In missions, there is a lot of discussion about reaching the unreached peoples of the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Depending on what source you read, there are anywhere between 5,000-7,000 unreached people groups around the world. This amounts to roughly 2.7 billion people. There is an area where most of these people call home. In global missions, this area is commonly referred to as the 10/40 window (located between 10 and 40 degrees latitude north of the equator) which is comprised of northern Africa, the Middle East, and most of Asia. Many missions sending agencies focus on sending their missionaries to these areas of the world. These countries are typically dangerous to Westerners, especially to those who are preaching the Gospel where some can be kicked out of the country, imprisoned, and in some cases face execution. There is a large need for Christian workers to go to these hard to reach places and introduce the abundant life of Jesus Christ into these people's lives for the first time… offering them salvation, hope, and joy that comes through having faith in King Jesus.
But, what about the billions of people around the world that do not fall into the 10/40 window? There are many countries in the world that are considered "reached". But, many of these countries have such a low population of believers of Christ that they are really no different than some unreached countries. In many of these countries that have been reached, generations have since passed and now we have a new segment of society of either unreached people groups or devout atheists. For example, here in the country of Albania where we serve it is considered a "reached" country. But, the percentage of born-again, truly transformed believers of Christ is nearly infinitesimal (less than 1%). Right out the front door of our house there are hundreds of people in our neighborhood who have never heard the Gospel before. But many of their parents or other family members have seen the Jesus Film many years ago. When Communism fell in 1992, missionaries from the West flocked to Albania eager to introduce millions of Albanians to the Gospel of Christ for the first time. This, after being closed off to the West for 40+ years. Every village in Albania had been essentially reached. There was even an influx of thousands of newly professed believers of Christ. And, Albania was figuratively checked off the "unreached" list by many missions sending agencies. As a result, many of these missionaries left, with little or no follow up. Many churches that were planted early on have since died out. And now we are once again back to square one, a country with a very small population of believers and with a large segment of society whose generation today have never heard the Gospel.
And, of course there are countries that have long ago been considered Christian countries, once beacons of light to other countries around the world sending thousands of missionaries to the darker recesses of the world. Most of these "Christian" countries exist in central and northern Europe, but also including North and South America. However, in these countries we are now actually seeing a reversal of people coming to faith, where the Christian population is actually declining and many are leaving the Christian faith and the church they once grew up in. Many have become disenfranchised with traditional “Churchianity” and are embracing alternative religions or no faith at all. For the first time last year in America, Protestantism was no longer the dominant religious faith, being outnumbered by a combination of other faiths or no faith at all. As a result, missionaries from other countries like South Korea and Nigeria are actually sending Christian missionaries to the US and Canada, introducing Americans to Christ and involved in new church planting efforts around the country. And in Europe, in countries like The Netherlands and Germany, churches are now being converted into mosques, museums, and market places. And, some of the highest populations of atheism are no longer found in Communist countries, but in places like Czech Republic, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, and The Netherlands.
So, what do we do with all of this? What do we do with the declining population of those who profess a faith in Christ? What do we do with the increasing population of atheism? Well, global missions should truly remain global, not confined to a certain segment of the world's population; encompassing the entire globe, not just a focus on the "unreached" people groups of the world. I propose we open the window a bit more. Let's not limit it to the 10/40 window. Let's open it up 20 degrees more to include the former "Christianized" countries of the world such as Europe and North America. The way I see it, if we don't open the window, we will be calling America and Europe "unreached" countries 25-30 years from now. And, I mean that literally; where generations will have passed, and newer and younger generations will have never heard the Good News of Christ.
