On this beautiful day here in Tirane, on the 1st day of the year , I reflect back on the year 2012 with great rejoicing and contemplation. As Frank Sinatra once sang, "It Was a Very Good Year". Looking back, it was indeed a very good year. It was a year where we witnessed a huge move of God right here in our Roma community. Earlier in the year, we saw seven young men (Erjon, Ilir, Indrit, Rildi, Xani, Masarjo, and Ledio) profess a new faith in Jesus Christ. These guys were later baptized and to this day consistently attend our Bible study each week in our home. Some of these guys have even brought visitors with them as they are understanding what it means to go out and make disciples of others. During the summer, we saw three neighbors come into a new relationship with Jesus Christ. One of these believers, Nazifi, whose wife Bona was already a believer, has been very excited about his new faith and is eager to see a community of believers grow in his neighborhood. In November, our friend Bushi, who lives amongst the Roma on the river also professed a new faith in Christ. His wife, Ejla, already a believer, is our househelper who comes to our home four days a week to not only work for an income, but spend one-on-one time being discipled by Marcella. Our teammates Don and Krystal who live about 5 minutes from our home have also seen a handful of men, women, and children come into a new relationship with Jesus this past year. Perhaps the most exciting thing to see is this new community of believers come together and worship as one body. Led by our team leaders, Dave and his wife Julee, this past year we have had a handful of gatherings hosted at our home and at our neighbor Nazifi's house. Each time there has been a sizable gathering of worship, fellowship, and learning as we come together to give honor and praise to our King. These are some exciting times and all of us look forward to seeing what God will continue to do in our community this year.
Compared to more "rougher" places to live, Albania is a relatively easy place to live. But, it can also be at times very difficult especially living in an impoverished community. As a family, God has sustained us and carried us through this year where we had to rely on Him and His grace day-by-day. Although in most part there were many highs this year, there were also some lows worth noting. For example, we experienced the coldest and wettest winter on record in Albania's history last year. As a result of these record freezing temps, our water pipes froze and bursted, leaving us without water for several days. Many days we often experienced complete power outages, leaving us without electricity (and heat) for many hours and sometimes up to a day. We experienced a few problems with our vehicle this year, getting into a few major fender benders (none of which were our fault), and dealing with mechanical problems. Our car is just shy of 10 years old, and we hope it will last several more years here. But, it definitely has taken a beating since being here in Albania. As one friend recently told me, "it has become Albanianized!" The engine light always remains on and it has enough rattles, shakes, and noises to make Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sound like a smooth Cadillac.
These lows were certainly offset by many highs. In March, we attended a mandatory team conference in Croatia. This was a wonderful time for our family to reconnect with our team and also spend time visiting a beautiful and unique country. In the summer, we traveled back to the US to reconnect with our family, friends, and supporters for 7 weeks. This was also an opportunity for Morgan to receive a checkup by her neurologist for her Myotonia Congenita. The good news is that she is doing very well and it hasn't progressed much. We also found out her medicine is readily available here in Albania. In September, Coleman and I visited Istanbul for a week, where we got to spend quality one-on-one, father-son, time together. This was a crucial year for Coleman since he officially became a teen for the first time. In October, we spent a few days in Vlore, where we also got to visit some neighboring villages and cities to see the many beautiful sites Albania has to offer.
This year was the year for visitors for us. We had two staff members from our home sending church (121 Community Church) come visit us to offer encouragement, see how we're doing, and to see where we serve. For the first time we finally got to meet our Pioneer's Area Leader from Bosnia, Jim Baumgardner. He spent a week with us, teaching a church-planting conference, spent much time getting to know each other, and planning and praying about the future direction of our time here in Albania. We also received two wonderful ladies from our home sending church who spent a week with us. They got to experience what life is like here and observe the wonderful ministries God already has us involved in. Finally, Marcella's mother and sister recently stayed with us for a week, where our kids spent much quality time with them. They also came bearing many Christmas gifts that we were able to enjoy this season, giving us a small taste of home.
As I sit here and enjoy the sounds of our kids playing together, I am reminded about how adaptable kids are. Perhaps even more so than us adults. Our kids have transitioned extremely well to Albania, where they each have acquired many close friends. We give many praises to the school they attend at GDQ. Without GDQ and the wonderful staff, I'm not convinced our kid's transition would have been as smooth. They each have a few close friends that they often spend time with. I am particularly struck by how close Coleman has become with his fellow classmates, all of which are missionary kids, and how naturally they have all bonded. I see great joy in Coleman's demeanor whenever he is with them. Likewise, both Morgan and Drayton also love their close friends and the thought of any of them leaving for whatever reason saddens them. Each of our kids have one or two local Albanian/Roma friends they have likened to as well. We are very grateful for God's provision in this area of our lives.
Marcella and I had a good year. Health wise, it seems Marcella has acquired some significant allergies by living here. And, I have borderline high blood pressure that I need to be careful with. But, overall our health is fine. We remain united and supportive of one another, eager to see what God will do with us as a married couple, as parents, and diciplers. We already see great opportunities to minister to other parents and married couples here. We each continue in our full time language studies and hope to begin transitioning a bit more into ministry by this summer. Not sure what that will look like quite yet, but are continuing to yield to God's leading on that. Our primary mission is simple... to make disciples and help form a church that is self sustaining and duplicatable. Getting there is what is challenging, but we can only rely on God and His purpose to make that happen.
Looking ahead, over the next 5-6 months I will be praying, planning, networking, and strategizing toward a direction that I feel God is leading me in. I don't want to get into any details yet since at this point it is only a vision. But, let's just say it has to do with something that will offer a long term solution to help the Roma come out of poverty. If God is behind it, then I am certain it will come to fruition. As things move along and come together I will share this with you in greater detail. In the meantime, please be praying for discernment and wisdom as I begin moving in this direction.
Finally, we hope 2013 will be a better year than 2012 for many of you. I know of several people who were laid off and are suffering economic hardship... I am confident God will provide. I also know of several who are going through trials of cancer and other illnesses... I pray God will truly heal you. Furthermore, I am grieved by certain events that occurred in my home country last year. Violence and anger has seemingly permeated our land. I hope more lives will be spared both in the womb and outside of the womb. I hope Americans will become more united. And, I hope the church in America will become more involved. There is no greater time than now for the church in America to become more engaged with society. Making change not through legislation or petty politics, but by getting into the trenches of society. Getting their hands and knees dirty, meeting people where they are and effecting their lives in such a way that people truly want to know more about this man of peace we call Jesus.
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.
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.
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.
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.