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!