This leads me to another question. How do we reach those who are already reached? How do we reach out to those who have indeed heard the Gospel before but for whatever reason have chosen to reject its message? My guess, and I’m not claiming absolute certainty on this, is that many of these “reached” people are hearing a form of Christianity that is both westernized and institutionalized. A form of Christianity that finds it basis from an Enlightenment-era form of reasoning, focusing more on morality, debate, the afterlife, and following a list of do’s and do nots. And, I don’t believe this is the same Gospel message that Christ taught. People need to see love in action. Not only do they need to hear it through proclamation, but it needs to be modeled and demonstrated through our lives and our actions. They don’t only want to hear what you have to say unless they truly know you care about them… now. People want to know how can a belief in Christ possibly benefit and change their life now, here, while on earth. One of my favorite quotes that I think best encapsulates the paradox of abundant life now and life after death is this:
“Few people are interested in a religion that has nothing to say to the world and offers them only life after death, when what people are really wondering is whether there is life before death.” (Shane Claiborne)
We need Christians to not only mobilize around the world to distant and far off countries, but to remain in their own cities, towns, and villages. We need Christians to share the Gospel through both word and deed in their communities. And, I don't mean the stale, institutionalized form of Christianity to be propagated. I mean, the get-in-the-trenches, get-your-hands-dirty form of missions. Where we no longer focus on rules and morality, but focus on helping others, loving the least of these, and bridging the gap between the haves and have nots. We need to stop obsessing over immorality and obsess with loving others no matter who they are. And, I’m willing to bet this will require leaving the comforts of our own environment and our own biased socio-political ideologies. We need to bring the Light to the darkness and not expect the darkness to be the Light before we bring it.
A couple of examples come to mind of what it looks like to bring the Light of Jesus Christ to people through both word and deed:
I am reminded of my friend Don who lives and works among a shunned people group called the Roma, otherwise known as Gypsies. He has relied solely on faith to open a workshop in the slums of Tirane, Albania, enabling local Roma and Albanian men with new works skills and an opportunity to provide a better income for their families. At the same time, he spends time investing in the spiritual lives of these men through sharing the Gospel and conducting small Bible studies in his home or workshop.
I am reminded of Pastor Jeony who also lives and works near the slums in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He has helped facilitate a school program that enables children and their parents to receive an education and job skills, allowing them to leave their lives working in the disease-infested city trash dump. This educational program doesn’t go without hearing and learning about Christ. Each morning the children gather at the school to sing praises of worship to Jesus and learn more about God through the reading of Scripture.
Closer to home I am reminded of Shane who essentially moved from the comforts of his middle to upper class background and decided to live among the homeless of Philadelphia. This led him to start a new community revitalization project in what many would consider a gang-infested, drug-laden, and impoverished neighborhood. He, along with several others helped restore what was dismissed as hopeless, into a newly revitalized beautiful community where the homeless now live and thrive. All of this was accomplished alongside the teaching about God’s love, grace, and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith in action. This is how I believe we reach the reached with the Gospel message. There is certainly a place for the public proclamation of the Gospel, especially in unreached countries. But, in places where the Gospel is already being promulgated in churches, on TV, the radio, and bookstores; love in action is where people will truly see who Jesus is. And, this is what I believe the new wave of missions is to look like. Incarnational and holistic approach to ministry. Bringing justice where there is injustice. Enabling the poor to leave poverty. Reaching out to the disenfranchised, the unloved, and the oppressed. Helping men, women, and children see themselves for who they are, loved by God. Restoring them into the people that God intentionally desires them to be… created in His image, reconciled, rescued, and redeemed. Not for just the life after we die. But, for the life here and now. Making all things new. And, bringing God’s kingdom onto earth just as it is in Heaven.
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.
Works. We are not saved by them. We are saved only through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). But, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament are replete with examples and commands to love and serve others through our deeds and actions. It is not enough to only have faith in Christ to be a Christian in the truest sense. To be a Christian, we must have faith in Jesus Christ, yes. But, there should be something tangible to show for this. This outward showing of our faith is what the Bible often refers to as “fruit” (Matthew 7, John 15). And, this fruit is most demonstrated in the way we interact with the world and those around us.
The way I see it, as especially evident throughout the Gospels, is that there are two ways that we can be a great example of sharing and showing the love, the grace, and the truth of Jesus Christ. It is through both word and deed. And, there is no better example to look to than Jesus himself.
