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.
Pink Floyd made an album about it. The Chinese built the greatest one ever. And, Ronald Reagan once told Gorbachev to tear one down. What is it? The wall. This wall is also a figurative term often used for when a missionary is temporarily halted from their normal day-to-day life and finds themselves wrestling with thoughts, doubts, and emotion. Most missionaries find themselves hitting this wall by the time they come upon their one year anniversary of being on the field. A couple of wise missionary friends of mine warned me about this wall and I wasn't convinced we'd ever hit it. Lo and behold, they we're right. Just one month shy of our one year anniversary of being here in Albania, both Marcella and I found ourselves face-to-face with... the wall.
This wall isn't the same for everyone. But, here is what our wall looked like to us? Several weeks ago we had two car accidents, one of which was a hit and run. Two weeks ago, due to a hard freeze our water pipes bursted, resulting in no water and costly repairs. And, just this past week the flu made its way through our home, putting several of us out of commission for several days. All of this of course while living in a home that is nearly as freezing cold inside as it is outside. Repairing the home, while dealing with the flu, and having to cook and care for the family while meeting the demands of normal day-to-day life and ministry can do enough to a person's psyche to make one go stir crazy. The wall.
I would be lying if I didn't say I wanted to be back home in Texas with my friends and family this past week. Oh, how I longed for just one night to be in a warm home with central heating, a place to kick my shoes off, and kick back to watch the NFL playoffs on TV while sipping on an ice cold beer and order Domino's Pizza for the family. I would be lying if I didn't ask myself once, "What am I doing here in Albania?" Nor, did I hesitate to hear a voice casting doubt into my mind, "You're really not needed here, Greg." The wall.
But, something amazing transpired the other night that seemed to propel me over this obtrusive wall and see the other side. On Wednesday afternoon at our weekly youth event, The Loft, I saw five teens (Erjon, Masario, Sabi, Andii, and Indrit) come to our home with huge smiles of joy on their faces. I also saw two youth leaders (Egli and Diti) who seemed to be having a blast kicking the soccer ball around in our courtyard. Later that same night I had coffee with five Albanian men (Sinan, Mandi, Bashkim, Soni, and Doni) at a local cafe and engaged in a fun game of dominoes with them. The evening was capped off with a hot tea and raki at an Albanian man's home (Mandi) who was eager for me to meet his family. This was the same man who I had hired to fix our broken water pipes. I was able to be a blessing to this man by providing a source of income for him to help provide for his own family while at the same time he fulfilled a need for us.
Do these people need me? No. But, they need Jesus. And, without us being here, I'm not convinced they would have the opportunity to see Him. Although I'm not the best example at being a Christian, it is my hope that through my life, both the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, the sad days, the happy days, the days I am sick, the days that I am healthy, the days that I am tired, and the days I am full of energy, that they will someday see Jesus. And, this makes all the difference in the world to me. Seeing the joy on these men's faces this week gave me the full assurance that I needed to know that this is indeed where I, and my family, are needed. And, this wall... yes, there is a wall and there may be more ahead, can be overcome by reminding myself that my joy is not found in external things, but only in Christ Jesus... the source of true joy.
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4)
About a month ago, I finished reading a book by one of my favorite Christian authors, Max Lucado. The title of this book is “God Came Near”, arguably his best written and perhaps most popular book. One of the chapters in this book he aptly names “Women of Winter” in which he recollects the biblical stories of several women whose lives were deeply changed by their encounter with Jesus. These were not your ordinary women, certainly not the pillars of their communities. In fact, they were shunned from society, social outcasts, untouchables. There is the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman who had a bleeding problem, and of course the harlot who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet. Three women. One rejected. One dying. One lonely. By the world’s standards these three women could give nothing in return. They’d served their purpose: borne their children, fed their families, pleased their men. Now it was time to push them out into the cold until they died, making room for the young and spotless. That’s where Jesus found them. Shivering in the icy sleet of uselessness. The raw winter of life.
