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.
We spent the last two days traveling from the US to Albania, spending one night in London. Yesterday, we finally arrived in our new home in Tirana. While flying on the plane from London I was immediately struck by the Albanians desire to learn more about truth. What is truth? Two men seated in the row in front of us were having an intense conversation about God (Albanian: Zoti). One gentleman in the row next to us was reading a book entitled, "The Rules of Life: A Personal Code for Living a Better, Happier, More Successful Kind of Life". Albanians, after having been oppressed for many years void of religious expression are hungry to know what Truth really is.
After having been picked up at the airport by our Team Leader, we made our way to our neighborhood, but first stopped and had some coffee (kafe) with some local Roma. By the way, never say "cheers". It's a bad word in Albanian. When we finally arrived at our apartment, we were greeted by our landlords, Lana and Nick. They have kids about our same age and our kids have already made good friends with them.
Overall, it's been a wonderful experience so far. We have met many new people (mostly local nationals). We're trying our best to learn small phrases and words as we adapt to this new culture. However, we are a tad bit tired from the jet lag, and because the apartment has no central heating, we are trying to make do with the two space heaters we have to stay warm while at the same time trying hard not to trip the circuit breakers. Today, we unpacked, relaxed, and took a walk in the neighborhood. The kids have been playing non-stop with the Albanian kids and Marcella and I are preparing for our official orientation and tour of Tirana tomorrow while the kids start their first day of school at GDQ. We also have our introductions to our language helpers tomorrow and our first lesson plan.
Please continue to pray for a smooth transition and rest as we learn to serve God and others here in Albania.
As I write this blog update, we are less than 9 hours away from flying out of DFW airport as we make our way towards Albania. This past week since we've been home from Colorado has been a time of many goodbyes and last minute errands. Our shipping container is packed full and now on it's way to our new home. We are officially homeless, carless, and within a few hours, we will be phoneless as we transition to Albania. Last night, our family spent a lot of time in prayer, and time in reflection over the past year. There are a lot of mixed emotions. We're sad to be leaving our friends and family behind, but happy to be joining a new family of believers in Albania where new relationships will be developed.
We leave in about 9 hours. We arrive in London and have a 1-night layover. We hope to do some sightseeing, but have an early morning departure the following day. If all goes accordingly, we should arrive in Tirana on Saturday at 1:30pm. We'll keep you posted on our travel updates and the next time you hear from us will be from Albania. In the meantime, please pray that we stay strong as we say our goodbyes to close family. And, please pray for our family who are left behind. Lastly, please pray for safe travels with minimal or no delays.
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.
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.
Today we had quite a surprise as we learned about how we each handle ourselves while under stress. Early this morning we were divided into two groups and taken to a secluded room and placed into a mock 7' x 4' prison cell with no light and and no view to the outside world. There were roughly 14 of us stuffed into this tiny cell, with simulated sounds of gunshots, bombs, sirens, and planes flying overhead all around us. There was smoke, flashes of light, and loud bangs just outside our cell. As a group, we had to figure out how best to handle the situation. Do we comply? Do we resist? Do we make every effort to escape? Or, do we stay in the cell and hope to survive? An anonymous source informed us that a rescue plane had landed and we were to choose five individuals to be released. Collectively, we all agreed to release four mothers first, along with Greg to protect and escort the ladies out to the plane. Suddenly and unexpectedly a gunman showed up at our cell door, tied up Marcella, and executed several other individuals; after which the simulation was finished and we were all released to our family and loved ones. Thankfully, the two of us survived.
The purpose of the simulation was not to figure things out or what to do, but how we each saw ourselves react to a hostile and dangerous situation. Ironically, both Greg and Marcella took an evasive action, prodding our group to resist and attempt to escape. However, most people were reluctant to do this and remained compliant and fearful to move out. How would you react in a situation in which you were taken from your home, placed in a prison cell with other hostages? These, and so many more questions were asked of ourselves.
Ultimately, the most important factor is to rely on God, for He is sovereign and in control over all circumstances.