Almost always, Jesus showed His love to others by having compassion upon them. He healed the blind, the deaf, the lame, lepers, and paralytic. He dined with sinners and saved adulterers. He had compassion upon a bleeding woman, and wept with Mary and Martha. He brought back to life a young man named Lazarus. And, He healed a little girl with a high fever. He fed thousands of people with bread and fish, and cast demons out of many who were possessed. He looked to a widow for a lesson on faith. He loved those who were outcasts from society, including a Samaritan woman at the well and a prostitute who poured perfume on His feet. And, even while Jesus was dying He showed mercy for a criminal who was being crucified on a cross. This not to mention the greatest act of love the world has ever known… Jesus offering himself as a sacrifice for all of mankind in order that we may be forgiven, saved, and reconciled to God. He did all of these things through His deeds and actions.
Not only did Jesus show these acts and deeds of love by example, but He also shared with His disciples a story expressing the urgency and necessity for us to serve and love others.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25:35-40)
Another way in which we serve and love others is through word. Or, simply put, telling others about the Good News of Jesus Christ. We tell them about Jesus not out of obligation, but because we genuinely care enough about them to tell them about Jesus and why He came and died for us. To tell them that there is indeed hope, there is more than what this world has to offer, that there is an abundant life much greater than this. And, it is found in a life surrendered to Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ last words before ascending to Heaven to be with the Father were these:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17-20)
We make disciples of people by sharing our faith, telling them about Jesus, and teaching them the importance of living in obedience to Christ. Yes, Jesus showed love to people by acts of kindness and compassion. But, He also proclaimed truth. Sometimes with such great passion that people were awestruck. So too, we should be eager to tell others about Christ.
So, what do we do with all of this? Do we quit our jobs, sell our homes, give everything away, say goodbye to our friends and family, and move to Africa to become a missionary? Well, quite frankly, for some of you that may be YES. We must all remain open to how God will lead us to be a salt and light to this world. If that means giving up everything here, to go over there, in order that they may see and hear about Jesus, then so be it. We are ALL called to serve others and tell them about Jesus. There is no thinking about it or waiting for a special calling from God. He has already called all of us. Nor, is missionary work reserved for those “special holy” people. It’s for everyone.
For some of you life changing service may simply mean to be much more involved at your church. It may mean that you devote more time to serve your community. It may mean that it’s time to share your faith with that coworker that sits in the cubicle right next to you at the office. For others, it may mean to prayerfully consider going on a short term mission’s trip to Mexico next summer. For others, it may mean to adopt a child from Compassion International or get involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters. For some of you it may mean showing a random act of kindness by raking your neighbor’s leaves or volunteering at a local nursing home. Maybe it’s time to be involved in a prison ministry or soup kitchen to feed the homeless. Maybe you adopt an orphan from Romania or get involved with a social justice project rescuing little girls from sex trafficking in Cambodia. Maybe you take up the cause of the unborn by counseling pregnant women who are considering abortion. Maybe you consider getting involved with Meals on Wheels and deliver food twice a week to those who are confined to their homes. Perhaps you volunteer at a Children’s Hospital or help out at the Special Olympics each year.
And, last but not least, maybe it’s time… time to prayerfully consider moving to another country where people have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. Hard places like China, Indonesia, or Pakistan, where MILLIONS of people have never heard the name of Jesus. I adjure you to consider these things and ask God not when, but where He wants you to serve now.
This past weekend marked our one year anniversary here in Albania. It seems like it was just yesterday when we stepped off the plane at Rinas Airport and were picked up by our teammates. Now, it's already been a year and my how time flies when you're having fun. As we look back over this past year it's neat to see how God has worked in and through our lives. Here is an opportunity to reflect on some of these things and project where we think God may be leading us in future ministry here in Albania.
Shortly after we moved into our home in June, Greg had established many new relationships with teen boys in our neighborhood. After several months it seemed a new ministry was developing right in our own backyard. With limited language abilities, we asked a local youth pastor to come speak at our house each week about matters relating to faith. He agreed, and a new ministry was formed called, The Loft. Six months later this ministry is still going strong where we see 10-20 young men show up at our home each week to hear a message from the Bible. Greg will continue to invest his time and energy into this ministry, but also feels led to begin branching out to 20-30 year old Roma men in our neighborhood. However, language learning will continue to be his primary focus at this time while at the same time continuing to develop new relationships.
