Our family with some neighborhood kids in front of our newly received minivan.
Last week we finally received all of our stuff that we had shipped from the US, including our minivan. We also shipped a lot of much needed items for various families and ministries here in Tirane. It took nearly six weeks for it to arrive and by the time it got here, we had to wade through a lot of bureaucracy just to get it. It was truly a lesson in perseverance, patience, and self-control.
Albania is still recovering from 40 years of communism, and the government is really trying hard to become like the rest of the EU and the US. Sadly, without proper checks and balances in place yet, the government is still corrupt and lack the trust needed for good governing. Paying and accepting bribes are a common practice here in Albania. When we went to the customs area (Dogana) to retrieve our items, it took three days of jumping through hoops and running around town in order to avoid paying a bribe to receive our stuff. We were sent to various places and agencies throughout the city to get documents signed, copied, notarized, and translated only to return to the office with these things in hand to find out we need more.
This three-day escapade became quite exhausting and was really unnecessary. There were times I wanted to pull out my hair (what little left there is) and pull out the hair of others. When we finally did receive our stuff there was great relief and a sense of accomplishment. I was later told that much of this bureaucracy could have been avoided were I to have paid a simple bribe of 5000 leke ($50 USD) or more and be done with it. As a result of choosing not to pay the bribe, we were put through the ringer. It would have been so much easier to just pay the bribe. But this lesson taught me to be patient, practice self-control, and keep on persevering, because I knew eventually I would receive our stuff. After all, it is just "stuff" right? No. It is also our memories, our livelihood, and what little left we have of our home away from home.
I am reminded of Peter's words about perseverance and self-control and how it correlates to our faith and love.
"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love." (2 Peter 1:5-7)
Roma dancing at local celebration.
Local Roma burying their dead
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance."
(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)
Within just several days I have laid witness to many good and joyful things, while at the same time many sad and despairing things. On Sunday, Marcella and I were invited to a local Albanian home to join in the festivities of celebrating the birth of a newborn son. This same festivity also celebrated the birthday of a local Roma man who turned 30 years old. There was much joy and laughter, as we feasted on roasted lamb, potatoes, cabbage, and tasty red wine. There was also a live Roma band along with dancing as we all celebrated this wonderful gift of life.
Then, yesterday we received word that a local Roma man just down the street from us had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. I had just seen this man an hour before he died. He was only 48 years old. Roma mourn a bit differently than we Americans do. There was no invitation and everyone within the neighborhood showed up to pay their respects today at the mother's home. They were all dressed in black and many women were wailing and lamenting loudly in despair. Waves of people made their way to the buses and drove to the local cemetery to bury the dead man's body in a formal funeral ceremony. Within minutes the event was over and everyone made their way back home. The mood remained somber all throughout the day today.
Weeping. Laughing. Mourning. Dancing. Perhaps Solomon was on to something when he wrote this lovely and thought-provoking passage from Ecclesiastes. Life begins. Life ends. Life can be very short and brief. Life can be very long and eternal. It is indeed the circle of life. There is joy here, but there is also much despair. I pray for the Roma that they will someday see the Light of Jesus Christ shine ever so brightly upon this community and upon each of their faces. Will you please pray with me?
Greg teaching local Roma and Albanian boys how to play a new sport.
Right now our primary focus is language learning while at the same time developing relationships. Developing relationships with the Roma is perhaps the single most effective form of ministry. They value relationships, togetherness, and "face-time" more than actual learning in a structured teacher/student environment (i.e. church, school, Bible study, etc).
Over the next year or so, I will be earnestly seeking God's will for our ministry here in the Roma community we live in. I will be observing what the greatest need is in our community, prayer walking, and asking local Roma believers for their input.
I found out today from our Team Leader that one of these biggest needs in the Roma community is ministry amongst pre-adolescent boys. These young boys ages 8-13 are perhaps the most impressionable years of a boys life. This is because it is not too uncommon for boys to get married by the time they are 13 years old. Once they get married they are usually much harder to reach since they are busy working and trying to provide for their new families.
Sadly, most Roma boys have no father figure in their lives. Their fathers are typically not involved and therefore have no positive role model from which to emulate. Roma boys are usually left to survive on their own, usually leading to drug addictions, alcoholism, gangs, and a promiscuous lifestyle.
A life with Christ and a positive male role model for these boys would certainly change things for them. I possibly envision a Boy Scout type program for these boys, introducing them to recreational activities and outdoor camping. Also, instilling godly values as being: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent (the Boy Scout Law). All of these things, along with frequent Bible stories, would be used to point them to a personal relationship with Christ.
Perhaps this will be a future ministry for me. I don't know. It's something to prayerfully consider over the next year or so. Will you please help pray with me over this? Also, please continue to pray for our language learning acquisition so we can quickly begin ministering and serving the Roma community.