Friday, December 23, 2011

Recent Happenings

This post is a much-needed update on all that has occurred the past few weeks.  So many exciting things have happened since my trip to Tropoja!  I am happy to say that  Iam learning to feel very much at home here in Albania.  I am falling in love with the country, the culture, and the people.  I  am making an attempt to learn the language, but so far I can only understand a little, and I can't speak very much at all.

Adjusting to Life in Albania

Last week, I went Christmas shopping with my aunt.  As we were walking all over the city, I came to an astonishing realization.  Walking around the crowded, dirty sidewalks of Tirana, crossing the dangerous streets, passing fruit stands and butcher shops with whole sheep hanging in the window, seeing beggars on the side of the road - it's all become so normal to me.  I was not very culture shocked when I first arrived here - mostly because Tirana is much more modern than the rest of the country, so I was more gradually introduced to the poverty and corruption that permeates most of the country.  However, for a while everything did seem very strange and different.  Now, it seems so normal!  I am excited to know that I am learning to be comfortable and to feel at home here in a foreign country.


Jozi is a young Albanian woman who has been a good friend of the Hosaflooks for years.  She has befriended me, and has been taking me all around Tirana to teach me more about the culture.  We have gone to several historical landmarks together, including the 18th-century mosque in the town center, where we were asked to take off our shoes and cover our heads in order to go inside!  We have also been to the art gallery, the 19th-century clock tower, and to the lake, a popular place for Albanians to hang out on weekends and holidays.  Jozi has been wonderful in teaching me about Albanian history, culture, and language.  Her younger sister, Frida, is very good at doing traditional Albanian dances.  Once day when I went to their house for lunch, Frida showed me her beautiful traditional costume and taught me how to do basic dances steps.  (Click on this link for a video of Albanian folk music and dance.)

For the past few weeks, I have been going to church with Jozi at Kisha Biblika Baptiste Tirana (Tirana Bible Baptist Church).  My aunt, uncle, and cousins attend Grace, a church with a congregation that constists half of Albanians and half of missionaries.  It is a wonderful church with a good kids' program for my cousins, but I feel that God has called me to attend KBBT, where there are no other missionaries.  At KBBT, I will be able to make Albanian friends and hopefully learn more of the language.  The services are entirely in Albanian, but Jozi translates for me a little and helps me to learn frequently used Albanian words.

Inside the mosque in Tirana

The Bridge

On Saturdays, we host a youth group for middle school aged kids in Tirana's missionary community.  We hold it on the third story of my aunt and uncle's house (which my five-year-old cousin has nicknamed "The Fluff."  My aunt has named this youth group "The Bridge" because the missionary kids who attend represent a bridge between cultures, and because they are at an age that is a bridge between childhood and adulthood.  About twenty kids attend, all between the ages of 12 and 14.  They are a fun, precious group, and the first two weeks of The Bridge have been a wonderful time of fellowship and growing in the Lord.


Since arriving in Albania, we have often seen two gypsy girls washing car windows on the side of the road to make money for their families.  We befriended them, and found out that their names are Denisa and Valbona.  We only ever see them when we are in the car stuck in traffic, so we've only been able to talk to them for a few minutes at a time, but we wanted to be able to make friends with them and their families.  So last Friday evening, my aunt, two of my cousins, and I took a walk to see if we could find one of them.  We met Valbona and her mother, Sonila, on the intersection where they usually work.  Her mother was very kind, and she invited us to come to their house for a visit.
Last Sunday after church, we picked up Valbona and Sonila, and went to their house.  They live in a tiny, run-down house that has a leaky roof, smells horribly of mold, and has a bathroom that doubles as their kitchen.  Outside their house in an enormous trash pile, with a dead dog lying nearby  As sad as it was, these are actually comparatively good living conditions for gypsies (more politely called Roma), who are incredibly poor and looked down upon by other Albanians.  We were greeted at their door with hugs and kisses from Valbona's younger brother and sister, Raulf and Majlinda.  My cousins had brought the children gifts, and they quickly became friends.