Marcella’s main job at this time is language, but as time allows, she has been able to explore and participate in various ministries. In October, Marcella was approached to consider helping (very part-time) at the ABC Healthcare Center, a local Christian medical clinic and training center. Even though it is only 5 hours per week, she has thoroughly enjoyed supporting the administrative staff, including participating in the interview process of a new Executive Director. She continues to work at ABC and supporting their new Director these few hours per week. As her heart’s true focus is still the Roma, she sees many ways for her ministry with the Roma to connect with the ABC ministry. In addition, Marcella has been prayerful about finding skills to teach the Roma women in her neighborhood and will likely begin implementing these opportunities over the next few months.
As a family it seems everyone has adapted really well. Two or three times a week we ask our kids where their "Happy Meters" are and almost always they are near the 10 mark. All three kids enjoy going to school at GDQ and each have their own group of best friends. They seem to really enjoy living here. Drayton loves to play soccer and has become really good at it. Morgan loves her best friend Anita and often has sleepovers. And, Coleman loves a new group called The Bridge for missionary kids. As a family, we have had several opportunities to take breaks and travel to various places in and around Albania. We have also welcomed several visitors from the States, including Marcella's Mom, sister, and two leaders from our home sending church. We often receive care packages from friends and family back home, always full of goodies that we can't buy here. Please keep sending those Chocolate Fudge Pop-Tarts and Oreo Cookies. They seem to go fast.
Last but not least, we thank you to all of those who invest in our lives and our ministry here in Albania. These include those who support us financially, prayerfully, and tangibly. We are truly blessed to have a wonderful support team back home. We truly couldn't do this without you.
Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimal means. In the digital and information age we live, things are to be more simple. And, practically speaking perhaps they are. But, in the big scheme of things it seems life has become much more complicated. When given a simple task or a project, committees are formed, multiple documents are created, and strategies are outlined. Budget plans are drafted, polls are taken, and branding packages are visualized. It seems this carries over into ministry and church too. Not to discount these things, but I wonder if we tend to overcomplicate things that don't really need complicating. Are churches and ministries any better off today than they were during the early church years? We go to conferences, read books, and learn how to become better equipped. But, what Christianity needs are less conferences on how to become better equipped and more action with what we're already equipped with.
There really is no right way or wrong way of doing ministry if we truly walk in the Spirit and let the Lord take the lead. Written almost like a Psalm, God declares through the prophet Isaiah, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord." (Isaiah 55:8) We may think we know how to do things, but may find ourselves wallowing in many failed attempts if we do it our way. Sometimes we just need to dive into the trenches, get our hands dirty, and do as the Spirit may lead.
In the seven months that I have lived in Albania and do ministry amongst the Roma, I have found that the most effective way of doing ministry is... get ready for it... grab a pen and paper... steady yourself... are you ready? Developing relationships. That's it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Simple. Getting to know people, entering into their world, and being real and transparent with them. Sure, some are guarded and others may thumb their nose at me. But, most are not and are actually excited about this new relationship that may or may not lead them into an even greater relationship with God.
Looking back through the Gospels, it seems this is how Jesus' ministry was most effective... developing relationships. Simple. He didn't have committees, daily planners, and proven methods and strategies. He didn't hang pretty brochures on doorknobs or iPhones to resort to for His next plan of action. Sure, He was God... He didn't need these things. But, He was also a man... in many ways like you and me restricted by time and place. And yet, He managed to bring thousands of people near to Him, healing them, feeding them, and expounding deep spiritual truths upon them that transformed their lives forever. How? By engaging people, talking to them, dining with them, holding them, and loving them.
I've argued that evangelism is much more than mere proclamation of the Gospel. Evangelism is what we do in both word AND deed. People will respond to the Gospel by hearing it and others by seeing it in action. If we truly emulate Jesus in all things we do, people will certainly inquire. Joseph Aldrich in his book, "Lifestyle Evangelism" says, "People don't care how much we proclaim to know until they know how much we care." Sure, I tell people about Jesus. But, sometimes I don't. Sometimes the Lord may lead me to simply help them with something. Sometimes this may involve having a cup of coffee with someone at a local cafe and just listen. Other times it may involve driving someone to a nearby clinic. Or, handing an apple to a malnourished child. Getting rid of a hornets nest from a single mother's home. Raking a neighbor's leaves or trashpile. Little things like these tell a lot about Christ. And, they're simple.