As I was reading this chapter I couldn’t help but think of a particular Roma lady in our neighborhood. Her name is Zana. To most people around here she is a nobody. An outcast. Poor. Too many kids. A beggar. A nuisance. In fact, her own husband has pushed her out of his home along with her seven children. Were these children all from the same father? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I have my doubts. Ironically, Zana also has a disability. She can barely walk with a pronounced limp to her step. And although she is likely not much older than 30 years old, she looks like she is at least 50 with tanned leathered skin and wrinkles spread across her face. Zana can be found in the center of town each day, with a blanket spread out upon the sidewalk as she sits down with her hand held out begging for money. Somehow through all of this hardship she manages a smile on her face each time we see her. She has invited us into her shack of a home and served us coffee while her little children are playing in the trash heap behind her home where flies and feces can be found. She never seems to worry much about what ails her or her family. There seems to be a confidence that carries her each step of the way. I am deeply moved by the tenacity of this little woman.
Society doesn’t know what to do with these women. Sadly, even the Church doesn’t know what to do with them either. These women might find a warmer reception at the corner bar or tavern than in a Sunday school class. But, Jesus would find a place for them. He would find a place for them because He cares. And He cares unconditionally. No one would have blamed Jesus for ignoring the three women. To have turned His head would have been much easier, less controversial, and not nearly as risky. But God, who made them, couldn’t do that. And we, who follow Him, can’t either.
To the woman at the well:
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
To the bleeding woman:
Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. (Matthew 9:22)
Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3)
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.
Roma rummaging through trash heap.
In 2008 I had the opportunity to serve the poorest of poor. There is a people group in Honduras known as, "the people of the dump" who literally live, eat, work, and sleep in the city trash dump. Inside this trash dump there exists disease, human excrement, germs; where people can be found working near mangy dogs, cows, and vultures. The smell is nauseating and the flies are numerous. Many people have called it, "Hell on earth". Here in Albania there exists something similar. Although the Roma don't live in a city trash dump, they live right on the banks of a river that acts as a city trash dump. People from all around come here to eliminate their trash in this small neighborhood that seems hidden from the rest of society. Like Honduras, disease, feces, and germs exist here. Mangy dogs can be seen fighting over half-eaten food. Adults and kids often rummage through this trash seeing what they can round up for themselves. In fact, their houses are made from this same scrap material. I can't imagine waking up everyday to this life. It's no wonder many of the Roma revert to alcohol and drugs... draining out their depression and hopelessness. They often ask, "Where is God in all of this? He's not here." Hell on earth.
Alleyway in Roma neighborhood.
Jesus often spoke about hell throughout the Gospels. We get the English word "hell" from the Greek "Gehenna". And, Gehenna means "Valley of Hinnom" (Nehemiah 11:30). During Jesus' time, this was a literal place existing on the outskirts of the city of Jerusalem. It is believed this place acted as the city trash dump. It was also the place that many pagans sacrificed children to their gods (2 Chronicles 33:6). Here, there was "gnashing of teeth" often associated with dogs fighting for scraps. Fires were used to burn corpses and other waste. Jesus' audience included 1st century Jews, and they knew of this place that He often spoke of. They associated it with a place nobody dare venture into. It was for all intents and purposes... Hell on earth.
Three boys from the Roma neighborhood.
I don't want to get into some theological discussion about hell. There is enough of that already going on. But, what I do want to focus on is the hell that many people are already living here on earth right now. It's hard to imagine places like this actually exist. Especially during this 21st-century we live in, with the numerous technological advances and modern comforts we have. We have the ability to tap into resources we've never had before. We have the ability to end poverty, hunger, and disease. And although there are a great many organizations and ministries already doing this, there is not enough. Nearly 2,000 years ago Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God more than any other topic. And, I believe Jesus equipped us with the ability to bring the kingdom of God to people who are living in hell on earth... now. He charged us with caring for "the least of these". As I gaze upon the Roma neighborhood and see a lone naked child rummaging through the trash, I am overwhelmed with raw emotion. I ask myself "Why?!". Why, does this dear child deserve this? I don't have an answer. But, I know that the only way this child will be helped is by God calling out more people from the comforts of their own lives and bringing them here to work. Bringing the kingdom of God to these people. Letting the light of Jesus Christ pierce the darkness they now live in.
Roma hous made of scrap material.