At Valbona's house we also met Rukia, the oldest daughter, who is thirteen years old.  Rukia is a Christian, and loves the Lord so passionately that it shines on her face.  We don't know how she came to know Christ or if she is being discipled by anyone, and we didn't want to pry on our first visit, especially since the rest of the family is not saved.  But Sonila told us that one day, when she was begging on the side of the road, someone gave her a Bible.  She brought it home and gave it to Rukia, who now reads it all the time and often shares the stories with the rest of her family.  Rukia writes beautiful poetry, most of which is about Christ and His love and sacrifice.  Her poems are full of such deep understanding and such fervent love for the Lord that we were almost driven to tears as she read them aloud.  It was truly incredible to see how God is working in her life.

We are very excited to have made friends with this family, and we would like to be able to visit them often.  In fact, we are hoping to visit them on Christmas Day  Please pray that we would be able to establish a good relationship with them so that we can tell them about the Lord.  Also pray for Rukia, that God would keep her strong in Him, as she is the only one in her family who is a believer.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bajram Curri

Last week, I went to Bajram Curri in the district of Tropoja with Theresa Weaver, a pioneering missionary who has been in Albania about as long as my aunt and uncle have.  It was an incredible opportunity, and God used the time to teach me many things about missions.

We traveled to Bajram Curri with Astrit, the pastor of the church there, and his wife and three precious children.  On the long journey, I got to know his kids, who enjoyed teaching me how to count and say the colors in Albanian.  Astrit's land rover broke down on the way, and we were able to make it to a tiny mountain village not far from the road.  There, we found a mechanic, who worked in a metal lean-to and who miraculously happened to have the bolt we needed to fix the car.  As we sat waiting for the mechanic to finish, we watched villagers walk by with their donkeys and cows.  It was my first time being in an Albanian village.

On my first day in Bajram Curri, I went grocery shopping with Theresa and Rakaela, Astrit's twelve-year-old daughter.  The town is so different from Tirana!  It is in the far north of Albania, so the winter is bitterly cold and dreary.  Theresa said that the mountains surrounding Bajram Curri are stunning, but we couldn't see them through all the fog!  Over 70% of Bajram Curri's population is Muslim, and the people think with a very backwards and old-fashioned mindset.  Most of the people who live there were originally from villages, so they live very simply and do not enjoy many modern conveniences.  The stores there sell only a small variety of necessities, so Theresa often has to cross the boarder into Kosovo to do her grocery shopping.  Human trafficking is such a threat in Bajram Curri that young girls mostly stay in the house, and NEVER go out alone.  In fact, trafficking is so common in north Albania that members of the Albanian mob from Tropoja were depicted in the movie Taken.  It is very difficult to live there, and even more difficult to carry out effective ministry.  Astrit certainly has his work cut out for him as the pastor there!

I spent the week helping Theresa with her various ministries.  She, Astrit, and Violca, Astrit's wife, are involved in the Manna Program, feeding children who live in poverty.  Every day after school, about a dozen children come to the Manna Center for a nourishing lunch.  Violca, a remarkable woman, cooks for them every day, and Theresa teaches them Bible stories.  One morning, we realized that the Manna Center had flooded because someone had left the water on in the bathroom.  No one had used the facilities since the weekend before, so the water had sat for several days and done damage to the walls and doorways.  We waded through an inch of icy cold water to remove the furniture from all the rooms.  Then we swept away the water, dried the floor with towels, and replaced all the furniture.  By 11:30, we had the Center cleaned up and prepared for the first group of kids to come for lunch.  I loved meeting the children, and it was a wonderful experienced to be involved with the feeding program.

My favorite part of the trip was helping Theresa teach her English class.  On Mondays and Wednesdays, she teaches about sixteen Albanians, ranging in age from 12-15.  I helped her prepare and teach the lesson about how to describe feelings in English.  We played games with them, and it was fun to get to know some of the girls in the class.  They were all friendly and eager to learn, and they all adored Theresa.  On Thursday, six of the girls came over for lunch.  Theresa and I made them lasagna because she likes to introduce them to American food.  We also helped them make bracelets that tell the story of Christ's birth, death, and resurrection. Theresa is involved in such a wonderful ministry with these girls, and it is amazing that their parents allow them to come to lunch with a Christian woman.  As a single, Christian woman who works hard and travels alone, Theresa is not looked upon well in the primarily-Muslim community.  Yet she has won the respect of many Tropojans, and, miraculously, they allow their daughters to spend time with her.