I'll close with another one of my favorite quotes that I believe hammers this point home: "Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words." (St. Francis of Assisi)
Do we substitute telling people about Jesus by always meeting a need? No. But, what I am saying is that not every moment may call for a presentation of the Gospel. Instead, it may just require getting to know someone and see where a need is. You may or may not meet the need, but at least you're showing you care... and that alone speaks volumes. Simplicity.
It may be hard to tell from this picture, but this little girl probably hasn’t been bathed in several weeks. Her name is Angjila, and God has been placing a heavy conviction upon my heart for her. I first met Angjila on my way to a local café. While on my bike I simply said hello to her in passing. That’s all it seemed to take for her to realize that someone actually acknowledged her. Her eyes lit up, and with a big smile on her face she hopped over to a nearby garden (kopesht) and picked a flower to give to me. I thanked her and said Mirupafshim (goodbye)! Over the next few weeks I periodically saw Angjila around our neighborhood, all dirtied up with matted hair, tattered clothing, and with a big smile on her face she would always say hello to me. Inevitably she would find another flower at a nearby garden to give to me. When we moved into our new home, every day she would bang on our front door with a few more flowers to hand off to me. I would place them in a small vase on our patio table and she nodded with approval. She loves to play in our courtyard, ride the bikes, play ball, and have meaningful conversation. But, over time she began to be more demanding and always insisted we let her in. Many times, she let herself in without our permission or knowledge. On several occasions we caught her fiddling with the door jack in the back of our courtyard and she let herself in. On another occasion we caught her on Drayton’s bike riding around in our courtyard unaware to us. Finally, we had to firmly but lovingly tell her to go away. We told her she is only welcome back if she knocks, and we answer the door to allow her to come in; a basic value and principle. One day, she came by banging on the door and I had to turn her away due to another engagement at the time. She went away with a very sad countenance upon her face. I peered my head out the door and watched her walk away with her shoulders slumped down. Sadly, I watched as an older girl passed by and flicked her on the head. Before I could get myself to the two girls, the older girl and Angjila had gone their separate ways. Time and time again Angjila bangs on our door insisting to get in. She would beg and plead. Finally, I asked her why she wants in so badly. Ride bikes? No. Play with our cat? No. Play ball? No. Then why? I just want to be here.
It finally dawned on me that maybe she wants in so badly because our house is a safe place for her. Here she is treated well. She is talked to, played with, given something to drink, a snack, and a place to just sit and talk. It is obvious to me she is neglected and possibly abused, physically or sexually. One day I found her wandering the neighborhood only in her underwear, with dirt on her face, and hair matted up. She still looked happy, but I wondered how much abuse this little girl goes through. I hope I’m wrong. I hope she is not abused and only neglected. I know that sounds odd. The thought of this little precious girl being abused just kills me inside. Angers me. Not having a bath or something to eat… well we can deal with that much easier. But, abuse! How do we best deal with this situation if in fact she is abused? We don’t want to falsely incriminate her parents. For now, the best thing we can do is to let her in as many times as possible. Talk to her, get to know her, play with her, and love upon her just as Jesus would. She is seven years old and has never stepped foot into a school. Today, I helped her count to twenty in Albanian. I showed her the Albanian alphabet. And, I told her about Zoti (God) and His son, Jesuzi and how much He loves her and cares for her. Then, I gave her some free time to simply draw whatever she wants. And, guess what she spent thirty minutes meticulously drawing? Flowers in a kopesht.
Please pray for Angjila. Please pray for wisdom and discernment. Please pray that we die to our selfish ways and remain available to her… always. Please pray that she is delivered from any and all neglect and abuse. Please pray that somehow, someway, through all the darkness, that she will see the Light of Jesus Christ.
This is the drawing that Angjila finished tonight. Flowers in a garden.
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.
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.