"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
As I was meditating on Jesus' parable of the vine and the branches the other day, I was suddenly struck with the notion that we have grapevine in our very own back porch... a lot of it. How cool would it be to go out and see the amazing network of vine, branches, and grapes that grow out there. Perhaps Jesus' parable will truly come to life. Here's a lesson from our very own backyard.
This is where the vine takes root. This is the foundation from which the vine starts to grow. Once the vine takes root it is firmly planted in the soil and cannot be uprooted.
Over time, the vine begins to grow upward towards the sky where it will receive its nourishment from the sun and the rain. It will also be shielded from animals and critters below who might damage the branches or try and steal the fruit for themselves.
Once the vine reaches a certain height it begins to grow branches from which the grape clusters begin to grow. Little buds of small premature grapes begin to form around mid-May.
When a branch doesn't bear fruit, it is pruned back and still given a chance to sprout new clusters of grapes. Sometimes oversized leaves will choke out the branches and prevent them from bearing fruit. Occasionally, a branch dies altogether due to disease, bugs, or broken from the vine and is then cut off and thrown away.
When a branch finally receives the appropriate amount of sun and water, it begins to bear much fruit. A healthy branch that remains firmly connected to the vine will bear more clusters of grapes than others.
Communist-era tenement just around the corner from our home.
In just five days from now we will be officially moving into our long-awaited permanent home here in Albania. We will have our own furniture, our own beds, and something we can now finally call home. To say we are full of excitement is quite an understatement. We've been living in a borrowed small 2-bedroom apartment with one bath, one small living area, and a tiny kitchen. Two months prior to our arrival in Albania we were without a home as well, living in hotels, MTI, and at Grammy's house. We've been without a home and living out of our suitcases for nearly six months. As a family of five living in this environment it has certainly presented its challenges. In some ways we've grown closer than ever before, while many times we wanted to pull our hair out. Nevertheless, we are forever thankful for what we have. We're grateful for those who have helped provide for our needs, including the small stuff, even something as simple as a pot or a pan.
But, there is another side to this story. Each time we drive our minivan through the congested and polluted streets of Tirane, I am reminded how fortunate we are to have a reliable vehicle. Each day I walk Drayton to his preschool through narrow alleys with apartment buildings that look like they are about to topple, I am reminded how fortunate we are to have a nice home. Even though we gave or sold over half of our belongings to come to the mission field, we still live like kings and queens compared to most Albanians who live below the poverty line. My language helper recently told me that most Albanians scrape by with less than a few hundred Leke per day ($3 dollars).
More importantly, I am reminded by the words of the Apostle Paul who had faced imprisonment, hunger, and persecution about being content:
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
Lord, even though we are excited about finally moving into our home, teach us to remain thankful for what we already have and yet humbled by what others don't have.
It's been a couple of weeks since we last updated our blog. This has been somewhat intentional because there has been nothing new to report. At this point in our ministry we are solely focused on three things: learning the Albanian language, developing relationships with those in our community, and seeking specific ministry opportunities. Our lives have consisted of language lessons, personal study time, and interaction with others. This will likely be the case for the next year or so.
We did, however, pass our Level 1 Language Assessment this week. The assessment included the invitation of a local Albanian into our home, showing hospitality, and having a short conversation with one another. This was then followed with instructions to take a taxi or bus into town and meet our language coach at an unknown restaurant. We then had to ask for a menu, order food, and pay. Next, we went to a local market to ask for the price of certain food items, then purchase these items to bring home. All of this was spoken in Albanian of course and our language coach made his observations. The good news is that we both passed and we now move on to Level 2 Language Acquisition.
Level 1 primarily involved survival language learning (i.e. introductions, greetings, basic common words, numbers, days of the week, how to ask the time, how to get around town, and make purchases). Level 2 will involve lemuch more complex language skills (i.e. grammar, conjugating verbs, sentence structure, etc.) We look forward to moving on to the next level in our language development as we continue to equip ourselves to one day share and show the the love of Christ to many.
On another note, we move into our home in just a few weeks. Preparations are already underway. The landlord has repainted the exterior of the house with blue paint. We now call our home the Smurf House. And, roof repair has been completed. We will likely begin painting the interior soon and some of the flooring will be replaced. There is also a host of other smaller items still needing to be repaired. If all goes accordingly we will move into our home the first week of June. We would by lying if we didn't tell you we can't wait. Although we have been very appreciative and thankful for the apartment we now live in, it is small for a family of five (800 sq ft) and we can't wait to move into a bigger home where we can stretch out a bit and Greg can wrestle with the kids on the floor.
On a closing note, please continue to pray for our language studies and acquisition. Please pray we continue to meet new people and build relationships. And, please pray for our health, family unity, and spiritual vitality.