I learned so much from Theresa during that week.  She is so full of joy, so strong in the Lord.  She wakes up early every morning infuriatingly cheerful, and throughout the day she continually thanks God for simple things that people usually take for granted.  Each night before she goes to bed, she thanks God for how he blessed her that day.  She is involved in some of the hardest ministries in one of the harshest regions of Albania, but she faces the challenges with steadfast persistence.  Not to mention, she taught me many useful things about being a missionary, such as how to understand the culture, how to cook with staple foods, and how to use a Turkish toilet. 

Bajram Curri may be a depressing place, but it was enlightening for me to see what the more rural areas of Albania are really like.  I am grateful that I got to experience a little bit of what life is like there.  It was encouraging to hear the stories of some of the believers there, and sobering to hear the backgrounds of the children who come to the Manna Program.  What a tough place to be a missionary in!

*Pray for:
  • The small church in Bajram Curri - that the believers would stay strong in the Lord, and that more people would come to know Him.
  • The Manna Program - that the children who come for lunch would learn to love the Lord.
  • Theresa's ministry to middle school girls - that more of the girls would become believers, and that their parents would continue to allow them to spend time with Theresa

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Southern Albania

This past weekend we took a tour of southern Albania.  My aunt stayed behind to organize the attic, but I went with my uncle and cousins and a missionary friend, Ben Walker.  It was an incredible week!  The things we saw on the trip were truly astounding.

Our first stop was Apollonia, one of the most famous places in Albania.  We got out of the car at the walls of an orthodox monastery from the 1200’s.  The thick wooden gates opened into a beautiful courtyard, surrounded by old walls lined with Greek statues and other ancient relics.  Inside the monastery was an empty, antique chapel painted with frescoes of the saints, as well as another chapel that is still used for services.  After exploring the monastery, we walked up a hill to see the ruins of Apollonia, an ancient Greek city dating back to the 5th century BC.  The remains of Apollonia consist of the stately columns of an old senate building, an impressive amphitheater, and stones that marked the boundaries of a promenade.  We hiked further up to the peak of the hill to explore a maze of underground bunkers, built during Albania’s communist era.  On this hill, we found pieces of pottery that may have been from the ancient Greek city.  It is incredible to think about what other ruins could lay buried under the communist bunkers!

That night we stayed at a hotel in Orikum, a beach-side town that overlooks the Adriatic Sea.  As we were driving to the hotel, we stopped on the side of the road in Vlora to watch the sun sink over the Adriatic in one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. 

The next day, we drove through the mountains on a winding road called Llegora Pass.  From the top of a mountain we had a stunning view of the Adriatic.  The way the light played on the water made it look as though the sky and sea blended together seamlessly.  We stopped in the seaside village of Dhermi, where my uncle found an Albanian man named Ashir to take us to a pirate's cave.  We all climbed into Ashir's tiny boat, and we rode to the cave, an opening on the face of a cliff.  It was small, as a rockslide had closed off the deeper recesses of the cave.  The water inside was turquoise, and the sun shone through a hole in the high ceiling.  We were all in awe of the beauty.  After we had a good look around the cave, the man took us further down the shore to a small, secluded beach.  The pebbly shore was surrounded on three sides by cliffs and opened to the clear, blue water.  We played there for an hour or two before Ashir took us back to Dhermi.

  In the evening, we went to the castle of Ali Pasha Tepelena, a tyrannical muslim warlord from the 1700’s.  He built the castle in the early 19th century for his Christian wife – a mysterious story which we can't seem to figure out.  The castle was incredible.  It was on an island, built in the shape of a triangle with three turrets.  The walls were over 5 feet thick.  It was almost dusk, and we explored the dark recesses of the castle by the golden light that came through the small windows.  The castle was a maze of halls and arched doorways, and was exactly how I would have pictured a medieval castle.  We climbed a stone staircase and emerged on a rooftop courtyard.  There, we sat on the thick walls and watched an incredible sunset.  