Please, will you prayerfully consider joining in this work? Consider this a plea. We don't need money... yet. We need people. We need you. We need people who believe in the words of Christ to care for the poor, the widow, and orphans. The message of love, grace, and compassion. The message of hope that cannot be found in programs, organizations, or strategies, but only in Jesus Christ. We need people willing to jump into the trenches, get their hands dirty, and help lift up the very people that Jesus is drawn to. Mother Theresa once said, "First we meditate on Jesus, and then we go out and look for him in disguise amongst the poor." We see Jesus everyday in the Roma begging in the streets of Tirane. We see Jesus in the naked Roma boy digging through the trash heap. We see Jesus in the drunk Roma man wallowing in his sorrows on the side of the alley. And, we see Jesus in the helpless Roma woman who is beaten by her husband. Will you join us? Will you come see Jesus with us?
"The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
For the past 24 hours I have felt the weight of the Holy Spirit’s conviction. When that happens, my mind starts asking my heart lots of questions. Why am I feeling this way? What is God telling me?
It all started yesterday as I was driving with a friend down the busy Lana Blvd. here in Tirane. She and I had just had an amazing visit with some of Albania’s poorest people, in their “home” by the river. Our hearts are tender toward them and we both want to show them the love of Christ. As I was driving, I was learning so much from my friend as we were discussing different strategies in the global scene of how to help them. I remember saying “sometimes we don’t see the forest from the trees “– me describing myself as seeing the trees and her seeing the forest, because of our differing daily roles here in Tirane. I was so interested in hearing what she had to say and saying what I was thinking that I was in auto pilot for what happened next.
As we were stopped at the red light, and my windshield was squirted with water from a Roma boy – I was quick to turn on my windshield wipers to communicate to him that I did not want my windows cleaned. First, let me tell you that all around Tirane, at almost every intersection of the Lana Blvd, there are many beggars, and every time I see them, it’s an inner struggle. If we give them money, we are reinforcing their bondage of begging. Early on, based on this thought and conversations with other believers, we had decided not to give them money (Leke) when we see them. Is that right? I don’t know. Aren’t they who Jesus refers to as the least of these? Yes.
The boy was very persistent in his effort to obtain some leke. I tried to ignore him, and eventually rolled down my window and offered him my water, which he did not want. He went on to another vehicle or the light turned green, I don’t recall, but I immediately felt badly and even began to explain to my friend all the justifications for what I had done. No matter how many “good things” I can think of that I do for the poor, it doesn’t cancel out this act. It still makes me teary.
Conviction. It’s painful sometimes, but without it we aren’t as moved to be more like Him. Thank you God for taking the time to show me how my actions certainly broke your heart and the heart of someone you love. I am grateful that this lesson is done in love and is not for me to feel badly about myself, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ! I got so interested in talking about the forest that I ignored the beautiful tree you placed right in front of me.
1. Isn’t it my intention to show Christ’s character in all that I do? Yes.
2. What evidence of Christ is in me while I ignore the beggars at these intersections? None.
3. What must my behavior look like at these intersections if I am to show Christ to them?
I’d love to say I have the answer for this, but I don’t. I may even avoid driving for a while till I have a sense of what God wants me to do. This is what I am still praying through and would love to hear others’ insights. Feels a little paralyzing, but I know the Lord will show me the way.
Thousands of Muslims pray in Skanderbeg Square. (Tirane, Albania)
Today marks the first day of the holy month of Ramadan. Here in Tirane, the mood was set at sunup with the call to prayer emanating from the tall spires of neighboring mosques. Many of the poor walked the city streets banging their drums reminding Muslims to give alms to those less fortunate. In light of this holy month of Ramadan, I spent some time in reflection and prayer for our Muslim friends. It is my hope that God will pierce through spiritual strongholds and reveal himself to many Muslims throughout Albania and the rest of the globe during this time of fasting and prayer.
