Roma people, we must first know how to properly speak their language. Please pray that God gives us the ability to quickly learn the Albanian language, along with the Roma dialect. Please pray that God will send more Christian workers and missionaries to help with the much needed work here in Albania. Lastly, please pray that Albanians will see Christ through the way we live our lives both in word and deed.
It's been two weeks today since we arrived in Albania and it's been quite an amazing adventure. Although we are not in our permanent home yet, we are beginning to feel settled in. All of us are now sleeping through the night. We have become friends with quite a few neighbors. We have developed a routine. The kids have integrated well into their new school. Our stomachs have adjusted to the new foods and drinks. We have become acquainted with the bus system and know our way around town in most part. But, the most important thing is that we have learned quite a bit of new words and phrases. They call this survival language. Words like: hello (si je), good morning (miremengjes), good day (miredite), okay (mire), yes (po), no (jo), how much? (sa kushton?), my name is Greg (une jam Gregor), I don't understand (nuk te kuptoj), glad to meet you (gezohem qe ju njoha), days of the week, months, how to count, how to buy things, and so much more. We have also learned the Albanian alphabet which makes it a bit easier to read signs and storefronts around town. Greg and Marcella each have their own language helper for 2 hours each day. We then have personal study time, followed by community time... putting into practice what we have learned. Thankfully, we have a few participants willing to hear us butcher the Albanian language. Our living room has been transformed into a language learning command center, complete with dry-erase boards hung on the walls, study table, flashcards taped onto objects, and a few other pertinent items that help us learn this challenging and unique language.
Please continue to pray for us as we learn the Albanian language. Also, please pray for guidance and direction concerning childcare for Drayton during this learning process which has presented a few challenges for us. Please pray that God will continue to place more Albanian and Roma people into our lives. Lastly, please pray that our container makes it across the Atlantic Ocean and delivered to our home in early April.
Tonight I (Greg) had the privilege of participating in a Bible study amongst a handful of Roma believers. It was conducted at one Roma believer's home, his name was Beni. He, along with three other gentleman were present. My Team Leader, Dave, led the study on Matthew 1:18-25 while I followed along with my English Bible. Dave was also trying to hammer home the importance of reading Scripture instead of ONLY praying which the Roma believers seem to do. Please pray that Beni and the others will recognize this. After the study, we closed in prayer and I was able to recognize a couple of key words like "falemenderit Zoti" (thank you, God). During the entire study, Beni's 13-year old daughter lay on the couch with a fever. The Spirit was leading me to pray over her. So, Dave and I prayed over her that the fever would leave her and be healed. Beni's daughter's name is DeNada. Ironically, DeNada threw up as soon as we were finished praying for her, almost as if the germs were leaving her body. She seemed to look better by the time we left, but ultimately we leave it in God's hands. Please continue to pray for her. Also, please pray for Beni and the several other believers in this neighborhood that they continue to stand strong in the faith amidst such spiritual darkness in our neighborhood.
Today marks the first full week we've been here in Albania. It's been an amazingly busy week for us: getting to know our neighbors, fellow team members, orientation, getting around the city, language learning, shopping for much needed items, and finally applying for our residency permit (Leje Qendrimi). The first few days were quite a challenge to get acclimated to the vast time difference (7 hours). Finally, we now seem to have adjusted to our sleep schedule. We also learned that Albanians eat their meals later than what we are used to in America. They eat late breakfasts, late lunches (2-3pm), a snack (5-6pm), and late dinners (9pm). The food here is good. They eat a lot of chicken, bread, and lamb.
Coleman and Morgan have enjoyed school at GDQ. Coleman has integrated well and met a few friends that he really seems to relate well with and share many common interests. Morgan has also enjoyed school and met a few new friends. However, most of her friends are right here in our neighborhood (lagje). And finally, Drayton, has fully immersed himself in with the neighborhood kids. Everyday he enjoys playing soccer downstairs in our "cul-de-sac" with a dozen or so Albanian and Roma boys.
Marcella has enjoyed meeting with the ladies of our team and has spent some fruitful hours about town getting to know where the best grocery markets and shopping areas are located. Greg too has met with the men of his team and has been shown around town by his Team Leader, David, while at the same time getting documents signed and notarized.
We signed a one-year lease agreement on our new home this week. Along with our residency permit, a signed lease is required in order for us to obtain our container when it arrives at the end of March. We will be moving into our new home at the end of May (see picture above). We look forward to receiving our container and moving into our new home within the next couple of months.
Thanks again to all of those who continue to pray for us and support us financially. Without you we would not have made it here. We look forward to seeing what the week ahead will bring and keeping you up-to-date.