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