We spent the night in Saranda, a charming city by the sea that is popular for tourists.  The view from our balcony overlooked a bay, and across the water we could see the Greek island of Corfu.

On Thursday we took another beautiful drive through the mountains, this time to the historical city of Butrint.  Butrint is an island that contains the incredible ruins of a Roman city that become prominent in the 4th century BC, but was built several hundred years before then. We wandered through the incredible ruins of an amphitheater, public baths, a private villa, insulae, and a temple complex to the god Asklepius.  Then we walked further up the path to a baptistery from the Byzantine period.  The circular-shaped building was full of columns, and the floor was covered with gravel that had been laid down to preserve a beautiful mosaic beneath.  Next was a Byzantine basilica, a large, majestic building with arched walls.  Another thing I enjoyed seeing was a small gate in the city wall, which is commonly associated with the Scaean Gate mentioned in the Aenied.  At the end of the path was a castle, which has been rebuilt and converted into a museum that held beautiful Greek statues and pottery.

On Friday, the last day of our trip, we went to Syri i Kalter (Blue Eye) natural spring, a pool of water fed by an underground spring that is shaped like an eye.  In the evening, we went to the historic town of Gjirokastra.  I loved Gjirokastra, a picturesque little town with cobblestone streets and old-fashioned buildings.  While there, we went to Gjirokastra castle, a massive fortress that we loved exploring.  From the walls we had a wonderful view of the town, and we watched the sun set over the mountains.

We had such a wonderful time on the trip, and I learned so much from it.  One thing I really enjoyed was getting to see more of the country.  Tirana may hold one-third of Albania’s population, but it is not a good representation of the rest of the country because it is much more modern in comparison.  We drove through many villages and small towns that were so different from the capitol, and I feel as though I now have a better understanding of what Albania is like. 

Another thing that impacted me on our trip was seeing my uncle evangelize.  He struck up a conversation and presented the gospel to almost everyone we came in contact with.  It made me wish I could understand more Albanian!  The people he spoke with were very receptive and seemed interested in what he had to say.

 After seeing the incredible things that we saw, I am completely in awe of God’s creativity.  As we watched so many sunrises and sunsets over the Albanian mountains and the Ionian sea, I was frequently reminded of Psalm 19:1 "The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship!"  There are no words to describe the greatness of our God!
**Pray for: Bajram, Veka, Ashir, Kosta, and the others that my uncle witnessed to.  Pray that their eyes would be opened and that they would receive the Gospel.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To be Honest....

I’m beginning to realize how many challenges I have to overcome to be a missionary.  First of all, I am a young, single girl.  I cannot go anywhere or do anything on my own.  I am completely dependent on other people for protection, transportation, etc.  This is somewhat frustrating to me, because I like to be independent.  But I’ll get over that frustration – the real problem is that doing ministry becomes a little harder since I can’t go anywhere on my own to figure out where I can serve.

The second challenge is that I worry too much and I am afraid of many things.  So far, the trip has been easier than I expected, and there have not been many challenges.  But I know that I will have to face many fears while I am here, and if I want to serve the Lord with my whole heart I cannot cower away from things I do not like.  Luckily, I have noticed that I tend to be less anxious when I am focused on God more than myself.  If I continue doing His will and putting Him first, I know that I will be able to face anything.

The third major challenge is myself.  I know that missionaries are not perfect, but I struggle with so many things that I feel missionaries should not be tempted by.  I am impatient, but I need to be patient and wait on God to tell me what He wants me to do.  I am a control freak, but there’s no way this trip will be successful unless I let God have control.  I get angry easily, but I am here to show compassion to people.  My faith in God is weak, but it is impossible to be an effective missionary without a strong faith.  I have so much to learn!

Maybe that’s what this waiting period has about: learning.  I have been frustrated that it has taken so long to get settled in and begin full-time ministry, but I have realized that God has so many things to show me while I wait.  This is a time for me to get my heart right before I endeavor to lead people to Him.