One week at SPLICE has come to an end. It contained a mixed series of spiritual renewal, self awareness, cultural insight, community environment, and exhaustion. Although we are tired, we are very joyful about the information that was provided. Just when you think you know enough about cross-cultural ministry, WHAM! God whacks you upside the head and shows us we know very little. We are grateful for this. We spent the week getting to know other members of our community, each from various missions agencies, denominations, and backgrounds. We spent time learning about crossing over to a cross cultural environment and how to deal with the different nuances, behaviors, and mannerisms of other cultures. Better yet, how will we react to them? How will we deal with the unfamiliar? A lot of honest questions were asked and explored. One of many things that we learned about is paradox (Pair of Ducks). Our whole family has learned that “Yay ducks” and “Yuck ducks” can live together in our hearts. It’s expected for us to have both excitement and sadness when we think of our move to Albania. My “Yay ducks” are the excitement we feel when we think about all God has done to prepare us for this, the friends that await us in Albania, the opportunities for our family…. The “Yuck ducks” are the saying good-byes to families, leaving our church, home and schools, the wondering how long it will take to adapt to the new culture… It has been such a blessing to be among 40 other people who are here, feeling the same paradox.
When we come down to it, ultimately, it all comes down to one thing: "God help us!" We can't do this alone.
Today, we look forward to spending some time alone as a family, but also some time with the folks of our community. It's unavoidable, these fine men and women for whom God has called are all around us in this wonderful community. We plan to go on a hike to Garden of the Gods today, or we prefer to call it, God's Garden since there is only one God. For which we close this entry out with a loud proclamation of His glory. Thank you God for loving us, for your sovereignty in all matters of life, but most of all, for your Son, Jesus!
Today was our first "official" day of missions training here in Palmer Lake. Although, our orientation did not actually begin until 4pm. Therefore, we had a lot of free time to spend together as a family today. We went into town and visited the Focus on the Family ministry headquarters. A bit opulent for our taste, nevertheless, it was a fun place for our family to hang out and spend some time together. They had a neat play area for the kids and an amazing bookstore. Coleman bought a new Christian book series fashioned after the same genre of the Rick Riordan book series. So, he is looking forward to reading them. Morgan found herself some Chronicles of Narnia books and Drayton found some picture-story books for himself. After running a few errands we made our way back to MTI, had our orientation, and then ate dinner. All and all it was a fantastic day and we look forward to what the week will have in store for us.
We made it to Colorado Springs today around 3:30pm and were greeted by several people staying here at MTI through the weekend. Technically, we are staying at Palmer Lake, just a few miles north of Colorado Springs. Our car ride here was uneventful. Not much between Amarillo and the Colorado border. Pretty much flat terrain in the Texas panhandle. When you get to northern New Mexico you begin to see larger hills and mesas. Finally, upon reaching Colorado driving north on I-25 you see the plains on the right and the Rockies on the left. What an awesome spectacle of God's creation driving through this part of the U.S.
We stopped for lunch in a small town in northern New Mexico. I was corrected by a good friend of mine that it's not Rotan, but Raton, NM (thank John). We spent the rest of the evening unloading and unpacking five suitcases. The kids were amazed by the snow on the ground and spent some time outside before sundown playing outside and throwing snowballs at each other. We then had dinner at Rosie's Diner in town. We spent some time together as a family in prayer, thanking God for His provision in getting us here safely and raising up the funds for us to be here. We ended by asking Him for a fruitful and productive 5-weeks at this training center to become better equipped as missionaries to Albania.
We're beat. A bit tired. And ready for a good night's rest. Thanks for your continued prayer and support.
Today we embarked upon our 2-day journey to Colorado Springs, CO. Colorado Springs is where Missions Training International (MTI) is located and where we will be spending the next 5-weeks of our lives learning about ways to transition into a foreign culture and equip us to learn a second language.
We left Grammy's house in Ft. Worth at 11am and arrived in Amarillo around 5pm. On our way, we stopped at the Cadillac Ranch just west of Amarillo. Cadillac Ranch is a landmark in which a handful of old Cadillacs are nestled together in an upright position and which people can freely spray paint their own work of art upon them. We then proceeded on to our motel just off I-40. Once we checked in, we decided we must have dinner at the world famous "Big Texan Steak Ranch" on the east side of Amarillo. We were picked up (at no charge) by a Texas-style limo complete with Texas longhorns adorning the hood. The food was delicious, the environment was fun, and the entertainment was outstanding. And, none of us dared to eat a 72-ounce steak.
It's now after 10pm. Marcella just returned from taking the two younger kids to the indoor swimming pool while Coleman and Greg stayed in the room catching up on emails and Facebook. Now, all the kids are tucked into bed and Greg and Marcella are winding down for the night. We leave tomorrow morning for the last leg of our journey towards Colorado Springs. We drive up the Texas panhandle, touch the northeastern corner of New Mexico, and then on to I-25 in Colorado.
Please pray for safe travels. Many thanks to everyone who continues to ride along with us on this journey.