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.
For all of my life I have lived in middle to upper class white suburbia America. Most of my friends were white with a few African-American, Asian, and Hispanic buddies along the way. Rarely, did I ever encounter any discrimination or hostility because of the color of my skin or my nationality. I heard many stories growing up about how black people were treated poorly throughout American history. And, sadly I have observed this same dislike towards Hispanics even today. I can’t say that I have ever been discriminated against. Nor have I intentionally discriminated against others. But, I know there were likely some instances when I may have thought to myself that I was better than someone because they were a different color than me, or lived in a different socio-economic status than I. But, I was never vocal about these thoughts and kept them to myself.
Being in Albania has given me a small glimpse of what many minorities face in America. When I walk past a group of Albanians I can feel the stares behind my back. Their whispers to one another speak volumes. Sometimes young Albanians will gawk at us and loudly jeer, “Hey Americano!” On several occasions we were charged more for an item simply because we’re American. Even though the color of our skin is very similar to Albanians, our family sticks out by the way we look. It is obvious we are either American or Northern European. We are truly minorities here. Everywhere we go, we barely understand what is said. Some Albanians get discouraged with us when we try to understand what they are saying. Traffic signs look foreign and if we make a wrong turn or unintentionally get in the way, we are scoffed at as crazy foreigners. Don’t get me wrong. In general, Albanians are very warm and friendly people. And, it’s not everyday we experience these unfriendly encounters. But, these encounters give me a reminder of what many people face in America. Whether it be the young Hispanic family just arriving in America for the first time; or, whether it be the 70-year old African-American who has faced discrimination his entire life. I am thankful that I have been spared the humiliation of derision and discrimination all of my life. And, although I don’t always enjoy it, I am thankful for God’s gentle reminders that discrimination still exists and nobody is immune to it. It’s real, it’s here, and many injustices are bred from it. There is nothing more I can say to this, except that we must emulate Jesus and take up the cause of those who are treated less than us: the poor, the weak, orphans, widows, and social outcasts. Jesus was there for them and so should we.
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)
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.
As we wrap up the weekend and gear up for the last week ahead of our SPLICE program we wish to recap the past week. We learned about the different styles of conflict resolution and how each one us can be classified into one of the following groups: Sharks, Turtles, Foxes, Teddy Bears, and Owls. Greg is first a Turtle and his secondary is a Shark. Marcella is a first an Owl followed by a Fox as her secondary.
We also learned about Stress Management and discovered how we each deal with stress. We went through a simulation involving: hostage taking, sirens, bombs, and mock executions.
We also learned the importance of keeping the Sabbath rest, especially while on the mission field. Even Jesus set aside moments to be alone and rest, and so should we.
We also learned about the different stages of transition to the mission field. We first begin feeling SETTLED at home as we raised support. Then, we leave home and feel UNSETTLED. We will then likely face some CHAOS on the field, but know that God will get us through it and will transition to a sense of UNSETTLED once again before finally getting SETTLED in our new home and lifestyle in Albania.
Lastly, we learned more about stress and pinpointed what our stressors are in life, how to gauge these stresses, and what helps us relieve stress. Stressors and relief is different for everyone. For relief Greg likes a good book while Marcella likes a good bit of chocolate!
Our family got away from MTI this weekend and spent our Saturday visiting the Royal Gorge Bridge. What a magnificent sight. The bridge showed the wonders of man's design, but it was overshadowed by God's creation all around us. On Sunday, we took a short hike up into the low hills of the area and enjoyed a family devotional, reading of Scripture, prayer time, and reflection. This was followed by lunch and a Sunday nap. We feel refreshed and rejuvenated and look forward to the week ahead.