So here’s how you can pray for me:  Pray that I’ll get over the selfishness of my frustrations.  Pray that God will give me the courage to face things that I am afraid of.  And finally, pray that God will make His will apparent to me as I continue to find ways that I can serve Him.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Rozafa Castle

On the way to the conference last weekend, we stopped at Rozafa Castle in Shkodra.  I have always wanted to see a real castle, so this was an exciting experience for me!  My uncle is currently translating into English an Albanian work of literature about the castle.  He is the expert on all things involving the castle and the Siege of Shkodra, so he gave us lots of interesting information as we toured the castle. 

Rozafa Castle is one of the most well-known and beloved landmarks in Albania.  The original fortress is estimated to have been built around 350 B.C., and the castle as it stands today was built in the early Middle Ages.  Rozafa Castle got it's name from a popular Albanian legend in which a woman named Rozafa allowed herself to be buried in the walls as a sacrifice so the fortress would stand strong and protect the city.  Rozafa Castle is also well-known because of the siege that took place there in the 1500's.

To read more about Rozafa Castle:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Konferenca në Velipojë

Last weekend, I attended a Conference at the beach town of Velipoje.  The conference is held annually for all the extensions of Kisha Biblika Baptiste in Albania.  It was such an uplifting time!  Albanians love to worship, so at the beginning of each conference session we sang several songs, many of which are the Albanian translations of popular worship songs from America.  The church choirs took turns singing, and the youth put on skits.  The speaker was an American missionary to Peru, who preached from Acts and spoke about the urgency of the mission.  It was so encouraging to see a gathering of believers passionate about their faith, despite the persecution they sometimes receive from their friends and even their families.

While at the conference, I met several Albanian girls around my age.  It is easy to make friends, because many of them are learning English and they love to practice with Americans.  It was very encouraging to me to be received so welcomingly. I hope to eventually start a Bible study for girls here in Tirana, and my uncle tells me that it should be easy to get people to come if they know that I will be speaking to them in English.

The beach at Valipoje is so different from in Florida!  The sand is dark brown, and the water is so calm and flat that it seems to stretch out endlessly.  Mountains wrap around the beach in a crescent, and everywhere there are beautiful, smooth stones in red, green, and black.  And trash.  Lots of trash.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Greetings from Albania!

For the past month, I have been living in Tirana, Albania with my Aunt Kristi and Uncle David Hosaflook and their children: Ben (12), Sofia (11), Adria (8), and Corban (5). I am really enjoying my stay here, and I am so excited to see what God is going to do!

We have spent the past few weeks settling in – unpacking, cleaning, and getting the kids started on homeschool. There is still much paperwork to be done, and my aunt and uncle need to get a car before we are able to get around town easily. This has been a good time for me to adjust to the culture and to look for ministry opportunities to be involved in.

Albania is a fascinating place. Parts of it are very picturesque, but the land is so ill-used. Tirana is situated in a small valley, surrounded on all sides by beautiful, imposing mountains. The streets are filled with trash and manure, and the buildings are covered with graffiti. The air is heavy with smog and pollution. Many of the apartment buildings are painted with colorful patterns to brighten the city. There are several European stores and supermarkets, but most of our shopping is done in small shops and outdoor vendors. I enjoy walking to the stores and produce markets. There are so many sights, sounds, and smells to take in.

Since arriving here, I have had the opportunity to meet many other missionary families living in Tirana. On Fridays we attend a co-op for the homeschooled children, and afterwards I go to a high school Bible study group.  There are lots of missionary girls close to my age that I have been able to meet.

The first week I was here, we went to Grace Church, where several of the missionary families attend.  The next two weeks we visited Kisha Biblika Baptiste in Tirana and in Shkodra, churches which my uncle helped to start.  The services are in Albanian, but my uncle translates for me.  When the Hosaflooks first moved to Albania, there were no churches and very few Christians.  It is amazing to see how the body of Christ has grown in Albania since then!

Last week, I met with the vice principal of GDQ, the missions school in Tirana.  I am going to volunteer there on Mondays, and I hope to start by next week.  As I meet new people and adjust to life in Tirana, I am continuing to look for other ministries that I can be involved in.  Please pray for me as I learn what God wants me to do to serve Him!