As Christians, I think it is important we understand what Muslims believe. Not to discredit or criticize them. But, to gently and lovingly show them the truth found only in Jesus Christ. We should also refrain from demonizing and mischaracterizing Muslims. Remember, Muslims are not our enemy... Satan is. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12)
To gain a better understanding of what Muslims believe, David Souther from EvanTell ministries posted a great article on the Evangelism.net website today that I want to share with you. It's entitled, "Christianity and Islam: A Sharp Contrast". The article touches upon the foundational tenets of the Muslim faith and shows some of the differences between Islam and Christianity.
Ramadan has officially started in the United States, and because of that during the next two weeks we will be writing about sharing the gospel with our Muslim neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Along with today’s post, we’ll discuss some pointers to keep in mind when sharing Christ with Muslims and give our review of the book The Gospel for Muslims. To begin an effective dialog with people, it is important to understand their point of view. Here are six main beliefs of Islam and how they contrast with Christianity:
1. There is one God. According to Islam, God does not exist in three persons, therefore, there is no trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Also, God cannot have a Son and cannot become a man, therefore, Jesus was not divine.
2. God created angels. Islam teaches that one sits on one’s right shoulder recording good deeds; another sits on one’s left shoulder recording the bad deeds. On judgment day, these records are opened and on the basis of them the person is rewarded or punished.
3. God appointed a prophet for every age. This line starts with Adam and ends with Muhammad. Jesus is viewed as only a prophet. Muhammad is the last and greatest of the prophets, the “Seal of the Prophets.” His words have final authority.
4. Holy Books. Muslims believe that every prophet was given a holy book by God. Muhammad believed each book was pre-existent and sent down to each prophet as needed. The Quran supersedes all previous scriptures.
5. The Day of Judgment. God will judge the world on the “Day of Doom.” Everyone’s good deeds will be weighed on a balance scale against his bad deeds. Paradise awaits those whose good deeds outweigh his bad deeds. A fiery hell awaits those whose bad deeds outweigh their good deeds.
6. Duties of Islam
a. The Confession of the Creed (Shahadah) - “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet.”
b. Ritual Prayer (Salat) – This occurs 5 times a day.
c. Giving of Alms (Zakat) – Giving a portion of your income to the poor or to religious causes.
d. Keeping the 30 Day Fast (Sawm) – You may not eat from sunrise to sunset during the lunar month of Ramadan.
e. Going on the Pilgrimage (Hajj) – Once in his lifetime, the pilgrim is to travel to Mecca and perform various other duties while there.
As you can see, Islam is in sharp contrast to the gospel of the Bible because it teaches that Jesus is not divine, did not die on the cross, and that no one can die for anyone else’s sin. In Islam, the answer to sin is good works. In Christianity, the answer is Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. As you can see, Jesus Christ is the main issue that divides Islam and Christianity."
Adapted from the book Healing the Broken Family of Abraham: New Life for Muslims
Albanian elders playing dominoes on the side of the street.
I was having a conversation with a group of buddies of mine the other day. And, we were all sharing some general observations we had made about Albanians. One of my friends chimed in and said Albanians seem discontent and unhappy. But, on the other hand, families remain together, kids seem joyful and playful, people gather together outside where there is a general sense of joy, happiness, and contentment. In fact, the remark was made that Albanians seem to be more content than many of us Americans do. So, we all agreed that Albanians are likely content, but have a feeling of hopelessness that has permeated their society here. A melancholic feeling of despair where things don't seem to be getting any better for them. You can just see it on their faces.
Many Albanians I have talked to share with me of their disapproval with their government, the economy, and overall living conditions. One Albanian told me while living under Communism he and his family at least had food on their table everyday. Now, they don't. While freedom is certainly valued here, it comes with a price. With a low income, minimal job opportunities, a poor economy, and a government that is reluctant to fully move forward, Albanians are indeed feeling hopeless. Sadly, many Albanians resort to gambling, drugs, and alcohol to medicate this feeling. While others work tirelessly 7 days a week, from sunup to sundown, trying to make ends meet. Many Albanians live on a loan-based system, borrowing money from their wealthier friends and then remaining indebted to them for the rest of their lives. Essentially becoming slaves. If the loans aren't paid back within a reasonable time, often serious repercussions are the result.
As Christians, even we struggle with discontentment at times. I know I do. It's a learned behavior to become content. Even the Apostle Paul had to learn to become content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:12). We know the answer is not found in government, economy, or money. The answer to hopelessness and despair is found in Christ. The only way I see it, is that Albanians need to be taught about hope. What hope? The hope found only in Jesus Christ. And, the only way they will know this is by us sharing it with them. The only problem is, there are only a couple of hundred missionaries here. But, there are several millions of Albanians. We need more Christians to come here and share with them the message of hope. The hope that there is something indeed better than this life. An abundant life. A life of hope that can begin now, and will span for all eternity within the presence of a loving and holy God.
"Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God."
"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life."
(1 John 5:13)
Greg playing volleyball with neighborhood teens.
Something amazing transpired last week. But, before I share this great miracle with you, a little background information is required. For the past few months since we've lived here, a small group of teen boys have been giving me trouble. They're a bunch of rebellious teens trying to be cool and impress their friends. Each time I walk by them or ride my bike past them they have something to say to me that they know I don't understand. Each time it is followed by laughter from those in their little group. Obviously the remarks are derisive and mocking. They do this because they know I'm a foreigner and won't understand them. One time, one of these guys spit on Coleman as he was walking by. I've confronted them twice with some pretty harsh words to say, warning them to back off.
Last week the final straw was drawn as I and Coleman rode by them on our bikes and one of the guys said something to us in Albanian while the rest of the boys laughed at us. I got off my bike. Walked over to the jokester, got into his face, and had a few choice words with him. Christlike? Probably not. And, perhaps I let my anger get the best of me. Although, they likely didn't understand what I told them, we walked away with the understanding that these boys best leave us alone or their will be further consequences. I was deeply frazzled and bothered by these boys who I'm supposed to be ministering to and become a positive role model for. Sadly, many of these boys don't know what respect is because it's not modeled in their own homes. Often, their fathers beat them and kick them out of the house. And, here I am yelling at them just like their own fathers do. Deeply bothered, I called up a couple of members of my field team and we gathered together to discuss this and spent a good amount of time in prayer.
When I returned home from the prayer, the group of teens were still hanging around the same spot near our house. You can just hear the awkward silence as I rode by them. I went inside our courtyard, dropped off the bike, and sat down in my thinking chair inside my home. Actually, it's a brown leather Lazy-Boy recliner that inevitably puts anyone to sleep who dares to sit in it. As I was sitting, I prayed and the Spirit led me to go sit amongst these boys outside and just listen to them. If the opportunity allows, engage them and see where the conversation may lead.
I setup my camping chair amongst the group of teens. They looked at me as if I was a little crazy. I just sat there. I didn't say a word. Inevitably, they approached me and asked a lot of questions. They asked why we're here and what do I do for a living. I told them I'm simply a missionary, to tell people about God and to help them in a way that Christ would help them. I told them of my visions of starting a church in our community. I told them I want to teach them how to gain some basic skills so they can make a decent living providing for their future families. I want to teach them important values and principles of life that will help them gain respect amongst their peers and in their community. They were elated to hear this and were eager to kickstart this vision for me... right now. I told them I needed some time to learn the language first. We had a small conversation about God and they wanted to know the differences between Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus. My answer? Only one of these men claimed to be the Son of God and He still lives. I didn't criticize their beliefs, but only reinforced what I know to be true about Christ. This deeply interested them. Especially the one boy who was a Muslim.
The conversation came to an end and then suddenly a volleyball game ensued. They tied a rope across the alleyway and politely asked if they could borrow a ball. They wanted me to play with them and teach them some basic volleyball skills I learned in America. It turned out they were just as good as any average American. There wasn't much I taught them. I'm used to playing on much wider courts rather than a 7' wide alleyway. Nevertheless, all went well and we played for a couple of hours until it got dark. Afterwards, we all went our separate ways shaking hands and giving high fives. Peace and joy was restored and trust was gained.
I attribute this late afternoon miracle to a few things: the hand of God, prayer, and my willingness to step out of my comfort zone. I look forward to carrying on these relationships with these teen boys and seeing where it may lead. I sincerely hope and pray that someday they will become men of faith, men of integrity, and effective in their community where they will teach these same principles and values to their own families and those around them.
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.